- Religion and Philosophy
The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam Part III: Accusations of Abolishing Jihad to Serve the British
Greetings! And may the peace and blessings of God Almighty be upon you.
This is the third in a series of Hubs on what I offer to rebuke as grave misconceptions propagated against The Ahmadiyya movement in Islam. I offer argument of fact (with reference) and substantive logic. Verdict and judgment, I leave between you and God Almighty. This Hub is about the frequently leveled accusation that The Ahmaddiyya Movement in Islam was seeded by The British Empire who ruled India at the time. They apparently would do this to quash the notions of an Islamic Jihad that were brewing at the time and could serve as a threat to their authority. Interwoven into this subject is also the accusation that the holy founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be on him), had abrogated a core religious obligation to wage Jihad to serve in mitigating this threat for the British.
First I will cover some historical events and then the theology of Jihad as dictated by The Holy Quran and the views of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh). An event that is often brought up with this subject is the what is known as the The Mutiny of 1857 against the British in India. However, there is earlier historical context to the discussion. In order to grasp the subject better I will begin with the advent of what has come to be known as the sect or movement of Wahabism in Islam. As you read along, it will become apparent why this is important.
Wahabism, The Sauds and The British
Wahabism, as it has come to be known today, was founded by Muhammad ibn Abd-al Wahab in the town of Nejd, Egypt around the late eighteenth century. The Wahabis saw, and still see, Islam as infested with corrupt practice, ritual and ceremony having deviated over time. They sought to restore it to its true and original form. Abdul Wahab also claimed that his Islamic movement was the 73rd sect that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had prophesized that would appear in the latter days and will be the only one in a highly divided Islamic following that will be on the right path—a competing claim with the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam. The Wahabis faced resistance and even persecution but eventually weaved themselves into power alongside the Sauds in a religious-political power-sharing partnership that continues to this day. When the Wahabis ascended to power in Nejd around the late 17th century they put Mecca and Medina in their sights. They requested to go there to perform pilgrimage but were denied entry upon which they forced themselves there in conquest. Given their urgency to restore Islam to its pure form they took to tearing down tombs and shrines of some of the holiest figures of Islam to restore the concept of Tauheed or unity of God Almighty associating no partners or intercessors with Him. The shrines had apparently become centers of worship. The Muslim world at the time was furious over the actions. The Muslim powers of the time, centered in the Ottoman Empire, took it upon themselves to recapture Mecca and Medina back. A bitter enmity arose between the Turks and the followers of Abdul Wahab. The British, eager to take down the Turkish occupiers of Arabia would have taken notice. The Wahabis are believed to have taken up collaboration with another like-minded movement out of Egypt known as Ikhwan-ul-Muslemeen or The Muslim Brotherhood. Both movements believed in the undertaking of Jihad as a holy war to overcome infidels and opponents of Islam. Their common ideology did not spare other so-called Muslims in their view. Their view is known to prioritize internal cleansing of the Islamic world before the non-Muslim world can be taken up. The modern day terrorist-duo of the late Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri can be seen as a picture of the common ideologies of Wahabism and The Muslim Brotherhood respectively. The British legacy in this Arabian movement of liberation from the Turks is well known. No one denies the existence of T.E. Lawrence or better known a ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (with a major Hollywood movie classic to his name). He was a British Army officer having played a legendary role as hero and liberator of the Arabs from the rule of the Ottoman Turks.
Many people misunderstand that T.E. Lawrence fought alongside the Sauds or a coalition including the Sauds and Wahabbis. This is in fact not true. Lawrence fought alongside The Husseins of the Hashemite tribe that had been the Sheriffs of Mecca (the keepers of the holy sites) for 700 years. The Sauds were reportedly rivals of The Husseins who ultimately won the reigns of power and replaced the Hashemites as Sheriffs of Mecca. Lawrence was, in fact, opposed to putting in The Sauds as the rulers of Arabia. In Scott Anderson's book "Lawrence In Arabia" (Published in 2013 by Random House USA), he quotes Lawrence, "Despite posing as Islamic reformists with all the narrow-minded bigotry of the puritan, Ibn-Saud and his Wahhabists were hardly representative of Islam . . . In the politics of Mecca the Wahhabist sect was composed of marginal medievalists, and if it prevailed, we would have in the place of the tolerant, rather comfortable Islam of Mecca and Damsacus, the fanaticism of Nejd, intensified and swollen with success".
Author Scott Anderson writes, "As with many of Lawrence's other predictions, his warning about Ibn-Saud and the Wahhabists was ultimately proved true. In 1923, Ibn-Saud would conquer much of Arabia and, to honor his clan, give it the name Saudi Arabia. For the next ninety years, the vast and profligate Saudi royal family would survive by essentially buying off the doctrinaire Wahhabists who had brought them to power, financially subsidizing their activities as long as their disciples directed their jihadist efforts abroad. The most famous product of this arrangement was to be Osama Bin Laden."
Another prominent British figure is John Philby who in 1917 is known to have served as advisor to Abdul Aziz, the Wahabi Chief at the time. As the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established, Philby is said to have converted to Islam as Sheikh Abdullah and served as minister in the House of Saud. However, he is also believed to have continued to serve British Intelligence. Whether his conversion was real or an act of intelligence-cover, God knows. But the role of the British in the liberation of the Arabs to practice their religion as they saw fit appears true. The gains for the British then would be to weaken a rival power, the Ottomons, and maintain influence over what was to become the largest oil-production well in the world. The Western-Saudi uneasy alliance as one could call it has been somewhat of a public relations headache for the Saudis. Osama Bin Laden is said to have had The House of Saud in his cross-hairs who he probably believed to be sold out to infidel powers. Scores of books and documentaries have been chronicled on this alliance and western commentators have also frowned upon this political affiliation given what they see as the roots of the doctrine of religious extremism and the resulting acts of terrorism. But, given this historical bond, Wahabi figures in history took caution not to label any resistance to the British as a Jihad. Wahabis reportedly made their way to India in the early 19th century sowing the seeds of their new-found brand of resurgent Islam.
The Indian Mutiny of 1857, NOT a Jihadi Uprising
In the year 1857, a cataclysmic revolt against the Raj or rule of the British in India shook the country and its occupiers. Also known as the Sepoy Mutiny given its instigation in the Indian (‘sepoy’ means soldier) Army as Muslim and Hindu soldiers took grave insult when being ordered to bite-off paper cartridges for their rifles that they believed were greased with beef and pork animal-fat—both anathema to Hindu and Muslim religions respectively. Mangal Pandey, a Hindu, gained fame and legend for his rebellion against his English commanders—he got an Indian movie to his name too. Elsewhere, uprisings took various shapes and forms born out of grievances mainly out of loss of power due to the ongoing colonization of India under the British. Another Hindu, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi is also chronicled as a principal leader of the rebellion. Muslims also came out and partook. Some made calls for a Jihad and scattered movements mobilized. The main incident recorded in history appears to be a clash between Haji Imdadullah, a Sunni-leader and the British Army in what is known as the Battle of Shamli. Although movements would have leveraged religious doctrine to mobilize the masses, historians and historical record reveal that this was a secular uprising. Hassan Jafar Zaidi, a Pakistani journalist, wrote an article in The Dawn newspaper also imploring that the 1857 Mutiny was secular. He quotes Thomas Lowe, a British Chronicler who was in India during The Mutiny, “The infanticide Rajput, the bigoted Brahmin, the fanatic Musalman, had joined together in the cause; cow-killer and the cow-worshipper, the pig-hater and the pig-eater… had revolted together”. In fact, the Muslim Mughal Emperor of the time, Buhadur Shah Zafar, was tried for treason and exiled to Burma as the British apparently took opportunity from the actions of Muslims during The Mutiny. This officially ended the time-honored reign of the great Mughal Empire. The Mutiny eventually failed.
Now, sometime after the Mutiny in 1871, a senior English officer of the Indian Civil Services Sir William Wilson Hunter wrote a well-known book from the time called ‘The Indian Musalmaan’ (Musalmaan means Muslim in the Urdu language). Published shortly after the assassination of an English Judge at the hands of a Muslim, the book is scathing in its view on the Wahabi infiltrations into the Indian Subcontinent and the subsequent radicalization of Muslims. Writes Sir WW Hunter, “The Wahabis have not been allowed to spread their network of treason over Bengal without some opposition . . . besides the odium theologicum which rages between Muhammadan sects as fiercely as they were Christians, the presence of the Wahabis in a district is a standing menace to all . . . Revolutionists in politics and religion, they go about their work not as reformers of the Luther or Cromwell type, but as destroyers in the spirit of Robespierre or Tanchelin of Antwerp”. The comments do reflect a sentiment that the British were somewhat concerned.
However, a prominent Muslim scholar from India who was also knighted, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, wrote a book in response to The Indian Musalmaan called ‘Review of The Indian Musalmaan’. Sir Syed was equally scathing in his rebuttal of Sir W W Hunter’s book. Firstly, Sir Syed defends the notion that Wahabism propagates holy war against infidels without condition. Writes Sir Syed that a Jihad can be valid . . . “provided that the Musalmaans leading the Jihad be not the subjects of those Infidels, living under them in peace . . . without oppression . . . provided there exists no treaty between”. He even goes as far as to say that, Mohamedans are bound to obey an Infidel ruler as long as he does not interfere with their religion. Sir Syed narrates the events surrounding the Wahabi cleric Maulvi Ismail who was proselytizing in India and never uttered a word against the British mostly citing the Sikhs as targets of his vision of Jihad since the Sikhs were conducting a real religious persecution of the Muslims. Sir Syed narrates that once Maulvi Ismail was in Calcutta and he was interrogated as to why he did not preach holy war against the British who were also infidels. Maulvi Ismail replied that there was no religious injunction per Islam to wage a Jihad against the British since the British did not persecute Muslims. Sir Syed also reminds Sir W W Hunter that the real purpose behind the Wahabi-led mobilization of arms and Jihadis is the power of the Sikh rulers around India who had French backing. He mentions that the British were aware of this mobilization, were for it, and most likely playing a tactical hand to weaken Sikh power just as they had sided with the Wahabis against the Turks. The Pakistani journalist Hassan Jafar Zaidi wrote that this was a remarkable parallel to the contemporary proxy war fought by the USA and USSR in Afghanistan where this notion of Jihad was leveraged by the then alliance between Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda group and US interests—also known as . . . Charlie Wilson’s War (a Hollywood movie was also made on this subject with Tom Hanks playing US Congressman Charlie Wilson as a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia).
For the most part, I find myself agreeing with Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. However, Sir Hunter may still have won the argument. There may have been voices of reason and certitude, but eventually the radical notion would win over too many ignorant minds. It would call Infidels who it would choose to call as such, including fellow Muslims. And this is what we have seen happen.
Ahmadi Muslim scholar argues against the theory of abrogation of verses in The Quran sometimes used by clerics to justify their view of a Jihad of aggression
The True Concept of Jihad
The word Jihad literally means to ‘strive’. In light of the general teachings of The Quran and other scriptures to lead a Godly and God-fearing life by shunning temptation and worldly incitement, this essentially is referring to a spiritual struggle. Chapter 25 Verse 52 of The Quran states, “And fight against them by means of it (The Quran) a great fight”. This is what is known as Jihad-e-Akbar or The Great Fight—with patience, perseverance, steadfastness, fortitude etc. The verses 22:39-40 of The Holy Quran that grant permission to take up arms carry strict conditions. The historical context where this form of Jihad was sanctioned the Muslims were under a grave threat of extinction by their enemies while being severely persecuted. Per Muslim belief, since God Almighty had decreed the final dispensation of religious law to mankind in Islam, in the same verses God Almighty guarantees victory on the battlefield if powers around the world unjustly attack and attempt to exterminate Islam. The Muslims permitted to wage such a Jihad must be unjustly persecuted or attacked for practicing their religion. There is no injunction in The Holy Quran to wage an aggressive physical force against who we deem to be infidels.
In the second chapter of The Holy Quran (Al-Baqara) verse 256 states that "There is no compulsion in religion. Verily, the right path has become distinct from the wrong path. Whoever disbelieves in transgression and believes in God, then he has grasped the most trustworthy handle that will never break. And God is All-Knowing, All-Hearing."
Some so-called Muslim scholars hold that certain verses of The Quran have abrogated earlier ones and they will post one that is in apparent contradiction. They also present The Sunnah (a body of work that encapsulates the practices of Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him) where he apparently (God forbid) put apostates and infidels to death. The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam reject any Hadith (traditions and sayings of Prophet Muhammad peace be on him) or Sunnah that violates any injunction of The Quran. We also reject the concept of abrogation and believe that all verses of The Quran are held as Heavenly Law for all time to come in this world. God in the Quran in Chapter 15 verse 9 reveals that “Surely it is We who have revealed The Exposition (Quran), and surely it is We who are its guardians”. Any other body of work be it Hadith or Sunnah does not enjoy this divine protection. If Hadith and Sunnah violate or contradict the Quran and cannot be reconciled in an acceptable manner, they should be rejected as innovations.
The founder of The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh), never abrogated Jihad. He had, in fact, exposed its true meaning and core religious conditions. He exhorted that these innovated notions of an uprising against a foreign occupation cannot be upheld with the holy injunction of a Jihad. That religion is not available for political gain or an independence movement especially if the occupier does not suppress religious freedom or persecute on the basis of religion. In fact, the British had alleviated a terrible Sikh persecution of the Muslims and had returned many mosques as rightful Muslim places of worship which had earlier been confiscated by the Sikh rulers and some were being used as stables for horses. Furthermore, despite strong advances made by Christian missionaries in India, the British government kept an environment of religious freedom where open debates and arguments were carried and in fact it was in this open environment of religious freedom that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh) confronted, defeated and turned back the advances of the Christian missionaries who had been winning over many converts from Islam to Christianity.
Further, the Promised Messiah (pbuh), expounded that such ideologies of national and geographical delineation along religious lines where nations existed and sometimes exacted hostilities on the basis of religion had no place in the modern secular world. He emphasized on separation of mosque and state and asked of his followers to take up a Jihad of moral reformation, seeking out God Almighty, and an intellectual Jihad of the pen.
For those interested, below is a link to a booklet (PDF file) by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh) directly addressing the subject of what is Jihad and why there are no religious grounds to wage it against the British occupation:
Lastly, now that we have a 150+ year history since this debate moved into the spotlight and these misgiven calls for Jihad started, we can examine what has become of these endeavors. The early Muslims were successful in defending themselves against their enemies in the battlefield. Their legacy later was formed by being reformers, scientists, economists, politicians, law-makers, educationalists, and overall developers of civilizations. No one denies that wars occurred as they always have throughout history. But, these modern claimants of this holy war with a sword appear to be stagnant. If they ever really do gain power, they proclaim to spread religion by force threatening those who dare to refuse. This is against religion as it is against humanity and common sense. The Medieval Christian Crusader armies waged their holy wars in the name of religion and believed they were undefeatable. But they suffered defeat enough and caused enough havoc for Christians to shun them out of the power-play. I pray, God willing, that Muslims will learn this lesson soon enough.
The next and final in these series of Hubs I will deliberate on the argument of true and false prophets, the nature of prophetic dispensations, and what criteria can be used in such judgment.
Thank you for reading and God bless. Below is a quote of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from a Hadith upon returning from battle:
‘We are returning from the lower Jihad, to resume the greater Jihad’.
What did Muhammad (pbuh) really preach . . .
Disclaimer: The contents of this Hub do not officially represent The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam or the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The official website of The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam or The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is www.alislam.org. I write these Hubs in my personal capacity.