The great debate between Christians & Muslims in the subcontinent
ASIF M. BASIT, LONDON, UK
Translated from the Urdu by
Shehzad Ahmad and Farhaad Ahmad
The Holy War
One of the signs foretold by the Prophet Muhammadsa regarding the advent of the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdias was that he would “break the cross.1 However, the manner in which this has been interpreted by contemporary Muslim scholars not only appears to be quite inappropriate and comical, but even insulting. They seem to have misunderstood the role and character of a person who alone was destined to be the saviour of the followers of all faiths. The literal interpretation that prevailed the literature of the majority of the contemporary scholars of Islam was that the Imam Mahdi and Messiah would spend his time physically breaking any cross that he would come across anywhere in the world, whilst in his remaining time he would literally kill all the swine. To believe that the Imam Mahdi would go around every village and town with a tool in his hand trying to literally break every cross, would not only trivialise the imminence and stature of the Messiah and Mahdi, whose advent was to serve as a reformer for all Muslims, but would belittle the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa who had referred to him as a reformer and Prophet of God.
The True Meaning of “Breaking the Cross”
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, stated:
“It begs the question as to what is meant by referring to the Messiah as the “breaker of the cross?” Will he break a wooden cross? Of what benefit will that be? It is quite obvious that if he was to go around breaking wooden crosses it could not be deemed to be a very noble task and no benefit would come out of it. If he was to break wooden crosses, the Christians would instead make crosses out of gold, silver or steel…It certainly does not mean that the Messiah would go around breaking wooden crosses hung up by Christians…In fact, the statement is profound and full of meaning…One must ponder and question whether our claim is supported clearly or not in that the breaking of the cross does not mean breaking wooden or steel crosses physically (which Christians dangle around their necks as shirk), but instead symbolises a great truth which I have come with. I have announced completely transparently that Jihad is forbidden in this day and age, because just as the Messiah is charged with breaking the cross in spirit, so too is he charged with abolishing all religious wars, thereby necessitating the Fatwa [edict] against Jihad. Thus, we say that to take up the sword or any weapon in the name of religion is a great sin.
“What does “breaking the cross” really mean? Pay great heed to this fact that the time of the advent of the Messiah has been associated with the time of the triumph over the cross, and it was the Messiah that was to come for this purpose. It is, therefore, very clear that the purpose of the advent of the Messiah was to completely falsify the Christian ideology with arguments and proofs that were to be strengthened by heavenly succour and miracles. He would show how the religion of the cross is completely false and would make this manifestly clear to the whole world, and millions of souls would come to know and admit that Christianity in reality cannot be a means of mercy for mankind. It is for this reason that all our focus is on the cross – is there any stone left unturned for defeating the cross? The death of Jesusas itself has shattered the cross into pieces and when the fact is proven that Jesusas did not die on the cross, but in fact died a natural death in Kashmir, anyone from among the intellectuals should come forward and tell us that what is then left of the cross?
“Thus, it is very clear that God Almighty was going to send the Messiah when the “cross” was going to be dominant, meaning the false ideology of Christianity [i.e. the Christian ideology no longer in it is original form, having strayed far away from its original teachings by introducing concepts such as the Trinity and Atonement] was going to be at large and for its spread and propagation every type of method would be deployed, and darkness and falsehood (which in other words is shirk or idolatry), and the worship of the dead would be spread all over the world. At such time, the person God Almighty would send would be charged with purifying the world from its state of darkness and falsehood, and save them from the curse of worshipping the dead. In this manner, he would break the cross. Although, it may appear that the task of abolishing all religious wars on the one hand and that of breaking the cross (the latter possibly compelling such wars) on the other are contradictory; however, this only appears as a contradiction to those who lack insight and have not truly understood the purpose of the Messiah’s advent. In fact, the very words Yadha ul Harb explain the reality of the meaning of “breaking the cross,” which as already noted, does not mean literally breaking crosses made out of wood or other materials, but in fact connotes the defeat of Christianity, achieved purely through present unassailable and rational arguments and clear proofs, as God Almighty states, ‘so that he, who had already perished by a clear proof, should perish, and he, who had already come to life by a clear proof, should live.’ (Ch.8, V.43).”2
At the time of the advent of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiahas, Christianity was at its peak. The Promised Messiahas once described the situation in the following words:
“Never has there been a greater period of such a dangerous trial for Islam, in fact since the inception of Prophethood, there has never been so. Apart from philosophical and scientific arguments anyone with expertise in any field employs it as a means to try and attack Islam. Both men and women are preaching and through various schemes are trying to detach people from Islam and want them to incline towards Christianity. If one goes into clinics, one would see how alongside giving medicines to patients, the Christian faith is being proselytised, and at times women and children who are admitted into the hospital, are refused care until they became Christians. Christians were also preaching disguised as religious mendicants. In short, they adopted every possible means for this purpose. One single Christian newsletter or article is published in thousands…if all the literature that has been written against Islam was to be put together, its pile would be a mile high. In fact, without exaggeration, I say that if it was piled up, it would be taller than some of the mountains, and if they were put in a line, it would exceed many miles.
Map of India circa 1857
“Today the situation of Islam is like the martyrs of Karbala, and is surrounded by a horde of enemies. You should ponder and see for yourselves the extent to which they are making efforts in order to defeat Islam. It is also clear from the speech delivered by the bishop from Calcutta in London [who said] that no one can be truly loyal to the British government unless he is a Christian. From these speeches and discussions it is quite evident how much effort is being made to convert the masses into Christianity and what their intentions are. They clearly want there to be no more Muslims. The Christian clerics have admitted the fact that no other religion is a hindrance for them than Islam. But remember, God has great pride for his faith, and He states that, ‘surely we have revealed the Qur’an and we shall protect it.’ (Ch.15.V.10). According to this promise, He has safeguarded the Holy Qur’an and sent me. The Holy Prophetsa also prophesised that a reformer would appear at the head of every century, I have been sent as the reformer for the fourteenth century, who was going to be known as the one who was to break the cross.”3
The Onslaught of Christian Clerics in India
At the time of the advent of the Promised Messiahas, the Muslims had proved their superiority in every aspect – be it religion, politics or the military, and had made India their fortress. The Christian clerics knew full well that if they were able to gain the stronghold of this fortress, it would become very easy for them to defeat Islam. Another reason why India was at the centre of their attention was because a quarter of the total Muslim population at the time was living in India, making it the country with the highest Muslim population.4 During the course of researching for MTA International’s programme Rahe Huda, this author had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Jonathan Ingleby, who worked as the Head of the Mission Studies department at Radcliffe College. When asked what the real intention behind the Christian clerics incursion of India was, he responded that they wanted to relocate the headquarters of the Church to India.5 The Christian clerics who travelled to India for the spread of Christianity and for ensuring its dominance over other religions, would openly express this desire in their sermons and speeches. One of them was Henry Martyn (not Henry Martyn Clark, well-known for participating in the debate, “The Holy War,” and who will be referred to in greater detail later in the article). Henry Martyn, in one of his sermons, stated:
“The evangelisation of India is a more important object than preaching to the European inhabitants of Calcutta.”6
The British Government initially did not allow the Christian clerics to openly proselytise for fear of causing disruption in society. In one reported incident, General Warren Hastings (1732–1818) dismissed a Christian cleric on the grounds that he was distributing Christian literature in the local area. It is said that General Warren Hasting’s reason for the dismissal was that distributing Christian literature in the local area was synonymous to shooting at explosives. Despite this strict warning, Christian clerics hastened in their efforts to spread Christianity, Henry Martyn Clark being one of the most notable.7Therefore, the rapidly growing influence of Christian clerics in India highlights the close connection of India to the one who was prophesised to “break the cross.” Thus, this was not an ordinary incursion but one that astonished the Muslim population, marking the end of their reign, and challenged the parameters of their faith.
The Response of Muslims in India to the Growing Christian Influence
During this period of great anguish and distress, the Muslims began many schemes and initiatives in an attempt to defend Islam in India. One of these included the Aligarh Movement of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan that tried to present a version of Islam compatible with the West, but which lost the soul of Islam in the process. For example, in an attempt to westernise Islam, Khan declared that prayers had no real influence on human life apart from a cathartic effect or an emotional relief.8 Yet this was contrary to the teachings of the Holy Qur’an that clearly state that Allah listens and responds to prayers.9 Another movement was Jamal ud Din Afghani’s intellectual movement. Similarly, we also find traces of Abdullah Sindhi’s uprising, and Allama Anayatullah Mashriqi’s Khaksar movement. The world of literature saw efforts to restore the Muslim identity and to take them out of their state of darkness and ignorance. Notably, some of the reformist literature included Deputy Nazir Ahmad’s novels Miraat ul Aroos, Ibn ul Waqt and Taubahtul Nasooh. Many educational institutions for women were established – Hasan Ali Aafandi started the Sindh Madrasat ul Ilm and Mumtaz Ali, who was linked with the Aligarh movement, wrote numerous books which purported to free women from the “shackles” of wearing a veil and to apparently empower them to compete with men in society. In response to Sir Syed Ahmad’s impudent ideas, many magazines such as Oudh Punch were published that tried to mitigate the effect of his ideas by mocking and ridiculing him. Akbar Ala Abadi’s famous poetry was widely published in order to enhance the Muslims’ sense of identity. Not only was he enraged by Sir Syed Ahmad’s views, he also criticised the existence of extremist elements that tainted the name of Islam. Although Kiramat Ali Jonpuri and Syed Ameer Ali had received western educations, they always tried to present the true teachings of Islam. Shah Wali Ullah’s son, Shah Abdul Aziz, and his student Syed Ahmed Shaheed, coupled with their fellow colleague Shah Ismaeel Shaheed, were ever ready for defending Islam.
In short, their intentions behind forming such movements and their efforts can only be assumed to be sincere, however evidently the movements lacked direction and were unable to achieve their desired results. They may have succeeded with respect to a few individuals, but as successful national movements they were not fruitful. Each movement attempted to make an impact in its own way, but with little success. However, the real success, according to the Holy Prophetsa, was to be achieved by the Reformer and Messiah who would appear in the latter days. The advent of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiahas came at a time when Islam was locked in a fierce battle, ironically waged against themselves by their existing beliefs. Muslims in their millions were leaving Islam and embracing Christianity. One of the reports published in The Times newspaper on the 24th of January 1893, stated that the in the Missionary Conference held in Bombay extraordinary results of the efforts of the Christian Missionaries over the last decade were announced. Within a space of nine years, between 1881 and 1890, the total number of local Christians had increased from 492,882 to 648,843. The increase in the number of contacts was even greater, rising from 138,254 to 215,759. It was also stated that with the increase in the number of people accepting Christianity, significant effort was being invested in their education and learning. In 1881, the number of Christian boys and girls attending Protestant Mission Schools was 196,360 and by 1890 it had risen to 299,051.10Such was the success of a religion that had vowed to dominate Islam.
Christian influence rapidly increased in India with Christian missionaries establishing their missions and preaching far and wide.
Photo: All Saints Cathedral built in 1871 in Allahabad, India.
Interestingly, the year (1835) that the Christian Missionaries openly declared their plans, was also the year of the birth of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiahas. The Promised Messiahas was born on 13th February 1835, and on 25th May 1835, the first missionary to be sent by the Free Church of Scotland, Rev. Alexander Duff, addressed the Free Church of Scotland’s General Assembly. He started his speech by saying that if time permitted, he desired to describe the situation prevailing in India at the time, which he believed was the capital of Satan’s empire.11 Thus, it would appear that in the year that the Christians openly declared their plans to infiltrate Islam, God had destined for the Messiah to appear to halt their efforts and present the true Islam. Not only is the time of the advent of the Promised Messiahas significant, the place of his advent is also of great significance. The Promised Messiahas was born in the province of Punjab in India, the same place the Christian clerics had made the centre of their missionary activities. As Professor Arvil Ann Powell writes:
“The central region of the Punjab chosen by the Christian missionaries as the heartland for their evangelistic activities was also the catchment area for Ahmadi initiation. The two adjoining districts of Amritsar and Gurdaspur, the former the hinterland of the sacred city of Sikhs and the Anglican missionary headquarters, and the latter the homeland of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, were by the early 1890s at the centre of competition between rival religious minorities.”12
The Promised Messiahas, recognising the serious danger posed by Christianity, began the uphill task of reviving Islam by writing one of his seminal works (and the first to get published), Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya. In five-volumes, the Promised Messiahas addressed the issue of the influx of Christianity and its possible consequences, as follows:
“Take the Christians, for instance, whose principles appear absurd even at a cursory glance, and yet the consistent efforts of their missionaries have resulted in the growing popularity of their faith, so much so that each year they proudly publish reports of four to eight thousand people joining their ranks. The latest estimates of Christian conversions given by Father Hacker of Calcutta are worrying, to say the least. He writes that whereas there were only 27,000 Christians in India fifty years ago, the number has now risen to 500,000 – [To Allah we belong and to Him shall we return]. Elders of Islam! Do you wait for a time of greater spread of misguidance? There was a time when Islam was the living illustration of the Qur’anic verse: [Men] entering the religion of Allah in troops [110:3]. And look at what is happening today! Do your hearts not bleed at this calamity and are you not overwhelmed by anguish?”13
In these delicate circumstances, what did Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiahas and Imam Mahdi actually do for the defence of Islam? This is a fundamental question and requires a detailed response.
The Promised Messiahas as the “Breaker of the Cross”
To curb the influx of Christianity was no easy task, let alone to give a sound response to it. What were the circumstances that led to the achievement of the Promised Messiahas of defeating the Christians? Before venturing to answer this question, it is instructive to outline some of the Promised Messiah’sas contemporaries, acknowledged as such by his opponents. One of the foremost was Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who had received the privilege of receiving a knighthood, had also excelled in his higher education. After his father’s demise, he worked for the East India Company as a “trustworthy leader.” Syed Ameer Ali and Maulawi Chiragh Ali are some other names that are also referred to alongside Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s. Syed Ameer Ali trained as a barrister at Inner Temple in London. He resided in London between 1869 and 1873, where he learnt the traditions and customs of the English elite and also became proficient in the English language. Upon his return from England in 1873, he started his career as a lawyer at the Calcutta High Court, publishing, A Critical Examination of the Life and Teachings of Mohammed that same year. A famous orientalist, Maj. R. D. Osborn, commented that the book was the first of its kind in substantive content from within the intellectuals of India. Initially, Maulawi Chiragh Ali was involved with Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’sas efforts for the revival of the Muslim population. However, following Ahmad’sas claim to be the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, he aligned himself with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s Aligarh Movement. The following excerpt from a well-known orientalist, Bishop Kenneth Cragg, summarises the efforts being made by Muslim intellectuals of the time:
“… an attempt to chart an Anglophile future for the Muslim community…”14
These were Muslims who possessed great worldly status, were highly qualified, renowned for the achievements and well-known for their affluence. The response from these revered intellectuals to the Christian infiltration was merely an effort to make the Muslims incline towards the English. However, the real solution had been placed in the hands of God’s chosen servant, one who lacked even the resources to publish his book, Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya. Amongst the Muslims, the Deobandis, Barelvis and Wahabis had their own subjective perceptions with respect to the British reign. At a cursory level, while the reign caused some anxiety to these sects, however, their failure to delineate between the political stature of the British and their ideological beliefs meant that the reign was perceived in an ambivalent and misinformed manner. Even where these factions made attempts to grapple with arguments advanced by the Christians, the lack of depth of their own understanding of the Holy Qur’an meant that these efforts were of little or no avail. The commonly held belief that Jesusas is still alive in the heavens was not aligned with that of the Holy Prophet’ssa or his companions, and was a consequence of historical misconceptions.
Muslim intellectuals such as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (photo), attempted to revive and defend Islam, however tried to do so by diluting its core values and making Islam more appealing to the west.
The Concept of Jesusas Being Alive in Heaven
Some of the historical roots of the mainstream Muslim belief that Jesusas is still alive can be traced to Abdullah bin Sabaa, an enemy of Islam in the very early period who travelled through various countries in the Muslim empire, disguised as a Muslim and attempted to force a rebellion and uprising within the Muslim population. In order to fulfil these underhand objectives, he searched for two categories of people; firstly, those being punished for their wrongdoing and secondly, those deprived of Islamic teachings because of their disengagement with the Islamic centre. However, these attempts were in vain, and compelled Abdullah bin Sabaa to turn towards Egypt, where many Christians had converted to Islam. Owing to their distance from the Islamic centre, their knowledge of Islamic beliefs remained inherently weak. Abdullah bin Sabaa provoked the converts into questioning their newly acquired faith, inciting them against believing in a prophet who was not to return after his demise. Moreover, he roused them against the Khulafa—rightly guided successors—by quoting the following verse from the Holy Qur’an, “He Who has made the teaching of the Qur’an binding on thee will most surely bring thee back to thy ordained place of return” (Ch.28:V.86). This verse was also cited by Abdullah bin Sabaa to disprove the need for Khilafat and he would describe the status of Hazrat Alira in such a way that it seemed as if he had taken over his Khilafat.15 With time, as Islam spread far and wide, many Christians entered the fold of Islam. However, there existed no concrete mechanisms of teaching Islamic theology to the new converts, therefore, Christians who firmly believed in the return of Jesusas, continued to adhere to this belief even after their conversion to Islam. Moreover, Muslims were taken as prisoners of war in predominantly Christian countries and were influenced by the Christian faith as a consequence. In this manner, the concept that Jesusas will return, despite being antithetical to the views held by the Holy Prophetsa, slowly made its way into Islam.
Thus, it is a tragic irony that a concept formulated by detractors and opponents to Islam in order to disengage Muslims from the Islamic faith, was accepted so wholeheartedly by the Muslims, and one which would ultimately become their biggest challenge in proselytising. Not only did the Muslims remain firmly adhered to this belief, they also failed to recognise its complications. Even prominent scholars of the time remained oblivious to its flaws, thereby demonstrating that the weaknesses inherent thereto were not to be resolved through worldly efforts, and required divine intervention. Thus, all temporal efforts of an intellectual, spiritual, political or social nature failed to offer a plausible resolution. It was during this time that the Promised Messiahas uttered the following words:
“I am the water that descended down so promptly from the heavens
I am God’s spiritual light by which the day has brightened.”
Dr. Fazl ur Rehman, a well-known Muslim scholar at the time, acknowledged the depth and accuracy of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s (as) response to the Christians.
An Exposition of Jesus’as Demise by the Promised Messiahas
The Promised Messiahas prepared a detailed exposition of thirty verses from the Holy Qur’an in order to disprove that Jesusas was still alive. Cautioning the Muslims against the perils of such a belief, he stated, “Let Jesus die, for in this lies the life of Islam.” The Promised Messiahas drew support for his argument from a variety of sources including, inter alia, the Holy Qur’an, Ahadith, sayings of past Muslim saints, and rational, intellectual, medical and historical evidence.16 The sole basis for Christian proselytisation was the belief that Jesusas is still alive, which was used to convert thousands of Muslims to Christianity. A well-known Pakistani researcher and writer, Fazl ul Rehman (1918-1988), has acknowledged the depth and accuracy of the Promised Messiah’sas response to the Christians.17 C. G. Pfander, a priest and author of Mizan ul Haq, has written about the widely held belief that the space between the graves of the Holy Prophetsa and Hazrat Abu Bakrra in Madinah has been reserved for Jesusas, and serves as a reminder of the second coming of Jesusas and that the Holy Prophetsa has passed away.18 Dr. Jan Slomp, a well-known researcher who has studied the relationship between the Muslim and Christian faiths, has acknowledged that C. G. Pfander’s analysis would spur Christian clerics. The Promised Messiahas refuted these arguments which were causing many Muslims to embrace Christianity by announcing the discovery of the tomb of Jesus in Kashmir.19 C. G. Pfander’s book Mizan ul Haq was the biggest weapon in the hands of Christian clerics, which has been acknowledged by German researcher and writer Christine Schirmacher in the following words:
“Mizan ul Haq was used by generations of Christian missionaries as an apologetic tool to refute Islam, and for this reason it was reprinted many times up until present…and these reprints are still used today for missionary activities among Muslims.”20
Thus, C. G. Pfander’s efforts to prove that Jesusas is still alive were an exploitative tool used by Christian clerics. The Promised Messiah’sas words, “Let Jesus die for in this lies the life of Islam”, epitomise that he was the Holy Prophet’ssa vicegerent as the “breaker of the cross,” and it was this statement which laid the foundations for this great task. Christian clerics and orientalists are predominantly interested in establishing that Jesusasis still alive through the Holy Qur’an. However, Bishop Kenneth Cragg has acknowledged that the Promised Messiahas negated the mainstream Muslim belief of the literal second coming of Jesusas, stating that this belief was based on hearsay evidence and was not proven by the Holy Qur’an.21
Opposition from the Christian Clergy
As soon as the Promised Messiahas established through the Holy Qur’an that Jesusas had passed away, he began to face opposition from Christians and Muslims alike. The Promised Messiahas thereby spent every living moment in a state of Jihad–the “Jihad of the Pen”–refuting and negating false ideologies. A well-known orientalist, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, writing in, Modern Islam in India, has acknowledged that the advent of Ahmadiyyat took place in the 19th century when Islam was in a weak position and in contrast many new cultures were gaining ascendancy. However, the dawn of Ahmadiyyat, which rose against the Christian dogma and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s Aligarh Movement, brought a refreshing new perspective to the existing theological demographic. Thus, the Promised Messiahas was able to establish the superiority of Islam through the strength of the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and Ahadith.
It is pertinent to note that the Promised Messiahas received no formal education, was not an affiliate of any public or private organisation, had very limited experience of employment and his financial standing remained inherently weak. From an objective perspective, he appeared to be living the life of a complete recluse, but with the strength of his Holy Master by his side, he was able to produce exemplary religious literature and proved to be source of profound wisdom and insight. Through his example, he won widespread sympathy for Islam. He maintained a courteous relationship with the Crown and acknowledged and appreciated their protection of religious freedom, which allowed Muslims to live in accordance to their faith and proselytise unhindered. Therefore, the purpose of the Promised Messiahas was not to exert any worldly influence. He chose to live away from major metropolises such as Delhi, Calcutta and Bombay, and resided in a small village, known only to people who had friends or family there or who were familiar with its local market. While the Promised Messiahas was unable to fund even a mere pamphlet through personal funds, his faith never waned and held steadfast to the belief that God’s Help was always near, as exemplified by the Qur’anic revelation, “Is Allah not sufficient for His servant?” While the Promised Messiah’sas contemporaries were associated with various prominent movements, maintained close ties with the British elite and had received formal education abroad, they were unable to succeed in their goal to revive Islam. If anyone did, it was Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas of Qadian, the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi, and this provides further proof of his truthfulness.
The Reaction of the Christian Clergy
The Promised Messiahas stood alone as a representative of Islam in his battle against Christian dogma. He was the first intellectual who had been able to challenge the Christian clergy, who were forced to re-think the theological basis of their belief that Jesusas is still alive. Further on, how the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was perceived as a great threat to Christian doctrines will be discussed, the issue being addressed by conventions of the Protestant Church worldwide. But just how did the Christian clergy receive the arguments advanced by Muslim intellectuals, and which arguments were deemed to have any impact? A German priest and researcher, Julius Richter, noted that if any hope remained to save Islam in India, it was to be found in U.P and Punjab and their central figures, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas.22 Julius Richter has referred to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in a mere paragraph, while he devotes an entire section to the Promised Messiahas. Therefore, it would seem that while the Christians perceived Sir Syed Ahmad Khan as a potential threat, it was the Promised Messiahas who shook them to their core. Notwithstanding the ill-will Richter harboured against the Promised Messiahas, he has paid tribute to his character and teachings. He writes:
“Ghulam is a remarkable man. He writes clever books, and in such elegant Urdu, Persian and Arabic that he is able to challenge his opponents in the most graceful Arabic literary articles to admit or to disprove his divine mission; besides this he has also inaugurated an English Magazine, The Review of Religions, the lengthy pages of which he fills almost singlehandedly. He has not only read the Old and New Testaments thoroughly, but is likewise acquainted with certain apocryphal works such as The Gospel According to St. Barnabas and with novels such as that of the Russian author, Nicholas Notovitch, the The Unknown Life of Christ.”
Julius Richter wrote about Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) and his deep scholarly knowledge, remarking that Ahmadas was well-versed in an array of topics including with novels such as The Unknown Life of Christ.
The only other notable intellectual with respect to challenging the Christians other than the Promised Messiahas was Rehmatullah Keranvi (1818-1891), who in 1854 in Agra, had a debate with C. G. Pfander, a priest representing the Church Mission Society. The debate, which lasted only two days, was on the concept of the Trinity, the authenticity of the Holy Qur’an as one of the revealed scriptures and the Holy Prophet’ssa life. However, both days were spent debating the interpolations in the New Testament. Doctrines of Islam and Christianity were not discussed and both parties claimed victory. It is perhaps interesting to note that Rehmatullah Keranvi was the only person before the Promised Messiahas who considered the Christian clergy as a great trial for the Muslims, emphasising that the time was nigh for the Messiah’s advent.
Advent of the Promised Messiahas
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas first made his claim to being the Promised Messiah between 1889 and 1891, and while he continued his efforts to “break the cross,” it was not until 1893 that Islam and Christianity were at loggerheads. This era in history had been prophesised by the Holy Prophetsa, and the Christian clergy openly called the Muslims to challenge. The Muslims made every effort to invite Muslim scholars and intellectuals to assume the responsibility of defending Islam, but to no avail. In this state of despair, it was only the Promised Messiahas who was anxious and concerned about the fate of Islam, as he poignantly writes in one Urdu couplet:
“The sun has arisen for our enemy yet night befalls us – O sun! Rise upon us for I am too anxious.”
The great pain and agony with which this was written are epitomised by the tireless efforts and prayers of the Promised Messiahas for the revival of Islam.
An Invitation by the Christians to the Muslims for a Debate in Amritsar
In 1854 Rehmatullah Kiranwi and Father Pfander had a debate in Agra. In the same year, the Christian Mission also laid their foundations in Jindiala District, Amritsar. In 1882 Dr. Henry Martyn Clark M.D. (Edinburgh) also laid the foundations of the Medical Mission in Jindiala, which proved to be a new milestone in spreading the message of Christianity. Christian missionaries would walk through the streets proclaiming the message of Christianity, and in this manner attempt to convert Muslims to the Christian faith. These attempts were often successful and soon devout Muslims began to feel wary of these circumstances.
A Muslim from Jandiala, Muhammad Bakhsh Paanda, despite his limited knowledge, would often try to reply to the Christian missionaries and would also invite other Muslims to do so. On becoming aware of this, Dr. Henry Martyn Clark invited the Muslims of Jandiala to either come forward themselves or bring forth any Muslim scholar for a debate with the Christians. He also said that if the Muslims could not do so, they should consider their beliefs to be false and should consequently remain silent. The Muslims, in a difficult predicament, pleaded with many Muslim councils and scholars to come forward and defend Islam, but almost no one heeded their call. The few who did respond were more worried about who would be responsible for taking care of their food, travel and accommodation expenses. The Christians were well-aware of the Muslims’ helplessness and in the Church Missionary Intelligencer a report was published by Dr. Henry Martyn Clark who referred to the vulnerability of the Muslims in the following words:
“The gauntlet thrown down produced the greatest consternation. The Mohammedans were aghast. What could they do? And yet, something must be done. They addressed themselves to various Societies for the Aid of Islam, and bestirred themselves to find a champion, but none appeared. Three weeks went by, the wager of battle still lay unaccepted. Jandiala Mohammedans were in dire straits, when, to their intense relief, they found a defender in a certain Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian. This man is a somewhat remarkable personage, and one of great interest to the missionary.”23
The Missionary Herald of Boston, USA, echoed the sentiments of the Muslims in similar words:
“There was much doubt in regard to the expediency of this challenge, but after it was done it was found that the Mohammedans were in great fear lest they should be unable to find an able champion.”
“This Man, Ghulam Ahmed…was deemed superior in ability, was chosen and consented to represent Islam against Christianity.”24
What was discussed in the debate? What was the outcome and whom did God appear to help? These are all issues that will of course be discussed. However, the fact that a person came forward when Muslims were facing dejection and despondency, and went on to disprove the Christian beliefs, not only with the help of the Qur’an, but using the Christians’ own scriptures, would add strength to his truth as the “breaker of the cross.” The Promised Messiahas not only agreed to defend Islam, he offered to pay for his own travel expenses along with his companions’ and made arrangements for his own and his companions’ food during their stay in Jandiala. The main objective of the debate was that the Christians would try to prove the divinity of Jesusas whilst the Promised Messiahaswould prove the unity of God through the Holy Qur’an. The debate began on the 22nd of May 1893 and lasted for 15 days.
Historically, one of the reasons why the debate was significant was because Islam and Christianity would be embroiled in public confrontation, a fact evident from the special place given to the coverage of the debate in newspapers of the time–those that published the proceedings were rapidly sold out. Another reason for its historical significance was the condition that the entire proceedings of the debate were to be recorded and published verbatim. Previously, it had been customary for each party to declare itself as the victor, leaving the listeners with no plausible basis to come to any conclusions.
The Importance of the Debate
The importance of this debate could be gauged from the fact that many influential Islamic scholars would be part of the audience throughout the proceedings, as one Christian newspaper wrote:
“In addition to the disciples of the Mirza, there was a very large attendance of orthodox Mohammedans, men mostly of affluence and position, and, as such, not usually reached by existing methods of work. Herein lay one delightful feature of the controversy. There they were, influential wealthy men, Government servants and what not – men, as a whole, quite beyond ordinary reach sitting hour after hour for a couple of weeks, listening most attentively…”25
The influence the debate exerted much beyond the subcontinent can be seen from this extract from the Missionary Herald:
“The discussion was held in Amritsar, on the veranda of Dr. Clark’s house; admission was by ticket and hundreds who could not obtain them had to be turned away. A surging mob filled the road but was quiet and orderly…”26
The importance of the debate in the eyes of the Muslims is evident from the following extract also from the Missionary Herald:
“The Mohammedans came from Lahore, Peshawar and other parts of India.”
The debate was no longer confined to the Muslims of Jindiala – it became a decisive debate for all Christians and Muslims. Dr. Henry Martyn Clark writes in his report:
“In the weeks that followed the adjustment of preliminaries and the beginning of the controversy, the subject excited the most extraordinary interest near and far. It was in the air everywhere. In railway carriages, by the well, on highways and byways, in the quiet village and the crowded town, it was the one absorbing theme of conversation. Gradually it dawned on us that, all unknown, the projected one-day talk at Jandiala had developed into something much more far-reaching and important than we had imagined possible.”27
In another report Dr. Henry Martyn Clark described the far-reaching effects of this debate in the following words:
“…it sent a thrill through the whole heart of Islam in India.”28
Edicts of Disbelief Against the Promised Messiahas Yet he Represents Islam
It is also worth noting here that from the time the claim was made by the Promised Messiahas until 1892, all the “great” leaders of Islam had issued approximately 200 edicts of disbelief against the Promised Messiahas. However, the very people who issued the edicts, the supposed scholars and leaders of the Muslims, were so utterly helpless in front of Christian priests that the person (i.e. Hazrat Mirza Ghluam Ahmad) who they had previously called the Anti-Christ, disbeliever, kafir (God forbid) and God knows what else, were compelled to accept him as their champion and become his vigilant audience when it came to defending Islam. What else could they have possibly done? For, if they had presented their own commentaries on the Qur’anic verses pertaining to Jesusas, rather than defending Islam they would have ironically strengthened the Christians’ standpoint on the divinity of Jesusas. Therefore, it could have been nobody other than the “breaker of the cross” himself who championed the cause of Islam in its true spirit and falsified Christian beliefs. The following excerpt highlights how Muslim scholars of the time confessed that the Promised Messiahas was the only one who could truly champion the cause of Islam:
“Mohammedans, as a whole, were full of glee. Though a heretic as regards Islam, they held he was perfectly sound in his attitude towards Christianity, and they frankly said: ‘We have no one his equal for language and eloquence. However much he may differ from us on points of our own faith, he will nobly represent us against Christianity.’”29
While the acknowledgement of the opponents was forthcoming, God’s decision to choose the Promised Messiahas as the “breaker of the cross” was manifested through his actions and is also proven from the analysis hereunder:
The editor of the newspaper of the Church Mission Society, Eugene Stock, wrote about Father Pfander as follows:
“… the greatest of all missionaries to Mohammedinism…”30
Father Pfander was considered the most effective priest against the Muslims because his belief was directly expressed in terms that lent support to the claim that Jesusas was still alive. Speaking to the Muslims near the end of his book Mizan ul Haq, he writes that the Muslims needed to decide whether they wanted to be affiliated with a prophet who is dead or one who is alive. It may be noted that this is the same Pfander whose book, Mizan ul Haq was considered to be a handbook for Christian preachers. Therefore, if the person whose belief is premised on the fact that Jesusas is still alive is considered to be the greatest threat to the Muslims, then surely, the person who said, “…let Jesus die, for in that lies the life of Islam,” would appear to be the best suited for defending Islam against Christianity.
From the very beginning of this debate, the Promised Messiahas emphasised that a living religion is recognised by the Heavenly Signs that support it and he argued that Islam has the power to show such Heavenly Signs. However, when invited to compete with the Muslims in this regard, the Christians issued no response.
To be continued in the next Edition with the final part.
Asif M. Basit is a writer, researcher and broadcaster with special interests in Islamic and Christian history of the subcontinent in the 19th and 20th centuries. He is the producer and presenter of Rahe Huda, a weekly discussion programme covering contemporary and historical debates pertaining to Islam. He is also the Director of Programming at MTA International, the first 24-hour Muslim satellite television station.
1. Sahih Bukhari, Kitabul-Anbiya, Baab Nuzuul Isa bin Maryam
2. Malfoozat Vol. 2 pp. 367 – 369, 2003 edition, published in Rabwah
3. Malfoozat, Vol. 2 pp. 369-370, 2003 edition, printed in Rabwah
4. Christian Mission to Muslims, The Record, by Lyle L. Weriff, published by The William Carey Library 1977, Chapter 1, n. 1 p. 7
5. Visit: http://www.youtube.com/rahehudaarchives1 and search for “Jonathan Ingleby”
6. Henry Martyn, ‘The Comprehensive Biography by George Smith’, London, 1892, p. 218
7. See Five Sermons Never Before Published, edited by G. T. Fox, London 1862, p. 4
8. Ad-Dua wa Istajaba (translated as ‘Prayer and its Acceptance’ by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Mufeed-e-Aam Press, Agra, India, 1892, online source: http://www.sirsyedtoday.org/books/?cid=64 as viewed on April 4th, 2013)
9. The Holy Quran, Ch.2:V.187
10. Church Missionary Intelligencer, 1894
11. The Church of Scotland’s India Mission, or, A Brief Exposition of the Principles on Which That Mission Has Been Conducted in Calcutta, Being The Substance of An address Delivered Before The General Assembly of the Church, On Monday, 25th May, 1835 by Rev. Alexander Duff A.M., Printed by John Waugh, Printer to the Church of Scotland
12. Avril Powell (1995): Contested gods and prophets: discourse among minorities in late nineteenth-century Punjab, Renaissance and Modern Studies, 38:1, pp. 38-59
13. Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Part 2, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 1, p. 68
14. Call of the Minaret, Bishop Kenneth Cragg, One World Publications, Oxford, 2008
15. For a more detailed exposition of this subject see, Islam Mein Ikhtalafaat ka Aghaaz, by Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmadra
16. For a detailed discussion of this subject, the following books of the Promised Messiahas may be consulted: Izal e Auham, Aina e kamalaat e Islam, The Heavenly Decree, Jesus in India, Raaz e Haqeeqat, Haqeeqatul Mahdi, Anjam e Atham, Chashma e Masihy, Kitaab ul Bariya: http://www.alislam.org/library/
17. See Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition entitled “Ahmadiyya”, Vol. 1, p. 301, W.S Smith, Brill, 1960
18. See C. G. Pfander, Mizan ul Haq, The Religious Tract Society, London, 1910
19. Debates on Jesus and Muhammad in Europe, India and Pakistan by Dr Jan Slomp, David Kerr, World Christianity in Muslim Encounter, Continuum Publishing House 2009
20. The Islamic View of Major Christian Teachings, by Christine Shirmacher, World Evangelical Alliance, 2008
21. Call of the Minaret, Bishop Kenneth Cragg, One World Publications Oxford, 2008, p. 224
22. Julius Richter D. Theo. D.D., “A History of Missions in India”, Translated into English by Sydney H. Moore, Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, Edinburgh and London 1908
23. The Church Missionary Intelligencer, p. 96, Vol. XLV, 1894, Church Missionary Society, London
24. Missionary Herald: Containing The Proceedings of The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Vol. XC, p.167, Published: Press of Samuel Usher, Boston, 1894
25. CMI, February 1894, p. 98
26. Missionary Herald: Containing The Proceedings of The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Vol. XC, p. 167, Published: Press of Samuel Usher, Boston, 1894
27. CMI, February 1894, p. 98
28. CMI, November 1894, p. 813
29. CMI, February 1894, p. 97
30. Beginnings in India, by Eugene Stock, Central Board of Missions, 1917
Introduction to Dr. Henry Martyn Clark
Before proceeding further, an introduction of Dr. Henry Martyn Clark is imperative. As noted earlier, Dr. Henry Martyn Clark was the chairperson of this debate. He was the one who challenged the Muslims and chose Mr. Abdullah Atham to represent Christianity. There were three apparent reasons for choosing Abdullah Atham: (1) Atham was from among the local Indians and his conversion to Christianity could have proven more helpful in converting the locals to Christianity. (2) Atham had been a Muslim before embracing Christianity; his name was ‘Aathim’, which developed into ‘Atham’ due to variations in accents. He possessed a deep knowledge of Islamic fundamentals and was also well-acquainted with Christianity. (3) He held a high post in Public Service that could be leveraged to impress the locals. The proof for these three reasons is found in the following statement by Dr. Henry Martyn Clark:
“We chose as our champion Mr. Abdullah Atham, who is amongst the earliest of living converts from Mohammedanism, with whom Mohammaden controversy is a life’s study, and who after many years of honourable service as an Extra Assistant Commissioner under Government, has now retired and is spending the evening of his days in Amritsar.”1
The introductory note about Atham in the Missionary Herald also demonstrates that Atham was considered to be the toughest opponent against Islam:
“The Christians chose as their leader one who was among the earliest living converts from Mohammedanism, and who had made the subject a life study.”2
Dr. Henry Martyn Clark was appointed as a medical doctor under the Church Mission Society in the Indian city of Amritsar. He was the adopted son of the famous Christian priest, Robert Clark. Dr. Clark was born into an Afghan family. When he was two and a half years old and an orphan, he was adopted by Robert Clark and his wife in the North West Frontier Province. For the sake of his upbringing and higher education he was sent to Edinburgh, Scotland, where he qualified as an MD and after receiving missionary training, he was sent to India. Here, like other missionaries, Dr. Clark also sent reports regarding all his activities to the Church Mission Society. These were published along with other important reports in the Intelligencer. He also sent Robert Clark updates of his activities in India. A discovery of important documents amongst these records will be discussed later on in the article, which is significant in light of the aftermath of the debate.
An Invitation to Show Heavenly Signs and the Subsequent Reaction
Heavenly signs identify a living religion, which are not works of magic, but rather serve to prove the power of prayer. Despite this, the Christian representative Abdullah Atham and his companions persistently desisted from an invitation to prove that their faith is a living religion. Eventually, the Christians realised that the more they continued to avoid this invitation, the more it would hint towards their defeat. Thus, on the fourth day of the debate, which was the 26th of May 1893, Abdullah Atham had the following excerpt written in his exposition of the debate:
“Sir, the answer to yesterday’s mubahila [prayer duel] is this that as Christians, we do not see the need for new miracles in support of the old teachings and neither do we see ourselves fit to do so…And nor are we claimants to this. However you [the Promised Messiah] are very proud of being a claimant as such. We do not refuse to see miracles…Therefore we bring forth three people amongst whom one is blind, one has a leg cut off and the other is mute. Cure therefore whosoever you can from among them… and therefore live up to your challenge now in the presence of all these Christian and Muslim fellows.”3
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) counter-challenged the Christians to show miracles as mentioned in the Holy Bible
Upon hearing this, the Christians were overjoyed as they were sure that Hazrat Ahmadaswould now be silenced. However, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who claimed to be the awaited Promised Messiahas mentioned in religious scriptures, was given the Divine Promise that he would be bestowed success in every field. The promise of Divine help for the Promised Messiahas was a promise made by God Almighty Himself. Hazrat Ahmadasresponded in the following words:
“In your religion there are signs mentioned by Jesusas of such people who have attained salvation, that is, the true believers. Can those signs be witnessed in you? For example, Mark 16:17-18 states:
‘And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.’
“Therefore, I now make a polite request, and pardon me if my words seem harsh; cure these three incapacitated people that you have brought forward by laying your hands on them and bring forth the experience of the signs prophesied to true believers. Therefore, excuse me if I am being impolite, but if you are claiming to be the true believers, then three sick people are here before you whom you yourselves have brought – lay your hands on them. If they are cured, we will surely accept that you are true believers and have attained salvation. There is no other way we shall accept this, for Jesusas claimed that if any of you were to have even an iota of belief in him, and you were to tell a mountain to move, it would do so. However, I am not requesting for mountains to be moved because they are quite far from where we are. Thus, it is indeed helpful that you have brought here these three sick people, so lay your hands upon them and cure them, or you shall not be able to claim that you possess even an iota’s worth of belief.”
The Promised Messiahas thus stated:
“Let it be clear that this challenge cannot apply to us because Allah the Almighty has not made it a sign of ours in the Qur’an, that it is a specific sign of yours that you shall put your hands on the sick and they shall be cured. Yes, He does say that He shall according to His Will, accept your prayers, and at least if your prayers are not worthy of acceptance and go against God’s policies, then you shall be informed about it. He does not say anywhere that you shall be given the power to miraculously do whatever you wish…”4
This is but one example of how convincingly the Promised Messiahas overcame the Christians using their own Biblical scriptures. Using the Bible, the Promised Messiahaswent on to falsify their belief in the divinity of Jesusas.5 The following is just one example of how even his opponents were compelled to pay tribute to the Promised Messiahas.
The Promised Messiahas put forth this reference from the New Testament to refute the divinity of Jesusas:
‘The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods?’ (Psalms: 82:6) If he called them gods to whom the word of God came – and Scripture cannot be broken – do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming’, because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’’6
Dr. Henry Martyn Clark, hailed as the champion of the Christians, responded to the aforesaid verses in the following manner:
“Of course we had, ‘Why callest thou me good?’ adduced against the Divinity of our Lord, but the argument on which the Mirza rested this portion of his case was John X:35. This is a novel argument in my experience of Mohammedans.” [Emphasis added]7
Thus was the acknowledgment of the renowned Christian priest who made the challenge to debate in the first place.
Victory or Defeat in the Debate?
The debate concluded in the same manner most public debates ended – both parties claimed to have achieved victory. For this reason, the Promised Messiahas chose to desist from further debates. However, there was an extraordinary power in this debate. When the doctrines of Christianity were disproven with clear proofs and arguments and yet the Christians did not accept defeat, the Promised Messiahas with the permission of God, made an announcement:
“What opened unto me tonight is that when I prayed to Almighty God with much humility and passion that ‘O Allah decide this matter between us and we are humble people and we cannot do anything without Your decision,’ He gave me the sign as a glad tiding that the party out of the two groups who is intentionally lying and is rejecting the True God and is making a humble man into god, shall be thrown in to the Hawiya in fifteen months time. He shall face great disgrace (the term fifteen months is according to the number of days of the debate, each day equalling a month). This is subject to him not reverting to the truth. And for the one who is upon the truth and is following the True God, this sign shall manifest his honour. And when this prophecy is fulfilled, some blind people shall begin to see and some lame people shall begin to walk and some deaf people shall begin to hear…”8
As it happened, Abdullah Atham did not die in the foretold time period of the aforementioned proclamation. This has become one of the major allegations against the truth of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas by opponents of the Ahmadiyya Community. However, like all other allegations, this is also the consequence of hasty judgments without proper research, misunderstandings, prejudices or simply bad intentions. It is quite sad that hours upon hours can be exhausted on solving equations to understand concepts in mathematics, physics and chemistry, yet when it comes to religious matters, often people are not willing to progress beyond the equivalent of “two plus two equals four”, so to speak. In this case, an academic confrontation between two great religions has been reduced to the likes of a childish conflict.
The aforementioned prophecy contains the following words, “And when this prophecy is fulfilled, some blind people shall begin to see.” These words are proof that although some ignorant people shall begin to “see,” many will still remain devoid of insight. Thus, sincere and open-minded people are shown the light of truth, however those harbouring jealousy and rancour remain stranded in their stubbornness.
In order to hide their humiliation, the Christian missionaries began proclaiming that many Muslims had converted to Christianity as a result of the debate. Although some Muslims did steer away from Islam temporarily, the fact that they came back to Islam upon receiving guidance from God, was completely concealed by the Christian missionaries. Suffering from shame, the Christian priests did not confess this at any point. After some research, only one reference was found which contains the truth of the matter, yet even that is riddled with lies. Eugene Stock, the historian for the Church Mission Society, has written concerning the result of the debate:
“Several Mohammedans of good position embraced Christianity and were baptised; and it seemed as if no such victory over Islam had ever been won. But it has to be mournfully confessed that most of these were overcome by the terrible temptations that beset them, the enticements on the one hand, the persecution on the other.”9
The embarrassment the Christians suffered is apparent from this statement. Still, the dishonesties are quite clear, for it begs the question as to what enticements could the Promised Messiahas have offered. How could he have persecuted anybody? The Government at the time was of the British; British Law was governing the country and the British owned all land and property. Thus, offering any enticements would only have been possible for the Christian missionaries, not for the Promised Messiahas. Moreover, the Christians admitted that the Muslims being converted to Christianity enjoyed an affluent position in society. Therefore, what enticements could the Promised Messiahas have offered to such people who were already well-off? And what could he have used to threaten them, when they were already people of good standing in society? Leaving these questions aside for now, in the following section we turn to the prophecy regarding Abdullah Atham.
Lack of Understanding Underlies Allegations Concerning the Prophecy Regarding Abdullah Atham
With God’s Permission, the Promised Messiahas made a prophecy regarding Abdullah Atham and the fulfillment of the 15-month period mentioned therein, was awaited by Muslims and Christians alike. Dr. Henry Martyn Clark explains this in his report to the Church Mission Society:
“It has been the theme of converse, of close attention during the past year. From Madras to Peshawar, through the length and breadth of broad India, thousands upon thousands of men have been watching with thoughts intent on the far northern city where Islam had thrown down the wager of battle, and where God Himself would decide.”10
Whereas the rest of the world was awaiting the result of the prophecy with the intention to mock at it, the Promised Messiahas and his companions were spending this 15-month period in prayers. Naturally these prayers were for the fulfillment of the prophecy. However, we must remember here that there were two ways the prophecy could have been fulfilled: (1) Abdullah Atham could have decided not to turn to the truth and entered Hawiya i.e. a great torment, and (2) Abdullah Atham could have turned to the truth and saved himself from the torment of Hawiya.
A true believer’s job is to pray. The Holy Qur’an guides believers on how their prayers are to be accepted:
“And Allah has full power over His decree, but most men know it not.” (Ch.12:V.22).
It is true that Abdullah Atham did not die within 15 months of the prophecy. However, before considering this further, we must look at how the word Hawiya which was used in the prophecy, has been explained by the Promised Messiahas. The Promised Messiahassays:
“Indeed, as far as I understood the meaning of the revelation, it was that the person for the opposing party who is debating in support of falsehood, the meaning of Hawiya for him is the punishment of death. However, the revealed word is only Hawiya, and is subject to a condition that the person does not turn to the truth. And this condition of not inclining to the truth is a revealed condition as I had clearly written this in the revealed text. It is absolutely true and is according to the revelation that if Mr Abdullah Atham’s heart, as it was prior to the prophecy, intended to degrade Islam and did not take any part in turning to the truth by accepting the greatness of Islam, then he would have died within this time period. However, God Almighty’s revelation has told me that Abdullah Atham has, by admitting the awe and might of Islam, to an extent turned towards the truth, which has resulted in delaying the fulfillment of the prophecy of his death and a complete entry into the Hawiya.”11
Hence, the conclusion that may be derived from the aforesaid is that because Atham turned towards the truth, he was saved from the punishment foretold in this prophecy. The fulfillment of this prophecy was therefore conditional upon Atham’s acceptance of the truth. (The gist of the prophecy has been discussed herein as above. The original text thereof can be found in the Promised Messiah’sas book, The Holy War). However, notwithstanding this condition, it is the practice of God that the fulfillment of prophecies containing a warning, is always conditional upon those being warned not turning to God. Allama Aloosi writes in his famous commentary of the Holy Qur’an, Roohul Ma’aani:
“The verses consisting of a promise are unconditional. And the revelation consisting of a warning, although may not mention a condition, however are subject to conditions. Their conditions are not mentioned in order to instill more fear into the heart.”12
Henry Martyn Clark Admits Defeat
Before we undertake an analysis of Atham’s state of turning towards the truth, it is expedient to consider a statement by Dr. Henry Martyn Clark written in a report about the debate. It was obligatory on every missionary to send reports relating to work being done in his region, the purpose whereof was to keep the Church Mission Society abreast with different activities being undertaken by missionaries worldwide. These reports known as the ‘Intelligencer’ were not for the consumption of the general public, but were only written for the record of the Mission Society to make the Mission Society aware of the situation of the missionaries and the difficulties they were facing in different areas. In the report published by Dr. Henry Martyn Clark after the debate, he wrote about Atham as follows:
“When our turn came, I must candidly confess our champion did not make the best of our case against Mohammedanism. Despite much advice…Mr. Atham pursued a course of his own…It was scarcely the type of war required.”13
This statement was also published in America in the Missionary Herald. This magazine was a special issue on the works of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. It conceded to Atham’s defeat in these words:
“Dr. Clark affirms that…the presentation of the Christian side was not [at] all that could have been asked for…”14
This statement proves two things: (1) Although the Christians were claiming victory during the debate, secretly they were compelled to admit defeat, and (2) The main purpose of the debate was to distinguish the true religion between Islam and Christianity, with proofs from their Holy Books. Atham’s end was another issue. However, Islam’s victory was ensured through the person who came as the “Breaker of the Cross.” The admission by the leader of the missionaries that the cross had “broken into two,” epitomises the fact that nobody other than Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadianas was deemed suitable for this task. This inevitably lends support to the conclusion that the Promised Messiahas was the victor of the debate, “The Holy War.”
Letter from Dr. Martyn Clark
At the time of the Promised Messiahas, the head office of the Church Mission Society was in Salisbury Square, London. Later, this was moved to the city of Oxford, where it is still located today. The Archives of the Society are also in Oxford, however, most are in the Department of Special Collections in the University of Birmingham. Whilst searching for material through the archives in the University of Birmingham, a letter written by Dr. Henry Martyn Clark was discovered. He wrote this letter to his father Robert Clark on 4thSeptember 1894. This is the same date on which the period of the prophecy regarding Abdullah Atham was to come to an end. Dr. Henry Martyn Clark had written to his father about his activities in this letter. In the end he mentioned that he had gone to meet Abdullah Atham in Ferozepur and how there had been an apparent improvement in his health, although his mental health was in poor condition. It is evident from Dr. Henry Martyn Clark’s letter that Abdullah Atham was spending his final days permanently residing in Amritsar. The signs of the fulfillment of this prophecy manifested themselves as Atham began to feel bewildered and gradually lost control of his senses. As a consequence, he would see snakes and at times would see a sword dangling over his head. He started suffering from many other similar hallucinations. Becoming scared of his fate, he fled from one place to another. He eventually became so overwhelmed that he never returned to Amritsar until the term of the fulfillment of the prophecy came to an end. Dr. Henry Martyn Clark’s letter is a testament to this fact:
“At 6 pm I left for Ferozepur where Atham is. I wanted to settle the details of the home coming on the 6th…. I had a couple of hours with Atham…The crisis just now is intense beyond words.”15
This statement yields clear proof that Atham had migrated from Amritsar to Ferozepur. Moreover, in stating that Atham wished to return to Amritsar straight away after the period of the fulfillment of the prophecy had ended, it also provides evidence of the fact that the migration was due to the overbearing effects of Atham’s fear of the fulfillment of the prophecy. The Promised Messiahas referring to Atham’s own statement writes:
“Who does not know that Mr. Atham published a clear statement in the Noor Afshan Paper(which was a Christian newspaper) that ‘definitely during the term of the prophecy I became scared of blood thirsty angels?’ Who does not know that there were so many signs which pointed towards Atham being scared that it is impossible to cover them up?”16
The Truth Behind Atham’s Allegation of Attempted Murder
The reason given by critics for why Atham migrated is that attempts were being made to murder Atham, and that he was sure that these attempts were (God forbid) by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas in order to bring about Atham’s death and in turn fulfil the prophecy. Since he was unable to hide the loss of control over his senses brought about by his state of bewilderment and fear, Atham became the victim of yet another dilemma. The Judge and Arbiter of the age, the Promised Messiahas, has exquisitely analysed and issued judgement on this. He writes:
“…then he understood that it was not right of him to show so much agitation due to an Islamic prophecy. It was then that the excuses of attempts to poison and three attempts to murder were made. Because of the level of fear that had been shown by Atham due to his bewilderment, it required that if they were to prove that the cause of this was not the revealed prophecy, then there should be some other reason which was so strong and powerful, that it could instil the fear of death in one’s heart. Therefore, with the support of lies they forged these causes of fear…”
“Who finds it difficult to understand that he faced abasement due to his false and baseless allegations? And there was no way to rid himself of this disgrace other than to have proven the false claims in court or to have brought forward some witnesses or to have sworn to the truth of the claims in a public gathering. However, Mr. Atham did not adopt any of these means”17
It is pertinent to point out that the Promised Messiahas wrote Anjam-e-Atham after Atham’s death and while analysing the context of the situation he detailed the stages the prophecy was fulfilled in. However, if Atham considered his hallucinations to be (God forbid) attempts of murder by the Promised Messiahas, then the Promised Messiahas had during Atham’s lifetime, suggested that Atham should take the support of the law and submit a court case against the Promised Messiahas. The proof for this can be found in the Promised Messiah’s books, Anwarul Islam and Dhia-ul-Haq. The Promised Messiahas wrote the aforementioned books straight after the term of the prophecy came to an end on 5thSeptember 1894. However, neither did Atham raise a court case nor did he swear to the truth of his claims in a public gathering. The answer that the critics contrive here is that Atham spoke in Amritsar to a cortege, which was organised in celebration of the term of the prophecy coming to an end. There, he expressed his association with Christianity, and as per usual, used foul language against Islam in order to emphasise that he had not turned to the truth and remained fully adhered to his Christian beliefs and enmity towards Islam. Quite ludicrously, the statement was intended to prove that if the prophecy was not fulfilled due to the non-fulfilment of the condition of turning to the truth, then Atham’s speech at the cortege was enough proof that Atham never turned to the truth.
A Secret Inclination to the Truth
It is important to bear in mind the fact that inclining to the truth is a matter of the heart. It begs the question that during the whole term of the prophecy, Atham fleeing from one place to the other, seeking shelter in various places owing to unexplained causes of fear, making allegations of attempted murder against the Promised Messiahas and yet not taking the matter to court, not raising a voice or pen against Islam for the duration of the term of the prophecy, not using foul language against the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, desisting from announcing his state of mind, – if all this is not proof of Atham turning to the truth then what does this all mean? Although as already noted, while a verbal declaration is not necessary for turning to the truth, it is necessary for a person of faith to affirm the truth when he is questioned regarding it. To the contrary, Abdullah Atham who hesitated not once but many times in affirming the truth and did not swear that he had turned to the truth. It is imperative to ask critics that if punishment is withdrawn because of a temporary turn towards the truth, does the inclination towards the truth not count? In The Holy Qur’an there are many verses that bear testimony to the fact that Allah withdraws punishment for even a temporary inclination towards the truth. The people of Pharaoh turned to the truth eight times, each time the promised punishment was withdrawn.
Abdullah Atham Announces His Beliefs in an Open Gathering
A consideration of the announcement that Abdullah Atham made at the completion of the designated period of the Promised Messiah’s prophecy is instructive. It is noteworthy that this announcement in fact was not Abdullah Atham’s own, a fact that can be proven by Dr. Henry Martyn Clark’s letter found in the Department of Special Collections at the University of Birmingham (discussed earlier). In this letter, Dr. Henry Martyn Clark writes:
“We propose a thanksgiving service on the 6th D.V. I am sending my own message to Atham.”18
What greater evidence may be rendered in support of Atham’s inclination towards the truth than the fact that the announcement Abdullah Atham read out at this convention was not even his own? The overall situation of Atham may be assessed in the following manner:
The prophecy was conditional on the basis that if Atham did not repent he would be cast into hell.
Atham, in awe and fear of this prophecy, went into a state of confusion.
He began to hallucinate that attempts were being made to attack him. To prove that these were only hallucinations, we find that no one from Atham’s family (his daughters or sons-in-law) made any formal complaint to the police.
During the fifteen months set as the time period for this prophecy, he did not utter or write anything against Islam.
After the completion of the time period set for the prophecy, he reaffirmed his belief in Christianity and his enmity towards Islam.
Thus, Atham’s short-term repentance prevented him from being subjected to the fulfilment of the prophecy, which was conditional upon him repenting.
Even then, this announcement that he made was not written himself but by Dr. Henry Martyn Clark who wrote as noted above, “…my own message…” Therefore, it is clear that Atham still remained in a state of repentance at the time of the announcement and thus read out someone else’s written message, or that he considered that message as a reflection of his own feelings.
Whatever the case may be, Atham’s failure to openly declare on oath that he did not repent, that he did not experience any fear as a result of this prophecy and the fact that he did not approach the authorities over the alleged plots to murder him (despite the Promised Messiah as having urged him to do so), are clear proofs that the representative of Christianity, Abdullah Atham, was not the victor, – Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, the Promised Messiah as and Imam Mahdi had triumphed.
Actual Time Period of the Prophecy Regarding Abdullah Atham
The time period of this prophecy is generally thought to have commenced on 5th June 1893, ending fifteen months later on 6th September 1894. However, although the prophecy is deemed to have started on 5th June 1893, its actual running period was not fifteen months per se. During this fifteen-month period, while there is evidence to suggest that Atham repented (discussed above), he failed to accept the Promised Messiah’saschallenge of making a declaration on oath to that effect. Atham exhausted almost a year in this state of uncertainty and although Divine Will granted him another twelve months to live, ironically his death was also prophesied during this period – Atham met his end seven months later, on 27th July 1896. Therefore, the actual time period of this prophecy runs from 5th June 1893 till 30th September 1896 – Abdullah Atham passing away within the time period prophesised. The news of Atham’s death in the Church Missionary Intelligencer came in the following words:
“Another native worker, Mr Abdullah Atham – whose name will be remembered as the leading advocate on the Christian side in the public controversy with Mohammedans at Amritsar in 1893 – dies at Ferozepore on July 27th, after ten days’ illness. Mr. Clark says of him, ‘He was a true and faithful servant of Christ, and the Punjab will miss him now that he has gone.’”19
It is noteworthy that the news of the demise of a notable Christian preacher who took part in the infamous debate and whose death was already prophesied should be reported in such a nonchalant manner. This was the same newsletter that wrote generously about the debate and also wrote about the prophecy concerning Atham. If the prophecy as is claimed by critics, was not fulfilled, the news story of Atham’s demise would have certainly mentioned, perhaps even sensationalised this fact. Therefore, it begs the question why the same newsletter, which deemed this debate to be a theological battle between truth and falsehood (the outcome resting squarely on Atham), speaks of his death in such an immaterial manner? This should leave no doubt with respect to the fulfilment of the prophecy.
Ironically, it was the same Church Mission Society that merely wrote five lines for Abdullah Atham’s death in an attempt to cover up the fulfilment of a grand prophecy, that now took up one and half pages to cover the Promised Messiah’sas demise. While the Intelligencer had reported about the debate in great detail, highlighting its significance and proclaiming that the prophecy against Atham had failed – it now wrote a great tribute to the Promised Messiahas, paradoxically strengthening the grounds to establish its own defeat. The report begins by referring to the census which was conducted in 1901, wherein the followers of the Promised Messiahas were entered as Ahmadis, and concludes in the following words:
“…it will be interesting to see whether future census reports have occasion to mention the name of the Qadiani leader, and for how long!”20
The Promised Messiah’sas Community was made to succeed by measuring up to the very standards the opponents had stipulated themselves. A renowned scholar of Indian history, Avril Ann Powell writes:
“In the 1890’s, at the time of the Amritsar debate, these two minority communities numbered their initiates merely in thousands. The Ahmadis subsequently created a very successful world missionary movement, numbering at least half a million by the 1940s. While the Punjab remained the Ahmadi ‘homeland,’ there were various new foci of migration and subsequent conversion in other parts of the world, notably in Africa and Indonesia, but also in Britain and North America.”21
In comparison, Powell wrote about the state of the Christians in the following words:
“Until the early 1920s the Punjabi Christians also continued to expand their numbers… During the next two decades their gains were relatively small…”22
Furthermore, Powell renders a captive analysis of the census stating that:
“The total number of Punjabi ‘native Christians’ was recorded in the census of 1941 as nearly half a million, similar to the estimated global total of Ahmadis, only half of whom by then resided in Punjab.”23
A few definitive conclusions may be drawn from the aforesaid analysis. Firstly, that not only did the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community come to be considered as a separate community for the next three decades, but has since been fundamentally perceived as a growing community. Secondly, and quite ironically, the Christians are increasingly being perceived as a minority. What a great sign this is of the “cross” being broken. Even if one were to turn a blind eye to this reality, its resolute force would compel one to acknowledge it.
The British conducted censuses of this nature after every ten years, a practice which was also customary in India at the time. The aforementioned census that took place in 1941 was the last census to be conducted before the partition. Following partition, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community multiplied in numbers not just in India and Pakistan, but in hundreds of countries worldwide. If anyone disappeared, it was those who mocked and ridiculed the Promised Messiahas and boasted that the followers of this “Qadiani leader” would soon be eliminated from future censuses.
Dr. Henry Martyn Clark’s Great Grandson Meets with Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaba
It has been almost one hundred and twenty years since the debate “The Holy War,” and while Dr. Henry Martyn Clark was lost somewhere in the past, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiahas, and his Community, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, under the guidance of his Successors has continued to flourish. Some time ago, through the guidance of the worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and 5thSuccessor (Khalifah) to the Promised Messiahas, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih V, I had the opportunity to undertake research on the debate “The Holy War.” During this process, I studied various records and archives in Britain, and a wealth of information was discovered from the Oxford Church Mission Society’s library and from the Department of Special Collections at the University of Birmingham. The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London was also very helpful in obtaining material on the subject.
Moreover, during the course of this research, Dr. Henry Martyn Clark’s residential home, his grave and his progeny were also traced, and proved instrumental in collecting further crucial information. Dr. Clark’s cemetery records helped in locating his residential home and the links therefrom were used to trace his progeny. One of Dr. Clark’s great grandsons, Mr. Jolyn Martyn Clark, was found to be residing in the north of Britain. When he learnt that someone was conducting research on the life of his great grandfather, he was intrigued – after all, why would someone be researching about him? However, when he learnt more about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, he realised why such research was being undertaken. I met with Mr. Jolyn Martyn Clark at his home, who shared many details of his family history. What was profoundly interesting was a beautifully framed document that Mr. Jolyn Martyn Clark maintained, and one that he could not read as it was written in a language foreign to him. Amazingly, the document was in fact, written in Urdu, and had been presented to Dr. Henry Martyn Clark on the occasion of a farewell address when he was leaving India. The document listed his achievements – interestingly, one of them being that he had endured many difficulties during the days of the debate, “The Holy War.” The debate has therefore been recognised as a significant event in history, transcending ordinary discourse.
Mr. Jolyn Martyn Clark, great grandson of Dr Henry Martyn Clark, came across as a very respectful and dignified person. As he learnt about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, he became increasingly interested in it. He was invited to come to London, an invitation he happily accepted, and when he discovered that the Fifth Successor of the Promised Messiahas is the Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, he expressed his desire to meet him. Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaba graciously accepted to meet Mr. Jolyn Martyn Clark and the meeting took place on 3rd December 2011 in London. Before his meeting with His Holiness, he was shown the Makhazan-e-Tasaweer (Central Photo Exhibition of the Ahmadiyya Community in London) at Tahir House, which provided him with an overview of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s history and progress through historical and also present-day photographs. He was surprised to learn about the Community’s representation all over the world, its mosques, colleges, schools, hospitals and annual conventions held globally. Upon learning all this, Mr. Jolyn Martyn Clark remarked that while people do not even know the name of Dr. Henry Martyn Clark and other missionaries of his time, the Promised Messiahas and his community, who initially faced so much opposition, have succeeded in attaining such great heights. After viewing the Photo Exhibition, Mr. Jolyn Martyn Clark went to meet Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaba – 5th Successor to the Promised Messiahas.
The meeting took place at 3:30pm that afternoon. Upon entering the office of His Holiness he shook his hand and then took a seat in front of him. He first thanked His Holiness for kindly taken time out to meet him. His Holiness engaged Mr. Clark in a discussion on various subjects and during this conversation enquired from Mr. Clark what he knew about the debate known as “The Holy War.” Mr. Clark replied that he had only recently undertaken some research into the subject, however, he realised today that while Dr. Henry Martyn Clark had been lost in the folds of history, his opponent has succeeded all over the world.24
To witness this meeting was truly a faith-inspiring experience, – to think that there was a time when Dr. Henry Martyn Clark had left no stone unturned to oppose the Promised Messiahas, creating obstacles in his way, and yet today a member of his own progeny had come to visit the Promised Messiah’sas successor and was overcome by his spiritual enlightenment. May thousands of blessings descend upon the one who came to “break the cross” and by walking in the footsteps prescribed by his Holy Master, he adhered to the Qur’anic verse:
“And that it may warn those who say ‘Allah has taken Unto Himself a son.’”25
How beautifully the Promised Messiahas followed this commandment and how thoroughly was he blessed in undertaking this task. He succeeded in disproving Christian beliefs in a manner synonymous to “breaking the cross.” All praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of all the Worlds.
1. CMI, February 1894, p. 97
2. Missionary Herald: Containing The Proceedings of The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Vol. XC, Published: Press of Samuel Usher, Boston 1894
3. The Holy War, Ruhani Khaza’in Vol. 6 p. 150
4. The Holy War, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 6, pp. 153-154
5. For a more detailed discussion of this subject, the Promised Messiah’sas book, The Holy War may be referred to.
6. John: 10: 33-36
7. CMI, February 1894, p. 99
8. The Holy War, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 6 p. 292
9. The History of the Church Mission Society: Its Environment, Its Men and Its Work, by Eugene Stock, Church Mission Society, London, 1899
10. Some Results of the Late Mohammedan Controversy, by Henry Martyn Clark, Church Missionary Intelligencer Vol. XLV, Nov 1894, p. 813
11. Anwarul Islam, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 9, p. 2
12. Roohul Ma’aani, Vol. 4 p.190
13. CMI, February 1894, p. 99
14. Missionary Herald: Containing The Proceedings of The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Vol. XC, Published: Press of Samuel Usher, Boston 1894
15. CMS/C Special Collections, University of Birmingham
16. Anjam-e-Atham, Ruhani Khaza’in Vol. 11, p.17
17. Anjam-e-Atham, Ruhani Khaza’in Vol. 11, pp. 17-19
18. Letter written by hand, from Dr. Henry Martyn Clark to Robert Clark, dated 4 September 1894, taken from the Special Collections, University of Birmingham, ref. CMS/C
19. Church Missionary Intelligencer, October 1896, p. 781
20. Church Missionary Review Vol. LIX, Oct 1908, pp. 620-62, London
21. Avril Powell (1995): Contested gods and prophets: discourse among minorities in late nineteenth-century Punjab, Renaissance and Modern Studies, 381:1, 38-59
22. Avril Powell (1995): Contested gods and prophets: discourse among minorities in late nineteenth-century Punjab, Renaissance and Modern Studies, 381:1, 38-59
23. Powell, 1995
24. The details of this meeting were reported in Al Fazl International, dated 6th January 2012
25. The Holy Qur’an, Ch.18:V.5