The Persecution of the Messiahs and Their Early Followers

No Comments | April 2017

The Sanhedrin was a supreme court consisting of priests, scribes and elders of the community that delivered the verdict in criminal cases. Although this court delivered the verdict in trials and could pronounce the death penalty, it did not have the authority to enforce sentences.

The persecution of the Divine Messengers of God and their early followers has occurred since the time of Prophet Adamas and continues to manifest itself even in this day and age, the so-called age of civilised and enlightened behaviour.

Jesusas is reported to have said:

“Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour.”1

During his own lifetime, Jesusas and his followers were severely persecuted. Particularly Jesusas himself, as he suffered the excruciating punishment of crucifixion inflicted upon him by the Roman authorities at the insistence of his fierce critics and opponents. Their chief priest and the Sanhedrin put him on trial, found him guilty and then condemned him.

The Sanhedrin was the supreme council or court in ancient Israel, which comprised of 70 men, plus the high priest, who served as its president. The members came from the chief priests, scribes and elders. The Sanhedrin also had its own unit of men which could arrest people, as they did Jesus Christ. While the Sanhedrin heard both civil and criminal cases and could impose the death penalty, in Jesusas’ time it did not have the authority to execute convicted criminals. That power was reserved for the Romans, which explains why Jesusas was crucified—a Roman punishment—rather than stoned, according to Mosaic law. Caiaphas was the high priest of the Sanhedrin at the time of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion.

According to the Bible, when Jesusas was taken off from the cross he was placed in a sepulchre. His disciples would rub ointments on his wounded body, which later became famous as ‘the ointment of Jesus’.
Mordechai Meiri | Shutterstock

At the beginning of his ministry as a prophet of God, Jesusas said,

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.’2

Jesusas had been sent to revive the Law of Moses. Over the centuries, the Jewish priests had adulterated the Law to suit their own nefarious needs and activities in their craving for more control and power. This was the reason they felt they had to stop Jesusas at all costs, as his preaching exposed their unjust and dishonourable practices.

The chief priest and the Sanhedrin looked for evidence against Jesusas in order to find a way to have him put to death. Witnesses were produced and many gave false testimony against him but their statements were inconsistent.

The High Priest, Joseph Caiaphas, eventually levelled charges of blasphemy against Jesusas.

To trick the people, the Sanhedrin were intent on proving Jesusas false, by reverting to the law of the Torah, which said:

‘But a prophet who presumes to speak in my Name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death’3, the form of punishment being:

‘Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.’4

Although Jesusas was innocent, the Sanhedrin (with the exceptions of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) voted to convict him. The penalty was death, but this court had no authority to order execution. For that they needed the help of the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who did not find any wrongdoing by Jesusas, but was coerced into finding him guilty and pronounced the sentence of death by crucifixion.

Prophet Jesusas was eventually put on the cross, and according to the New Testament, after a few hours he was taken down and placed in a sepulchre where his skin was smeared with certain ointments. The New Testament also relates that some days later he was seen walking towards a village called Emmaus, where he spoke to two fellow travellers who did not recognise him.5

The Christian account of Jesusas post-crucifixion greatly differs from that of the account of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Its founder, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, who claimed to be the Promised Messiah in 1890, related in his book Jesus in India, that, after recovering from the effects of crucifixion and in accordance with his Divine Mission to go to all the lost sheep of the House of Israel, Jesusas travelled in search of the remaining ten tribes of Israel and eventually settled in Kashmir. There, his tomb can be found in Srinagar. As Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh, the Fourth Spiritual Successor of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has explained:

‘The scriptures had predicted that any false claimant, who attributed anything to God which He had not said, would hang upon the tree. Therefore, the death of Jesus upon the cross would be tantamount to the death of Christianity. That is why authentic Jewish literature is full of gloatings about Jesus’ death upon the cross.’6

No Prophet of God ever fails in his Divine mission and Prophet Jesusas was no exception.

His disciples were told they had to preach the Oneness of God and the true teachings of the Torah to the Jews only and not to the Samaritans or the Gentiles.7

Many historians have researched the fact that Jesusas may have travelled to the east before his crucifixion – known as the ‘lost years of Jesus’ – citing the reason that the Bible does not make any reference to this time period. It was only Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas who claimed that Jesusas survived the ordeal of the cross and wrote a treatise called Jesus in India (above right) which gives detailed proofs of this claim. Map: The possible route taken by Jesusas after he survived the crucifixion to and the remaining tribes that were exiled in the Babylonian era.
Islam International Publications

This they continued to do and as a result, a man called Stephen (St. Stephen), who according to the Acts of the Apostles, was a deacon (lay-preacher and distributor of alms to the poor) in the early church at Jerusalem aroused the enmity of the priests and other members of the synagogues, when he defeated them in all debates especially concerning the teachings of Jesusas. Stephen was eventually brought to trial by the Sanhedrin. At his trial, his conspiring opponents charged him with blasphemy against Mosesas and God, by accusing him of declaring that Jesusas would destroy the temple in Jerusalem and of changing the customs of Mosesas.

Stephen retorted, ‘Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One and now you have betrayed and murdered him.’8

The onlooking crowd were so enraged that they dragged him out of the court and the city to an appointed place, where he was stoned to death. Thus, he became the first Christian martyr.

Interestingly, before stoning Stephen, the accusers, whose duty it was to throw the first stones, took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a man called Saul, later known as Paul the Apostle, who was a witness to the martyrdom. It is related in the New Testament, that on the same day as the martyrdom of Stephen:

‘On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul (Paul) began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.’9

So, persecution of early Jewish Christians did not begin with the Roman authorities but from the Jews themselves, either initiated at the behest of corrupt officials or the priestly class in particular.

Persecution of the early Christians was often locally inspired and almost never state-sanctioned. The reasons why individual Christians were persecuted in this period varied. In some cases they were probably scapegoats, their faith attacked where more personal or local hostilities were at issue.

Hostility towards Christians fluctuated throughout the Roman Empire. However, the emerging Christian doctrine flew in the face of established Roman religion and therefore the first documented case of major persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire begins with the Emperor Nero.

In July 64AD, a great fire engulfed Rome, destroying large portions of the city and causing economic devastation to the Roman population.

People began to speculate that Nero himself had initiated the fire, because of his eccentricity and maybe even insanity, in order to rebuild the city to his own taste and to build a large and lavish palace for himself.

Nero ‘pinned’ the blame for that fire on the city’s small Christian community (regarded as a distinct, dissident group of Jews), and so he burned many of them alive. His cruelty knew no bounds as he inflicted extreme punishments upon the Christians. (St. Peter and St. Paul were said to have been martyred as a result.) Nero’s persecution was short lived. However, his reign marked the first time the Roman government distinguished Christians from Jews.

Most Roman emperors tolerated Christians, but ten emperors in particular inflicted great hardships upon Christians: Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Septimus Severus, Decius, Valerian, Maximus the Thracian, Aurelian the last, and most severe being Diocletian (284-305 AD).

Diocletian’s gift for mass organisation, unfortunately, extended to things religious and patriotic. In 303, Diocletian returned to hounding Christians even though his wife, Prisca, belonged to the faith.

St Stephen is considered to be one of the first martyrs of Christianity. Although he was a Greek Jew, he converted to Christianity and began to preach about the mission of Jesusas, becoming one of the first deacons of the Christian church. His eloquent oration and preaching methods were so effective that the Jews became worried about his unprecedented success. Even in the Sanhedrin, his argumentation was so powerful that he had to be dragged out to the streets and was thus stoned to death on the charges of blasphemy.
Zvonimir Atletic | Shutterstock

It was the first time in almost 50 years that an emperor had taken the trouble to exact such focussed persecution. This time, the unprecedented motive of this Great Persecution was the total extinction of Christianity.

The first of Diocletian’s edicts prohibited all Christian worship and commanded that churches and Christian books be destroyed. Two further edicts required in the eastern provinces, ordered clergy to be arrested unless they made sacrifices to pagan deities. By 304 AD, this edict was extended to all Christians and was particularly vicious under Diocletian in Africa.

The persecution continued under Galerius, now promoted to Augustus. In 311 AD, Galerius and his fellow emperors issued an edict cancelling the persecution of Christians. The following year, Constantine emerged triumphant in the West after the battle at the Milvian Bridge. In 313 AD, he and Licinius, soon to control the Eastern Empire, issued the Edict of Milan, which decreed full legal toleration of Christianity. After this, for all intents and purposes, no Roman emperor harassed Christians again.’10

During the severe persecution of the Diocletian period of 303 AD, Christians in Rome sought refuge in the many extensive catacombs of the city. The catacombs were labyrinthine networks of tunnels, underground rooms and passageways, which served as mausoleums in which the ancient Romans buried their dead.

This event has been recorded in Christian as well as Islamic literature, especially the Holy Qur’an, which has highlighted the plight of a number of pious, young, Christian men, who took refuge in the caves from the rampant persecution. Many legends have arisen regarding these men and the whereabouts of the catacombs. A main contender are the catacombs at Ephesus (Turkey).

However, in his short Commentary of the Holy Qur’an, Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmadra, concluded that the catacombs of Rome seemed to be the site of the Dwellers of the Cave. He commented:

‘To save themselves from this cruel and inhuman persecution its helpless victims sought refuge in hiding in the catacombs at Rome. For this purpose, these catacombs were admirably adapted both by the intricacy of their labyrinthine passages and the numerous small chambers and hiding places at different levels which might remain undetected in the dark by pursuers. From the inscriptions on the tomb-stones in the catacombs it appears that the early Christians were strict monotheists. Jesus had been mentioned only as a shepherd or a Prophet of God and Mary, his mother, as nothing more than a pious woman. It also appears that the Christians who took refuge in the catacombs kept dogs at their entrance which would announce the approach of strangers by their barking. The account of the Dwellers of the Cave thus, in fact, represents the history of the early Christians and shows how they suffered untold persecution for their belief in the Unity of God.’11

Just as Jesusas faced charges in court, the Messiah of the latter days, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, also stood trial accused to plotting a murder by a Christian priest, Dr Henry Martyn Clarke. The judge, Captain M W Douglas cleared Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas of all charges and instead asked him whether he would like to prosecute Reverend Clarke on the grounds of false accusation. However, this offer was rejected by Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, who said that his affairs had already been settled in a much higher court.

As mentioned earlier, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas founded the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in 1889. His primary claim was that he had been commissioned by God to be the Imam Mahdi and Promised Messiah as forecast by the Holy Qur’an, the Prophetsa of Islam and in some Biblical prophecies.

The Holy Prophetsa said:

‘The Mahdi is none other than Jesus son of Mary.’12

He is also reported to have said that:

‘The Dwellers of the Cave are the helpers of Imam Mahdi.’13

We can infer from this statement that like the early pious and righteous monotheistic Christians of the first Messiah, the early followers of the Promised Messiahas of the latter days, would also encounter mockery, contempt and often violent opposition.

The Holy Qur’an states:

‘And there never came to them any Messenger but they mocked at him.14

All prophets have been mocked at on account of their humble origins and this verse draws attention to the fact that every new Messenger of God is, in the beginning, rejected and ridiculed but that it is really a sign of the truth of his claim rather than of its falsehood.

From an early age, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas of Qadian, India, was acclaimed for his integrity, truthfulness, purity and piety. His was a godly life, according to the declared testimony of the many Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who knew him as a child and then as a man. He was renowned for his knowledge and irrefutable defence of Islam. However, when he declared, under Divine guidance, that he was the Promised Messiahas, those that had revered him then began to attack him from all directions.

He had to defend himself not only from Muslim critics but also from Christian and Hindu opponents, so much so, that like Jesusas, he was falsely charged with a crime he did not commit. It was mainly his Christian, Muslim and Hindu opponents (largely from the priestly class), who plotted against him and in 1897, a false charge of ‘abetment to murder’ was concocted by a Christian missionary, Dr Henry Martin Clarke. He was brought to trial in the court established under the rule of the British Empire.

Unlike Pontius Pilate, the magistrate of the Roman Empire who personally believed Jesusas to be innocent but found him guilty, succumbing to the pressure of the Pharisees, the magistrate of the ruling British Empire, a Christian by the name of Captain MW Douglas, found the Promised Messiahas not guilty. He suggested to him that he should prosecute his accusers, one of whom was the Caiaphas of the day, Maulawi Muhammad Husain of Batala. The Promised Messiahas declined and forgave them all.

As for persecution of his followers, Hazrat Sahibzada Syed Abdul Latifra was a very revered person from the province of Khost, Afghanistan. He had thousands of followers and was also respected by the ruler of Afghanistan, Habibullah Khan, Amir (ruler) of Kabul.

He had read some of the books of Promised Messiahas that made a deep impression on him. He visited Qadian in 1902 and accepted Ahmadiyyat during his first meeting with the Promised Messiahas.

Eventually, he went back to Afghanistan and when the Amir of Kabul found out that he had converted to Ahmadiyyat, he was arrested and imprisoned for four months. Many leading citizens of Kabul and the Amir himself tried to persuade him to renounce Ahmadiyyat. He did not and the religious divines declared him a heretic, which resulted in the Amir ordering that he be stoned to death.

On July 14th, 1903, when he was about to be stoned, he was given one final chance to recant, to be spared death. He told them that his life and family meant nothing to him, as opposed to his faith, and that he could not relinquish it to save himself from such a cruel death. He was buried up to his waist in the ground and stoned. The stoning continued until his soul departed from his body.

After his martyrdom, the Promised Messiahas expressed his grief in the following words:

‘O land of Kabul, you are witness to the heinous crime committed on your soil. O miserable land! You have, in the sight of Allah, been condemned as you are the scene of this most atrocious crime.’15

The whole world is witness to the fact that the country of Afghanistan has been in turmoil and strife ever since Hazrat Sahibzada Abdul Latif Sahibra was martyred; indeed, the past decade or more has made the truth of these words evident to the world. As Stephen was the first Christian to be stoned to death, Hazrat Sahibzada Abdul Latif Sahibra was the first Ahmadi Muslim to be stoned to death.

Opposition to the Promised Messiahas continued, so much so, that his opponents declared him an infidel and an apostate from Islam. In spite of this, his movement continued to flourish. Unperturbed by the storms of opposition, he continued to complete his mission. He enjoyed complete security from such attacks and both friends and foe alike were amazed at the divine support he was blessed with. After receiving divine revelations over a period of thirty years, the Promised Messiahas passed away on May 26th, 1908, after completing his mission of revival and defence of Islam. At the time he had a following of 400,000 disciples in India.

Sporadic persecution of his early followers continued until the time when the British ruling power, in 1947, partitioned the Indian sub-continent into India and Pakistan. Then, the majority of Ahmadi Muslims either lived in or migrated to Pakistan.

Unfortunately, this new country of Pakistan also became the home to some of the most fanatical Muslim clerics (mullahs). Alongside ambitious politicians, they conspired to denounce and defame Ahmadi Muslims, by poisoning the minds of the population against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, which resulted in great unrest and agitation.

As mentioned earlier, the first organised state persecution of Christians began in 64 AD. The first organised persecution of Ahmadi Muslims occurred in the 1950’s and especially 1953, when Anti-Ahmadiyya street protests, political rallies and riots took place in Lahore, 64 years after the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam was initiated by the Promised Messiahas. More than two hundred Ahmadis are reported to have been murdered and thousands more displaced from their homes. Over the following twenty years, Ahmadis in Pakistan suffered more sporadic and sometimes severe persecution.

The second organised agitation and persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan occurred in 1974. The mullahs, with the connivance, initiative and blessing of the government led by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, created more hatred and unrest, resulting in riots in many cities where arson, looting and murder were perpetrated against innocent, law-abiding Ahmadi Muslims. For cheap political popularity, Bhutto’s government also declared Ahmadi Muslims to be non-Muslim for the ‘purposes of the law and Constitution.’Pakistan is the only state to have officially declared that Ahmadis are non-Muslim.

In April 1984, the then-President of Pakistan, General Muhammad Zia ul Haq, issued the Anti Ahmadiyya Ordinance XX, which prohibits Ahmadis from preaching or professing their beliefs, calling themselves Muslim or ‘posing’ as Muslims. They are not allowed to profess the Islamic creed or call their places of worship Mosques, perform the Azan (call to prayer), quote from the Holy Qur’an, preach in public or produce or publish religious materials. To do so would earn each individual Ahmadi a punishment of imprisonment for up to three years.

Many Ahmadis were arrested within days of this new ordinance and a wave of persecution followed.

By comparison, the second wave of persecution of early Christians occurred in the years between 81-96 AD, under the rule of Emperor Domitian. Similarly, the second wave of persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan, occurred some 85-95 years after the Community was formed by the Promised Messiahas

The persecution of Christians continues in this day and age, especially in Muslim countries. The persecution of Ahmadi Muslims also continues in Muslim countries, especially in Pakistan.

For example, in 2010, a most heinous crime was perpetrated, when on 28th May, two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, Pakistan, were targeted by terrorists purporting to act ‘in the name of Islam.’ It was the time of Friday Prayer, which all Muslims acknowledge as a holy and sacred time. These barbaric and synchronised firearms attacks resulted in the deaths of 86 innocent Ahmadi men, whilst they offered their prayers.

The fifth Khalifa of the Promised Messiahas, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba, issued a statement the same day:

‘The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at is a peace loving true Muslim Jama’at. Thus, there will be no improper reaction from any Ahmadi. Our salvation lies in our supplications to God Almighty and we believe He has, and always will help us. No terrorist and no government can ever stop the progress of our Jama’at because of its divine organisation.’16

It is so unfortunate for the Muslim World, that most of their leaders, especially the clerics, who should be generating peaceful societies, are instead acting in direct contradiction of Qur’anic teachings, with deceit, injustice and barbarity. This is why the Muslim world is in such disarray and seemingly leaderless. The mullahs of today seem almost identical to the priests of the Sanhedrin of Jesusas’ time.

As Ahmadiyyat, the true Islam, continues to spread throughout the world, the envy of its opponents is also increasing. Wherever in the world the mullah can wield power, he does not desist from committing cruelty against Ahmadis in the name of God. However, every such act of the mullah only serves to increase Ahmadis in their faith.

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the Messiah and Mahdi of this age, gave the assurance to Ahmadi Muslims that:

‘If you are truly thankful then adopt the ways of purity and righteousness and I give you glad tidings that you are standing on the frontier and none can defeat you.’17

About the Author: Bilal Atkinson lives in Hartlepool and serves the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as a regional head of Northeast UK.

 

Endnotes

 

  1. The Bible, Mark 6:4, Matthew 13:57, Luke 4:24, John 4.44 (NIV).
  2. The Bible, Matthew 5:17 (NIV).
  3. The Bible, Deuteronomy 18:20 (NIV).
  4. The Bible, Deuteronomy 21:23 (NIV).
  5. The Bible, Luke 24:13-32 (NIV).
  6. Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh, Christianity: A Journey from Facts to Fiction (Tilford, Surrey: Islam International Publications, 1994), 87.
  7. The Bible, Matthew 10:5-6 (NIV).
  8. The Bible, Acts 7:52 (NIV).
  9. The Bible, Acts 8: 1-3 (NIV).
  10. Christianity Today 27 (2016).
  11. Malik Ghulam Farid, The Holy Qur’an: English Translation and Short Commentary, (Tilford, Surrey: Islam International Publications, 1994), 612 in note 1667.
  12. Sunan Ibn Maja, Kitab ul Fitan.
  13. Dur-e-Mansoor, Ibn-e-Mardway.
  14. The Holy Qur’an, 15:12.
  15. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadra, Tadhkirah: An English Rendering (Tilford, Surrey: Islam International Publications, 1976), 70.
  16. Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba, “Friday Sermon,” Sermon, London, May 10, 2010.
  17. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadra, Malfuzat, vol. 1, 49.
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