Chapter II-2 The Distinctive Claims of Ahmad - The Expected Mahdi

The confusing multiplicity and diversity of Muslim traditions relating to the signs of the approach of " The Day " characterise particularly the references to the Mahdi (literally, "guided one"). It is clear that he is a descendant of the Prophet, and the last of the Imams (the successors of the Prophet) — who, according to Sunnite Muslims, is to come upon earth at the last day, and in victorious warfare make Islam to prevail throughout the world. Thus far the traditions are agreed, but from that point onward they diverge. Some would have the rule of the Mahdi overthrown by Dajjal (anti-Christ), in order that Dajjal in turn may be destroyed by 'Isa, whose expected return to earth has crept into Islam from Christian eschatology. There has, however, been a persistent tradition in Muslim eschatological literature that " there is no Mahdi except Jesus."1 This tradition Ahmad accepted as against all others contradicting it. Moreover, the usual Muslim idea of the Mahdi is that he will be a " man of blood," leading Islam forth on its last great jihad (holy war), a character which has been sustained by most other modern claimants to Mahdiship. This conception would have been a most inconvenient (though not an impossible) one for Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to have held, with his boasted peaceableness and friendliness to British rule in India, and we find him repudiating it vigorously, and, along with it, the customary view of jihad, which, he held, had reference to spiritual rather than to physical warfare.2 Ahmad summed up his position as follows :

"The spiritual personality of the Messiah and the Mahdi is a combination of the spiritual personalities of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and Jesus."

And again :

"To believe in me as the Promised Messiah and Mahdi is to disbelieve in the popular doctrine of jihad.'

It is hardly worth while quoting at length the various arguments by which Ahmad sought to prove from the traditions that he was the expected Mahdi as well as the promised Messiah. His main point was that the traditions are hopelessly contradictory, and that the only possible criterion by which the true traditions can be distinguished from the false would be the actual appearance of the Mahdi, fulfilling certain of the prophecies and thus stamping them as true. In one line of argument, to establish the identity of Messiah and Mahdi, he asserted that since in many traditions the word " Mahdi " may be taken not as a proper name but as a descriptive title, and since the offices of the Messiah and Mahdi are constantly confused or blended, and since the signs attending the advent of each are not distinguishable, it follows that Mahdi is only a title of the promised Messiah, and that therefore any traditions regarding the Mahdi which cannot be adjusted to apply to the now apparent promised Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, must, ipso facto, be false.

We have now seen that Ahmad believed that he fulfilled the prophecies relating to the promised Messiah and the expected Mahdi, and that his personal character validated his claim. There remained a further test from which he did not shrink, and he confessed that it was the final criterion of prophethood and Messiahship. This was the presence of those outward signs for which the Scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus, and for which the Qureish3 asked Muhammad. Muhammad, according to the later traditions accepted by Ahmad, and in contradiction of the obvious teaching of the Qur'an,4 responded by showing the requisite signs.

"What was it happened in the sandy deserts of Arabia? The dead were raised to life in thousands, the blind were made to see, the dumb were made to utter words of heavenly wisdom, and the depraved of long generations were clothed in divine morals" (Review of Religions, III, p. 46).

And again :

"As regards our Holy Prophet, there are about a million of his words in which we witness clear manifestations of his light and divine glory."

The promised Messiah, likewise, never disappointed the honest seeker after a sign, but, as he monotonously reiterated, " has shown more than one hundred and fifty supernatural signs, to which evidence is borne by millions of men, and anyone who demands a sign even now in earnest is not disappointed" (Review of Religions, I, p. 368).

A favourite method of attracting attention was to offer a sum of money to any seeker who should come to Qadian and go away not satisfied with having seen a sign. We have never heard of any money having been paid over, although we have reason to believe, from the nature and continuance of the opposition to Ahmad, much of it in the immediate environs of Qadian, that some who came were not, or would not be, satisfied. On the other hand, sums of money were on several occasions offered publicly by his enemies if Ahmad would prove himself to be the Messiah, and this, of course, he could not do to their satisfaction. On one occasion a prominent member (Shaikh Muhammad Chittu) of the Ahl-i-Qur'an sect of Muslims in the Panjab,5 offered Rs. 25,000 if the Mirza Sahib would prove in debate that he was the promised Messiah. As far as I can learn, the offer was not accepted.

The nature of Ahmad's signs varied. As the miracle par excellence of Islam is the Qur'an,6 and the Arabic poetry contained therein, so Ahmad boasted of his own Arabic and his ventures in Arabic poetry as miraculous signs given him from above. He once offered to give Rs. 10,000 to any Muslim who should produce in twelve days an Arabic ode of equal excellence with the one he himself would indite. The main burden of his ode, written at the time, Qasida Ijazia(" Miraculous Ode ") was the falseness of Shi'ite Muslims, whom he called mushriks7 like the Christians. The same challenge accompanied his Ijaz-ul- Masih, " a miraculous Arabic commentary on the Surat-al-Fatiha '"8 (Review of Religious, I, p. 495).

Ahmad likewise claimed some remarkable discoveries relating to the origin of words. For instance, he declared that Khinzir, the Arabic word for pig, was derived from Khinz, meaning "very foul," and ar, meaning "I see"; and that similarly suar (pig) in Urdu is composed of two compounds also meaning "I see foul "; so he concludes, " Su'ar is therefore an Arabic word, and the reason of its prohibition is now evident" (Review of Religions, I, p. 99). By other such examples, which the philologist will find equally amusing, Ahmad sought to prove what he calls "one of the greatest discoveries of the age," that Arabic is the mother of all languages.9

In this connection he announced that " the descriptive words of ignorant Bedouins disclose treasures of scientific facts, which, we know not how many thousands of years afterwards, were discovered by the world (Review of Religions, I, p. 79).

One of his typical " great discoveries " was announced in a pamphlet published in 1898, entitled A Revealed Cure for the Bubonic Plague. The Marham-i-'Isa (Ointment of Jesus), which was declared to he "spoken of by the Jewish, Christian, Parsi and Muhammad an physicians" and of which " over a thousand books on medicine contain a description," the very medicine which miraculously healed Jesus' wounds after he had been removed from the cross in a swoon, was now offered for sale by Ahmad as a miraculous remedy for the plague, "prepared solely under the influence of divine inspiration." This remedy dis- appeared from the market as the result of an order issued by the Deputy Commissioner of Lahore, dated 19th October, 1899, followed by the decision of the Chief Court of the Panjab in the appealed case, dated 8th June, 1900.

An Ahmadiya heresy, sometimes put forward as an unique discovery and a sign of Ahmad's prophetship, was the denial of the presence in the Qur'an of any so-called abrogated verses. In asserting this belief Ahmad was running counter to the universal agreement ijma' of the Muslim people.10

In the latest life of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, by Mirza Yakub Beg, a number of specific miracles are ascribed to Ahmad, such as the finding of a dead scorpion in his bed, and, most important, his restoration to life of a boy who had been drowned. It is further recorded that after the miraculous resuscitation of the youth, he almost immediately passed away. It may be to that incident that Ahmad referred in the following sentence : "I also swear by the sacred name of God that I have restored the dead to life in the manner in which the divine law has allowed it" (Review of Religions, I, p. 205).

The chief miraculous signs to which Ahmad laid claim, however, were his alleged prophecies of future events. In this connection he writes:

"Prophecy in fact is the only supernatural evidence that can carry a conviction to all reasonable minds at a time of great scientific advancement when everything must needs be put to the scientific test, and this is the reason why the wise and foreseeing God has, in his last and living book, brought prophecy to the front and laid stress upon it while he has thrown other miracles into the background as not being evidence of the highest type, inasmuch as performances by sleight of hand or showman's tricks, or other mechanical or optical deceptions, on account of their strong resemblance with the miraculous, take away the whole force of the evidence " (Review of Religions, I, p. 315) .

The prophecies of which Ahmad boasted most constantly had to do with the death or humiliation of his enemies, and were as much curses as prophecies. Although he frequently writes of "hundreds" of such instances, we find him referring in detail to comparatively few. These select cases were his prophecies of the death of his two arch-enemies, Pandit Lekh Ram, of the Arya Samaj, and Mr. Abdulla Atham, E.A.C., a prominent Indian Christian, and (less often) Chiragh Din, the apostate from the Ahmadiya ranks, and Dr. John Alexander Dowie,11 in America. The most definite prophecy of them all was that which declared that Pandit Lekh Ram would die within six years of the time of the promulgation of the prophecy, " and the 'Id (Muhammadan festival) will be very near to it." Four years after the prophecy appeared, on the 6th of March, the day following the most important 'Id (the 'Id-uz-Zuha or Bakr 'Id, called simply " the 'Id in India), Pandit Lekh Ram was the victim of an assassin's dagger. The members of the Arya Samaj, and many others, not unnaturally believed that the prophecy and the murder had a sinister connection of cause and effect quite different from that which was urged by Ahmad. Through the instrumentality, chiefly, of his first and most powerful Muslim opponent, Maulvi Muhammad Husain, Ahmad was constrained by an order of the Government, dated February 24th, 1899, to promise hereafter : —

"To refrain from publishing any prediction involving the disgrace of any person, or in which any one should be represented as an object of God's displeasure.

"To refrain from publishing any challenge to appeal to God to indicate by the signs of his displeasure, such as disgrace, etc., the party in a religious controversy which is in the wrong.

"To refrain from publishing any writing purporting to be an inspiration the object of which can be reasonably taken to be the disgrace of any person, or the representing of him as the object of the Divine wrath."

The case of Mr. Abdulla Atham was interesting because, although his prophesied death and descent to hell was widely heralded, he was still living after the allotted time (fifteen months) had expired. Ahmad then issued a whole series of explanations. He declared that the purport of the prophecy was that whichever of the two (Atham or himself) was a liar would die within the lifetime of the other. This would be fulfilled. The condition of the prophecy was, "unless he turn to the truth." He was alleged to have shown signs of relenting, so that, in accordance with " the well-known laws of prophecy," a respite had been granted. The details of the prophecy were indefinite, and "such details are only manifested after their fulfilment." Finally, he admitted that he might have been wrong. " It also happens that an error occurs sometimes in the interpretation of a prophecy, for, after all, prophets are mortals." For instance, "Jesus had prophesied that his twelve apostles would sit on twelve thrones, whereas one of them became the devil's in his own life-time " (Review of Religions, III, p. 350). When, however, Mr. Abdulla Atham, then an old man, died eighteen months later, Ahmad declared that the original prophecy had been triumphantly fulfilled (Review of Religions, II, p. 148).

He was always eager to engage his enemies in " prayer-duels," believing that by such means God would bring destruction upon the hypocrite. We read, " Christian missionaries are reported to be very courageous. They do not, it is said, hesitate to lay down even their lives for the sake of their religion. But they have proved very chicken-hearted before Ahmad. None ventures to engage with Ahmad in a prayer contest " (Review of Religions, V, p. 461). Probably no one sentence could better illustrate his fundamental inability to conceive of the true nature and spirit of Christianity than the above, giving expression to his amazement that Christians should be unwilling to pray for his destruction, and attributing their unwillingness to do so to fear of the consequences likely to fall on their own heads. His one-sided duel with John Alexander Dowie12 was widely quoted in the West, and although Dowie scorned to enter the lists with him, nevertheless, after Dowie's death, Ahmad wondered why Christendom failed to acknowledge his own power, which had effected such a miracle, and, thenceforth, to accept him as its spiritual head. The following quotation from the Review of Religions (V, p. 459) gives a summary of Ahmad's philosophy of prayer and its outcome: — "He (Ahmad) has announced that whoever would pray for his death would himself fall a prey to a speedy and painful death, and that such a person would die before he dies. He has very often invited the world to test his truth by this criterion. Even if a host of men pray against him, they are sure, he says, to be consumed with the wrath of God in his life-time, for the mighty Hand of God is in his support, and every one who rises against him is sure to be knocked down. And there have been actually men who made a response to his call and prayed to God against him, but they all died as he prophesied, and thus furnished a proof of his truth. The names of those who wielded the sword of prayer against him, but cut their own throats with it, are as follows: Maulvi Ghulam Dastaglr, of Qasur, District Lahore ; Maulvi Muhammad Ismail, of Aligarh ; Pandit Lekh Ram, the well-known Arya leader ; Maulvi Muhammad Hasan, of Bhin, District Jhelum ; Faqlr Mirza, of Dulunijal, District Jhelum ; Chiragh Din, of Jammu."

Ahmad likewise made frequent prophecies of the rapid spread and ultimate triumph of his cause. He also prophesied the birth of sons for his friends, some of whom, it is reported, paid him liberally for his trouble. These prophesies, if we are to believe his enemies, very often failed of fulfilment. At times, for example, we find him seeking to explain in devious ways the non-appearance of the predicted boy or the appearance of " merely a girl," failures with which his enemies delighted to taunt him. One of Ahmad's converts, Abdulla of Timapur, who afterward claimed to be himself the Messiah,13 in a published reply to a pamphlet of Ahmad's mentions the case of a certain Risaldar-Major, who gave the Mirza Sahib Rs. 500 in return for the prophecy of a son who failed to materialize. He likewise writes of one, Fateh 'AH Shah, who asked for prayer for the recovery of his wife, who soon after passed away. He further states that Maulvi Muhammad Husain, Ahmad's inveterate opponent, received a grant of land from the Government soon after his immediately forthcoming discomfiture had been prophesied by Ahmad.

Professor Siraj-ud-Din, in an illuminating article on the Ahmadiya movement published in 1907,14  shows how a clever Muslim opponent of Ahmad's answered in kind one species of characteristic Ahmadiya challenge :

"One of the clever tricks used by the Mirza in connection with his prophetic business is to announce that ' if a certain prediction made by him against an opponent is not true, let his opponent come to Qadian within so many days and swear the prediction has not been fulfilled, and if he does not come within the stated period it is proved that he is in the wrong and the prediction has come true! ' Such challenges are often in their very nature unanswerable.

But sometimes he is paid by others in the same coin. A Muhammadan maulvi, of Lahore, published a notice some time ago that he had prophesied a number of things about the Mirza which had all come true, viz., that he shall not succeed in marrying a certain woman ; that in a certain case a girl and not a boy shall be born, contrary to the Mirza's prophecy, etc., etc. Then he went on to say that his last prophecy about the Mirza. was that he would become a leper, and that from people who had seen the Mirza he had learned that signs of leprosy had appeared on his body. He therefore challenged the Mirza to come to Lahore within a stated period, and show his body in public if it was free from leprosy, and if the Mirza did not come within that time, it would prove that he had certainly become a leper according to the Maulvi's prophecy. The Mirza, though ordinarily ready for an answer to everything, had no answer whatever to give."15

The above are a few of the false prophecies that have been cited by Ahmad's enemies.

At the time of the acute unrest in Bengal, due to the partition of the province,16 Ahmad prophesied, in February, 1906, " relating to the order that had been given concern- ing Bengal at first, they will be conciliated now ' : (Review of Religions, V, p. 82). After the excitement had somewhat subsided and the temporarily unpopular Lieu- tenant-Governor of the new province had resigned (long before the rearrangement of the partition), Ahmad claimed that his prophecy had been fulfilled, and jubilantly queried :

"Could any one guess six months before the resignation of Sir B. Fuller that the Bengali agitators would be thus conciliated ? There were, no doubt, men who hoped that a Liberal Government in England may set aside the order of partition, but no one ever thought of the conciliatory policy that has been adopted by the Government" (Review of Religions, V, p. 363).

Ahmad did not live to learn that the agitation, which he then believed ended, was to continue, and that those who believed that the Liberal Government would rearrange the partition were finally proved to have been in the right. Had he done so, he would unquestionably have explained that it was only a more complete fulfilment of his original prophecy.17

Ahmad laid much stress on his ability to foresee the coming of earthquake and plague. On April 4th, 1905, a great earthquake occurred in North India. Out of the mass of his forgotten past prophecies he then produced one, of the date of December, 1903, which said, "A shock of earthquake"; and another, of May, 1904, which declared, " No trace shall be left of the abodes; both permanent and temporary abodes being laid waste." As no time or place was specified, and as it was even possible, if necessary or desirable, to allegorize the expected earthquake in some manner, it had no doubt seemed certain that the prophecies would prove convenient for reference at some later date. And so it happened, with the occurrence of the earthquake of 1905, when, referring to those prophecies, we find it written in the Review of Religions:

"No power in heaven or earth besides that of the Omniscient God could reveal such deep knowledge of the future."

This is a good illustration of what Dr. Griswold, four years previous, wrote of as " the Delphic ambiguity of his oracles, and also the way in which the indefinite is made definite post eventum."18 Ahmad himself was constrained to admit that his prophecies were open to criticism on the score of vagueness but he felt that the criticism was unjust, and complained: " Now that the thing has happened all these wonderful prophecies are ignored because it was not stated that on the 4th of April, in 1905, a severe shock of earthquake would be felt at 6.15 a.m., which would level the buildings with the ground in such and such cities situated in the Kangra district, that its crushing effect would also be felt in such and such other cities of the Panjab, and that the number of persons killed or buildings destroyed would be so much. What is the particular which was not foretold with the exception only of the names and figures? " (Review of Religions, IV, p. 230). The italics are ours.

The Review of Religions for December, 1915, gives a typical summary of some of the fulfilled prophecies of Ahmad, conveying the impression that these events were predicted definitely and in detail, whereas in not a single instance, probably (if we except the case of Dr. Dowie, whose coming downfall was evident to thousands), was this the case :

"He (Ahmad) published hundreds of prophecies, many of which have already come true (such as his prophecy regarding the Partition of Bengal, the defeat of Russia and the annexation of Korea by Japan, the Persian Revolution, the outbreak of plague in India, the occurrence of earthquakes of unparalleled severity in diverse parts of the earth, the defeat of Turks in Thrace and their subsequent victory over the Bulgarians, the downfall and death of Dr. Dowie, the false prophet of America, etc., etc.) and many still await fulfilment."

The great plague, which raged continuously in the Panjab for many years before the death of the prophet, was a further example of the same principle. This was held to be not only a general fulfilment of prophecies of Jesus, Muhammad and Ahmad, referring to the Last Day, and a warning to men everywhere to recognize the promised Messiah's claims (Review of Religions, VI, p. 251), but it evoked a more detailed prophecy of Ahmad's, to the effect that God would protect from the scourge the followers of Ahmad, the village of Qadian, and especially the house of Ahmad. Regarding inoculation for the plague, he wrote in 1902 (Review of Religions, I, p. 417) :

"It should be borne in mind that I do not declare it to be generally illegal to have recourse to medicines or preventive measures in the case of plague or other diseases, for the Holy Prophet is reported to have said that there is no malady for which God has not created a remedy. But I consider it sinful to obscure by inoculation the heavenly sign which God has been gracious enough to display for me and my followers, and by which he intends to show his distinctive favour to those who accept me in sincerity and faithfulness. I cannot, therefore, insult and discredit this sign of mercy by submitting to inoculation, and be guilty of unbelief in the promise of God."

When the plague eventually reached Qadian, and struck down, indiscriminately, both enemies and followers of Ahmad, explanations were in order and were forthcoming :

"The occasional occurrence of plague among my people without causing any considerable loss cannot lessen the value of the heavenly signs, for we witness in the history of early prophets that it was only their ultimate success that served as a heavenly sign, although in the meantime they occasionally suffered loss, which, being insignificant, could not mar their progress " (Review of Religions, I, p. 418).

It was also pointed out that prophecy had not said that Qadian would escape the plague, but that it would receive protection, which meant that it would not be utterly desolated as some other towns had been.


1 To be found in De Slane, Ed. Quatremere, Mukaddima of Ibn Khaldun, Vol. II, p. 163, and also quoted by De Massignon in his edition of Kitab al Taivasin, by Al-Hallaj, Paris, 1913, p. 161, Note 2. Snouck Hurgronje, in Mohammedanism, New York, 1916, p. 108, speaks of the use of this tradition in Turkish official classes to-day, to prove that the true Mahdi must descend from the clouds, thus tending to discredit all pseudo-Mahdis arising from human society.

2 This question of jihad will be considered further in Chapter III (p. 71ff), as it is a fundamental point in the differentiation of the Ahmadiya sect from orthodox Islam. It is discussed at length by Maulvi Sher 'All, B.A., one of Ahmad's followers, in Review of Religions, VII, pp. 174-185, 193, 221, 291-320, 337-371, 377-404.

3 The ruling family of Mecca, to which Muhammad belonged.

4 Cf. Qur'an, VI, 109. For miracles later ascribed to Muhammad see Two Hundred and Fifty-two Authentic Miracles of Muhammad, by Maulvl Muhammad Inayat Ahmad, Mohammedan Tract and Book Depot, Lahore, 1894, mentioned in Zwemer, The Moslem Christ, Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, Edinburgh, 1912, p. 164, Note 1.

5 A sect founded in 1902 by one, Abdulla Chakralvi, who was at one time a pupil of Hakim Nur-ud-Din of Qadian. He taught that the inspired Qur'an, not Muhammad, is the true Rasul (Messenger) and rejected the hails with all the traditions relating to the life of Muhammad. The sect differs in many other important matters from orthodox Islam. In the 1911 Census Report 271 persons were entered as followers of this sect.

6 Cf. Qur'an X, 38, 39; IV, 84, etc.

7 To the Ahmadi the Sunnite Muslim is a kafir (unbeliever) simply, whereas the Shi'ite, whose doctrine of the death and intercession of Imam Husain is held to be analogous to the Christian worship of Jesus, is called a mushrik: i.e., one who attributes to God a shdrik or partner. This is the sin of shirk.

8 " The Chapter of the Opener," placed at the beginning of the Qur'an. This is recited several times during the five daily prayers, and has been called the Muslim Lord's Prayer.

9 Cf. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad : The Teachings of Islam, Luzac & Co., London, 1910, p. 131.

10 For an exhaustive summary of the orthodox view of abrogation (mansiikh) see article by D. B. Macdonald, in Moslem World, VII, p.420ff.

11 Cf. p. 45, Note 1.

12 Dowie (1847-1907), self-styled " First Apostle of the Lord Jesus, the Christ, and General Overseer of the Christian Apostolic Church in Zion," also " Elijah II " and " The Promised Messiah," established a religious commonwealth called " Zion City," on the shores of Lake Michigan, U.S.A., in 1901. In 1906 the city revolted against him, and he was finally suspended from the Church, charged with misuse of funds, tyranny and immorality.

13 Maulvi Abdulla of Timapur (a suburb of Shorapur, in the Deccan) had been successively Sunnite Muslim, Wahhabi, and Ahmadi, before he created his own sect, declaring, " I am the man from God : You must all follow me. I am the real Khalifa of Qadian." He has about three hundred disciples at present, and is much more friendly to Christians than to Muslims. I am indebted for this information to Rev. N. Desai, the pastor of a self-supporting Indian Christian congre- gation at Shorapur.

14 R. Siraj-ud-Din, now professor of philosophy in Forman Christian College, Lahore, and an elder in the Presbyterian Church, spent several months with Ahmad at Qadian during the period when he was weighing the claims of Christianity. He has kept in close touch with the Ahmadiya movement ever since, and the article from which we quote may be counted a primary source.

15 "Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a False Messiah of India," in The Missionary Review of the World, New Series, XX, pp. 754, 755.

16 In 1905 a new province, of Eastern Bengal and Assam, was in part created out of a section of old Bengal, and there was a general realignment of boundaries in that part of India. The move was believed by the Hindu populace to be an attempt to weaken national, political and religious feeling, and proved so unpopular that in December, 1911, at the time of the King-Emperor's durbar in Delhi, announce- ment was made of a forthcoming rearrangement of the boundaries, whereby Eastern Bengal was to be re-united to Bengal proper in the present Bengal Presidency.

17 Since writing the above words I have come upon an article in Review of Religions for May, 1916 (XV, p. 168), which deals with Ahmad 's various prophecies, and in which, in connection with " Ahmad's Prophecy about Bengal," the announcement of the rearrangement of the partition, on 12th December, 1911, is given as marking the fulfilment of Ahmad's prediction "to the very letter." " Conciliation," the author writes, " is predicted in the prophetic utterances, and the same is brought about."

18 Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, The Mehdi Messiah of Qadian, p. 31.

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