Along with homeopathy, a much lesser-known but just as embarrassing, pseudo-scientific (pseudo-scientific being a polite way of saying ‘complete and utter bullshit’) aspect of Ahmadi theology is the claim by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad that Arabic is the mother of all languages. He made this claim in his book Minan-ur-Rahman, and you can find a summaryof these claims on the jamaat’s official website.  Hani Tahir has exposed this entire issue herein:

The claims are:

  • all languages come from Arabic
  • Arabic essentially contains the building blocks of human language, and is unique well-designed to do so
  • Arabic has unique characteristics that other languages don’t, and other languages are languages insofar as they resemble Arabic

I’m not going to bother addressing this claim because it’s so ridiculous and so at odds with modern scholarship, if not contemporary scholarship, that it doesn’t actually need refutation. I’ll just summarize it by saying that the jamaat has spent a lot of time and effort in connecting different languages to Arabic, which is to say that it spent a lot of time finding false cognates (words that sound the same in two languages, but actually have no connection) in multiple languages and otherwise jamming a lot of pieces of a puzzle together to make them fit, though the image that results isn’t really an image at all.

I would like to focus on the role this played in me leaving Ahmadiyyat, the way the jamaat deals with this claim and the way it exposes Ahmadiyyat as a fundamentally nineteenth-century ideology operating in the twenty-first century on the basis of inertia.

My professional and academic background leads me to have proficiency in a couple of foreign languages not spoken commonly in the Muslim world and not commonly spoken by Ahmadis. Based on this, I’ve had an interest in languages for a long time, and I was in my early 20s when I first heard of this claim from someone in my AMSA as another AMSA had organized an event on this topic (or was about to).

The idea genuinely seemed intriguing, though I was very skeptical, and this was around the time that I thought that the jamaat had brilliant ideas and general intellectual purchase around its often outlandish claims. I got into a debate with a few people and read a few discussions of this online and in print from jamaat sources, and the result was, as was the case with the jamaat’s opposition to gay marriage, that it was unsubstantiated and nowhere near as intellectual as I had hoped. In fact, the process smacked of pseudoscience, not unlike defenses of homeopathy or the convoluted way in which Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is both a prophet but not really a prophet, or seal of the prophets actually is a prophecy about elite military units. This isn’t something that people discuss often, but it stuck in my mind because, like homeopathy, it was one of those things where the jamaat is clearly, falsifiably wrong about a real-world matter.

The jamaat likes promoting this claim because it gets attention, which I think they like, along with claims about Jesus being in India (technically possible, but why not Jesus in upstate New York?). If you get into it, depending on the person you talk to, you’ll find that they just double down on their claims and tell you that the problem is with you, not Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, or they’ll define their way out of the problem, claiming that the Arabic that was the mother of all languages isn’t at all like the Arabic that’s spoken now. This, of course, is like saying that the sky is blue at night and then defining blue to be the colour of sadness, and then saying that what could be sadder than black, since it’s what we wear at funerals, so the sky is in fact blue at night.

If you read the original book, and I don’t recommend it because it’s so poorly written and formatted, you’ll find that the idea was not just to answer the question about a proto-human language, but to set out and prove the superiority of Islam by proving the superiority of the language in which its holy book is written. This type of adversarial world view is endemic to Ahmadiyya as an exercise in repairing egos wounded by the spread of aggressive, racialist ideologies and colonialism in the nineteenth century. Ahmadiyyat has a lot in common with messianic religious movements that emerged around this time, of which the Mormons, Adventists, Bahai and Jehovahs Witnesses are the most similar for time, beliefs, size and organization, as well as number of quirky beliefs.

The adversarial view, where each country and people have a religion, and each of them are out to compete for numbers, betrays itself in the way Ahmadis organize large events and also interfaith events. This may be changing in the last decade, but Ahmadi jalsas are essentially a continuation of the large conferences new religious movements would hold in India and elsewhere, when people genuinely enjoyed debating religion and would spend hours listening to someone pontificate.

You see it in interfaith events that are explicitly designed to prove the superiority of Islam, like an intersports seminar organized around “Should all sports be played with black and white spherical objects?” or a nutrition seminar on the topic of “why is kale the best superfood?”. At these events, each team has the right to present and, because Ahmadis want to read from the Quran and sing a nazam, every other team also has to do the equivalent, regardless of whether or not they do this at their events.

The idea of deciding what exactly it is that you’re going to prove in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is both sad and dangerous. Ahmadis can fudge, in the presence of outsiders and aggressive questioning, but never internally to mainstream members, on where they stand with homeopathy, but it’s hard to fudge with something so ridiculous and so easily falsifiable as the idea of every language somehow coming from Arabic. This is something that I couldn’t get out of my mind and if you’re a thoughtful Ahmadi, you need to ask yourself why you so revere someone who was so arrogant about his divinity and yet so wrong.