- Religion and Philosophy
True and False Prophets - The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam Part IV
This is the last in a series of Hubs I wrote so readers can get an opportunity to hear the ‘other side of the story’ on The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community claims to embody the true teachings of Islam dispensed by The Messiah and Mahdi(Divine Guide), Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as prophesized by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in an era wrought by misguidance and deception. This prophet of God most commonly known as the Second Coming of The Messiah, whose advent in the latter-days is foretold in world religions, would come to restore and revive the final dispensation of Heavenly law (Islam and The Holy Quran) to mankind in the latter-days. The Holy Quran in Chapter 25 verse 30 prophesizes that people will abandon The Quran.
This Hub is about the nature of prophetic dispensation and how people can apply some criteria in judging someone’s claim to prophet-hood by critical study and rational thought. Of course, deeply supplicating to God Almighty with a pure heart free of bias is also necessary.
Impostors and Liars
Several non-Ahmadi Muslim commentators will fondly quote the Hadith by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that after me there will be thirty Dajjals or deceivers in my following each claiming to be a prophet of God. And Christian commentators are equally fond of quoting Jesus’s prophecy in the Book of Matthew 24:5 that many will come in his name and deceive many. The Holy Quran repeatedly bears testimony that most of the true prophets of God were called liars and imposters by wide swaths of society. Chapter 23, verse 44 says, “Every time there came to a people their Messenger, they treated him as a liar”. In the Book of Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus (pbuh) blesses those who have suffered in his following for having to bear the accusations of those around them, just as happened to prophets before him. In fact, if the latter-days Messiah or Mahdi was really to come as per the widely held supernatural notions of Muslims and Christians then there was no need for a warning. Prophets Muhammad (pbuh) and Jesus (pbuh) would have said that when you see the known laws of nature breaking all around you that would be the true Messiah; the risk of following a false claimant who can make no such heavenly descent does not arise. But they warned us, and they warned us for a reason.
So both, the impostor and the true prophet will be attacked with this accusation of being an impostor. Just because impostors will abound, does not mean everyone is an imposter—someone is the real deal. With careful study of scripture, prophecies, historical record, by applying rationality and by supplicating the Almighty with a heart free of bias and innuendo, one can arrive at the truth. Followers of all the true prophets managed to recognize them, mostly with great sacrifice to their own lives. Some prophetic dispensations, especially the ones about the first and second coming of The Messiah (peace be on him), have a lot of prophecies around them. Still, people fail to recognize the prophet. Per Islamic and Christian belief, the Jewish scholars failed in recognizing the Messiah or just didn’t want to. Per Islamic belief, Christians failed with the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him). And now, the mainstream Muslims believe that they are going to be the ones to break the trend and this time The Messiah will descend upon them with supernatural phenomenon and widespread celebration. Intuition and instinct tell me, probably not.
Persecution of Prophets
I had once wondered why prophets and their followers had to bear so much opposition and persecution. However, it isn’t just the followers of real prophets who have faced persecution. Most religious movements in their infancy have faced some form of persecution but sooner or later they either fold under pressure or accept some compromise unlike the movement of a real prophet. Or, sometimes a religious cult forms around a false claimant. But sooner or later they are found out by their practices or diminished presence. Jesus Christ (pbuh) faced severe persecution during his lifetime and his followers were persecuted for three hundred years before Constantine I accepted Christianity and ended their persecution. The early Christians dug themselves into the catacombs around Rome living an underground life in caves to escape the cruelty which included being fed to Lions at the Roman Coliseum. In the case of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) he was offered every earthly treasure and privilege in return for abandoning his mission. But he never accepted these offers and instead bore through 13 years of intense persecution. These are not the marks or attributes of an imposter or his movement which can be studied to gauge some indication of authenticity.
For example, take the Bahai religious movement which rivals the Ahmadiyya in its claim as the true movement of the latter-days. In the early days of what came to be known as the Bahai religion a harbinger-figure in the spirit of John the Baptist known as The Bab (Gate) had announced that the prophesized messenger of God would be making his appearance soon. As has happened in history, the religious clerics (in this case Shia Muslim Imams) who would stand to lose authority if people began believing as such, took note and gave opposition. The Bab was arrested and executed. The leadership of The Bab’s followers, which included Bahaullah who would later make claim to be the one prophesized by The Bab, then took the decision to exit the religion of Islam and abrogate the law of The Holy Quran in favor of the establishment of an independent religion and its law. This, in my opinion, reveals the compromise. By contrast, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh) was unanimously opposed by the so-called clerics of all sects of Islam and also had a Libel-for-Death fatwas (edicts) issued against him and his followers. Even though many have suffered death at the hands of religious fanatics over the years, there has never been any retraction from the original claims and mission whatsoever. Opposition against The Ahmadiyya movement in Islamic countries has always been fierce. In Pakistan, the most populous Ahmadi-Muslim country with an estimated four million adherents, the persecution is state-sanctioned by law. Indonesia, where the Ahamdi Muslims number in the hundreds of thousands, is looking to follow in Pakistan’s footsteps with a growing band of radical clerics bent on intolerance.
A global union against a cult?
Is this the profile of a cult member?
The Cult Factor
Opponents and detractors of The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are very fond of portraying it as a cult. I would imagine that all genuine religious movements were regarded as such at some point. The criteria to employ here is how do people treat a real cult versus one being erroneously portrayed as such. The thing about real cults whose beliefs and practices seem bizarre and other worldly is that governments and bodies of religious-authority do not go after them unless they break the law or engage acts of terrorism or social unrest. Mostly authority is content to leave the cult’s charismatic leaders and their modest following alone. But the history of The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam should raise this question in the mind of any serious student: Why are they so eager to overcome them?
Back in 1905 when The Ahmadiyya movement would have numbered in the tens of thousands, Ahmed Reza Khan, the founder of the Barelvi sect of Islam seemed to have gone through substantial effort with writings, references and documentation to obtain a fatwa from the clerics of Mecca and Medina. Subsequently, another fatwa was reportedly prepared in India with the consent of 200 so-called Muslim scholars declaring the Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh) and his followers as heretics. Over the last 100 years many events and organizations have repeated this position the most significant of which would be the gathering of the World Muslim League in Saudi Arabia in 1974 for the purpose of declaring Ahmadi Muslims as heretics. The common thread in these events is that the opposition of all the non-Ahmadi sects of Islam against the Ahmadiyya movement is unprecedented and unanimous. It agrees with Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) prophecy of the 72 erring sects of Islam versus the one on the right path as happened with the The Messiah Jesus (pbuh) versus the 72 then sects in Judaism. In fact, it has been the sunnah or way of the movement of a true prophet that religious and political authority have opposed it. In the case of prophet Muhammad (pbuh) the Meccan authorities had passed sanctions against him and his followers amounting to persecution and social boycott. Jesus Christ (pbuh) was opposed by the Jewish religious body known as The Sanhedrin and then the state powers of Rome were also invoked for his crucifixion. This is a remarkable parallel to how the World Muslim League first came to consensus against Ahmadiyya and then the Pakistan government was invoked to pass law against us which is where the Ahmadiyya Headquarters were at the time. The reason they have to use such powers to persecute and attempt to put down is because they cannot fight them with debates and arguments. And because they have become corrupt. A typical cult would be a non-issue; people will see through it. But the real deal is where they have to use authoritarian powers to try to stop it. But Allah in The Quran has passed decree that My Messengers will prevail (58:21).
So, the characteristics of these events are not true of a typical cult. The serious and unbiased student should make note of this and do their research on the events I have mentioned.
Also, prominent, highly regarded and respected members of society typically do not end up becoming cult members. Sir Zafarullah Khan was the first foreign minister of Pakistan. He was knighted. He went on to become the President of the International Court of Justice at The Hague and President of the UN General Assembly. He was awarded "The Star of Jordan" by King Hussein of Jordan due to his efforts for the Palestinian cause in the United Nations. He held a legendary status in the Arab world and even performed Hajj as a personal guest of King Faisal. He was a devout Ahmadi-Muslim and a religious scholar with many books to his name. Scientist and Nobel Laureate Dr. Abdus Salaam laid the groundwork for the discovery of the Higgs-Boson or ‘God’ particle touted as the most important scientific discovery of recent times. He was a Nobel Laureate. He was also a devout Ahmadi-Muslim whose scientific prowess follows that of the early Muslims. Professor Atif Mian of Princeton University was named in 2014 as one of twenty five economists under the age of 45 likely to be most influential in world economics in the years to come.
Such people are typically not cult-members.
Prophecies of the Prophets
Certain prophetic events are highly prophesized about and also the prophet in question has prophecies of his own. This is a broad subject with a prolific body of material-- serious students would need to do their own research. In my previous Hub I posted a video that covers some of the Biblical prophecies in the Book of Matthew and Luke. The prophecies in the Islamic tradition revolve around what are known to be the minor and major signs of the latter-days detailed by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The minor signs carry some resemblance to prophecies in Christian Eschatology such as a departure from traditional morality, a rise in Godlessness, wars and natural disasters etc.. Some, however, such as "when these naked bare-footed Bedouins will compete with each other in the construction of tall buildings" carry remarkable detail. In Dubai the tallest building was completed some years back and Saudi Arabia is already constructing one to beat it. The major signs revolve around major events such as the advent of the Anti-Christ and second coming of the Son of Mary followed by a series of events. The prophets come with their own prophecies too. Following is a link to a Wikipedia page dedicated to some of the prophecies of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh) along with views of detractors/opponents. This is only a small body of the prophecies. A voluminous work encompassing most of the prophecies called ‘Tadhrika’ can be found on the official Islam-Ahmadiyya website at www.alislam.org.
I would also like to cover briefly the prayer-duels of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh) since some of these are often misrepresented by detractors and opponents. A prayer duel or Mubahila is a very serious contest where two claimants (one true and one false) will testify before God Almighty to their competing claims and invoke curse, death and destruction for the liar. There are conditions stipulated for the duel. The verse 3:61 of The Quran relates an incident where the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would have participated in such a prayer-duel. The objective of such a contest is to invoke the Lord Almighty to manifest the truth or falsehood of the contestants both of who, let say, may be claimants to the same prophet-hood or prophecy. In the late 19th /early 20th century, there were many claimants to a prophet or messenger or messiah or someone who is sent by God Almighty. One reason for this is that according to prophecies in both the Islamic and Christian traditions, this was the time when the prophet or Messiah would make his advent. This lead to many 19th century religious movements the better known of which is the Church of Latter-days saints (Mormons), Bahais, and The Ahmadiyya movement in Islam. The Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad came later in the early 20th century and is oft chronicled as an African-American emancipation movement rather than a true religious movement.
Prayer Duel with John Alexander Dowie
I will spend least time covering this prayer-duel because it requires the least defense. John Alexander Dowie claimed to be the second coming of Elijah and had built a following by some reports to be in the hundreds of thousands. He founded the city of Zion in Illinois, USA where he claimed the Kingdom of Heaven will be established. He was particularly hateful of Islam and was known for hurling abuses at the prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh) wrote to Dowie with his own claim of the latter-days Messiah and challenged him to a prayer-duel to expose the liar. Dowie initially chose to ignore the correspondence. However, the media press picked up on the correspondence and pressure began to mount on Dowie to accept. Shortly after Dowie spiraled into disintegration. He was afflicted with paralysis and madness. Scandals began erupting all around him for financial embezzlement, sex, alcoholism etc. The disintegration continued and Dowie died shortly thereafter at the age of 59 in 1907. The event was covered by many major newspapers in the USA the most notable of which was coverage by The Boston Herald on June 23, 1907 as a major story titled, “Great is Mirza The Messiah . . . predicted the pathetic end of Dowie”.
Prayer Duel with John Hugh Smyth-Pigott
This prayer duel takes a different turn and tends to invite a lot of coverage from opponents of The Ahmadiyya movement as Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh) died within the lifetime of John Hugh Smyth-Piggot who lived for another 20 years. Piggot was the leader of a band of Christians known as ‘The Agapomones’ which means ‘The Abode of Love’. Following more believable cultish mores, the Agapomones secluded themselves from society in a colony in Spaxton, England. There, Pigott apparently kept a harem of brides and The Agapomones oft made media reports for their unorthodox sexual practices. Pigott would announce himself to be the second advent of the Messiah. And, according to Christian tradition, that would make him God himself which Pigott had no hesitation in claiming. He drew a lot of attention with these claims. Students of Islamic Eschatology should note the Ahadith prophecies of Hazrat Muhammad (pbuh) that say Dajjal (the great deceiver) would first claim to be the Messiah, and then next he would claim to be God. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh) wrote to Pigott and sternly warned him against his behavior. Pigott reportedly became quite and did not repeat the claim. However, he appears to have been emboldened by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh)’s death in 1908 and resumed his earlier campaign and claim. Pigott’s deterioration and the annihilation of his Church and movement took many years but it was nevertheless real and complete. His mental, spiritual and physical health deteriorated over time. His band of ‘The Agapomones’ disbanded till there was no trace left of them. The Agapomones simply ceased to exist. Pigott’s Church-complex was sold and converted to a residence. Even his gravesite was removed to make way for construction. In contrast to this picture of destruction by someone who was warned and incurred the wrath of God, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s movement is alive and progressing despite strong resistance and opposition by other Muslims. One hundred and twenty five years after the demise of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(pbuh) The Ahmadiyya movement has tens of millions of followers, has established mission offices is 200 countries, built 15000 mosques, 500 schools, 30 hospitals, a world-class disaster-relief service (Humanity First), several Islamic TV channels, has translated The Holy Quran into 70 languages, the first English translation was by an Ahmadi Muslim, the first Islamic journal in the English language (The Review of Religions) was started by Ahmadi Muslims, the first Islamic journal in USA (The Muslim Sunrise) was started by Ahmadis, the first mosque west of Spain was built by Ahmadis (Fazl mosque in London), in Spain itself the first mosque in over 750 years after the expulsion of The Moors was also built by Ahmadi-Muslims—the list goes on and on. You decide who won, and who lost.
I should also add that by reading of the historical records on this event, it may not have been a prayer-duel. It appears that both parties did not accept conditions and supplicate accordingly. This may well be a warning and fulfillment.
Prayer-duel with Maulana Sanaullah Amritsri
I want to briefly cover this supposed prayer-duel which may have never occurred because it is the center of controversy and also touted by opponents of Ahmadiyya as Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh) died in the lifetime of Maulana Sanaulla Amritsri (an opponent). I will simply state the historical record. Following are the statement of Mr. Amritsri . . .
Neither am nor do I claim like you that I am a prophet, or a messenger, or a son of God, or a recipient of revelation. I cannot, therefore, dare to enter into such a contest. Your purpose is that if I should die before you, you will proclaim that as a proof of your righteousness and if you pass on before me (a good riddance), then who will go to your grave to call you to account? That is why you put forward such stupid proposals. I regret, however, that I dare not enter into such controversy and this lack of courage is a source of honor for me and is not a source of humiliation. (Ilhamat Mirza, p. 116)
I have not challenged you to a mubahilah (prayer-duel), I have only declared my willingness to take an oath, but you call it a mubahilah, whereas a mubahilah involves the parties taking oaths in a contest against each other. I have declared my readiness to take an oath and have not issued a challenge to a mubahilah. Taking an unilateral oath is one thing and mubahilah is quite another. (Ahle Hadees, 19 April 1907)
I don’t think there ever was a prayer-duel. I think the Maulana knew better.
Mainstream Muslims and Christians alike tend to view prophecies in fantastical notions. In their view, the same Jesus (peace be on him) who walked the earth some 2,000 years ago will return into a grand theater of supernatural phenomenon so powerful that no one in their right mind could possibly deny it. He will naturally take their side against the erring opponents who may be cast as the Anit-Christ or the Dajjal. To me, this is nothing more than typical human psychology. I find that the truth tends to pass such people by. For Jews, who per the Islamic and Christian religions had rejected a true Messiah, are now 3,000 years in waiting. They too are waiting for Prophet Elijah (pbuh) to descend from Heaven on a chariot of fire to announce the advent of the Messiah which is now reduced to the ceremony of Seder where they open a door to invite prophet Elijah (pbuh) to walk through and bless them with his presence. Since he never does make a physical appearance the tradition now casts this as a mark of faith. Jews still believe one day both, Elijah (pbuh) and The Messiah will appear.
The Islamic Eschatologist, Sheikh Imran Hosein, was once asked that when he expected the Imam Mahdi to appear? The Sheikh began with the typical ‘God only knows’ but did extend his answer to say that in his analysis it ought to be in the next 25 years or so. President Ahmadinejad of Iran opens his United Nations speeches imploring God to send the promised Imam Mahdi (Divine Guide). The Shiite Muslims have him fashioned as their hidden Imam in Occultation for over a thousand years now. And in Mecca (Saudi Arabia) every year a group of religious scholars walk the streets searching for their Wahabi version of the Imam Mahdi. I wonder what will happen if they find him and he orders the Sauds to abandon the Wahabi ideology. Will we see compliance? Something tells me, we will not.
Harold Camping, a Christian evangelist from California, grabbed headlines when he spent millions of dollars in advertising that the Rapture (a Christian notion of latter-days event where the faithful are lifted up to Heaven prior to The Armageddon) would occur on May 11, 2011 soon to be followed by Judgment Day. The event also captured headlines as many of Camping’s followers made grave preparations for their departure to Heaven packing materials and making arrangements for things and matters left behind. Reportedly, a business was launched to care for the pets of the departed-righteous. May 11 came and went but to the deep disappointment of Camping’s followers Jesus Christ (pbuh) did not show up to lift them up to heaven.
What these events have in common are that they all appear to be strayed and off-course, following the same notions that people have crafted in history making religion into fairytale. People will only accept a Messiah or a Mahdi or a Christ if he is a Catholic, or a Protestant, a Jew, a Shi’ite, a Sunni, or a Wahabi. Otherwise, unless it fits their version of the shoe and their tribal or religious orientation, they will not accept. So it has been, so it shall be again.
People sometimes express disappointment that if the claim of the Ahmadiyya community and its founder is true then such a grand event came and went without the expected splendor and glory. What people fail to realize is that they are reading historical prophetic discourse which is now encapsulated and enshrined in legacy over the course of centuries. But that is not how their legacies actually dispensed and developed over time in history. The prophecy below will help in addressing this point.
Parting on this series of Hubs I leave you with the following prophecy of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (pbuh) who we believe to the promised Mahdi and Messiah. The prophecy was recorded in 1903 and published in The Review of Religions journal. It has not been fulfilled yet, but we believe it will. Time will tell. God Almighty willing, the truth will manifest.
Hearken, all ye people, this is the prophecy of Him Who has created the heavens and the earth . . . God will bless this faith and this Movement in a remarkable and extraordinary way and will frustrate everyone who designs to destroy it. This superiority will endure forever till the Judgment Day . . . Bear it in mind that no one will descend from heaven. All our opponents, who are alive today, will die... and their children, who remain behind them, will die... and then their children’s children will die and none of them will see the son of Maryam [Mary] descending from heaven. Then God will create unrest in their hearts that the time of the dominance of the cross had elapsed and the world had taken on another aspect and yet ‘Isaa [Jesus], son of Maryam [Mary], had not descended from heaven. Then suddenly all men of understanding will be weary of this doctrine. The third century from today would not have elapsed when all who wait for ‘Isaa’ [Jesus] to descend from heaven, whether Muslims or Christians, will give up this doctrine in hopeless despair and disgust. Then there will be only one religion and one leader. I have come to sow the seed and the seed has been sown by my hand. It will now grow and flourish and there is no one who can hinder it.
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.