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Muslim Movements and Schisms


1. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian.

During the latter part of the last century the Muslims of the Punjab area in north-west India began to take notice of a Muslim writer from the village of Qadian named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. This man wrote a number of treatises attacking Christianity and Hinduism and in 1880 began an extensive work entitled Barahin-i-Ahmadiyah which defended Islam from the onslaughts of Christian missionaries and the Arya Samaj, a militant Hindu organisation. At first this work, published in four volumes, was favourably received by the Muslims and it appeared that a mujaddid, a worthy defender of Islam, had risen. These sentiments, however, soon gave way to almost universal opposition as the Mirza began to make one extravagant claim after another for himself. He arrogated to himself the title of "promised Messiah", that is, one raised in the Spirit of Jesus whom the Muslims believed would return to earth but whom the Mirza said was buried at Srinagar, a town in the Punjab. He also claimed to be the Mahdi as well as a prophet of Allah and even a re-incarnation of Krishna, one of the leading Hindu idols!

He said he was receiving divine revelations and by the end of his life had proclaimed that no one was a true Muslim unless he acknowledged him as the Mahdi whom Allah was to send into the world. Signs of the man's remarkable opinion of himself appeared even in the Barahin when his mission was still in its early stages. Although the work showed no real familiarity with Christianity and very little evidence of true research he nonetheless had convinced himself that he was Islam's answer to the missionary problem as he saw it.

Although he boldly claimed to be God's man for the hour there are innumerable evidences to convict him of fraudulence both from a Christian and a Muslim perspective. We shall quote a few of his false prophecies shortly but it can be mentioned here that he at one time stated that his four-volume Barahin would in time be expanded into fifty volumes. Later, by a stroke of the devious kind of reasoning one finds in so many of his writings, he reduced this to five and claimed he would be fulfilling his promise as the only difference between five and fifty (in Arabic and Urdu) is a dot. Even then the fifth volume only appeared in 1905, no less than twentyfive years later. He had called for pre-publication subscriptions many years earlier for the volume and a number of people duly ordered it. "During this period, a large number of people who had paid in advance for all the five volumes but had received only four volumes had passed away" (Nadwi, Qadianism: A Critical Study, p. 28). Furthermore the last volume was a far cry from the earlier works. Those had been basically Islamic in teaching but the last contained a dogmatic presentation of Ghulam Ahmad's arrogant claims for himself and much of its teaching contradicted his earlier works and, with them, orthodox Islam. In the intervening years his initial polemics, directed against Christians and Hindus, had given way to a wholesome onslaught on much of Islam itself.

It was his claim to be a prophet, a veritable nabi, that antagonised most of his Muslim opponents. On one occasion he wrote "God had revealed to me that every one who has received my call and has not accepted it is not a Muslim" (quoted in Nadwi, op.cit., p.57) and in his work entitled Tatimmah Haqiqat ul-Wahi he made similar grandiose claims for himself. His unashamed personal bragging and boastfulness are revealed very clearly in this quote in the book mentioned:

In another work quoted on the same page he said of his generation: "In this Ummat, the distinction of being called a Prophet was bestowed upon me alone and all others are undeserving of this appellation". As all Muslims believe that Muhammad was the seal of the prophets and that there will be no prophet after him, it is hardly surprising that Ghulam Ahmad was bitterly opposed by orthodox Muslims. His son and second "Khalifah", Mirza Bashir ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, sought to justify his father's claim in these words:

In yet another publication issued in 1901 by the Mirza to defend his position he said "... my contention is that there is nothing objectionable in my being called nabi and rasul after the Holy Prophet ..." (quoted in Lavan, The Ahmadiyah Movement, p.47). It hardly matters whether there is, as his followers claim, a distinction between his prophethood and that of Muhammad. No claimant to any kind of prophethood after Muhammad is likely to be favourably received by the Muslim world as a whole.

2. The Ahmadiyya Movement - Its Tenets and Branches.

Although the Mirza began as a polemicist within the Islamic fold his extreme claims soon ensured that his followers were alienated from the mainstream of Muslim life and it was inevitable that they should form a separate group. They are known by the title they gave themselves - Ahmadiyya - which they say refers to Muhammad's other name and not to their founder. (Muslims generally refer to them as "Qadianis" after the small, insignificant village where he was born). Their own general antagonism towards traditional Islam finally led to the point where leading Pakistani theologians sought to have them denounced as non-Muslims. The late Maulana Abul a'la Maududi said of them:

In 1974 they were duly declared a non-Muslim minority by the Government of Pakistan, the country where they have their headquarters to this day. They have also been barred at times from performing the pilgrimage to Mecca. Apart from Ghulam Ahmad's prophetic claims they have also been denounced by Muslim writers for denying the Muslim concept of jihad as meaning holy war, claiming this refers solely to striving in the way of Allah (a commendable approach but one inconsistent with the Qur'an which plainly teaches that jihad means fighting and warfare as we have seen). There are many other issues on which they distance themselves from historical Islam. Ghulam Ahmad was also reviled for constantly praising British rule in India and for seeking the protection of the colonial regime when opposition became heated.

Six years after the death of the Mirza in 1908 the Ahmadiyya Movement began to split into two groups, known today as the Ahmadis and the Lahoris. The former are based in Rabwah, Pakistan, while the latter, as their name indicates, operate from Lahore. The chief cause of this split was the determination of a group of leading Ahmadiyya intellectuals to bring the movement back towards traditional Islam and make it more acceptable to Muslims generally. The two prominent leaders of this group were Khwaja Kamal ud-Din and Muhammad Ali. The former operated in England for many years while the latter became a prominent author and the translator of the first widely-accepted Muslim translation of the Qur'an. The Lahoris have generally played down Ahmad's prophetic claims, referring to him usually as the "promised Messiah" alone.

The Lahoris have moved towards the rational approach to Islam first adopted by Syed Ahmed Khan, a nineteenth-century Muslim modernist, denying the miracles of the prophets and the like. The Ahmadis, however, who have become active throughout the world, remain true to Ghulam Ahmad's original stand. The split led to sharp recriminations between the Mirza's son, Mahmud Ahmad, who maintained his father's claims to prophethood, and Muhammad Ali, who led the Lahori branch away from the extravagance of these claims towards mainstream Islam. It does appear, however, that the Ahmadis remain the true representatives of the self-styled prophet Ghulam Ahmad.

The Lahore group operates today under the name of Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at-i-Islam and while it is not engaged in much propaganda it does publish many works. One writer defines the points of agreement and difference between this group and the Ahmadis as follows, saying of the former:

The great division between the Ahmadiyya Movement and historical Islam is, ironically, based on diverse views about the person of Jesus Christ. Ghulam Ahmad soon became convinced that traditional Muslim beliefs about Jesus leaned far too far over towards Christianity and sought to "correct" them. A brief study of his attitudes and consequential anti-Christian prejudices will help to show why this sect has been denounced by both Christians and Muslims.

3. The Ahmadiyya Attitude Towards Jesus Christ.

Ghulam Ahmad taught two things about Jesus that were to become fundamental to Ahmadiyya doctrine and which stand out from traditional Muslim beliefs. On the one hand he taught that the second coming of the Son of Mary was a spiritual descension and that it had been fulfilled in him. On the other he taught that Jesus had not ascended to heaven but had survived the cross in a swoon and that he went away to Kashmir in India where he died at the age of a hundred and twenty years and was buried in Srinagar. (An ancient tomb of one "Yus Asaf" in the city conveniently became the tomb of Jesus and is so regarded by the Ahmadiyya to this day!).

He even went so far as to claim that he was just like Jesus Christ and that his character was in every way a model replica of the Son of Mary's holy personality. As if this was not arrogant enough he even went so far as to claim superiority to Jesus Christ!

This claim was repeated by his son who said that it was not beyond the power of God "to raise one in our time similar to Jesus or greater than him from among Muslims" (Ahmad, Invitation to Ahmadipyat, p.26). Another Ahmadiyya writer bluntly declared "Forget then the memory of Mary's Son; Ghulam Ahmad is better than he" (quoted in Maududi, The Qadiani Problem, p.51).

One of the marvels of history has been the rise every now and again of a man who has claimed to be Jesus Christ returned to earth, particularly as these men have often been thoroughly evil, speaking and acting in an entirely antithetical manner to the true Jesus. Jim Jones, leader of the "People's Temple" who recently led nearly a thousand gullible followers into a mass suicide pact in Jonestown, Guyana, is a typical example.

The Mirza was another of these typical "false Christs". Whereas Jesus said that he had not come to judge those who rejected him but rather to save them (John 12.47), Ghulam Ahmad constantly prophesied all manner of immediate evil against those who opposed him until he was forbidden by the British rulers of India to do so. His son unashamedly declared "Whatever lie was invented against Hazrat Mirza Sahib claimed the inventor as its victim. Dreadful signs were shown by God in his support" (Ahmad, Invitation to Ahmadiyyat, p.207). We shall also see that whereas the prophecies of Jesus were fulfilled to the letter, Ghulam Ahmad had to resort to devious and contrived arguments to explain away prophecies he made which were never fulfilled. Furthermore he was a thoroughly arrogant man and one who showed none of the gentle disposition of the founder of Christianity. He was, in fact, almost the opposite of Jesus in character and temperament.

He also sought relentlessly to dishonour Jesus and strip Islam of doctrines that seemed to draw it too close to Christianity. He denied the sinlessness, physical ascension and return of Jesus, thereby removing all the remaining traces of his glory in Islam and reducing him to the level of common prophethood.

He considered that the Islamic doctrine of the ascension and return of Jesus went a long way towards supporting the Christian belief that Jesus was the eternal Son of God seated at the right hand of the Father and so sought relentlessly to prove that he had died and had been buried in India. In one of his works he said to the ulama "Let the God of Christians die. How long will you go on calling him the living one, the undying. Is there any limit to it?" (quoted in Nadwi, Qadianism: A Critical Study, p.47). In many other sayings and writings one finds evidence that he was grimly determined to refashion the image and life of Jesus until he appeared to be no more than a rather weak and unsuccessful prophet of Israel. One Ahmadiyya writer, following in the steps of his founder, once said "Jesus excelled in nothing except deception and fraud. It is a pity that the ignorant Christians believe such a person to be divine" (quoted in Maududi, The Qadiani Problem, p.51). Above all the Mirza sought to divide Islam as far as he could frnm Christianity.

His prejudiced attitude towards Christianity is reflected in the writings of his son who on one occasion had no qualms about declaring that Dajjal (the Muslim concept of the anti-Christ) and Christianity were "one and the same thing" and claimed that the appearance of Christian evangelists in India was proof that the ultimate moment of evil had arrived, saying "the appearance of the Dadjjal is the appearance of Christian propagandists" (Ahmad, Invitation to Ahmadiyyat, p.117). It is hardly surprising that the Ahmadiyya Movement has antagonised Christians and given them little sympathy for it. Traditional Islam appears mild and friendly towards Christianity in comparison! Islam itself has revolted against this movement in consequence of its abusive attitude towards orthodox Muslims (Ghulam Ahmad constantly derided them as "Jews" and regularly reviled Muslim leaders as "offsprings of harlots", prophesying all manner of vengeance and destruction against them).

Bashir ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, the Mirza's son, on many occasions bigotedly claimed that whereas Islam, because of its nebulous beliefs about Jesus, would constantly recede before Christianity, Ahmadiyyat would on the contrary destroy it. In one book he wrote entitled What is Ahmadiyyat?, in a statement reflecting both his wishful extremism and corresponding arrogant bigotry, he said "Christian missionaries and workers now hesitate to confront Ahmadiyyat. Jamaat in Africa has put an end to Christian work in that continent" (!) (quoted in Brush, "Ahmadiyyat in Pakistan", The Muslim World, Vol.45, p. 167). In his other famous work, with tongue-in-cheek, he cheerfully said of Christianity "The most powerful among the enemy religions, which was full of pride over its universal success and regarded Islam as its prey, has suffered such a blow that its votaries take to their heels as soon as they hear of the approach of an Ahmadi exponent. A Christian missionary cannot stand before an Ahmadi" (Ahmad, Invitation to Ahmadiyyat, p.132). The Mirza himself once prophesied that he would fulfil the Muslim belief that Jesus would "break the cross" on his return and that Christianity was destined to be destroyed during his lifetime - just one of those many hollow prophecies he made that has hardly borne any evidence of fulfilment. It will be useful to conclude this study of the Ahmadiyya Movement by examining a few other prophecies he made and their respective outcomes.

4. The Prophecies of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

No prophet should be without the ability to prophesy future events and Ghulam Ahmad, true to his assumed vocation, produced a wealth of such prophecies. The mark of a true prophet, however, is the fulfilment of his prophecies (Deuteronomy 18.22) and it is here that the "promised Messiah" proved himself to be a pretender for so many of his bold predictions failed to come to pass. We shall consider just a small selection of the prophecies of the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement and the explanations given to explain away their non-fulfilment.

The first concerns an elderly Muslim convert to Christianity, one Abdullah Athim, who held a series of debates with the Mirza over a period of twelve days. As these became increasingly acrimonious Ghulam Ahmad prophesied that whichever of the two of them was speaking lies would die within fifteen months and be cast into hell. This was a very subtle prediction as the Christian leader was already sixty-five years old, of poor health, and two hot summers were yet to pass before this period expired. (There appears to be little doubt that the period was shrewdly calculated and there was a strong possibility that the prophecy would be naturally fulfilled). Unfortunately for the Mirza, however, Athim proved to be in better health than he had been for a long time when the prophesied period expired. A few days thereafter a Muslim writer, whose letter is quoted in the source here referred to, said:

The Mirza's son, however, laboured to prove that this prophecy had indeed been fulfilled, even though Athim continued to live on for a long time after he was expected to die. Bashir ud-Din gave these explanations:

The author gives no evidence in favour of the claim that the Christian leader began to doubt the divinity of Jesus - a claim typical of many made by the Mirza and his followers over the years which were patently untrue and conjured up to suit the Ahmadiyya cause. In any event one must surely be extremely gullible to entertain suggestions that the hell was "a sort of hell" or a "mental hell" and that God had spared the Christian leader because he allegedly no longer wrote critically against Islam!

When Jesus said he would rise from the dead on the third day, it happened just as he had said. When he predicted that Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies and would be destroyed with its Temple, it happened just as he said. His prophecies were fulfilled exactly as he made them. Not so Ghulam Ahmad - when his bold claims proved to be entirely presumptuous, both he and his followers had to resort to peculiar lines of reasoning to prove they had been duly "fulfilled".

The second prophecy concerns a young Muslim woman named Muhammadi Begum. The Mirza was infatuated with her and even though she was refused to him by her father he predicted again and again that he would marry her and claimed that God had wed her to him as Zaynab had been wed to Muhammad (Surah 33.37). Not long afterwards she was married to an orthodox Muslim named Sultan Muhammad. What followed has an element of tragedy about it:

The threats spoken of included yet another wild prophecy to the effect that Sultan Muhammad would within two-and-a-half years duly pass away. When he also outlived the measure of the days assigned to him by Ghulam Ahmad the latter, with his usual casuistry, claimed that God had "postponed" the demise of his foe. Instead the Mirza died in 1908 while the "usurper" of his God-ordained bride outlived him by many years. The Mirza, as quoted in the work here mentioned, had prophesied almost fatefully against himself when he made this significant prediction:

He can be judged according to his own words and his own mouth condemns him. The marriage that had been made in heaven failed to take place on earth.

The third and last prophecy we shall consider relates to the Mirza's claim to be the "promised Messiah" in the light of the Muslim tradition which states that the Son of Mary will descend on a minaret known as the Isaya Minarah in Damascus when he returns to earth:

Naturally, as he claimed to be the fulfilment of all the prophecies relating to the second coming of Jesus, he had to somehow contrive a fulfilment of this one as well. In one work entitled Hashia Azala-i-Awham he stated that God had revealed to him that Damascus was only a synonym for his home town of Qadian and that its name appeared in the tradition because the two towns were supposedly very similar! He added that the tradition had always puzzled scholars, a claim for which he adduces no evidence. On this occasion, however, he departed from his usual practice of twisting and contriving his way through his own and other prophecies and personally had a minaret built in Qadian to complete the fulfilment of the prophetic tradition! In 1903 he laid its foundations and after his death the minaret was completed by his son Mahmud Ahmad. After all, a good prophet should always do his best to see that his prophecies are fulfilled!

Our brief study of the Mirza and his prophecies shows that he very adequately fills the role of one of the false prophets and false Christs that Jesus said would appear during the new covenant age (Matthew 24.24), and it does not surprise us therefore to find that he possessed a particularly vindictive attitude towards Christianity. Although the Ahmadiyya Movement has made some progress over the years, it is still a relatively minor sect and one which orthodox Islam remains determined to exclude from the Muslim fold.

Muhammad and the Religion of Islam: Table of Contents

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