Chapter VII-The Significance of the Ahmadiya Movement

In considering the raison d'etre of the Ahmadiya movement, it is necessary to distinguish between the motive and the reasoning of its original leader, and the motives that have actuated those who have joined the sect both before and after the founder's death. In the case of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad himself, as in the case of his great master, Muhammad, thirteen centuries earlier, a predominant influence leading to his assumption of the role of prophet was undoubtedly his overwhelming sense of the evil that was in the world, particularly, in Ahmad's case, that part of the world which was nominally subject to Muhammadan law and ethics. As he meditated upon this he was mindful of the tradition1 that at the beginning of every hundred years a reviver (Mujaddid2) would appear, who should revivify Islam and restore it to the pure principles of its founder. Ahmad's conviction that he had been chosen to fulfil a unique mission may well have had its inception in the growing consciousness, which appears early in his writings, that he was the divinely appointed reformer for the fourteenth century of the Muslim era.

Following this, through his contact with Christian missionaries and their claims and doctrines, a new Christian element was introduced into his thinking, and, from that time forward, occupied a far more prominent place in his mind than is the case with the average Muhammadan teacher and preacher. He early recognized the importance of the unique place given to Jesus by Muhammad, especially in the fact, as the Qur'an is generally interpreted by Islam, that Jesus was taken up alive into heaven. Ahmad saw that a live Jesus, whose tomb nowhere existed, and a dead Muhammad, whose tomb at Medina was an object of pilgrimage for Muslims, gave Jesus an advantage of which Christian missionaries might have made far more use than they had. After Ahmad had reflected upon these things and discussed them with Muslim and Christian friends, the revelations began to come, as described in the first chapter, giving to Ahmad all the honours which Muslims usually ascribe to Jesus, and most of those conferred by Muslim "agreement" upon Muhammad. From all classes of Muslims he sought acknowledgment as the " next step " in the divine revelation, which came, in time, to mean that he was not only the reformer of the present generation, but that he was also the fulfiller of all the apocalyptic hopes of Muslims — those looking toward the Mahdi as well as to the promised Messiah. Then, even as Muhammad from believing that he was sent specially to his own followers came to regard himself as appointed to a more universal mission, Ahmad extended his claims to other religions as well, declaring that his revelation was to all mankind, to the Christian and the Hindu as well as to the Muslim. But here the difficulty of Jesus' ascension into heaven in his earthly body, according to both Muslim and Christian ideas, had to be conclusively dealt with by Ahmad, since, were Jesus really alive in such a unique manner, which did not hold true of Muhammad and the other prophets, it would be expected that his return would be supernatural in character, in which case Ahmad would have no ground for his claim to Messiahship. Ahmad accepted the issue by boldly and repeatedly declaring that if the commonly accepted view of Jesus' ascension was true, he (Ahmad) was an imposter; and we have seen how earnestly he sought to prove that orthodox Muslims and Christians were wrong, through his revelation declaring that Jesus died an ordinary death and was buried in Srinagar, Kashmir. The efforts of his later years were divided between urging the proofs of his various claims to unique eminence, building up the new community centring in Qadian, and giving in his lectures and writings the spiritual interpretation of Muhammadan teachings which he held to be needful for the revitalizing of the Muslim world. His proposal, just before his death, to form a union of the Arya Samaj, Hinduism and Islam, was the climax of his life's activities.

To understand the motives of those Muslims3 who have joined the movement — other than those who were attracted by the personality of the founder and immediately and blindly accepted his judgments and revelations as valid, without any use whatever of their reasoning faculties — it is necessary to survey briefly the recent development of Islam in India. Dating roughly from the beginning of the nineteenth century, there came to the religious thought and life of India, moribund for so many centuries, a notable awakening and advance, due, as Dr. Farquhar has shown,4 to the co-operation of three forces — the British Government in India, Protestant Christian Missions and, at a later period, the work of the great Western orientalists. The Muhammadan community in India (comprising more than sixty millions of the three hundred odd million inhabitants) was the last large unit of the population to feel and respond to this new stimulus, as it was farthest behind in education and culture. It was their great progressive leader, Syed Ahmad Khan,5 of Delhi and Aligarh, who first realised that the Muslims must join the Bengalis, Marathas, Parsis, and other races and communities, in seeking to assimilate the results of Western scholarship, and, where necessary, to adapt their religious ideas and practices to fit the new environment created by the influx of British civilians, Christian missionaries and oriental scholars. He advised his fellow Muslims in India to eschew political controversy, and, thankfully recognizing the advantages afforded to Islam in India by the presence of the British Government, to seek in every way to advance the cause of education and social reform within their own ranks. In his residential college, at Aligarh, Western arts and sciences were taught by European scholars along with the religious instruction given by Sunnite and Shl'ite maulvis. To the utter abomination of the orthodox, he mingled freely in English society, even dining with English ladies and gentlemen in their homes, and in his periodical, Tahzih'ul Akhlaq (" Reform of Morals"), he urged upon his community the importance of female education and enfranchisement, and of other advanced reforms. In religious matters he was a liberal and a rationalist, going so far as to place the Christian Bible on a par with the Qur'an, as no less, and no more, inspired, holding that the Bible has not been corrupted by the Christians, and that in the Qur'an, as in the Bible, there is a human as well as a divine element. He also wrote part of a commentary on the book of Genesis. One of his watchwords was, "Reason alone is a sufficient guide," and he quoted with approval the remark of a French writer, that Islam, which lays no claim to miraculous powers on the part of the founder, is the truly rationalistic religion.7 As Goldziher has pointed out8 this represents a return to the old Mu'tazilite position,9 and in its universalistic outlook upon other religions is akin to Babism in Persia, which arose at about the same period.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and his followers, then, represent the first development of Indian Islam, under the stimulus of its contact with Western ideas, and it would be difficult to exaggerate the profound influence of this movement on the articulate section of the Muhammadan world of India. In the second stage we pass from what Dr. Farquhar calls " movements favouring vigorous reform," to those in which reform is checked by defence of the old faiths, from the atmosphere of the theistic Brahma Samaj, of Ram Mohan Roy and Keshub Chandra Sen, to that of the largely reactionary and strongly anti-Christian Arya Samaj of Dayanand Saraswati. Such well-known living Muslims as Syed Amir 'AH and Maulvi Chiragh 'Ali represent this school of thought, which in its Muhammadanism is as rationalistic as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, but in its attitude toward other faiths is much more dogmatic and less tolerant. These writers are greatly concerned to prove that the reforms — religious, social, moral and political — which have been forced upon Islam by pressure from without are really in line with the original spirit of Islam, however much Muhammadan tradition, law and present-day practice may actually oppose them. Furthermore, they declare that the real Islam is the universal religion of the future, because it meets sinful man on the lower level of his practical, everyday life, instead of holding up, as does Christianity (sic), ideals impossible of attainment. This probably represents that "side development of Islam " to which Professor Macdonald alludes in Aspects of Islam,10 when he writes : " Or are the wheels of progress to crush out all ideals, and is the future civilization of the world to be woven of philosophic doubt, of common-sense attitudes and of material luxury ? There is a curious side development of Islam which looks in that direction, and which sees in the narrowed, utilitarian aims, in the acceptance of the lower facts of life, in the easy ideals which characterize that religion, the promise that its will be the future in the common-sense world to come, and holds that, even as the world is, Islam must be the religion of all sensible men."

Syed Amir 'Ali seems to hold that view of Islam, in its essence, only insisting that Muhammad's practical rules assist morality more than do general precepts ; and yet admitting that in order to the wide acceptance of Islam in the West certain modifications of its requirements are essential. In The Spirit of Islam he has written: "The Islam of Muhammad, with its stern discipline and its severe morality, has proved itself the only practical religion for low natures, to save them from drifting into lawless materialism. It is probable, however, that should the creed of the Arabian Prophet receive acceptance among European communities, much of the rigid formalism which has been imparted to it by the lawyers of Central Asia and Irak will have to be abandoned."11

Thus has reform passed over into apologetic, as, in the main thesis of Syed Amir 'Ali's book, it advances to polemic and straightforward attack essential to the assertion, on this new ground, of the superiority of Islam over Christianity. As Syed Amir 'Ali and Maulvi Chiragh 'Ali have departed from the policy of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the latter's unpolemical religious eclecticism, the vigorous group of Muslims composing
the All-India Moslem League 2 has departed from it in a different direction in their active championship of the political rights and ambitions of the Muslims of India in the present day. The editor of the defunct Comrade (the organ of this group), Muhammad 'Ali, by reason of his seditious articles and utterances, was interned by the British Government, together with his brother and a number of other prominent Muslims, soon after the commencement of the war with Germany.

We come now to the Ahmadiya movement, which represents on the religious side a further departure from Sir Syed Ahmad's position, in the matter of religious liberalism, but is a return to it, though on different grounds, 3 in the matter of the absence of political controversy. The rationalism of all the newer school is utterly repudiated by Ahmad, as we have seen, and there is present here a zeal for reform more analogous to the Wahhabites than to any other modern party of Muslims. It represents a later stage of the reaction to a Christianity by this time established and rapidly winning converts. It has attracted those Muslims who, concerned alike at the inroads of Christianity and (to a small extent) of the Arya Samaj from without, and of rationalism and worldliness from within, turned eagerly toward a leader who took his stand firmly upon Islam as a revealed religion, as being the supreme revelation of God to man, and, allowing no quarter to Christianity, pressed forward in unsparing attack, not, however, asserting the superiority of Islam on the ground of its rational character, but rather because of the authentic and conclusive nature of its divinely inspired revelation. Accordingly, following in this Syed Amir 'Ali rather than Sir Syed Ahmad, Western civilization, as well as the Christian religion, is generally and heartily condemned.

Undoubtedly one element which helped to convince many Muslims of the validity of Ahmad's claim to be
the medium of revelation in our day was his theory regarding the death of Jesus, which brought them relief from the predicament in which they had hitherto been placed in religious controversy with Christians. This reason for success is frankly set forth in a recent article by Ahmad's son, the present Khalifa, which is the substance of a letter sent by him to the Nizam of Hyderabad :

"The chief reason why the reformer of this age was given the title of Messiah was tha the was destined to fight against 'Church Christianity' and to break its power, and as an actual fact the instruments which the reformer used towards this end were such as were altogether beyond the power of the Christians to face. For example, it was the practice of the Christians to take in Musalmans by such arguments as the following: — ' Mark, how our Messiah is still alive while your prophet is dead.' ' Our Messiah used to bring the dead to life. Your prophet did not bring any dead to life.' 'Our Messiah is sitting in the sky, your prophet lies buried under the sand.' ' Your prophet will not visit the earth again, but our Messiah will once more come to the earth to purge it of its corruptions, and it is he who will overthrow the perils of the latter days.' 'Now, say truly, which of the two is superior ?' The argument was such as could not possibly be escaped by the Musalmans and most of them fell a prey to the deception. What the reformer did was to establish by powerful arguments the falsity of all such notions. He thus saved Musalmans from the clutches of the Christians. ... By proving that Jesus died a natural death, the new reformer gave a fresh lease of life to Islam, and now the Musalmans are for all times saved from falling a prey to the Christian missionaries" (Review of Religions, XV, p. 9).

A further powerful element of attractiveness in the Ahmadlia movement is its appeal to the age-long eschatological hopes of Muslims, held to some extent in common with earnest adherents of most of the great religious communions of the world. It is on this side that it is distantly related to the Babi and Baha'i movements, from which it differs essentially, as we have already seen,12 in the matter of its exclusiveness and intolerance, insisting, as it does, not on the oneness of all religions, but rather on the unique supremacy of Islam as interpreted by Ahmad. The late Dr. S. G. Wilson, author of Baha'ism and Its Claims, for thirty-two years a missionary in Persia, traces the parallelism between the two movements, in eschatological and other directions, in part as follows :13

"In this effort to propagate itself in Christendom (referring to the Mission at Woking, England), it is like Baha'ism. In not a few points there is a striking resemblance between these offshoots from Muhammadanism. Some of these may be accounted for by their springing up in a similar soil, a Mubammadan soil impregnated with Suflism and Mahdiism.and in which some elements of nineteenth century Christian thought had found lodgment. Both (Ahmad and Baha'Ullah) claim that a new revelation is needed, because Christianity is dead and Islam needs reforming. . . . Both, after the example of Muhammad, sent letters to kings announcing their coming and inviting them to faith. Both practised polygamy and praised Muhammad and the Koran. Both belittled Jesus Christ, denying his miracles, his resurrection, his ascension and literal Second Coming. Both failed to bring about moral reformation in the conduct of their disciples, who have divided into sects on the death of their founders. Both claimed as signs of their mission their eloquence in the Arabic tongue, the writing of spontaneous verses, fulfilled predictions, their success in winning converts, and the good effects seen in the conduct of their followers. Both made large use of the press ; Baha.' Ullah sent his books to Bombay to be published, owing to lack of liberty in Turkey and Persia; Ghulim Ahmad had a press of his own at Qadian. The teachings of Ahmad are free from some of the extravagances and inanities of Baha'ism. Neither sect appears to have any great future before it. Their chief usefulness has been to help towards the breaking down of scholastic Islam — the one among the Shi'ahs, the other among the Sunnis of India. Baha'ism has definitely broken with Islam, while the Ahmadiya movement continues within its fold."

While all the reasons given above help to explain the measure of success attained by the Ahmadiya movement, it is chiefly significant as giving added evidence of the craving of the human heart everywhere for a real and vitalizing religious life. It has shown how many Indian Muslims there are who could not rest satisfied with a rationalistic faith, on the one hand, nor with mere empty orthodoxy combined with formal worship, on the other. My visit to Qadian, in January, 1916, although it took place more than eight years after the death of Ahmad, showed me a community where there existed abundant enthusiasm and zeal for religion, of a vigorous, positive kind unusual in Islam in India at the present time. One could understand how an earnest Muslim who had come to feel a species of contempt for the ignorant, unfaithful maulvis of his acquaintance, a Muslim to whom Muhammad seemed a long way back, historically, and Mecca a long way off, geographically, would find in the spirit of industry, confidence and aggressiveness to be encountered at Qadian a heartening faith for which he had looked in vain to orthodox relatives and priests. We can understand how he would thankfully accept as true the revelations of the Mirza Sahib, without subjecting their content to the scrutiny of a trained intellect, partly because his pragmatic mind could see that here was something that worked, and partly because of his not being one of the rare few in the Muslim world who as yet have attained to fair and critical judgment in matters affecting the religious life.

The split in the sect, following the death of the first Khalifa, shows the counter effect upon the community of the strong present-day rationalistic and political elements in Indian Muhammadanism, pressing in upon the minds of educated Ahmadis like Khwajah Kamal-ud-Din and his fellow-seceders. They are so far men of affairs in the world that they could not wholly give themselves over to that absorption in religious matters which is characteristic of the Qadian party. As already related, their secession tended naturally to accentuate in the members of the true Ahmadiya remnant their belief in supernatural religion and their loyalty to the unique claims of their revered leader. How the faces of these loyal Ahmadis are turning more and more toward Qadian as a second Medina, not to say Mecca, is evident from the following paragraph in the Review of Religions for January, 1917 (XV, p. 41) :

"More than five thousand delegates, from almost all the parts of India, attended the annual gathering of Ahmadis, and the meetings held on the 26th, 27th, and 28th December were a complete success. His Holiness the Second Successor to the Promised Messiah spoke on the remembrance of God, for five hours, and His Hazrat's14 impressive, interesting and instructive sermon was listened to with rapt attention by the spell-bound assembly of the faithful, who returned home with increased knowledge and refreshed faith. There was also a ladies' conference, about five hundred ladies being present. The blessed town of Qadian this year witnessed the truth of the Promised Messiah's great prophecy about this place, with even greater splendour and grandeur than before, and everyone, with the praise of Allah on his lips, involuntarily sang the following couplet of the Messiah — 'The place of Qadian is now honoured, and with the gathering together of people resembles the sacred precincts of the Ka'ba.' "

It now appears certain that the Lahore party will be absorbed into the "All-India Moslem League" section of Indian Islam, contributing to it a certain added anti-Christian animus and, in part perhaps, the new Ahmadiya interpretation of the death of Jesus, whereas the Qadian party will continue as a permanent, and possibly a gradually widening, segment of the great circle of Islam.


1 See Ed. of Ihya of Al Ghazali, with commentary of S. M , I, p. 26 ; and Goldziher, Vorlesungen uber den Islam, p 314

2 Cf. p. 116.

3 The number of Hindus and Christians who have become Ahmadis in India and other countries is so small as to be negligible for our present purpose of estimating the significance of the sect.

4 Modern Religious Movements in India, p. 5.

6 See p. 66, Note 1.

7 See Weitbrecht, Indian Islam and Modern Thought, Church Congress, 1905.

8 Vorlesungen uber den Islam, p. 313.

9 Cf. p. 65, Note 3 ; and p. 123, Note 1.

10 Pp. 256, 257.

11 Preface, p. xii. 2 Cf. p. 114. 3 Cf. p. 103.

12 Cf. p. 53.

13 Modem Movements Among Moslems, Fleming H. Revell, N.Y., 1916, pp. 138, 139.

14 "Lordship " or "Excellency."

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