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A messianic movement in modern Islam, the Ahmadiyah has been one of the most active and controversial movements since its inception in British Indiain 1889. It has sustained its activities for more than a century and has been unrivaled in its dedication to the propagation of the faith. Ahmadi mosques and missionary centers have been established not only in the Indian subcontinent but also in numerous cities of the Western world, Africa, and Asia.

The core of Ahmadi thought is prophetology, which draws its inspiration from the great medieval Muslim mystic Muhyi al-Din ibn al-`Arabi (1165-1240), who postulated an uninterrupted succession of nonlegislative prophets following Muhammad. Claiming for its founder messianic and prophetic status, the Ahmadi movement aroused the fierce opposition of Sunni Muslims and was accused of rejecting the dogma according to which Muhammad was the last prophet. While India was under British rule, the controversy remained a doctrinal dispute among private individuals or voluntary organizations, but when the Ahmadi headquarters moved in 1947 to the professedly Islamic state of Pakistan, the issue became a constitutional problem of major importance. Religious scholars belonging to the Sunni mainstream demanded the formal exclusion of the Ahmadis from the Islamic fold and achieved that objective in 1974 The history of the Ahmadi movement thus affords a unique example of the intricate relationship between religion and state in Islam, an example in which secularly elected members of political institutions arrogated to themselves the authority to determine the religious affiliation of a group of citizens, and to draw constitutional conclusions from this determination.

History. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadi movement in Islam, was born in the late 1830s in Qadian, a village in the Punjab. His claim to special spiritual standing was first announced in the early 1880s. The movement was established in March 1889, when Ghulam Ahmad accepted a pledge of allegiance from a number of his followers in the Punjabi city of Ludhiana. He devoted the following years to prolific literary activity, to the organization and expansion of the new community, and to many polemical encounters with Sunni `ulama’, Christian missionaries, and members of the Hindu revivalist movement of Arya Samaj. A number of periodicals were launched in Qadian: including the monthly Review of Religions, the main English organ for the propagation of the Ahmadi view of Islam.

Ghulam Ahmad died on 26 May 19o8. He was succeeded in the leadership of the community by Nuruddin, one of his first supporters, who became the first “Successor of the Messiah” (khalifat al-masih). During his leadership, the unity of the movement began to be threatened by differences of opinion on issues such as the relationship with non-Ahmadi Muslims and the nature of the community’s leadership.

Nuruddin died in 1914 and was succeeded by Ghulam Ahmad’s son Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad. The differences in the movement now came to a head, and the Ahmadiyah split into two factions, known as the Qadiani and the Lahori. The Qadiani faction, which was larger and retained control of the movement’s headquarters and of its main publications, was headed by Mahmud Ahmad, now known as khalifat al-masih II; the prominent personalities among the Lahoris were Muhammad `Ali and Khvajah Kamaluddin.In addition to personal friction among members of the two groups, the focal points of disagreement were the nature of Ghulam Ahmad’s religious claim, the extent of Mahmud Ahmad’s authority in community affairs, and the attitude to be adopted toward non-Ahmadi Muslims. The Qadianis stressed Ghulam Ahmad’s claim to prophethood, maintained that Mahmud Ahmad’s religious authority was not less than that of Ghulam Ahmad, and left little doubt that they considered non-Ahmadi Muslims infidels. The Lahoris, on the other hand, held that Ghulam Ahmad never claimed to be more than a “renewer” (mujaddid) of religion; they suggested that the community leadership be entrusted to a group such as the Supreme Council of the Ahmadiyah (Sadr Anjuman-i Ahmadiyah) rather than to one successor of the messiah; and they deemed infidels only those Muslims who regarded the Ahmadis the same. This attitude toward non-Ahmadis was intended to minimize friction with other Muslims.

Following the split, the Ahmadis continued their missionary and literary activity. The two factions renounced any connection with each other. The Lahori publications deal almost exclusively with familiar themes of Islamic modernism. They contain few references to ideas that distinguish the Ahmadiyah from the Islamic mainstream. The Qadiani Review of Religions, however, continued to stress the crucial role of Ghulam Ahmad in the spiritual history of mankind. Its pages provide translations from Ghulam Ahmad’s works and details of such Ahmadi missionary activities as the establishment of mosques and centers and cases of conversion to Islam. Several new institutions were established in Qadian by order of Mahmud Ahmad in order to coordinate the worldwide missionary and literary endeavors of the movement.

Following the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the headquarters of the movement moved to Pakistan, where a town called Rabwa (after Qur’an 23:51) was built in order to serve as the new center of the Ahmadiyah. In Pakistanthe movement faced increasing difficulties. Various Islamic groups, led by the Jama’at-i Islami, insisted that the Ahmadis be declared a non Muslim minority and excluded from public office. In the early 1950s, this agitation was directed primarily against Muhammad Zafaru’llah Khan, a prominent Ahmadi, who served at that time as Pakistan’s foreign minister. The demand was accompanied by widespread anti-Ahmadi riots in thePunjab, but the government stood its ground. The Ahmadi issue came to the fore again in 1974. Following a clash between Ahmadi and non-Ahmadi students in Rabwa, pressure to exclude the Ahmadis from the fold of Islam was renewed; it was accompanied by riots and threats of a general strike by the religious leadership. After some initial resistance, Prime Minister Zulfiqar ‘Ali Bhutto’s government gave way and the National Assembly decided “to discuss the status in Islam of persons who do not believe in the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him).” After lengthy deliberations behind closed doors, the Assembly met in open session on 7 September 1974 and unanimously decided to amend the constitution of Pakistanby adding a clause stipulating that

a person who does not believe in the absolute and unqualified finality of the prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him), the last of the Prophets, or claims to be a Prophet, in any sense of the word or of any description whatsoever, after Muhammad (peace be upon him), or recognizes such a claimant as a Prophet or a religious reformer, is not a Muslim for the purposes of the Constitution or Law.

In April 1984, in the context of intensifying the Islamic characteristics of public life in Pakistan, President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq promulgated an ordinance making Ahmadi religious observance a punishable offense. Among other things, the Ahmadis were forbidden to refer to their faith as Islam, to preach or propagate it, or to call their places of worship mosques. All these offenses were made punishable by three years of imprisonment and a fine. In the wake of this ordinance, Mirza Tahir Ahmad, the present head of the Ahmadiyah, moved to London, where he still resided in the early 1990s.

Religious Thought. The religious thought of the Ahmadiyah until 1914, and of its Qadiani branch since then, revolves around Ghulam Ahmad’s persistent claim to be a divinely inspired religious thinker and reformer. The many ways in which Ghulam Ahmad expressed his convictions enabled both his supporters and his rivals to make diverse and often contradictory interpretations of his claim to spiritual eminence. As has often been the case with Muslim revivalist and messianic movements, the starting point of Ghulam Ahmad’s thought was the assertion that Muslim religion and society had deteriorated to a point where divinely inspired reforms were essential in order to arrest the process of decline and restore the purity of Islam. It was against this background that Ghulam Ahmad claimed to have been chosen by Allah for the task of revitalizing Islam.

Ghulam Ahmad’s mission is described in his writings in diverse terms. The definition of his spiritual claim that was most acceptable to the Sunni point of view was his declaration that Allah appointed him to be the renewer (mujaddid) of Islam in the fourteenth century AH. More controversial was his claim to be the Mahdi and the Promised Messiah (masih-i maw’ud). He supported this claim by an elaborate Christology arguing that Jesus did not die on the cross but only swooned; that he was taken down and cured of his wounds; and that he went to India and died a natural death at the age of 120 in the city of Srinagar. The Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus and his return in glory at the end of days is, according to Ghulam Ahmad, groundless. It is incontrovertibly refuted in several verses in the Qur’an (e.g., 3:55) and is a Christian invention designed to prove that the living Jesus is superior to the deceased Muhammad, and that Christianity is consequently superior to Islam. Whenever a Muslim tradition seems to suggest the second coming of Christ, it should be taken to indicate not the coming of Jesus himself, but that of a person similar to him. This person is Ghulam Ahmad, whose spiritual role bears complete affinity with that of Jesus, in that both Jesus and Ghulam Ahmad appeared when their people were subjected to foreign rule; both were rejected by their religiously decadent communities; both repudiated jihad; and neither brought a new law but rather vowed to revive laws brought by Moses and Muhammad, respectively.

Ghulam Ahmad’s repeated assertion that Allah made him a prophet was the most controversial formulation of his claim. Since it contradicted the Muslim dogma of Muhammad as the last prophet, it brought upon Ghulam Ahmad and his followers the most vociferous denunciations by the Sunni `ulama’. However, Ghulam Ahmad was able to maintain that his theology was compatible with the Muslim belief in the finality of Muhammad’s prophethood. He divided prophets into two categories: tashri `i, legislative prophets, who are entrusted with bringing a new book of revealed divine law and are usually founders of new communities; and ghayr tashri`i, nonlegislative prophets, who do not receive a new book of divine law but are sent to an existing community to urge it to implement the divine law brought by an earlier, legislative prophet. According to Ghulam Ahmad, the belief in the finality of Muhammad’s prophethood applies only to the first, legislative category. This classification of prophets enabled Ghulam Ahmad to attest that Muhammad was, indeed, the seal of the prophets and to claim at the same time that Allah could not possibly leave Muslims without prophetic guidance after the death of Muhammad, a condition that would make Muslims an accursed and abandoned community. Therefore, while it is true that no law-giving prophet can appear after Muhammad, prophetic perfections are continuously bestowed upon his most accomplished followers, such as Ghulam Ahmad, to whom Allah speaks and reveals his secrets. However, since Ghulam Ahmad attained this position only by his faithful following of Muhammad, his prophethood does not infringe upon Muhammad’s status as the seal of the prophets. Rather, the fact that the Prophet of Islam was capable of bestowing prophetic perfections on his accomplished followers proves Muhammad’s superiority over his predecessors in the prophetic office. Muslims are thus the only community privileged with divine communication and prophethood after the completion of Muhammad’s mission. Although this prophethood does not involve the revelation of new laws and is given only as a shadow of the prophethoed of Muhammad, its existence is a decisive indication of Islamic superiority over other religions.

Ghulam Ahmad’s claim to be the Mahdi is closely related to his view of jihad. The classical tradition according to which the Mahdi “will break the cross, kill the swine, and abolish war” is interpreted in a way that transforms the Mahdi into an entirely peaceful figure. The statement that the Mahdi will “abolish war” is understood literally, and great stress is laid on it; on the other hand, the killing of the swine and the breaking of the cross are understood metaphorically and are said to indicate the Mahdi’s victory over Christianity by means of argument and spiritual power. jihad with the sword has thus come to an end with the advent of the Mahdi. Even before that, however, it was far from all-out aggressive war; it was allowed only in response to persecution by infidels. This interpretation rejects the traditional view that the idea of jihad developed from a total prohibition inMeccato a command of unrestricted validity inMedina. According to the Ahmadis, Islam has always been a religion dedicated to peace. Ghulam Ahmad repeatedly denounced Muslims who preached violent jihad: not only did they distort an essential part of Islamic teaching, they also assisted Christian missionaries in misrepresenting Islam as a religion committed to expansion by violent means; the only jihad sanctioned by Islam is spreading the faith by preaching and persuasion.

Summary. The dispute between the Ahmadiyah and mainstream Sunni Islam stems from different approaches to the question of religious authority. As a messianic movement claiming a certain kind of prophethood for its founder and continuous divine inspiration for his successors, the Ahmadiyah was bound to clash with the `ulama’, who felt that their authority as custodians of Islamic learning and interpreters of Islamic law was being undermined. The dispute was exacerbated by the fact that the `ulama’ focused their opposition to the Ahmadiyah on the emotional issue of Muhammad’s honor, which was said to have been tarnished by Ghulam Ahmad’s claim to be a receiver of divine revelation after the completion of Muhammad’s mission.

As far as the Ahmadi struggle within Islam is concerned, the main point of contention is thus the religious claim of Ghulam Ahmad, which is couched in terms derived from medieval Sufism. In its relationship with the non-Muslim world, however, the Ahmadiyah is primarily engaged in defending Islam and depicting it as a liberal, humane, and progressive religion that has been systematically slandered by non-Muslims. This aspect of Ahmadi teaching is well in line with that of modernist Muslim thinkers, though in other matters-for example, in their support for pardah and polygamy-the Ahmadis follow the traditional point of view. One of the essential differences between them and other contemporarv Muslim movements is that the Ahmadis consider the peaceful propagation of their version of islam among Muslims and non-Muslims alike to be an indispensable activity;in this they are persistent and unrelenting.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ahmadi work

Ahmad ,Bashiruddin Mahmud.Invitation to Ahmadiyyat. Rabwa, 1961.The most comprehensive description of ahmadi belief in English,trnslated from the Urdu orginal of Ghulam Ahmad’s son  and second sucessor

Ghulam Ahmad.jesus in india jesus’ Escape from Death on the Cross and journey to india London, 1978.

Khan Muhammad Zafafrullah . trans. Tadhkira: English Translation of  the dreams ,visions,and Verbal Revelations Vouchsafed to the Promised messiah on Whom Be Peace.London, 1976.

Khan Muhammad Zafafrullah. Ahmadiyyat: The Renaissance of Islam London  1978. History of the movement from the Ahmadi point of view

Non-Ahmadi Works

Binder, Leonard. Religion and Politics inPakistan.BerkeleyandLos Angeles, 1961. The Ahmadi controversy during the first years ofPakistan’s existence.

Brush,StanleyE. “Ahmadiyyat inPakistan: Rabwa and the Ahmadis.” Muslim World 45 (1955): 145-171.

Fisher, Humphrey J. Ahmadiyya: A Study of Contemporary Islam on theWestAfricanCoast.London, 1963. Excellent study of the Ahmadiyah in an African setting.

Friedmann, Yohanan. Prophecy Continuous: Aspects of Ahmadi Religious Thought and Its Medieval Background.Berkeley, 1989. History of the Ahmadiyah and its expansion. Includes analysis of the prophetology of both factions. The chapter on Ahmadi jihad surveys relevant beliefs in medieval Muslim tradition. Extensive bibliography.

PakistanNational Assembly. “Verdict on Finality of Prophethood of Hazrat Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).”Islamabad, 1974. Smith, Wilfred Cantwell. “Ahmadiyya.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 2, pp. 301-303.Leiden, 1960-.

YOHANAN FRIEDMANN

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/ahmadiyah/
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  • writerPosted On: October 7, 2012
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