ANY of the readers of this journal will find the word Ahmadiyat a new one to them, or one, at least, that has fuzzy connotations.
Spelled variously as Ahmadiyat, Ahmadiyyat, or Ahmediyyat, the term signifies the religious movement founded in the late nineteenth century by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, in Northern India. Its world headquarters today is at Rabwah, in West Pakistan. It was intended to be a revivalist movement within Islam, not only to call Moslems back to what Mirza Ghulam Ahmad considered was pristine Islam but also to challenge both Christianity and Hinduism to defend their positions, or more appropriately to leave their apostate religions in exchange for what the Ahmadi founder believed to be the “true” Islam.
The size of this sect is as numerically insignificant among the hundreds of millions of Moslems as are Seventh-day Adventists among the hundreds of millions of Christians. But quantity is not always the sole determining factor as to what constitutes significance.
The interest of Seventh-day Adventists in this sect ought to lie in two major areas.
The first of these is theological, embracing either points of faith that have marked similarities or are prominent features of beliefs that are diametrically opposed. The second is the intensive proselytical activity of the movement, which uses many methods of Christian missions to attract the attention of large numbers of people in certain areas of the world, influencing them away from the appeal of Jesus Christ.
Needs Entire Book
This article cannot begin to treat adequately the first interest. It needs an entire book. Outside of brief encyclopedia articles, there is very little recent scholarly work on Ahmadiyat. Professor Smith of McGill University’s Institute of Islamic Studies suggests that the last scholarly work was Lucien Bouvat’s article in the Journal Asiatique in 1928. Smith himself has written in the New Encyclopaedia of Islam, and touched on them from a social point of view in some of his books. Dr. Kenneth Cragg, in his book The Call of the Minaret, discusses them somewhat also. But theologically speaking, there is nothing in print that takes up their work in a systematic and detailed academic manner.
My interest in Ahmadiyat first began because of a friendship formed with an Ahmadi printer who was kind enough to help me translate some evangelistic advertising fifteen years ago when I first came to Pakistan. I did not know the language well, and the Pakistani worker helping me did not know English any better. This Ahmadi was well enough versed in Christian ideas to help me with words that had the right nuance.
Later, during graduate study at the University of the Punjab, I had occasion to broaden my academic knowledge of Ahmadiyat, and to study the life and work of the founder in considerable detail. This has resulted further in some fine friendships and contacts with these very sincere people.
Arising out of this study, it was my privilege recently to spend some time in interviewing the present head of the movement, Mirza Nasir Ahmad, Khalifat-ul-Masih III, who is the grandson of the founder, and who was elected to his present position by the community upon the death of his father in November of 1965.
No one working in the larger centers of Moslem population can long avoid meeting the Ahmadi missionaries. Wherever a Christian evangelist begins a work of public missionary effort, one of these persistent emissaries of Ahmadiyat is sure soon to show up. His presence can be embarrassing if the evangelist is unacquainted with the methods of the Ahmadis.
Appearing to be the spokesman for the Moslems present, the Ahmadi evangelist will do his best to pose logical dilemmas that the tactful Christian would rather meet in private, and his attempt to sidestep the interruption in a public confrontation is turned frequently to mean an inability to answer the questions posed, and is meant to imply thereby the spiritual inferiority of Christianity. At times, antagonistic slogans are employed, based upon a turn of some religious phrase known to arouse Moslem prejudices, and mob resentment is raised to a fever pitch. By these tactics the Moslem masses, and the other non-Christians who are spiritually undecided, are swayed away from the message the Christian evangelist would present.
Put Some to Shame
Let me not imply that the Ahmadi is basically dishonest in his efforts. He is a man of very strong convictions, sincere earnestness, and often in private he possesses a gentleness and thoughtful courtesy that many a Christian would do well to emulate. He is faithful in the practice of his beliefs to an extent that would put many an Adventist to shame. To him, Ahmadivat is more than a nominal expression of a religious way of life. It is all in all, the one true religion, the only hope for the world today, he believes. It is this crusading, evangelistic fervor that Seventh-day Adventists will have to contend with today in the Moslem world. The great advances of Islam in certain areas of earth today, as opposed to the spread of Christianity, are for the most part the work of Ahmadiyat, or stimulated by Ahmadis.
It is with this aspect of Ahmadiyat that I would be principally concerned herein. On the occasion of my interview with Mirza Nasir Ahmad, I went first to the Foreign Missions office where I was introduced to Mr. Naseem Saifi, who was to be my guide for the day. Mr. Saifi had just returned from twenty years of missionary service in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa.
Billy Graham Challenged
It was Mr. Saifi who in 1960 first challenged Dr. Billy Graham to a debate in Lagos, Nigeria, during the latter’s African safari for Christ. It was also an Ahmadi missionary, Sheikh Mubarik Ahmad, who challenged the evangelist in East Africa to a prayer dual. While the Christian world’s presses and newspapers took note of the incidents, reporting how Dr. Graham had handled the two situations without becoming embroiled in controversy, the Ahmadis published widely the triumph for Islam his failure to meet them openly seemed to them to imply.
With respect to Mr. Saifi, I would like to add that, having read the press reports of Dr. Graham’s contacts with him, I expected to meet a firebrand. Instead, I found him to be a quiet, assured gentleman. It was a pleasure to make his acquaintance.
Educational and Publishing System
Ahmadis learn fast from Christian missionaries. They have their own educational system and give a good education. Many of their members are widely respected for their learning and abilities. Perhaps the most outstanding example of this is Chaudry Sir Zafrulla Khan, currently on the bench of the World Court. Having been a past president of the United Nations General Assembly, he is an Ahmadi of international repute, and is also the author of a number of religious works designed to share his faith.
The Ahmadi publishing houses turn out literature for their cause in more volume than those of most religious organizations of the present time. Their philanthropy and care for the widow and orphan should also be noted. While they have not approached a Seventh-day Adventist level of medical missions, many an Ahmadi physician is a medical missionary on his own.
When I was ushered into the parlor of the Khalif a’s home for my appointment, I was met most courteously by the distinguished leader. A kind, quiet-spoken gentleman in his late fifties, the Mirza Sahib is a graduate of Oxford University, and a former college principal. We talked of their organizational structure, which has many parallels to that of Seventh-day Adventists. We also discussed the future of their mission program. Their greatest successes are in West Africa, with East Africa and Indonesia following.
Mirza Nasir Ahmad stated that the progress of Ahmadiyat today is as rapid in Tanzania as in West Africa. The size of the group, however, has not yet reached that of West Africa, where the largest group is in Ghana. The converts in Ghana come largely from paganism. In Sierra Leone, however, Mirza Nasir Ahmad told me, they are converting to Ahmadiyat more members from the Christian community than from other groups. In Nigeria, on the other hand, the growth of Ahmadiyat is largely taking place within the Moslem community, he reported.
Another interesting observation is that in all three West African countries, it is from the Negro populace rather than from Arab, European, or mixed racial stock that they are making their greatest gains. The same holds true in Tanzania, the Khalifa reported, but it was not clear to him whether the converts were mostly from pagan, Christian, or Moslem communities. In Indonesia, it is largely from among the Moslems that they are recording their greatest successes.
As for future plans, Mirza Nasir Ahmad advised me that he planned to make a public announcement in the near future, and that therefore for the present their strategy was a religiously classified secret. We smiled mutually at that remark.
(To be continued)
FROM a theological viewpoint, the Ahmadis have some parallels of interest to Seventh-day Adventists. The only one I can touch on here is their belief in a continuing revelation from God. This provides a source of contact that immediately catches their interest and attention.
Orthoprax Moslems—that is, those who hold conservatively to the practices of the Moslem faith, as orthodoxy signifies conservative theology—believe that Mohammed was the last of the prophets, and that all that previous prophets had given is succinctly wrapped up in the Koran. For them, therefore, there is no further need for any of the earlier revelations today. The apostate interpretations of the Bible, together with the purported physical corruptions of the Biblical text, make those earlier messages from God invalid today.
While Ahmadis believe likewise about the Bible, and use many of the skeptical arguments of the nineteenth century in support of their position, as well as finding anything in current literature, they do not believe that Mohammed was the last of the prophets in the same way that others do. (It would be well to add here that there occurred a schism in the movement not long after the death of the founder, and there is another Ahmadi group which does have a slightly variant view to that given here, but for all practical purposes, the theology of the two groups is close enough alike that most Moslems class them pretty much together.) Because of this, most Moslems put the Ahmadis outside the pale of Islam, even though the group claims it is the only true advocate of a genuine Islam.
Gift of Prophecy
For the Ahmadis Mohammed is the criterion of truth, and all future prophets must acknowledge his message as truth in the way that he taught it, and not in the way it has come to be corrupted by the Moslems. In order to restore it to its rightful place, God has been pleased, they say, to speak in modern times to and through Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Reason is inadequate to arrive at truth. Therefore it has been necessary for a renewal of revelation to be given in this century.
Shocked Into Silence
Because of Adventist understanding of the continuing gift of prophecy, a Seventh-day Adventist worker is in the unique position of being able to understand these people. It almost takes them off their feet when one tells them that Seventh-day Adventist Christians also believe in special revelation in these days. They are so unprepared for this that they are almost shocked into silence.
They need not be. In Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s own library at Qadian, I have seen a copy of The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan. Had they read its introduction carefully, they would have been aware of this gift among Christians. They took issue in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s lifetime with other claimants of the gift from the Christian world. But this one they have overlooked. This gives the Adventist evangelist an advantage in winning their respect.
It is his advantage, first, because they find someone who can talk their language theologically and sympathetically. It also is his advantage because they do not know its message and are not prepared to argue with it. The nature of a contemporary special revelation has it own certitudes, and one must disprove the character of the gift before he can argue with the message given. This they know from decades of experience.
If the Ahmadis are approached in a gentle manner, in the modern spirit of dialog rather than in the harsher forms of debate, they will listen, at least for a time. I do not mean they will be converted. I do not know of any Ahmadi in India or Pakistan that has become a Seventh-day Adventist. But I am sure that God has a message for these earnest people, as well as for others. They have some very high and noble ideals. And their dedication to their beliefs being as intense as it is, if they ever understood the message we preach, and accepted it, they would make wonderful Seventh-day Adventists.
In closing my interview with Mirza Nasir Ahmad, I asked the khalifa of the community a question which is closely linked with special revelation, and more particularly with that of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. It had to do with spiritistic phenomena.
The Ahmadis are strong believers in the doctrine of natural immortality—a doctrine that should concern every Seventh-day Adventist. I knew that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed to have talked with various departed dead, including Guru Nanak Sahib (the fifteenth-century founder of the Sikh religion of Northern India) and Jesus Christ!
JESUS BURIED IN KASHMIR!
According to all Ahmadis, Jesus Christ is dead—buried in Kashmir. They will show you “his” tomb there to prove it. I have seen it. Unlike all other Moslems, they hold that Jesus was put on the cross, but did not die then. Taken down alive, he made his escape from Palestine, and lived to die a natural death at a ripe old age of 120 years in Kashmir. This is one of the great heresies for which other Moslems would excommunicate them. For other Moslems believe that Jesus is alive in heaven. But not the Ahmadis.
Accordingly, the promises in both the Bible and the Koran regarding the return of the Messiah would be impossible of literal fulfillment. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed, on the ground of his special revelations, to be the Messiah of Islam, and the fulfillment of those prophecies. He never claimed, as some of his enemies have tried to make out, that he was the reincarnation of Jesus. But he did claim to be the Messiah in unequivocal language. It was here that he first parted serious company with his Moslem peers. To me, the tragedy of Ahmadiyat is that their faith rests upon the death of two Messiahs, the second one having been the fulfillment of previous prophecies, leaving no more Messiahs to come!
But my question was not about the coming of another Messiah. I was interested rather in the matter of communication with the dead, and its possible bearing upon special revelation.
I asked Mirza Nasir Ahmad whether he had ever held communication with the dead as his grandfather had. He replied in the negative. I asked then about what knowledge he had as to whether his father during his long khalifat had talked with the dead or listened to them. He replied that there was none to his knowledge. As for his grandfather, he suggested that the experiences to which his grandfather had alluded were only about one per cent of the total revelations he had received.
Asked if he himself had had any other revelations, he replied affirmatively. Questioned briefly about the nature of these experiences, he stated that they contained their own certitudes, based upon the fulfillment of the messages given and interpreted along the lines laid down by men long experienced in the interpretation of such mysteries.
EXTRASENSORY AND PARAPSYCHICAL
Out of my study of the work of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, and of the revelations which he claimed to have received, I am inclined to view them as extrasensory and parapsychical in character rather than merely the hallucinations of a diseased mind. Recognizing the nature of spiritistic phenomena, I can readily appreciate that, whether he actually held communion with the dead or heard what he believed to be the voice of God or an angel, what he heard was in every sense very real, and not imaginary.
As such, there are many genuine elements of truth to be found in Ahmadiyat. These will appeal to the human heart in search after God. It is odd, in a sense, that the expositors of a “true” Islam are at this point at odds with both Biblical and Koranic injunctions. But as with all spiritistic phenomena from Eden to the present, the good is not unmixed with error.
Because of these factors, it seems to me that the Seventh-day Adventist who attempts to debate with the Ahmadis is in danger of repeating for himself the experience of Moses Hull in the early days of the Advent Movement. Adventists must, therefore, approach them with caution, and in humble dependence upon God for power personally to persuade them of the verities of the message God has vouchsafed to the church for the world at this time.
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