Forefathers of the Promised Messiah(as)

A remarkable and detailed insight into the ancestral lineage of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), portraying his origins in Iranian heritage and his ancient roots in Samarkand, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.

(Adapted from The Review of Religions, April 1939, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 4)

The Promised Messiah(as) belonged to a most distinguished family. He was a descendant of Haji Barlas who was the uncle of Amir Timur (commonly known as Tamerlane in the West). It is an established fact of history that Timur belonged to the famous tribe of Barlas which had lived and ruled in Kish for two hundred years. This part of the world was known in ancient times as Sogdiana of Samarkand was the capital. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says that the Sogdians were a tribe of Iranians. The word Samarkand itself is of Iranian origin. The word Barlas also is Iranian and means ‘A brave man of noble stock.’ Hence the Promised Messiah(as) was Iranian by race and not Mughal as is generally supposed.

A member of the family, Mirza Hadi Beg, came to India from Samarkand with Babar, the great conqueror of India, or perhaps slightly later, on account of some domestic dissentions or an affliction. He brought with him his followers and servants, the party consisting of about 200 persons. He was treated by Babar with great respect; and he selected for settlement a place about 70 miles from Lahore, and founded a village on a flat piece of ground below which, at a distance of 9 miles to the North East, flows the River Bias. The village was named Islampur.

As he belonged to the ruling family, a ‘jagir’ (a fief) consisting of several hundred villages was immediately granted to him by the King, and he was also appointed Qadhi (judge) of the surrounding district. The name of the village, therefore, became Islampur Qadhi, signifying that it was the seat of the Qadhi. Gradually Islampur was dropped and it was known only as Qadhi. The letter: ‘dh’

is often popularly pronounced as  ‘d’ and Qadi in the course of time was converted into the present form, Qadian. The village continued to be the seat of the family; and though they lived far from the Imperial Capital (Delhi), members of the family filled important offices under the rule of the Mughals.

In the days of the decline of Mughal rule, Mirza Faiz Muhammad, the great grand-father of the Promised Messiah(as) took measures to suppress the anarchy that prevailed in the Punjab, whereupon, in the year 1716 A.D., Farrukhsiyar, Emperor of Delhi, bestowed upon him the rank of Haft-Hazar, thereby authorising him to keep a regular force of 7,000 soldiers. It may be mentioned here that this rank was, till the reign of Farrukhsiyar, restricted to the members of the royal family and was conferred only on a very limited number of persons outside the royal circle. In addition to it the Emperor also conferred on him the title of ‘Azadud Daulah’, i.e., strong arm of the Government.

After the death of Mirza Faiz Muhammad, his son Mirza Gul Muhammad, was engaged in a desperate struggle against the forces of anarchy in the Punjab. This happened during the reigns of Muhammad Shah, Shah Alam and Alamgir II, and from the Imperial despatches which were addressed to him it appears that he continually warned the Emperors at Delhi of the coming dangers. He, however, received no actual support from Delhi beyond verbal promises of help; and, unaided by the Central Government he continued his struggle for the consolidation of the Imperial authority. When the power of the Mughals declined and the Punjab was torn up by petty Chiefs, the family remained in quasi-independent possession of Qadian and its surrounding country – about 60 square miles in area.

Mirza Gul Muhammad was a very able man and he became an independent Chief of Qadian. His army, consisting of infantry and cavalry, numbered 1,000. He had three guns. He ruled over 85 villages. He was a very righteous and generous chief. Hundreds of people ate at his table. He patronised learning and paid stipends to about 500 persons. He was a holy man and loved the company of the righteous. Attracted by his righteousness and the encouragement he gave to learning, he was surrounded by about 400 men given to the pursuit of knowledge and virtue.

His purity and piety, his courage and determination, his sympathy and generosity are still well-known in the neighbourhood. He was wise, sagacious and firm. It is said that he sometimes fought single-handed against 1000, and routed them all. He was a brave soldier during the day, and a pious devotee at night. In those days Qadian, because of its religious atmosphere, was often spoken of as ‘Makkah’.

It is said that Ghiyasud Daula, a Minister of the Imperial Government, once visited Qadian; and, seeing the dignity of Mirza Gul Muhammad and his little court, he was deeply impressed and remarked with regret, and with tears in his eyes, that if he had known that such a great and noble member of the Mughliyya dynasty was living in this jungle he would have tried to save the Muslim Empire by putting him on the throne at Delhi. This would have been by no means impossible in those days. In the beginning Ranjit Singh owned only 9 villages, but in a very short time he actually became the ruler of the whole of the Punjab. The Muslims, however, were passing through evil times, and their empire could not be saved.

During the last illness of Mirza Gul Muhammad, a physician prescribed brandy as a medicine, but he resolutely refused it and preferred to die rather than find himself placed in a situation when he might appear to violate the Qur’anic injunction against alcohol. He died of hiccups in about 1800 A.D.

Mirza Gul Muhammad was succeeded by his son Mirza Ata Muhammad. By this time the Sikhs had risen to power and those of Ramgarh entered into a league with some of the neighbouring families. The state became so crippled that only the capital was left. Qadian was like a fortress, being surrounded by a wall 22 feet high and about 18ft wide. There were four towers in which remained the army and a few guns. At last, possibly in 1802, the Sikhs of Ramgarh, Jassa Singh or his followers, found their way into Qadian through treachery, and the members of the family were all made prisoners. Everything   was looted. Mosques and buildings were pulled down, and one of the mosques was turned into a Gurdawara, i.e., a Sikh temple, which can be seen to this day.

The whole of the library containing a large number of valuable books was burnt to ashes. A number of people were killed, but after a while the members of the family were spared, and on a cold wintry night they were all expelled from Qadian. They had to leave the town by night, shivering with cold and overcome with grief. They repaired, shuddering and exhausted, to a village called Begowal, where, though they begged no shelter, Sardar Fateh Singh Ahluwalia, an ancestor of the Raja of Kapurthala, treated them with kindness, and showed them a sympathy they had not asked. In consideration of their sad plight he granted them an allowance for their maintenance, which was, however, by no means adequate for their needs.

The family remained there for about 16 years. Jassa Singh died in 1803, and was succeeded by his nephew, Divan Singh, who ruled over Qadian for about 15 years. Mirza Ata Muhammad was poisoned in 1814 by his enemies. His son Mirza Ghulam  Murtaza was quite young at that time, but he brought his father’s body to Qadian, so that he might be buried in the family cemetery and thus the ancestral connection with Qadian and the claim over the estate might remain intact. The Sikhs opposed this; but the local population, consisting of humble people, were very much excited and the Sikhs, fearing an open rebellion, had to give in.

Then followed the reign of Ranjit Singh, who gradually brought all the petty chiefs of the country under his sway. In about 1818 he allowed Mirza Ghulam Murtaza, the son of Mirza Ata Muhammad, to return to Qadian. Mirza Ghulam Murtaza and his brothers thereupon joined the Sikh army and rendered excellent services in several places, including the frontier of Kashmir, which was annexed by Ranjit Singh in 1819. He took Peshawar in 1823.It was during this period of military service under Ranjit Singh that Mirza Ghulam Murtaza’s days of affliction and adversity were brought to an end, but there is no reason to suppose that the family was by any means affluent.

The Sikhs were still in power. Mirza Ghulam Murtaza was very worried, and his family remained in straightened circumstances. It is said that he travelled far and wide but no ray of hope was yet visible. In his moments of distress and disappointment he even thought of going to Kashmir and settling there; for he had already served there in the capacity of a Subedar, a kind of Governor. He devoted his time to study and prayer. He tried his best at the court of Ranjit Singh, but the latter was selfish, avaricious, drunken and immoral. At last, the birth of the Saviour drew near.

And Ranjit Singh was so convinced of Mirza Ghulam Murtaza’s goodness and nobility that in the latter period of his reign somewhere in 1834-1835, he restored to him five villages of the lost ancestral estate. Thus the very birth of Ahmad, the illustrious reformer of the world, blessed his parents and his family in a wonderful manner. Light came and darkness vanished. The days of adversity were turned into peace and prosperity. They had a twofold reason for gratification: they were restored to peace, and they came to enjoy religious freedom.

The whole family felt the change in its fortunes, and attributed it to the happy birth of their blessed son. And it proved to be a blessing for the whole country as better days were in store for all. The Sikhs lost power in a few years. Ranjit Singh died in 1839. During the next ten years the British rule extended throughout the country, ushering in a most peaceful and prosperous era in the history of India. The Sikhs made, in their last days, an abortive effort to kill Mirza Ghulam Murtaza and his brother Mirza Ghulam Muhyud Din, who were confined by them in Basrawan near Qadian; but they were soon rescued by their younger brother Mirza Ghulam Haidar.

It would not be out of place to give here a quotation from The Punjab Chiefs by Sir Lepel Griffin and Colonel Massy, revised by Mr. (now Sir) Henry Craik (1910):

‘In 1530, the last year of the Emperor Babar’s reign, Hadi Beg, a Mughal of Samarkand, emigrated to the Punjab and settled in the Gurdaspur district. He was a man of some learning and was appointed Qadhi or Magistrate over 70 villages in the neighbourhood of Qadian, which town he is said to have founded, nam-ing it Islampur Qadhi, from which Qadian has, by a natural change, arisen. For several generations the family held offices of respectability under the Imperial Government, and it was only when the Sikhs became powerful that it fell into poverty’.

‘Gul Muhammad and his son, Ata Muhammad, were engaged in perpetual quarrels with the Ramgarhia and Kanhaya Misals, who held the country in the neighbour-hood of Qadian; and at last, having lost all his estates, Ata Muhammad retired to Begowal, where, under the protection of Sardar Fateh Singh Ahluwalia (ancestor of the present ruling chief of the Kapurthala State) he lived quietly for twelve years. On his death Ranjit Singh, who had taken possession of all the lands of the Ramgarhia Misal, invited Ghulam Murtaza to return to Qadian and restored to him a large portion of his ancestral estates.’

He then, with his brothers, entered the army of the Maharaja, and performed efficient service on the Kashmir Frontier and at other places. “During the time of Nao Nihal Singh, Sher Singh and the Darbar, Ghulam Murtaza was continually employed on active service. In 1841 he was sent with General Ventura to Mandi and Kulu, and in 1843 to Peshawar in command of an infantry regiment. He distinguished himself in Hazara at the time of the insurrection there; and when the rebellion of 1848 broke out, he remained faithful to his Government and fought on its side. His brother Ghulam Muhiy-ud-Din also did good service at this time. When Bhai Maharaj Singh was marching with his force to Multan to the assistance of Diwan Mul Raj, Ghulam Muhiy-ud-Din, with other Jagirdars, Langer Khan Sahiwal and Sahib Khan Tiwana, raised the Muslim population, and with the force of Misra Sahib Dayal attacked the rebels and completely defeated them, driving them into the Chenab, where upwards of 600 perished.

At annexation the jagirs of the family were resumed, but a pension of Rs. 700 was granted to Ghulam Murtaza and his brother, and they retained their proprietary rights in Qadian and the neighbouring villages. The family did excellent service during the Mutiny of 1857. Ghulam Murtaza enlisted many men, and his son, Ghulam Qadir, was serving in the force of General Nicholson when that officer destroyed the mutineers of the 46th Native Infantry, who had fled from Sialkot, at Trimughat.

General Nicholson gave Ghulam Kadir a certificate, stating that in 1857 the Qadian family showed greater loyalty than any other in the district.’

On June the 11th, 1849, Mr. J. M. Wilson, Financial Commissioner, Lahore, wrote from Lahore to Mirza Ghulam Murtaza:

‘I have perused your application reminding me of you and your family’s past services and rights. I am well aware that since the introduction of the British Government you and your family have certainly remained devoted, faithful and steady subjects and that your rights are really worthy of regard. In every respect you may rest assured and satisfied that the British Government will never forget your family’s rights and services which will receive due consideration when a favourable oppor-tunity offers itself. You must continue to be faithful and devoted subjects as in it lies the satisfaction of the Government as well as your own welfare.’

Mr. Robert Cast, Commissioner of Lahore, wrote to him on September 20th, 1858:

‘As you rendered great help in enlisting sowars and supplying horses to Government in the Mutiny of 1857 and maintained loyalty since its beginning up to date and thereby gained the favour of Government, a Khilat worth Rs. 200 is presented to you in recognition of your good services and as a reward for your loyalty. Moreover, in accordance with the wishes of Chief Commissioner as conveyed in his letter No. 576, dated 10th August 1858, this parwana is addressed to you as a token of satisfaction of Government for your fidelity and repute.’

Sir Robert Egerton, Financial Commissioner, Punjab, wrote to Mirza Ghulam Qadir on 19th June 1876:

‘I have perused your letter of the 2nd instant, and deeply regret the death of your father Mirza Ghulam Murtaza, who was a great well-wisher and faithful chief of Government. In consi-deration of your family services I will esteem you with the same respect as that bestowed on your loyal father. I will keep in mind the restoration and welfare of your family when a favourable opportunity occurs.’

The impression that the loyal and active aid rendered by the family made on the mind of General Nicholson (of whom Sir Lawrence writes in his Mutiny report that ‘without General Nicholson, Delhi could not have fallen’) may be gathered from the letter which he wrote in August 1857, only a month before his death. It was addressed to the elder brother of the Promised Messiah(as), and ran as follows:

‘As you and your family have helped the Government in the suppression of the Mutiny of 1857 at Trimmu Ghat, Mir Thai, and other places with the greatest devotion and loyalty, and have proved yourselves entirely faithful to the British Government, and have also helped the Government at your own expense with 50 sowars and horses, therefore, in recognition of your loyalty and bravery, this parwana is addressed to you, which please keep with yourself. The government and its officials will always have due regard for your services and rights, and for the devotion you have shown to the government. After the suppression of the insurgents I will look to the welfare of your family. I have also written to Mr. Nisbet, Deputy Commissioner, Gurdaspur, drawing his attention to your service.’

It should be noted here that in their early days the Qadian family could not be expected to show any sympathy towards the British Government. The reason for this was that they belonged to the ruling family at Delhi. When they saw, however, that the Mughal rule had lost its usefulness to the country and that India now needed a new power to regain its former glory, they set themselves wholeheartedly to support the British Government to the best of their ability, even at the sacrifice of their private sentiments and ambitions.

Mirza Ghulam Murtaza was a very great physician. He had studied medicine at Baghbanpura under Roohulla and at Delhi under the Sharif Khan family. He treated people quite free of charge expecting nothing in return. He attended to rich and poor alike. Raja Teja Singh of Batala once offered him a large amount of money and a Khilat with two villages, Shitabkot and Hasanpur, in return for his medical services. The two villages had once belonged to his ancestral estate, but he refused to accept them, saying that it was an insult for him and his children to take any fee.

Maharaja Sher Singh once came to Kahnuwan on a shooting trip. Mirza Sahib was also with him. An attendant of the Maharaja caught a severe chill. Mirza Sahib cured him with an ordinary cheap prescription. Then Sher Singh himself caught the same kind of chill. The Mirza Sahib now prescribed for him a very expensive medicine, upon which the Maharaja asked his reason for this differential treatment. Mirza Sahib answered that he did not think the attendant was equal in status to the Maharaja. Sher Singh was greatly pleased with this reply!

Mirza Sahib was magnanimous towards his enemies. A Brahman named Joti, who had gone to the court against him, was treated most sympathetically by him in his illness. A man once congratulated him on the death of one of his enemies. The Mirza Sahib was very much displeased, and turned him out of his company.

He had a keen sense of self-respect. Once he went to see Mr. Robert Cast, Commissioner of Lahore, on some business. In the course of his conversation, Mr. Cast asked him, in an official air, as to the distance between Srigobindpur and Qadian. The Mirza Sahib said he was not there as a peon to answer such questions and rose to leave. The Commissioner realised his mistake and was much impressed by this display of the spirit of independence and dignity. One of Mirza Sahib’s sons, Mirza Ghulam Qadir, was a Sub-Inspector of Police, and Mr. Nisbet, D. C, once suspended him for some reason. The D. C, spoke of it to the Mirza Sahib when he came to Qadian, whereupon Mirza Sahib said that if his son was really guilty he should be punished in such a manner that his punishment should serve as an example to the sons of all respectable families. The D.C. was very much pleased and pardoned Mirza Ghulam Qadir, saying that the son of such a father needed no punishment.

People were filled with awe at the sight of the Mirza Sahib. He had an imposing appearance and nobody dared look him in the face. Mirza Imam Din, a nephew of his, once appointed Sochet Singh of Bhaini to kill the Mirza Sahib. He says he went several times over a wall with the intention of killing him, but whenever he looked at him he shuddered and dared not approach him.

Mirza Ghulam Murtaza was also a poet and a great smoker. His speciality was Tahseen. Mirza Sultan Ahmad says that once he collected all Mirza Ghulam Murtaza’s poems and sent them to Hafiz Omar Daraz, the Editor of the Panjabi Akhbar, but, unfortunately, he died and the poems were all lost. Mirza Ghulam Qadir also was a poet.

The Masjid-e-Aqsa was built by Mirza Ghulam Murtaza. The piece of land on which it stands belonged at that time to the Sikhs, and he bought it at an auction at the very high bid of Rs. 700. He had made up his mind to buy it at any cost, as he wanted to make amends for the worldly pursuits in which he had spent his life. People taunted him for building such a big mosque while there were no worshippers for it. Little did they know that it was to be crowded with devotees, and that the sincerity with which it was built was to be reflected in the necessity to extend it again and again. He also tried to regain possession of the mosque which was converted into a temple; but the legal proceedings he instituted did not meet with any success.

Mirza Ghulam Murtaza tried all his life to regain possession of his ancestral estate. He spent about Rs. 70,000 in all different suits but did not gain much. No one in the family helped him in these efforts because they knew that all efforts would prove vain. But the little rights that he succeeded in gaining were shared by the relations as well. This was because, through the stupidity of his agent, the names of his relatives were, along with that of the Mirza Sahib, entered on the papers as proprietors.

Once in a dream Mirza Ghulam Murtaza saw the Holy Prophet(saw) coming in state to his house. He ran to receive the Holy Prophet(saw) and thought of offering Nazar, an Eastern  form  of  homage  similar to the oblation of gold, frank incense, and myrrh, offered to Christ by the Wise Men of the East. When, however, he put his hand into his pocket, he found that he had only one rupee and that it was a counterfeit coin. This brought tears in his eyes and then he woke up. This he interpreted to mean that the love of God and His Prophet(saw), mixed with the love of this world, is nothing better than a false coin.

His disappointment with regard to his worldly affairs was very keen and he often regretted that he had not served God with all his means and powers. He wrote in his will that he should be buried in a corner of the Mosque he had built in the centre of the town, and that, perchance, God would have mercy on him. He fixed as the site for his own tomb the spot where it still stands in accordance with his wishes. It has been enclosed by a brick wall about four feet high. He died of dysentery (June 1874) at the age of 85 when the Mosque was nearing completion.

Mirza Ghulam Murtaza was married to Chiragh Bibi, the sister of Mirza Jamiat Beg of Aima, a village in Hoshiarpur District. Chiragh Bibi was a generous, hospitable, cheerful and good-hearted lady of exemplary piety. She looked after the poor while they lived and, when they died, provided them with a decent burial. Through thick and thin she remained a devoted wife and an excellent companion to Mirza Ghulam Murtaza, who had a deep respect for her. He always sought her advice on account of her prudence, sagacity, and virtue.

She was a most loving mother. She lavished her most tender care upon her children. The worldly members of the family perhaps looked upon the holy-minded Ahmad (peace be on him), as a worthless young man, but his other-worldliness appealed most of all to his mother. She died in 1868 and was buried in the family cemetery (known as Shah Abdulla Ghazi) in the West of Qadian. The Promised Messiah(as) loved her intensely. Whenever he spoke of her his eyes filled with tears. He used to go to her grave and there pray for her. May she rest in peace forever and ever.