The British govt. used Ahmadiyya ideology all around their empire. They let Ahmadis sell the “Review of Religions” with full freedom, whereas most islamic literature was banned. Soon, Ahmadiyya jamaat’s began popping up Africa, Fiji and all other British colonies. In this specific essay, I have found research work on how Ahmadiyya was allowed to penetrate Singapore. This essay here is from “The Ahmadiyya Print Jihad in South and Southeast Asia” in Islamic Connections: Muslim Societies in South and Southeast Asia, eds. M. Feener and T. Sevea (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2009), 134–148. Feel free to read the Ahmadiyya version of events here: https://ahmadiyyafactcheckblog.com/2017/10/28/ahmadiyya-version-of-events-in-singapore/
On 13 July 1925, over two thousand people gathered at the Victoria Memorial
Hall in Singapore to protest against the influx of Ahmadiyya influences into
Malaya. The protestors asserted that under no circumstances should Muslims
possess any books published by the Ahmadiyya, and called on the government
to enforce a ban on the admission of Ahmadiyya literature into Malaya. The
Ahmadiyya responded to this call for the curtailment of their publications
by arguing that the protestors had failed to realize the important role played
by their publications in propagating the message of “true” Islam to the far
corners of the world.1 Indeed, the Ahmadiyya were among the earliest Muslim
groups to realize the utility of print media both to respond to criticisms
levelled against Islam, and to transmit Islam globally. It was in the light of
this that H.A.R. Gibb in his 1932 survey of modern Muslim movements
credited the development of the modern Muslim apologetic to this group.2
Apart from winning adherents to their association (jama‘at), their effective
use of the print media enabled the Ahmadiyya to play an important role in
shaping modern Muslim thought in early twentieth-century Southeast Asia.
Their tracts, journals, and books proved to be important models for a host
of modern publications by Islamic organizations such as the Muhamadiyyah
and Sarekat Islam.
This chapter examines the centrality of publishing to the emergence of
the Ahmadiyya movement and its expansion beyond South Asia, particularly
to Southeast Asia. More broadly, it seeks to provide insights into the impact
The Ahmadiyya Print Jihad in South and Southeast Asia 135
of print technology on religious life, as well as to the transmission of Islamic
concepts and the development of new Muslim organizations. In contrast
to Benedict Anderson’s assertion that the rise of print ushered in a shift in
literary and mass consciousness from a religiously based culture to secularized
discourses,3 the proliferation of religious journals and tracts during the period
studied in this chapter clearly demonstrates the ability of religious communities
to adopt modern communications technologies. These technological changes,
however, did usher in wide-ranging changes in religious discourse and
conceptions of authority.4
The Ahmadiyya provides an interesting case study into the impact of
print on religion because from its very inception, it set out to transmit its
message globally and strove to develop physical as well as textual links with
places as far removed as America, China, Ghana, and Indonesia. Print was
clearly the medium of choice for the transmission of what they perceived to
be the true message of Islam. In stark contrast to the Tablighi Jama‘at, a near
contemporaneous South Asian Islamic revivalist movement that prizes the
oral tradition over the written and looks to personal communication as the
medium for religious revival,5 the Ahmadiyya seem almost to have negated
the need for personal individual contact through the use of modern means
of communication. The Ahmadiyya have established printing presses at all
of their major centres, be they in Qadian, Rabwah, Woking, or Southfields.
It has been said that the corpus of literature produced by the movement
makes the Ahmadiyya the best documented religious movement in modern
Islam.6 I would further argue that the very emergence and development
of the movement has also been inextricably linked with processes which
are characteristic of print revolutions, including the fragmentation of
religious authority and the development of transnational linkages. In fact,
the movement was so thoroughly influenced by the transforming effects of
print that it self consciously re-interpreted the Islamic idea of jihad in terms
of a “textual struggle”.
The expansion in print technology facilitated the emergence of what has
been described by Armando Salvatore as a “public Islam” and a concomitant
fragmentation of religious authority. Public Islam essentially describes an Islam
contested in the public arena through the mass media.7 The emergence of this
public Islam was inherently linked to the rise of new interpreters of Islam who
were not necessarily trained in the traditional Islamic sciences, but were able
to use the print media to challenge the monopoly of the traditional religious
authorities, namely the ulama and Sufis, to interpret the sources of Islam.8
Understanding the impact of print on Islam then must take into account the
contestations over religious authority that occurred in the public arena.
136 Iqbal Singh Sevea
The sheer number of printing presses established in nineteenth-century
India and the volume of material published suggest that the print media
was more extensively employed by the Muslims of South Asia than almost
anywhere else.9 Far from seeing themselves as being on the periphery of
the umma, a number of Muslim intellectuals in South Asia felt that they
were uniquely placed to provide intellectual leadership and guidance to the
Muslims of the world on a host of legal, socio-political, and religious issues.
The prevalence of established core-periphery approaches in the academic
study of Islam has limited South Asia to the fringe of the Islamic world as a
mere recipient of influences. This has detracted from an appreciation of the
contribution of the South Asian Muslim intelligentsia to the evolution of
Islam and to Muslim societies beyond the subcontinent. Many of the works
published in South Asia were widely translated and circulated in Southeast
Asia. For example, while there has been a growing interest, post-September
11, in tracing nefarious connections between individuals in Southeast Asia
and madrasas (schools, seminaries, or educational institutions) in Afghanistan
and Pakistan, broader and more representative patterns in the development
of Muslim networks and the exchange of texts and ideas between South and
Southeast Asia are still understudied.
While channels for the distribution of Islamic texts had linked South
and Southeast Asia for centuries, the rapid expansion of print accelerated,
intensified, and multiplied such connections. It also expanded the reach and
activities of Muslim writers to other areas of Asia previously not connected
with those networks. The expansiveness of the print arena in the early twentieth
century is strikingly illustrated by the case of Maulana Muhammad Barkatullah,
a professor of Indian origin at the Tokyo School of Foreign Languages, and
his associate Hasan Hatano, a Japanese convert to Islam. Fearing British
censorship against their “seditious” writings, Maulana Barkatullah and
Hatano published their works, including the journal El-Islam and the tract
“Proclamation of Liberty”, in Tokyo and used Singapore as a base to smuggle
their publications into India.10
Nevertheless, while acknowledging the activation of such far-flung
networks one should simply not conflate any such transregional connections
with the idea of “pan-Islam” as it developed in the late nineteenth century.
In fact, a number of prominent “globalizing” intellectuals of that period were
opposed to the very use of the term, pan-Islam, to describe their views. “Pan-
Islam” was seen by some as an Orientalist invention that conjured up images
of an Islamic world united against the West and Western civilization. It also
served, they believed, to dismiss valid political reactions to colonial policies
as mere assertions of religious fanaticism. In a speech made in response to a
The Ahmadiyya Print Jihad in South and Southeast Asia 137
lecture by D.S. Margoliouth on “Pan-Islamism”, the modern Indian intellectual
Ameer Ali (1849–1928) argued that the idea of “Pan-Islamism is a figment of
the [Western] brain, an invention designed to help in destroying the liberty
of Mussulman nations”.11 Instead of simply assuming the existence of a “pan-
Islamic” consciousness, it is important to understand the ways in which print
media facilitated the transmission of a wide range of Islamic religious and
social ideals, and the development of diverse Muslim communities.
The Ahmadiyya Community : Emergence and
The Ahmadiyya are the followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908)
of Qadian, Punjab, who proclaimed himself as the renewer of Islam in the
nineteenth century. Ghulam Ahmad did not receive a traditional Islamic
education in madrasas, but rather was educated at home by private tutors. He
later took up work in the colonial law courts of Sialkot. He first announced
his claim to leadership of the Muslim community in his Barahin-i Ahmadiyya
[Proofs and Ahmadiyya], published in 1882. The formal foundations for
the Ahmadiyya as a distinct religious community were laid in 1888 when
Ghulam Ahmad published an isthihar (literally, “advertisement”) declaring
himself as the renewer of the age and called upon Muslims to offer him
ba‘ya or allegiance.12 It is significant to note for the purposes of this chapter
that Ghulam Ahmad used the newspaper as a medium to call for people to
offer him ba‘ya. This isthihar was followed shortly later by a formal initiation
ceremony held in Ludhiana. At a gathering (jalsa) on 27 December 1891,
Ghulam Ahmad announced that the movement will hold annual gatherings
in Qadian with the declared objective of enabling followers to increase their
religious knowledge, strengthen their fraternal bonds with each other, and
chart plans for missionary activities overseas.13
In 1914, the movement split into two factions, one based in Qadian
and the other in Lahore. This split stemmed from differing interpretations
of the founder’s claim to leadership.14 The Qadian group subscribed to the
view that Ghulam Ahmad was a continuation in the line of the prophets.
The Lahore faction, on the other hand, rejected this view and argued that
Ghulam Ahmad was a mujtahid, renewer of the age, and not a mahdi or a
prophet. This split was institutionalized after the publication of an article by
the Qadian faction in their journal al-Fazl (Virtue) calling for the social boycott
of those who did not pledge allegiance to Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Hasan
(1889–1965), the second khalifat al-masih (Successor of the Messiah) of the
Qadian faction.15 After the split, the group based in Qadian formally called
138 Iqbal Singh Sevea
itself the Jamaat-i Ahmadiyya, while the Lahore faction officially named itself
the Anjuman Ishaat-i Islam. The Jamaat-i Ahmadiyya officially claims to have
more than 200 million adherents in over 180 countries.16 For the purposes
of this chapter, the term Ahmadiyya is used to refer to both factions. Any
reference to theological or organizational detail specific to a particular faction
will be identified when relevant to the discussions that follow.
Both the Lahore and Qadian factions established themselves in Southeast
Asia. Indonesia proved to be a particularly important base of their activities.
In fact, the Qadian branch considered Sumatra and Java to be amongst their
most successful foreign missions.17 It is estimated that there are 542 branches
of the movement scattered over various Indonesian islands, 289 mosques,
and 110 preaching centres.18 The institutional presence of the Lahore faction
in Indonesia can be traced to the arrival of Mirza Wali Ahmad Baig and
Maulana Ahmad in 1924.19 The institutional presence of the Qadian branch
is dated to the arrival of Maulvi Rehmat Ali in Sumatra in 1925.20 Ahmadiyya
sources, however, reveal that at least a dozen students from Indonesia were
already studying at their Theological College in Qadian prior to the setting
up of Ahmadiyya bases in the Indonesian Archipelago.21 It can be surmised
that initial contacts with Ahmadiyya teachings were established through the
circulation of texts. Journals such as the English language Muslim India and
Islamic Review, and a number of Ahmadiyya books published in India and
England, had been widely circulated in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia by
the 1920s. As will be noted below, both factions also established journals in
a number of Southeast Asian languages. These links were further augmented
by the arrival of the leader of the Lahore branch, Kamal-ud-Din, who made
a two-month-long tour of Malaya, Java, and Rangoon in 1921.22
As both factions developed their own organizational tools, they set up their
own channels of communication and bodies through which they vigorously
circulated texts and sent out missionaries. For various financial, organizational
and theological reasons, a discussion of which is beyond the scope of this
chapter, the Qadian faction proved to be more successful in gaining adherents
overseas. The Anjuman-i Taraqi-i Islami (Council for the Advancement of
Islam) had been established at Qadian to oversee the development of a training
college for missionaries and coordinate the despatch of missionaries. It was,
however, during the era of Bashiruddin Mahmood Hasan that the impetus
and organizational structure for overseas missionary activity was strengthened.
Mahmood Hasan, who had himself authored a number of books including
Tafsir-i Kabir (Exegetic of the Most High), Debache Tafsir al-Qur’an (Prologue
to an Exegesis of the Qur’an), Remembrance of Allah, and Way of Seekers,
laid great emphasis on the need for missionaries to learn local languages and
The Ahmadiyya Print Jihad in South and Southeast Asia 139
actively promoted the translation of the Qur’an into various languages. In
1934, he ushered in the Tahrik-i Jadid or the “New Scheme”, the main aims
of which were to develop the movement’s missionary activities through the
establishment of a central fund to finance both the publication of literature
for the propagation of “true” Islam, and the creation of foreign missions in
While the Lahore faction did not gain as many adherents, it can be
argued that by virtue of being less controversial than the Qadian faction, their
writings succeeded in making a more important contribution to mainstream
modern Muslim thought in Southeast Asia.24 Their theological stance on the
position of Ghulam Ahmad and the fact that they strove in their writings to
emphasize the similarities between the Ahmadiyya and mainstream Muslims
ensured that their writings appealed to a wider range of Muslim intellectuals
and groups who did not agree with the theology of the Qadian faction.
The Ahmadiyya “Print Jihad”
The centrality of printing to Ghulam Ahmad’s mission is reflected in the
fact that he published more than eighty-eight books in Urdu, Arabic, and
Persian, and founded a number of journals such as the Urdu weekly journal
al-Hakam (Wisdom) in 1897 and the al-Bard (Cold) in 1902. The setting
up of the English language journal The Review of Religions in 1903 marked
the first concerted effort to spread his message beyond South Asia. In the
absence of an institutional presence in the English speaking world, the journal
was envisaged as a medium to prove “by the means of signs and reasons the
truth of his claim of having been sent by God” and convey to them “the
heavenly secrets and deep truths which have been discovered by him, along
with a reference to the scriptures from which they have been derived”.25
Over time, the Ahmadiyya were to establish a number of other journals
in Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, English, and other languages. In addition to
publishing tracts and journals, Ghulam Ahmad stressed the importance of
utilizing the medium of the newspaper through the publishing of isthiharat
and engaging in newspaper debates with other individuals and groups. From
its very inception, the movement was to employ the print media consciously
and effectively to expand both within India and beyond. Indeed, the need
to disseminate Ahmadiyya teachings in print was elevated to the status of a
religious duty. Not trained in the traditional Islamic sciences, Ghulam Ahmad
himself employed print media to challenge the monopoly on interpretation
by traditional religious scholars and develop his own position as an authority
on Islam. He even referred to his newspaper articles as an extension of the
140 Iqbal Singh Sevea
Islamic concept of itmam al-hujjah or the “completion of proof ”, which is
used when the unveiling of truth by a Messenger of God in his addressees
occurs to the extent that the addressees have no excuse, but stubbornness
and enmity to deny it.26
The emergence of the Ahmadiyya movement and its extensive use of the
print media must be located within the ambit of the contestations of “public
Islam”, and the attempts by various Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh revivalists groups
to use the public media to propagate their views and attack their rivals in
early twentieth century South Asia. The early development of the movement
thus occurred in an environment characterized by the hardening of communal
identities as a result of the policies of the colonial state,27 and the need to
respond to polemical publications produced by Christian missionary bodies in
India. Within the context of the Punjab, it is particularly important to note
the impact of the activities of the Arya Samaj, a Hindu revivalist group which
effectively utilized the print media to disseminate their religious programme as
well as critique other religious groups. Controversially, Arya Samaj publications
critiqued aspects of Islam and promoted the “reconversion” of Muslims to
Hinduism. Like many other modern Indian Muslim intellectuals, Ghulam
Ahmad attacked the traditional religious authorities for failing to meet the
criticisms levelled against Islam by the missionaries and groups such as the
Arya Samaj. By publishing articles, tracts, and books, he was not only able to
engage members of the Arya Samaj and Christian missionaries in theological
debates, but also to respond to their critiques of Islam. This was reflected
clearly in The Review of Religions where it was stated that one of the aims of
the journal was to “defend Islam, the Holy Qur’an, the Holy Prophet and
the Prophet of this Age and answer all kinds of objections levelled against
any of these”.28
One of the most common charges levelled against Islam by outside
critics in these modern polemics was that it promoted violent struggle. A
number of Ghulam Ahmad’s contemporaries such as Ameer Ali and Zafar
Ali Khan (1873–1956) set about to address this charge in different ways
and to expound on what they felt was the true nature of the Islamic concept
of jihad (struggle).29 Ghulam Ahmad himself spoke in terms of a qalam ka
jihad or a jihad of the pen. Ghulam Ahmad argued that both the ulama
and Western scholars had erroneously interpreted jihad solely in terms of
armed struggle.30 There were essentially two strands in his ideas on jihad.
Firstly, civilization had reached a stage where battles were not to be fought
by swords, but rather with words.31 This point is best illustrated in a quote
from The Review of Religions:
The Ahmadiyya Print Jihad in South and Southeast Asia 141
ours is the age of publicity and propaganda and now Islam will come to its
own not through military conquests but by conquering the hearts and minds
of men, with its beautiful teachings. To always think in the terms of physical
conquests may be the philosophy of the erratic German political thinker
— Nietzsche. It is not that of Islam. Islam’s greatest need and opportunity
lies in the diffusion and dissemination of its message which possesses a far
greater striking power than any sword, gun or bomb.32
Ghulam Ahmad argued that it was stipulated in the Qur’an that Muslims
were only to react in accordance with the threat they were confronted with.
In modern times, Muslims and Islam were being threatened by religious
polemics in the shape of anti-Islamic books, articles, and tracts. Hence, the
present need was for Muslims to publish. In one of his isthihars to a newspaper,
Ghulam Ahmad wrote,
There is peace and freedom from every direction. Today the threats to Islam
are from the method of the pen. This is why it is important that a response
be given with the method of the pen. Allah has stated in the Qur’an that
one should make the same preparations as one’s enemy is making against
you. Study the kind of preparations that the enemies of Islam are making
today. It is not that they are gathering armies. Rather, they are publishing
many different kinds of books and tracts.33
Such was the urgent need for the qalam ka jihad that Ghulam Ahmad stated
that it was permissible for Muslims to use sood (interest earned from money
saved in banks) to fund the setting up of presses and production of publications.
He hastened to clarify that he was not challenging the view that sood was not
declared by God to be haram (unlawful). He was merely stating that Islam
had provisions for the use of sood in the case of a jihad upon which life and
death were dependent as was the case today.34 It is worth noting that Ghulam
Ahmad was opposed to the view that the mahdi’s role was to raise the sword
against the enemies of Islam, this he argued had been a false interpretation
of the role of the mahdi.35 His writings indicate that he believed that the role
of the mahdi, or the role he envisaged for himself, was to propagate Islam
through speech (zuban) and the pen (qalam).
Supporters of the movement claim that Ghulam Ahmad did not abrogate
the older tradition of jihad but returned it to its truer and wider significance.
Throughout the publications of both factions of the Ahmadiyya movement,
it is stressed that Ghulam Ahmad’s correcting of the “false” portrayals of
jihad was one of his greatest contributions to modern Islamic thought.36
Ghulam Ahmad had himself repeatedly stressed that Muhammad’s jihad had
142 Iqbal Singh Sevea
taken the form of the propagation of Islam and that Muhammad had for a
long period of time resisted raising arms even in the face of severe physical
threat. He also equated his interpretation of jihad with the days of Moses.37
Such an exposition of jihad did not go unchallenged. Ghulam Ahmad was
accused of weakening the spirit of the Muslims to confront their position
of disempowerment and for attempting to reconcile them to the position of
colonial subjugation.38 More disturbingly, he has also been accused of being
part of a British and Jewish conspiracy to weaken Muslims by destroying
their concept of jihad.39
The Ahmadiyya print jihad was motivated by the need to respond to
anti-Islamic polemics and to disseminate what they felt was the message of
“true” Islam. The print jihad was essentially an extension of the munazara or
public debates that occurred between missionaries and Muslims throughout
the nineteenth century.40 Ghulam Ahmad who had himself been an active
participant in these munazara was one of the first to extend these oral
disputations to the realm of print. The journal al-Hakam was envisaged
by him as a means of continuing these munazara. An isthiharat of Ghulam
Ahmad’s with regards to a proposed public debate between himself and Pandit
Kharak Singh of the Arya Samaj, provides insights into the new modalities
he sought to introduce to expand the munazara tradition into the new wider
public arena. He emphasized that participants should publish and circulate a
tract on the points of contention before the debate and that a report of the
debate should be published in the newspapers.41
The print jihad was also to be carried out by the Ahmadiyya against
other “inauthentic” presentations of Islam. Hence, the Ahmadiyya publication
al-Hamza initiated and extended print debates with missionaries as well as
Muslim figures such as Muhammad Husayn Batalvi, an adherent of the ahli
Hadith and editor of the journal Isha’at-us-Sunnah. Muhammad Husayn
Batalvi and Ghulam Ahmad carried out a long-drawn public debate through
their respective journals, each accusing the other of “false Islam”.
It is important to note that in his al-Hakam, Ghulam Ahmad called on
Muslims not to look to the government to ban anti-Islamic polemics, but to
involve themselves in disputing these works through the publication of tracts.
They had to, in his words, become “Muslim religious controversialists”.42 In
his view, the exposition of “true” Islam lay in the response to such writings
by figures knowledgeable on Islam.43 This was particularly demonstrated in
the wake of the controversy over the publication of the Ummahat al-Muminin
(Wives of the Prophet) by a Christian missionary. Ghulam Ahmad resisted a
memorandum by the Anjumman-i Himayyat-i Islam calling on the government
to ban the tract. He argued that this reflected a position of weakness and
The Ahmadiyya Print Jihad in South and Southeast Asia 143
that the need of the hour was for Muslims to contest such writings in the
It has been suggested that the Ahmadiyya negation of the concept of
jihad has resulted in them occupying an extreme position in the spectrum of
Muslim thought on the relation between jihad and da‘wa or proselytization.45
While acknowledging their rejection of violent jihad, such a view fails to
grapple with the Ahmadiyya recasting of jihad into a polemic or “textual
struggle”, and the propagation of Islam via the modern media. This chapter
argues on the other hand, that for the Ahmadiyya, jihad was precisely the
process through which da‘wa was carried out.
Print and the Transmission of Ahmadiyya to
The Ahmadiyya set out to challenge Christian missionary activities and
contest varying interpretations of Islam not only within India, but also well
beyond the boundaries of South Asia. The Lahore faction’s journals provide
an interesting account of the arrival of Mirza Wali Ahmad Baig and Maulana
Ahmad, their first missionaries in Java. They were reportedly on their way to
China when they stopped over in Singapore. Here, they heard that Christian
missionaries were making headway in Indonesia through their publications
and missionary activities. The two are said to have set off immediately for
Java to confront the missionaries.46 It is worth noting that the Ahmadiyya
were keen in drawing from the experience of Christian missionaries in
establishing printing presses and circulating their publications. To this effect,
the Ahmadiyya not only modelled their own journals on those published by
Christian missionaries, but also looked to missionary accounts and histories to
tap on their knowledge on how best to manage presses and develop networks
for the transmission of religious knowledge.47
These networks of transmitting printed texts played a central role in the
development of the Ahmadiyya in Southeast Asia. Not only were journals
and texts published in India and England widely circulated in the region,
but both factions of the movement also published a number of journals in
Bahasa Indonesia, Javanese, and Dutch. The Qadian branch, for instance,
established a journal in Bahasa Indonesia known as Sinar Islam (Rays of
Islam). The activities of the Lahore branch were concentrated largely in Java
where they founded two Javanese journals, Moeslem and Risalah Ahmadiyya.
Both factions also strove to translate the writings of their leaders into local
languages. It has already been noted above that Bashiruddin Mahmood Hasan,
leader of the Qadian faction, laid great stress on the need to translate the
144 Iqbal Singh Sevea
Qur’an into local languages. The Javanese and Bahasa Indonesia translations
of the tafsir (exegesis) written by the Lahore faction’s leading religious figure
Muhammad Ali, proved to be one of the most influential Ahmadiyya text in
Southeast Asia. Agus Salim (1884–1954), an important Indonesian intellectual
and statesman, celebrated the tafsir as an exposition of the Qur’an that was
suited for the mind of the modern Muslim youth. Muhammad Ali’s tafsir,
in Salim’s view, not only removed various misconceptions about Islam,
but also refuted accusations made by non-Muslims against Islam. H.O.S.
Tjokroaminoto (1882–1934), the first leader of the Sarekat Islam, also drew
heavily from this tafsir. So impressed was he by the tafsir that he began work
on translating it into Bahasa Indonesia.48
Given the transnational dimension of the Ahmadiyya, journals and
newspapers were the key media through which their doctrine and beliefs were
defined and disseminated. These publications expounded their views on a
whole host of political, legal, economic, and social issues. Equally important,
if not more so, was the regular publication of the weekly khutba (sermon
delivered before the Friday prayers) of the khalifa by the Qadian faction in
their journals. Their publications allowed the Ahmadiyya to develop and guide
communities in areas where they did not have a strong institutional presence.
They were able to rely on a small or weak organizational structure as long as
networks for the transmission of texts remained open. One interesting example
is that of the Philippines, where the Ahmadiyya claimed that despite regular
attempts, they had failed to receive permission from the government to build a
missionary centre. In order to spread their message, they sent in a large number
of tracts and books published in the English language.49 This demonstrates the
role of the printed tract as a means of linking transnational communities and
facilitating the development of transnational communities. In the absence of
missionaries and personal contacts, the Ahmadiyya devised a novel method
of gaining adherents, they published ba‘ya forms for membership initiation
in the journals they were sending out to the Philippines. These forms could
then be signed by people intending to join the movement and sent back to
Qadian. Ahmadiyya publications also ensured that the movement in Southeast
Asia continued to be linked to and guided by its centres in South Asia. This
is particularly the case with the Qadian faction for which the city of Rabwah
in Pakistan — built by the community in the wake of the Partition of India
— and London, the current abode of the Ahmadiyya leadership, continue
to be the nerve centres of their activities.
The active involvement of the Ahmadiyya in the public arena did not
go unchallenged. As was the case in India, a number of Muslim figures in
Southeast Asia used the print media to attack the movement. The pages of
The Ahmadiyya Print Jihad in South and Southeast Asia 145
Sinar Islam reveal that the Ahmadiyya was engaged in prolonged polemics
against publications such as Pembela Islam (Defenders of Islam), published
by the reformist organization Persatuan Islam, and Sinar Acheh (Light of
Aceh). In fact, in 1933 representatives of the Qadian faction and members
of PERSIS engaged with each other in two heavily publicized debates,
one in Bandung and the other in Jakarta.50 Many of the anti-Ahmadiyya
writings published in Southeast Asia themselves drew from South Asian
writings against the movement. Muhammad Iqbal (1897–1932) was one
such modern Indian intellectual whose English and Urdu writings rejecting
the Ahmadiyya movement were not only extensively quoted by Southeast
Asian opponents of the movement, but also translated and published by
various Muslim organizations in the region. The Malaysian editor of the
journal Progressive Islam, Hussein Alatas (1928–2007), was among those
who drew from the work of Iqbal in developing his own critiques of the
The two factions of the Ahmadiyya movement themselves also debated
each other through their Southeast Asian journals. The Sinar Islam of the
Qadian faction and the Javanese language journal Moeslim published by the
Lahore faction actively disputed each others’ theological views and activities.
Perhaps reacting to the claim that the Lahore faction’s publications attracted a
wider following amongst mainstream Muslims, the Qadian faction’s journals
actively sought to assert to the readership beyond South Asia that they were
the “true” representatives of Ghulam Ahmad’s message. They accused the
Lahore faction’s journals of observing a silence over matters likely to displease
non-Ahmadis, or mentioning them only in a “mutilated” form.52
This chapter has attempted to further our developing understanding of
links between South and Southeast Asian Islam by focusing on the expansion
of the Ahmadiyya movement. The flow of influences and ideas between these
two regions was intensified by the expansion of print technology in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Ahmadiyya actively employed
print technology and cultivated networks of circulating publications between
the two regions. Print thus facilitated the dissemination of their vision of
“true Islam” and the development of a transnational Ahmadiyya community
(jama‘at) linking believers in South and Southeast Asia and beyond.
1. “A Voice from Singapore”, Review of Religion 24, no. 10 (October 1925):
2. H.A.R. Gibb, Whither Islam? A Survey of Modern Movements in the Moslem World
(London: Victor Gollancz, 1932), p. 353.
146 Iqbal Singh Sevea
3. See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and
Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (New York: Verso, 1991).
4. For an interesting introduction to the impact of print on religious life, see
Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe, new edition
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
5. For a comprehensive study of the Tablighi Jama‘at, refer to Yoginder Sikand,
The Origins and Development of the Tablighi-Jama‘at (1920–2000): A Cross
Comparative Study (Hyderabad, India: Orient Longman, 2002). For more on
Tablighi connections between South and Southeast Asia, see Farish Noor’s essay
in this volume.
6. Yohanan Friedmann, Prophecy Continuous: Aspects of Ahmadi Religious Thought and
its Medieval Background (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 11.
7. Armando Salvatore, “Muslim Publics”, in Public Islam and the Common Good,
edited by Armando Salvatore and Dale F. Eickelman (Leiden: Brill, 2004),
8. I draw here from the work of Piscatori and Eickelman who have argued that
the expansion of print allowed for the “fragmentation of religious authority”
where religious interpretation was no longer limited or dependent on the trained
religious elite, but open to anyone who could publish. See Muslim Politics,
2nd ed. (Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004), especially pp. 40–68,
9. See Francis Robinson, Islam and Muslim History in South Asia (New Delhi:
Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 66–104; and Margarit Pernau, “The Delhi
Urdu Akhbar Between Persian Akhbarat and English Newspapers”, Annual of
Urdu Studies 18 (2003): 105–31.
10. Home Department (Political) Proceedings, February 1914, National Archives
of India, New Delhi.
11. Syed Ameer Ali, The Right Hon’ble Syed Ameer Ali-Political Writings, edited by
Shan Muhammad (New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House, 1989), p. 217.
12. Friedmann, Prophecy Continuous, p. 4.
13. For a more detailed history of the Ahmadiyya movement, see Spencer Lavan,
The Ahmadiyah Movement: A History and Perspective (Delhi: Manohar Book
Service, 1974), and Friedmann, Prophecy Continuous.
14. The two factions also disagree over the issue of the leadership of the community.
While the Jamaat-i Ahmadiyya subscribes to the view that leadership lies in
the hands of the Caliph who is appointed by God, the Anjuman Ishaat-i Islam
subscribes to the view that leadership is vested in a selected body of people.
Friedmann, Prophecy Continuous, pp. 16–22.
15. For a comprehensive discussion on the theological and leadership issues that led
to the split, see Friedmann, Prophecy Continuous, pp. 11–23.
16. This figure is drawn from a press release of 2003: , accessed 2 April 2007.
17. The Review of Religions 34, no. 3 (March 1935): 85.
The Ahmadiyya Print Jihad in South and Southeast Asia 147
18. , accessed
18 August 2007.
19. Iskandar Zulkarnain, Gerakan Ahmadiyah di Indonesia (Yogyakarta: LKiS, 2005),
20. The Review of Religions 36, no. 10 (October 1937): 503–504.
21. The Review of Religions 24, no. 10 (October 1925): 6.
22. The Islamic Review 9, no. 4 (April 1921): 122. For details of his tour and
summaries of the lectures he delivered, refer to The Islamic Review 9, no. 6
(June–July 1921): 202–206.
23. Chaudhary Zafarullah Khan, Ahmadiyyat: The Renaissance of Islam (Rabwah,
1978), pp. 272–74.
24. This has been noted by Zulkarnain in Gerakan Ahmadiyah di Indonesia.
25. “The Aims and Objectives of The Review of Religions”, The Review of Religions
1, no. 1 (December 1924): 2–3.
26. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Majmuah Isthiharat, 3 vols. (London: Mubarak A. Saqi,
1986), I: 1–2.
27. See, for instance, Sandra B. Freitag, Collective Action and Community: Public
Arenas and the Emergence of Communalism in North India (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1989), and Gyanendra Pandey, The Construction of Communalism
in Colonial North India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990).
28. The Review of Religions 1, no. 1 (December 1924): 2–3.
29. See, for instance, Ameer Ali, Political Writings, pp. 217–18; Zafar Ali Khan,
“Indian Mussalmans and Pan-Islamism” dated 14 June 1913 in Selections from
Maulana Mohammad Ali’s Comrade, compiled by Syed Rais Ahmad Jafri (Nadwi)
(Lahore: Mohammad Ali Academy, 1965), p. 297.
30. See, for instance, Ghulam Ahmad, Majmuah Isthiharat, IV: 367.
31. Ghulam Ahmad, Majmuah Isthiharat, IV: 18.
32. “Jihad in Islam”, The Review of Religions 35, no. 6–7 (June–July 1936): 289.
33. Ghulam Ahmad, Majmuah Isthiharat, V: 21.
34. Ghulam Ahmad, Majmuah Isthiharat, V: 23.
35. Ghulam Ahmad, Majmuah Isthiharat, II: 330.
36. See, for example, The Review of Religions 36, no. 10 (October 1937): 485.
37. Ghulam Ahmad, Majmuah Isthiharat, V: 22.
38. See, for example, Muhammad Iqbal, Speeches and Statements of Iqbal, compiled
by A.R. Tariq (Lahore: Sheikh Ghulam Ali and Sons, 1973), p. 126.
39. Ehsan Elahi Zaheer, Qadiniyat: An Analytical Survey, 2nd ed. (Lahore: Idara
Tarjuman Al-Sunnah, 1973).
40. Excellent studies of the debates between Christian missionaries and the Muslim
ulama can be found in the work of Avril Powell, “Maulana Rahmat Allah
Kairanawi and Muslim Christian Controversy in India in the mid-19th Century”,
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 1 (1976): 42–63; Muslims and Missionaries in
Pre-Mutiny India (Richmond: Curzon Press, 1993); “Modernist Muslim Reponses
to Christian Critiques of Islamic Culture, Civilisation, and History in Northern
148 Iqbal Singh Sevea
India”, in Christians, Cultural Interactions and India’s Religious Traditions, edited
by J.M. Brown and R.E. Frykenberg (London: Routledge Curzon, 2002),
pp. 61–91, for an interesting article on Muslim responses to critiques levelled
41. Ghulam Ahmad, Majmuah Isthiharat, I: 8.
42. Quoted in Lavan, Ahmadiyah, p. 72.
43. Ghulam Ahmad, Majmuah Isthiharat, V: 23.
44. Lavan, Ahmadiyah, p. 72.
45. Egdunas Racius, The Multiple Nature of the Islamic Da‘wa (Dissertation, University
of Helsinki/Faculty of Arts, Institute of Asian and African Studies, Arabic and
Islamic Studies and Vilnius University, Institute of International Relations and
Political Science, October 2004), p. 160.
46. This story is also narrated in Zulkarnain, Gerakan Ahmadiyah, pp. 180–81.
47. The Review of Religions 45, no. 1 (January 1945): 9–12.
48. Zulkarnain, Gerakan Ahmadiyah, p. 185.
49. Sinar Islam 8, no. 6 (June 1958): 1, 20.
50. Zulkarnain, Gerakan Ahmadiyah, pp. 224–25.
51. For a further discussion of Alatas’s interaction with South Asian works and his
critique of the Ahmadiyya, see Sevea’s contribution to this volume.
52. The Review of Religions 34, no. 3 (March 1935): 82–86.