May 15 1985
This booklet contains an address delivered by Professor Louis J. Hammann, at the Annual Conference of the American Academy of Religions held at Canton Upper State New York and at the seminar at the University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia.
Professor Hammann is a distinguished scholar in comparative study of religions; at present a professor of Religion at the Gettysburg College. He holds Academic Degrees from Yale, Pennsylvania State and Temple Universities. A Quaker associated with Friend’s Meeting in Gettysburg College. He is also affiliated with the United Church of Christ.
In the quest of knowledge about Ahmadiyyat he visited Qadian and Rabwah in 1983, the International Headquarter of Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam. He made a careful study of Ahmadiyyat and its founder Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.
He has studied very deeply and explained intricate questions in a very clear and lucid manner. It shows a wonderful God- given capability. It is the most impressive work ever written by an impartial observer of Ahmadiyyat.
Sheikh Mubarak Ahmed
Amir and Missionary Incharge, USA
July 10 1985
Ahmadiyyat is, what we might call, a messianic sect of Islam. In order to avoid what I might call the “cold bath syndrome” I will make some brief prefatory remarks. Such a preface may avoid the shock and confusion of a plunge into the unfamiliar world of nineteenth century Islam.
I have no idea how many readers may have heard of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam. As we shall see a little later, the Movement originated when a devout Muslim, living in the Punjab, declared in 1889 that he was Mahdi and Messiah. This was the point at which experiences of revelation that went back to 1876, when Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was 41 years old, came to a sharp focus. At that dramatic moment, a pious and devout personality reached a plateau of self-realization. From then to the time of his death in 1908, Hazrat Ahmad was the human and prophetic energy that led what his followers felt as the renaissance of Islam.
Ahmadiyyat is a missionary movement that has gathered 10 million adherents from Indonesia and Malaysia to Pakistan and central and west Africa and in the Americas. Presently the institutional structure is focused in central Pakistan, in the town of Rabwah. The current head of the Movement is the fourth since the death of the Promised Messiah. He is Mirza Tahir Ahmad, one of the grandsons of the founder. Early in 1985, Hazur, as he is affectionately called, moved to London, when the pressures against the Community in Pakistan began to mount.
The legal basis for the government’s tactics was first of all a constitutional amendment promulgated in the year 1974, declaring Ahmadis “non-Muslims.” More recently, in April, 1984, the government established an ordinance declaring that: the Ahmadis will, under pain of punishment, be barred, directly or indirectly, from referring to themselves as Muslims or calling their place of worship a mosque or using the Azan the Muslim call to prayer as their call for the same purpose. Nor can the Ahmadis propagate by word of mouth or writing or visible representation their religion with a view to converting others. They are also barred from using the nomenclature or appellations associated with the Holy Prophet or his family for a member of the Ahmadi community or anyone else.
John Esposito has edited a book entitled, Voices of Resurgent Islam. This and other current books aim at exhibiting Islam as a religion newly energized and as a religion that no longer deserves, if it ever did, the stereotypical image of the violent, irrational desert marauder. In place of such simplifications we must try to understand that Islam is at least as complicated a phenomenon as Christianity. The dust-covered simplifications of the religion rooted in the Holy Quran are simply not appropriate. But how shall we change our minds as observers and scholars and teachers whose profession it is to understand the various religious experiences that engage the human community. We must attend to the history of religious traditions, but we should also familiarize ourselves with their current reality.
Ahmadiyyat is, if these are our motives, worthy of scrutiny. Through it we may come closer to Islam as an historic phenomenon and as a contemporary reality. Ahmadiyyat has the advantage of being well-documented. Its followers are also willing and able to present the Movement as a personal experience and as an historic cause. They are also persuaded by the Quranic injunction “that there is no compulsion in religion.” In Ahmadiyyat we can appreciate Muslim piety and sense the viability of Islam as a powerful force in the modern world.
The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam
The middle of the 19th century was, as we all know, a time of great intellectual and religious ferment. The natural and social sciences were cooking on the front burners. And on the back burners the caldrons of the great religious traditions were coming to a boil.
Such metaphors aside, the 19th century transition to the wonders and horrors of the 20th century, was marked by movements of renewal and fulfillment in religious communities around the world. The surge of apocalyptic visions and the historic programs of restoration in western Christianity are well known. What may not be as well known is the fact that the world of Islam also saw movements in which Quranic and other scriptural prophecies were brought to fulfillment.
The conviction was widespread that the historical career of humanity was approaching a threshold. This approach, of course, was not capricious. However one may justify the conviction that a threshold event was in the making, whether by historical analysis or by exegesis of prophetic visions, it must, back then, have seemed inevitable.
We cannot and need not here resolve the dilemma, whether it was historical process, divine intervention or a secret cooperation of the two modalities that was bringing the world to a crisis. Apparently the conviction was widespread in traditional religious circles that the new age of intellectual, social and political transformation was accompanied by a decline in moral and spiritual values.
The Moloch of the new age of industry and science was demanding of humans that they sacrifice their transcendent relations to the immanent deities of prosperity and nationality. As the visions that guided the human person in community were being secularized, the religious impulse on many fronts tried to resist. Inter-human communication and commerce were usurping the place of a willful communion with God. Not only was the world changing but changing was changing. Trends, long in the making, were moving civilization and culture irresistably toward a critical moment beyond which choices of conservation and preservation would not be effective. As the new age dawned, would the sun shine on a godless world that had sacrificed devotion and piety to the new immanent deities of material progress and rational process? There were many who could entertain no such prospect.
I think, however, that it was not such a negative propensity that moved Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to his oracles. It is equally doubtful that Hazrat Ahmad was driven merely by critical judgment of worldly events to make his declaration that he was the Mahdi of the age. That is, he was neither a popular sayer of doom moved by a personal depression nor was he imagining apocalypse in the manner of journalists (or even historians) who note current trends on the opinion pages of our newspapers. From within his own perspective and from that of the Movement he founded, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was responding to revelation. He was by most accounts a man of deep personal piety. His oracles and utterances seem the expressions of a soul in touch with contemporary events and trends, but more the expressions of a soul in communion with a living God.
In the scholarly mood, we are more likely to look for the circumstantial basis of a person’s behavior. And for the last 100 years or more the scholar may also seek out the psychological roots of religious experience. But there is also the claim made from within the orbit of a particular religious movement that may correspond to neither bias.
What Hazrat Ahmad thought of himself and what his followers thought of him is quite clear. His estimate of the low estate of Muslim piety and belief was not simply an appraisal of current conditions by a sensitive observer. His claims to being a prophet in these latter days seen not to have been mere psychological quirks. Rather he felt or knew in the recesses of his mind that he “enjoy(ed) a perfect nearness to God Almighty.” There is no gainsaying the revelatory foundation of this self-knowledge. Such confidence in the authenticity of the revelation has always been the basis of the strength of Ahmadiyyat and at the same time the occasion for the hostility exhibited toward the Movement by the mullahs of orthodox Islam.
But perhaps we should go back to the beginnings of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam in order to get some sense of the original dynamic that has provided over the last 100 years the peculiar incentive for the 10 million who belong to this enclave of Dar al Islam.
The founder of Ahmadiyyat was born in a small town in the Punjab in 1835. Qadian is no more than 30 or 40 miles to the east of Amritsar, the site of the Sikh’s golden temple in mid 1984 was the focus of world attention. There, in an area where recent and ancient religious traditions live in a tenuous alliance, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was born. Andrew Jackson was president of the United States. Joseph Smith had, just two years before, founded the Church of the Latter-day Saints. Louis Philippe was the constitutional monarch of France. Two years after Ahmad’s birth, the 18-year-old Victoria became Queen of Great Britain. Chopin was at the height of his career. And just one year before, Friedrich Schleiermacher had died.
It was not, however, until his 41st year (1876) that Hazrat Ahmad began to receive the revelations that would lead him eventually to the conviction that in his person the advent of the Mahdi was fulfilled. “Thereafter,” as Zafrulla Khan says, “it was revealed to him that he was also the Promised Messiah and was indeed the Prophet whose advent had been foretold in the principal religions of the world.” He was “Champion of God in the mantles of all the Prophets. ”
From the time of his declaration that he was the Promised Messiah to the time of his death on May 26, 1908, his prophetic activity did not abate. He presided over a movement whose adherents reached into the thousands. During the early years of the Ahmadiyyat Movement Ahmad himself was frequently led into contests with other religious leaders and messianic claimants that left his inspired self-confidence in tact. His adversaries and challengers ranged from leaders of the Arya Samaj to Christian clergy in India and in the U. S. Through all the personal conflict that was thrust upon him as claimant of prophetic fulfillment, he was continually the agent of revelatory injunctions whose purpose was the promotion of the cause of Islam in the new age that was coming forth.
ll of his human energies were, as his followers believe, focused on that single cause that in this renaissance of Islam the spiritual fulfillment of all the world’s religions was accomplished. But he was not the neutral conveyor of this message. His personal role was not incidentally submerged in the realization of God’s plan. Rather, his personal destiny was to personify the processes of divine history, not merely to announce their fulfillment. Among many statements by Hazrat Ahmad that evidence this certainty on his part are the following: . . .” it was made quite clear to me through Divine revelation that the Messiah, whose advent among the Muslims had been promised from the beginning, and the Mahdi whose advent had been Divinely decreed at the time of the decline of Islam and the spread of error, and who was to be guided directly by God, and who was to invite people to partake of the heavenly banquet, and whose coming had been foretold by the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, thirteen hundred years in advance, was myself. Divine revelation to this effect was vouchsafed to me so clearly and so continuously that it left no room for doubt. It was replete with grand prophecies that were fulfilled clearly as bright day. Its frequency and number and miraculous power compelled me to affirm that it comprehended the words of the One God without an associate, Whose Word is the Holy Quran. In order to win the pleasure of Allah, I hereby inform you all of the important fact that Almighty God has, at the beginning of this 14th century, appointed me from Himself for the revival and support of the true faith of Islam.
The author has been informed that he is the Reformer of the age and that his spiritual excellences bear a resemblance to the spiritual excellences of Jesus, son of Mary, and that the two are closely related to each other and resemble each other.”
“The question remains who is the Imam of the age today who must, under Divine Command, be obeyed by all Muslims, the pious, the recipients of revelation and dreams. I have no hesitation in affirming that I am the Imam of the age.”
He was very precise, however, in delineating his own mission: “But I am a Messenger and a Prophet without a new law in the sense that God reveals to me that which is hidden, and because of the inner grace that has been bestowed upon me on account of my obedience to the Holy Prophet, and because of having received his name.”
He insisted many times that the Seal of Prophethood was fully safeguarded. He was to Muhammad (the law-bearing prophet who brought a Book) as Jesus was to Moses (whose ancient law the messiah had come not to abrogate but only to fulfill). It is important, then, in order to appreciate the integrity of Ahmadiyyat, to note what Ahmad was not claiming. His enemies, however, were usually not willing to be so discriminating. In their views, his claims compromised the established views concerning the finality of the Prophet Mohammad. It may seem too fine a line, but Ahmad claimed only to be the inspired interpreter of the Quranic message and the conveyor of the message of rebirth and renewal of the one true religion: “For mankind there is no book in the world except the Quran, and for all children of Adam, there is no Messenger and intercessor but Muhammad, the chosen one, peace be on him. ” Ahmad is a prophet, not the Prophet; the Quran, the Book, not a book among many; Islam, the original religion whose recovery Ahmad sponsors.”
Still many Muslims took offense, the reasons, no doubt, the natural conservatism of the faithful, and, a likely consequence of that, the will to misunderstand the finely tuned rhetoric of his oracles. Christians also found reasons to be offended. The great Christian paradox seemed to work in the Punjab just as it has worked on many other occasions in even more fertile soil: the expectation of the second coming of Christ fuels the fires of evangelism, while the possible realization of the return threatens to dampen the fires of faith. One apparently feels more energized waiting for a guest to arrive than actually talking with the guest once he has come into your living room. So with Hazrat Ahmad. But we may understand his critics, given the way the claim was elaborated.
For not only did he affirm that he had “a special resemblance to Jesus” but, on the negative side, that he had been sent . . .” so that I should demolish the doctrine of the cross. I have been sent,” he goes on, “ to break the cross and slaughter the swine.”
The “shirk” of the Christians led them to put a strange interpretation on the crucifixion. The presumed execution of Jesus had been construed as a redemptive self-sacrifice – in effect God paying himself a ransom for his creation held captive by the principalities and powers of this world. To ordinary Muslims the notion may be unintelligible; to Ahmadis it became anathema indeed. In place of this anti-theological fantasy, Ahmad proposed a more likely scenario – more likely, because there seemed to be verifiable evidence for the alternative.
In the state of Kashmir, in the capital city of Srinagar, a tomb was discovered, sheltering the mortal remains of an ancient prophet known as Yus Asaf. When this presumptive legend converges with Biblical prophecy and a careful reading of the Gospels, the traditional post-crucifixion story is radically changed. In order to fulfill the prophecy that the messiah must preach to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus, recovered from the trauma of the cross, migrated eastward to the home of those stray sheep Afghans and the tribal peoples of the northern tier of India-Pakistan where nomads live even today whose culture, religion and racial characteristics make a Semitic origin an entirely reasonable inference. There “Yus Asaf” married, continued his prophetic vocation, became a parent, and at the age of 120 years died.
His descendents to the 65th generation still live in the region of his burial. Thus did Hazrat Ahmad “demolish the doctrine of the cross” and further revise the more traditional Islamic notion of Jesus, son of Miriam. The facts and the arguments were arranged by Ahmad in his book Jesus in India, being and account of Jesus’ escape from death on the cross and of his journey to India.
The opening lines are worth noting as indications of the book’s claims and motives:” I have written this book, so that, by adducing proofs from established facts, from conclusive historical evidence of proved value and from ancient documents of non-Muslims, I might remove the serious misconceptions which are current among Muslims and among most Christian sects regarding the earlier and the later life of Jesus (on whom be peace) . Misconceptions, the dangerous implications of which have not only injured and destroyed the conception of Divine Unity, but the unwholesome and poisonous influence of which has for long been noticed in the morals of the Muslims of this country.”
So the message of the founder of Ahmadiyyat involves a serious revision of the church’s theology as well as a refinement of the orthodox understanding of Jesus in Islam.
There is yet another challenge to conventional orthodoxy that Ahmad and his followers raised. The Promised Messiah had forbidden jihad against the British Government. Some accused him of self-serving motives, as though the injunction against jihad in the particular case at hand displayed a general cowardice and lack of enthusiasm for Islam. As was usually the case, however, the real motives were different and grounded on revelation rather than political calculations. Hazrat Ahmad explained the prohibition against jihad in the following way
“In short, at the time of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, the basis of Islamic Jihad was that God’s wrath had been roused against the tyrants. But living under the rule of a benign government, as is the Government of our Queen and Empress, it is not Jihad to entertain rebellious designs against it but it is a barbaric idea which is born of ignorance.”
He further declared, in language constrained by his sense of mission:
“The Jihad of this age is to strive in upholding the word of Islam, to refute the objections of the opponents, to propagate the excellences of the Islamic faith, and to proclaim the truth of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, throughout the world. This is Jihad till God Almighty brings about other conditions in the world. The passions of armed jihad could thus be diverted to “Jihad Akbar,” or a striving against the self, toward a spiritual discipline that would enable the community to pursue the real cause of God, the renaissance of Islam.”
Well, we could go on. But no time at our command in a brief essay would be sufficient even for a mere introduction. Perhaps the motive and energy of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam can be grasped from one last statement of its founder, the Promised Messiah. In referring to the pledge of loyalty that his followers entered into he said:
“Be it known to all sincere ones who have entered into the covenant of Ba’iat that the purpose of the covenant is that the love of the world should grow cold and love of God and of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, should fill the heart, and the soul should be weaned away from the world, so that the journey to the hereafter should not appear disagreeable.”
The Quran declares, “There is no compulsion in Religion. ” For those who entered into the voluntary covenant with the Prophet’s prophet, Islam remains the religion of the realized future. Still Hazrat Ahmad protested, “This is not a new voice.” The Mahdi did not presume to displace any prophet from the seat of eminence, rather his mission was to reestablish true righteousness and purity and that true understanding of God that was, is, and will be the religion of Islam.
Whatever the appearance from outside the Movement, inside the Ahmadiyya Jamaat the adherents can claim clear consciences both their own and that of their founder.
One last word, in order to displace the notion that the name of the Movement is a tribute to the egotism of the Promised Messiah. Why was it originally called the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam? In the words of the Promised Messiah:
“The name which is appropriate for this Movement and which we prefer for ourselves is Muslims of the Ahmadiyya sect. We have chosen this name because the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, had two names, Muhammad and Ahmad; Muhammad was his name of glory and Ahmad was his name of beauty . . . God so arranged the life of the Holy Prophet, peace be on him, that his Meccan life was a manifestation of his name Ahmad and the Muslims were taught patience and endurance. In his life in Medina, his name Muhammad was manifested, and God in His wisdom decided to chastise his enemies. But there was a prophecy that the name Ahmad would be manifested again in the latter days and that a person would appear through whom the qualities of beauty, which characterize Ahmad, would be manifested, and all fighting would come to an end. For this reason it has been considered appropriate that the name of this sect should be Ahmadiyya sect, so that everyone hearing this name should realize that this sect has come into being for the spread of peace and security and that it would have nothing to do with war and fighting.”
It is ironical indeed that a Movement that advocates peace among religious persons and that, of course, is the meaning of the name of the religion of Islam should have been deprived of its freedom of worship and belief and sense of mission in the country of origin as well as elsewhere in the world of Islam. It is also a further irony of history that this other religion of peace should be so divided against itself.
Louis J. Hammann