The Holy War1 Comment | April 2013
ASIF M. BASIT, LONDON, UK
Translated from the Urdu by
Shehzad Ahmad and Farhaad Ahmad
The Holy War
One of the signs foretold by the Prophet Muhammadsa regarding the advent of the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdias was that he would “break the cross.1 However, the manner in which this has been interpreted by contemporary Muslim scholars not only appears to be quite inappropriate and comical, but even insulting. They seem to have misunderstood the role and character of a person who alone was destined to be the saviour of the followers of all faiths. The literal interpretation that prevailed the literature of the majority of the contemporary scholars of Islam was that the Imam Mahdi and Messiah would spend his time physically breaking any cross that he would come across anywhere in the world, whilst in his remaining time he would literally kill all the swine. To believe that the Imam Mahdi would go around every village and town with a tool in his hand trying to literally break every cross, would not only trivialise the imminence and stature of the Messiah and Mahdi, whose advent was to serve as a reformer for all Muslims, but would belittle the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa who had referred to him as a reformer and Prophet of God.
The True Meaning of “Breaking the Cross”
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, stated:
“It begs the question as to what is meant by referring to the Messiah as the “breaker of the cross?” Will he break a wooden cross? Of what benefit will that be? It is quite obvious that if he was to go around breaking wooden crosses it could not be deemed to be a very noble task and no benefit would come out of it. If he was to break wooden crosses, the Christians would instead make crosses out of gold, silver or steel…It certainly does not mean that the Messiah would go around breaking wooden crosses hung up by Christians…In fact, the statement is profound and full of meaning…One must ponder and question whether our claim is supported clearly or not in that the breaking of the cross does not mean breaking wooden or steel crosses physically (which Christians dangle around their necks as shirk), but instead symbolises a great truth which I have come with. I have announced completely transparently that Jihad is forbidden in this day and age, because just as the Messiah is charged with breaking the cross in spirit, so too is he charged with abolishing all religious wars, thereby necessitating the Fatwa [edict] against Jihad. Thus, we say that to take up the sword or any weapon in the name of religion is a great sin.
“What does “breaking the cross” really mean? Pay great heed to this fact that the time of the advent of the Messiah has been associated with the time of the triumph over the cross, and it was the Messiah that was to come for this purpose. It is, therefore, very clear that the purpose of the advent of the Messiah was to completely falsify the Christian ideology with arguments and proofs that were to be strengthened by heavenly succour and miracles. He would show how the religion of the cross is completely false and would make this manifestly clear to the whole world, and millions of souls would come to know and admit that Christianity in reality cannot be a means of mercy for mankind. It is for this reason that all our focus is on the cross – is there any stone left unturned for defeating the cross? The death of Jesusas itself has shattered the cross into pieces and when the fact is proven that Jesusas did not die on the cross, but in fact died a natural death in Kashmir, anyone from among the intellectuals should come forward and tell us that what is then left of the cross?
“Thus, it is very clear that God Almighty was going to send the Messiah when the “cross” was going to be dominant, meaning the false ideology of Christianity [i.e. the Christian ideology no longer in it is original form, having strayed far away from its original teachings by introducing concepts such as the Trinity and Atonement] was going to be at large and for its spread and propagation every type of method would be deployed, and darkness and falsehood (which in other words is shirk or idolatry), and the worship of the dead would be spread all over the world. At such time, the person God Almighty would send would be charged with purifying the world from its state of darkness and falsehood, and save them from the curse of worshipping the dead. In this manner, he would break the cross. Although, it may appear that the task of abolishing all religious wars on the one hand and that of breaking the cross (the latter possibly compelling such wars) on the other are contradictory; however, this only appears as a contradiction to those who lack insight and have not truly understood the purpose of the Messiah’s advent. In fact, the very words Yadha ul Harb explain the reality of the meaning of “breaking the cross,” which as already noted, does not mean literally breaking crosses made out of wood or other materials, but in fact connotes the defeat of Christianity, achieved purely through present unassailable and rational arguments and clear proofs, as God Almighty states, ‘so that he, who had already perished by a clear proof, should perish, and he, who had already come to life by a clear proof, should live.’ (Ch.8, V.43).”2
At the time of the advent of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiahas, Christianity was at its peak. The Promised Messiahas once described the situation in the following words:
“Never has there been a greater period of such a dangerous trial for Islam, in fact since the inception of Prophethood, there has never been so. Apart from philosophical and scientific arguments anyone with expertise in any field employs it as a means to try and attack Islam. Both men and women are preaching and through various schemes are trying to detach people from Islam and want them to incline towards Christianity. If one goes into clinics, one would see how alongside giving medicines to patients, the Christian faith is being proselytised, and at times women and children who are admitted into the hospital, are refused care until they became Christians. Christians were also preaching disguised as religious mendicants. In short, they adopted every possible means for this purpose. One single Christian newsletter or article is published in thousands…if all the literature that has been written against Islam was to be put together, its pile would be a mile high. In fact, without exaggeration, I say that if it was piled up, it would be taller than some of the mountains, and if they were put in a line, it would exceed many miles.
“Today the situation of Islam is like the martyrs of Karbala, and is surrounded by a horde of enemies. You should ponder and see for yourselves the extent to which they are making efforts in order to defeat Islam. It is also clear from the speech delivered by the bishop from Calcutta in London [who said] that no one can be truly loyal to the British government unless he is a Christian. From these speeches and discussions it is quite evident how much effort is being made to convert the masses into Christianity and what their intentions are. They clearly want there to be no more Muslims. The Christian clerics have admitted the fact that no other religion is a hindrance for them than Islam. But remember, God has great pride for his faith, and He states that, ‘surely we have revealed the Qur’an and we shall protect it.’ (Ch.15.V.10). According to this promise, He has safeguarded the Holy Qur’an and sent me. The Holy Prophetsa also prophesised that a reformer would appear at the head of every century, I have been sent as the reformer for the fourteenth century, who was going to be known as the one who was to break the cross.”3
The Onslaught of Christian Clerics in India
At the time of the advent of the Promised Messiahas, the Muslims had proved their superiority in every aspect – be it religion, politics or the military, and had made India their fortress. The Christian clerics knew full well that if they were able to gain the stronghold of this fortress, it would become very easy for them to defeat Islam. Another reason why India was at the centre of their attention was because a quarter of the total Muslim population at the time was living in India, making it the country with the highest Muslim population.4 During the course of researching for MTA International’s programme Rahe Huda, this author had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Jonathan Ingleby, who worked as the Head of the Mission Studies department at Radcliffe College. When asked what the real intention behind the Christian clerics incursion of India was, he responded that they wanted to relocate the headquarters of the Church to India.5 The Christian clerics who travelled to India for the spread of Christianity and for ensuring its dominance over other religions, would openly express this desire in their sermons and speeches. One of them was Henry Martyn (not Henry Martyn Clark, well-known for participating in the debate, “The Holy War,” and who will be referred to in greater detail later in the article). Henry Martyn, in one of his sermons, stated:
“The evangelisation of India is a more important object than preaching to the European inhabitants of Calcutta.”6
The British Government initially did not allow the Christian clerics to openly proselytise for fear of causing disruption in society. In one reported incident, General Warren Hastings (1732–1818) dismissed a Christian cleric on the grounds that he was distributing Christian literature in the local area. It is said that General Warren Hasting’s reason for the dismissal was that distributing Christian literature in the local area was synonymous to shooting at explosives. Despite this strict warning, Christian clerics hastened in their efforts to spread Christianity, Henry Martyn Clark being one of the most notable.7 Therefore, the rapidly growing influence of Christian clerics in India highlights the close connection of India to the one who was prophesised to “break the cross.” Thus, this was not an ordinary incursion but one that astonished the Muslim population, marking the end of their reign, and challenged the parameters of their faith.
The Response of Muslims in India to the Growing Christian Influence
During this period of great anguish and distress, the Muslims began many schemes and initiatives in an attempt to defend Islam in India. One of these included the Aligarh Movement of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan that tried to present a version of Islam compatible with the West, but which lost the soul of Islam in the process. For example, in an attempt to westernise Islam, Khan declared that prayers had no real influence on human life apart from a cathartic effect or an emotional relief.8 Yet this was contrary to the teachings of the Holy Qur’an that clearly state that Allah listens and responds to prayers.9 Another movement was Jamal ud Din Afghani’s intellectual movement. Similarly, we also find traces of Abdullah Sindhi’s uprising, and Allama Anayatullah Mashriqi’s Khaksar movement. The world of literature saw efforts to restore the Muslim identity and to take them out of their state of darkness and ignorance. Notably, some of the reformist literature included Deputy Nazir Ahmad’s novels Miraat ul Aroos, Ibn ul Waqt and Taubahtul Nasooh. Many educational institutions for women were established – Hasan Ali Aafandi started the Sindh Madrasat ul Ilm and Mumtaz Ali, who was linked with the Aligarh movement, wrote numerous books which purported to free women from the “shackles” of wearing a veil and to apparently empower them to compete with men in society. In response to Sir Syed Ahmad’s impudent ideas, many magazines such as Oudh Punch were published that tried to mitigate the effect of his ideas by mocking and ridiculing him. Akbar Ala Abadi’s famous poetry was widely published in order to enhance the Muslims’ sense of identity. Not only was he enraged by Sir Syed Ahmad’s views, he also criticised the existence of extremist elements that tainted the name of Islam. Although Kiramat Ali Jonpuri and Syed Ameer Ali had received western educations, they always tried to present the true teachings of Islam. Shah Wali Ullah’s son, Shah Abdul Aziz, and his student Syed Ahmed Shaheed, coupled with their fellow colleague Shah Ismaeel Shaheed, were ever ready for defending Islam.
In short, their intentions behind forming such movements and their efforts can only be assumed to be sincere, however evidently the movements lacked direction and were unable to achieve their desired results. They may have succeeded with respect to a few individuals, but as successful national movements they were not fruitful. Each movement attempted to make an impact in its own way, but with little success. However, the real success, according to the Holy Prophetsa, was to be achieved by the Reformer and Messiah who would appear in the latter days. The advent of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiahas came at a time when Islam was locked in a fierce battle, ironically waged against themselves by their existing beliefs. Muslims in their millions were leaving Islam and embracing Christianity. One of the reports published in The Times newspaper on the 24th of January 1893, stated that the in the Missionary Conference held in Bombay extraordinary results of the efforts of the Christian Missionaries over the last decade were announced. Within a space of nine years, between 1881 and 1890, the total number of local Christians had increased from 492,882 to 648,843. The increase in the number of contacts was even greater, rising from 138,254 to 215,759. It was also stated that with the increase in the number of people accepting Christianity, significant effort was being invested in their education and learning. In 1881, the number of Christian boys and girls attending Protestant Mission Schools was 196,360 and by 1890 it had risen to 299,051.10 Such was the success of a religion that had vowed to dominate Islam.
Interestingly, the year (1835) that the Christian Missionaries openly declared their plans, was also the year of the birth of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiahas. The Promised Messiahas was born on 13th February 1835, and on 25th May 1835, the first missionary to be sent by the Free Church of Scotland, Rev. Alexander Duff, addressed the Free Church of Scotland’s General Assembly. He started his speech by saying that if time permitted, he desired to describe the situation prevailing in India at the time, which he believed was the capital of Satan’s empire.11 Thus, it would appear that in the year that the Christians openly declared their plans to infiltrate Islam, God had destined for the Messiah to appear to halt their efforts and present the true Islam. Not only is the time of the advent of the Promised Messiahas significant, the place of his advent is also of great significance. The Promised Messiahas was born in the province of Punjab in India, the same place the Christian clerics had made the centre of their missionary activities. As Professor Arvil Ann Powell writes:
“The central region of the Punjab chosen by the Christian missionaries as the heartland for their evangelistic activities was also the catchment area for Ahmadi initiation. The two adjoining districts of Amritsar and Gurdaspur, the former the hinterland of the sacred city of Sikhs and the Anglican missionary headquarters, and the latter the homeland of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, were by the early 1890s at the centre of competition between rival religious minorities.”12
The Promised Messiahas, recognising the serious danger posed by Christianity, began the uphill task of reviving Islam by writing one of his seminal works (and the first to get published), Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya. In five-volumes, the Promised Messiahas addressed the issue of the influx of Christianity and its possible consequences, as follows:
“Take the Christians, for instance, whose principles appear absurd even at a cursory glance, and yet the consistent efforts of their missionaries have resulted in the growing popularity of their faith, so much so that each year they proudly publish reports of four to eight thousand people joining their ranks. The latest estimates of Christian conversions given by Father Hacker of Calcutta are worrying, to say the least. He writes that whereas there were only 27,000 Christians in India fifty years ago, the number has now risen to 500,000 – [To Allah we belong and to Him shall we return]. Elders of Islam! Do you wait for a time of greater spread of misguidance? There was a time when Islam was the living illustration of the Qur’anic verse: [Men] entering the religion of Allah in troops [110:3]. And look at what is happening today! Do your hearts not bleed at this calamity and are you not overwhelmed by anguish?”13
In these delicate circumstances, what did Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiahas and Imam Mahdi actually do for the defence of Islam? This is a fundamental question and requires a detailed response.
The Promised Messiahas as the “Breaker of the Cross”
To curb the influx of Christianity was no easy task, let alone to give a sound response to it. What were the circumstances that led to the achievement of the Promised Messiahas of defeating the Christians? Before venturing to answer this question, it is instructive to outline some of the Promised Messiah’sas contemporaries, acknowledged as such by his opponents. One of the foremost was Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who had received the privilege of receiving a knighthood, had also excelled in his higher education. After his father’s demise, he worked for the East India Company as a “trustworthy leader.” Syed Ameer Ali and Maulawi Chiragh Ali are some other names that are also referred to alongside Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s. Syed Ameer Ali trained as a barrister at Inner Temple in London. He resided in London between 1869 and 1873, where he learnt the traditions and customs of the English elite and also became proficient in the English language. Upon his return from England in 1873, he started his career as a lawyer at the Calcutta High Court, publishing, A Critical Examination of the Life and Teachings of Mohammed that same year. A famous orientalist, Maj. R. D. Osborn, commented that the book was the first of its kind in substantive content from within the intellectuals of India. Initially, Maulawi Chiragh Ali was involved with Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’sas efforts for the revival of the Muslim population. However, following Ahmad’sas claim to be the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, he aligned himself with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s Aligarh Movement. The following excerpt from a well-known orientalist, Bishop Kenneth Cragg, summarises the efforts being made by Muslim intellectuals of the time:
“… an attempt to chart an Anglophile future for the Muslim community…”14
These were Muslims who possessed great worldly status, were highly qualified, renowned for the achievements and well-known for their affluence. The response from these revered intellectuals to the Christian infiltration was merely an effort to make the Muslims incline towards the English. However, the real solution had been placed in the hands of God’s chosen servant, one who lacked even the resources to publish his book, Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya. Amongst the Muslims, the Deobandis, Barelvis and Wahabis had their own subjective perceptions with respect to the British reign. At a cursory level, while the reign caused some anxiety to these sects, however, their failure to delineate between the political stature of the British and their ideological beliefs meant that the reign was perceived in an ambivalent and misinformed manner. Even where these factions made attempts to grapple with arguments advanced by the Christians, the lack of depth of their own understanding of the Holy Qur’an meant that these efforts were of little or no avail. The commonly held belief that Jesusas is still alive in the heavens was not aligned with that of the Holy Prophet’ssa or his companions, and was a consequence of historical misconceptions.
The Concept of Jesusas Being Alive in Heaven
Some of the historical roots of the mainstream Muslim belief that Jesusas is still alive can be traced to Abdullah bin Sabaa, an enemy of Islam in the very early period who travelled through various countries in the Muslim empire, disguised as a Muslim and attempted to force a rebellion and uprising within the Muslim population. In order to fulfil these underhand objectives, he searched for two categories of people; firstly, those being punished for their wrongdoing and secondly, those deprived of Islamic teachings because of their disengagement with the Islamic centre. However, these attempts were in vain, and compelled Abdullah bin Sabaa to turn towards Egypt, where many Christians had converted to Islam. Owing to their distance from the Islamic centre, their knowledge of Islamic beliefs remained inherently weak. Abdullah bin Sabaa provoked the converts into questioning their newly acquired faith, inciting them against believing in a prophet who was not to return after his demise. Moreover, he roused them against the Khulafa—rightly guided successors—by quoting the following verse from the Holy Qur’an, “He Who has made the teaching of the Qur’an binding on thee will most surely bring thee back to thy ordained place of return” (Ch.28:V.86). This verse was also cited by Abdullah bin Sabaa to disprove the need for Khilafat and he would describe the status of Hazrat Alira in such a way that it seemed as if he had taken over his Khilafat.15 With time, as Islam spread far and wide, many Christians entered the fold of Islam. However, there existed no concrete mechanisms of teaching Islamic theology to the new converts, therefore, Christians who firmly believed in the return of Jesusas, continued to adhere to this belief even after their conversion to Islam. Moreover, Muslims were taken as prisoners of war in predominantly Christian countries and were influenced by the Christian faith as a consequence. In this manner, the concept that Jesusas will return, despite being antithetical to the views held by the Holy Prophetsa, slowly made its way into Islam.
Thus, it is a tragic irony that a concept formulated by detractors and opponents to Islam in order to disengage Muslims from the Islamic faith, was accepted so wholeheartedly by the Muslims, and one which would ultimately become their biggest challenge in proselytising. Not only did the Muslims remain firmly adhered to this belief, they also failed to recognise its complications. Even prominent scholars of the time remained oblivious to its flaws, thereby demonstrating that the weaknesses inherent thereto were not to be resolved through worldly efforts, and required divine intervention. Thus, all temporal efforts of an intellectual, spiritual, political or social nature failed to offer a plausible resolution. It was during this time that the Promised Messiahas uttered the following words:
“I am the water that descended down so promptly from the heavens
I am God’s spiritual light by which the day has brightened.”
An Exposition of Jesus’as Demise by the Promised Messiahas
The Promised Messiahas prepared a detailed exposition of thirty verses from the Holy Qur’an in order to disprove that Jesusas was still alive. Cautioning the Muslims against the perils of such a belief, he stated, “Let Jesus die, for in this lies the life of Islam.” The Promised Messiahas drew support for his argument from a variety of sources including, inter alia, the Holy Qur’an, Ahadith, sayings of past Muslim saints, and rational, intellectual, medical and historical evidence.16 The sole basis for Christian proselytisation was the belief that Jesusas is still alive, which was used to convert thousands of Muslims to Christianity. A well-known Pakistani researcher and writer, Fazl ul Rehman (1918-1988), has acknowledged the depth and accuracy of the Promised Messiah’sas response to the Christians.17 C. G. Pfander, a priest and author of Mizan ul Haq, has written about the widely held belief that the space between the graves of the Holy Prophetsa and Hazrat Abu Bakrra in Madinah has been reserved for Jesusas, and serves as a reminder of the second coming of Jesusas and that the Holy Prophetsa has passed away.18 Dr. Jan Slomp, a well-known researcher who has studied the relationship between the Muslim and Christian faiths, has acknowledged that C. G. Pfander’s analysis would spur Christian clerics. The Promised Messiahas refuted these arguments which were causing many Muslims to embrace Christianity by announcing the discovery of the tomb of Jesus in Kashmir.19 C. G. Pfander’s book Mizan ul Haq was the biggest weapon in the hands of Christian clerics, which has been acknowledged by German researcher and writer Christine Schirmacher in the following words:
“Mizan ul Haq was used by generations of Christian missionaries as an apologetic tool to refute Islam, and for this reason it was reprinted many times up until present…and these reprints are still used today for missionary activities among Muslims.”20
Thus, C. G. Pfander’s efforts to prove that Jesusas is still alive were an exploitative tool used by Christian clerics. The Promised Messiah’sas words, “Let Jesus die for in this lies the life of Islam”, epitomise that he was the Holy Prophet’ssa vicegerent as the “breaker of the cross,” and it was this statement which laid the foundations for this great task. Christian clerics and orientalists are predominantly interested in establishing that Jesusas is still alive through the Holy Qur’an. However, Bishop Kenneth Cragg has acknowledged that the Promised Messiahas negated the mainstream Muslim belief of the literal second coming of Jesusas, stating that this belief was based on hearsay evidence and was not proven by the Holy Qur’an.21
Opposition from the Christian Clergy
As soon as the Promised Messiahas established through the Holy Qur’an that Jesusas had passed away, he began to face opposition from Christians and Muslims alike. The Promised Messiahas thereby spent every living moment in a state of Jihad–the “Jihad of the Pen”–refuting and negating false ideologies. A well-known orientalist, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, writing in, Modern Islam in India, has acknowledged that the advent of Ahmadiyyat took place in the 19th century when Islam was in a weak position and in contrast many new cultures were gaining ascendancy. However, the dawn of Ahmadiyyat, which rose against the Christian dogma and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s Aligarh Movement, brought a refreshing new perspective to the existing theological demographic. Thus, the Promised Messiahas was able to establish the superiority of Islam through the strength of the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and Ahadith.
It is pertinent to note that the Promised Messiahas received no formal education, was not an affiliate of any public or private organisation, had very limited experience of employment and his financial standing remained inherently weak. From an objective perspective, he appeared to be living the life of a complete recluse, but with the strength of his Holy Master by his side, he was able to produce exemplary religious literature and proved to be source of profound wisdom and insight. Through his example, he won widespread sympathy for Islam. He maintained a courteous relationship with the Crown and acknowledged and appreciated their protection of religious freedom, which allowed Muslims to live in accordance to their faith and proselytise unhindered. Therefore, the purpose of the Promised Messiahas was not to exert any worldly influence. He chose to live away from major metropolises such as Delhi, Calcutta and Bombay, and resided in a small village, known only to people who had friends or family there or who were familiar with its local market. While the Promised Messiahas was unable to fund even a mere pamphlet through personal funds, his faith never waned and held steadfast to the belief that God’s Help was always near, as exemplified by the Qur’anic revelation, “Is Allah not sufficient for His servant?” While the Promised Messiah’sas contemporaries were associated with various prominent movements, maintained close ties with the British elite and had received formal education abroad, they were unable to succeed in their goal to revive Islam. If anyone did, it was Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas of Qadian, the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi, and this provides further proof of his truthfulness.
The Reaction of the Christian Clergy
The Promised Messiahas stood alone as a representative of Islam in his battle against Christian dogma. He was the first intellectual who had been able to challenge the Christian clergy, who were forced to re-think the theological basis of their belief that Jesusas is still alive. Further on, how the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was perceived as a great threat to Christian doctrines will be discussed, the issue being addressed by conventions of the Protestant Church worldwide. But just how did the Christian clergy receive the arguments advanced by Muslim intellectuals, and which arguments were deemed to have any impact? A German priest and researcher, Julius Richter, noted that if any hope remained to save Islam in India, it was to be found in U.P and Punjab and their central figures, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas.22 Julius Richter has referred to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in a mere paragraph, while he devotes an entire section to the Promised Messiahas. Therefore, it would seem that while the Christians perceived Sir Syed Ahmad Khan as a potential threat, it was the Promised Messiahas who shook them to their core. Notwithstanding the ill-will Richter harboured against the Promised Messiahas, he has paid tribute to his character and teachings. He writes:
“Ghulam is a remarkable man. He writes clever books, and in such elegant Urdu, Persian and Arabic that he is able to challenge his opponents in the most graceful Arabic literary articles to admit or to disprove his divine mission; besides this he has also inaugurated an English Magazine, The Review of Religions, the lengthy pages of which he fills almost singlehandedly. He has not only read the Old and New Testaments thoroughly, but is likewise acquainted with certain apocryphal works such as The Gospel According to St. Barnabas and with novels such as that of the Russian author, Nicholas Notovitch, the The Unknown Life of Christ.”
The only other notable intellectual with respect to challenging the Christians other than the Promised Messiahas was Rehmatullah Keranvi (1818-1891), who in 1854 in Agra, had a debate with C. G. Pfander, a priest representing the Church Mission Society. The debate, which lasted only two days, was on the concept of the Trinity, the authenticity of the Holy Qur’an as one of the revealed scriptures and the Holy Prophet’ssa life. However, both days were spent debating the interpolations in the New Testament. Doctrines of Islam and Christianity were not discussed and both parties claimed victory. It is perhaps interesting to note that Rehmatullah Keranvi was the only person before the Promised Messiahas who considered the Christian clergy as a great trial for the Muslims, emphasising that the time was nigh for the Messiah’s advent.
Advent of the Promised Messiahas
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas first made his claim to being the Promised Messiah between 1889 and 1891, and while he continued his efforts to “break the cross,” it was not until 1893 that Islam and Christianity were at loggerheads. This era in history had been prophesised by the Holy Prophetsa, and the Christian clergy openly called the Muslims to challenge. The Muslims made every effort to invite Muslim scholars and intellectuals to assume the responsibility of defending Islam, but to no avail. In this state of despair, it was only the Promised Messiahas who was anxious and concerned about the fate of Islam, as he poignantly writes in one Urdu couplet:
“The sun has arisen for our enemy yet night befalls us – O sun! Rise upon us for I am too anxious.”
The great pain and agony with which this was written are epitomised by the tireless efforts and prayers of the Promised Messiahas for the revival of Islam.
An Invitation by the Christians to the Muslims for a Debate in Amritsar
In 1854 Rehmatullah Kiranwi and Father Pfander had a debate in Agra. In the same year, the Christian Mission also laid their foundations in Jindiala District, Amritsar. In 1882 Dr. Henry Martyn Clark M.D. (Edinburgh) also laid the foundations of the Medical Mission in Jindiala, which proved to be a new milestone in spreading the message of Christianity. Christian missionaries would walk through the streets proclaiming the message of Christianity, and in this manner attempt to convert Muslims to the Christian faith. These attempts were often successful and soon devout Muslims began to feel wary of these circumstances.
A Muslim from Jandiala, Muhammad Bakhsh Paanda, despite his limited knowledge, would often try to reply to the Christian missionaries and would also invite other Muslims to do so. On becoming aware of this, Dr. Henry Martyn Clark invited the Muslims of Jandiala to either come forward themselves or bring forth any Muslim scholar for a debate with the Christians. He also said that if the Muslims could not do so, they should consider their beliefs to be false and should consequently remain silent. The Muslims, in a difficult predicament, pleaded with many Muslim councils and scholars to come forward and defend Islam, but almost no one heeded their call. The few who did respond were more worried about who would be responsible for taking care of their food, travel and accommodation expenses. The Christians were well-aware of the Muslims’ helplessness and in the Church Missionary Intelligencer a report was published by Dr. Henry Martyn Clark who referred to the vulnerability of the Muslims in the following words:
“The gauntlet thrown down produced the greatest consternation. The Mohammedans were aghast. What could they do? And yet, something must be done. They addressed themselves to various Societies for the Aid of Islam, and bestirred themselves to find a champion, but none appeared. Three weeks went by, the wager of battle still lay unaccepted. Jandiala Mohammedans were in dire straits, when, to their intense relief, they found a defender in a certain Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian. This man is a somewhat remarkable personage, and one of great interest to the missionary.”23
The Missionary Herald of Boston, USA, echoed the sentiments of the Muslims in similar words:
“There was much doubt in regard to the expediency of this challenge, but after it was done it was found that the Mohammedans were in great fear lest they should be unable to find an able champion.”
“This Man, Ghulam Ahmed…was deemed superior in ability, was chosen and consented to represent Islam against Christianity.”24
What was discussed in the debate? What was the outcome and whom did God appear to help? These are all issues that will of course be discussed. However, the fact that a person came forward when Muslims were facing dejection and despondency, and went on to disprove the Christian beliefs, not only with the help of the Qur’an, but using the Christians’ own scriptures, would add strength to his truth as the “breaker of the cross.” The Promised Messiahas not only agreed to defend Islam, he offered to pay for his own travel expenses along with his companions’ and made arrangements for his own and his companions’ food during their stay in Jandiala. The main objective of the debate was that the Christians would try to prove the divinity of Jesusas whilst the Promised Messiahas would prove the unity of God through the Holy Qur’an. The debate began on the 22nd of May 1893 and lasted for 15 days.
Historically, one of the reasons why the debate was significant was because Islam and Christianity would be embroiled in public confrontation, a fact evident from the special place given to the coverage of the debate in newspapers of the time–those that published the proceedings were rapidly sold out. Another reason for its historical significance was the condition that the entire proceedings of the debate were to be recorded and published verbatim. Previously, it had been customary for each party to declare itself as the victor, leaving the listeners with no plausible basis to come to any conclusions.
The Importance of the Debate
The importance of this debate could be gauged from the fact that many influential Islamic scholars would be part of the audience throughout the proceedings, as one Christian newspaper wrote:
“In addition to the disciples of the Mirza, there was a very large attendance of orthodox Mohammedans, men mostly of affluence and position, and, as such, not usually reached by existing methods of work. Herein lay one delightful feature of the controversy. There they were, influential wealthy men, Government servants and what not – men, as a whole, quite beyond ordinary reach sitting hour after hour for a couple of weeks, listening most attentively…”25
The influence the debate exerted much beyond the subcontinent can be seen from this extract from the Missionary Herald:
“The discussion was held in Amritsar, on the veranda of Dr. Clark’s house; admission was by ticket and hundreds who could not obtain them had to be turned away. A surging mob filled the road but was quiet and orderly…”26
The importance of the debate in the eyes of the Muslims is evident from the following extract also from the Missionary Herald:
“The Mohammedans came from Lahore, Peshawar and other parts of India.”
The debate was no longer confined to the Muslims of Jindiala – it became a decisive debate for all Christians and Muslims. Dr. Henry Martyn Clark writes in his report:
“In the weeks that followed the adjustment of preliminaries and the beginning of the controversy, the subject excited the most extraordinary interest near and far. It was in the air everywhere. In railway carriages, by the well, on highways and byways, in the quiet village and the crowded town, it was the one absorbing theme of conversation. Gradually it dawned on us that, all unknown, the projected one-day talk at Jandiala had developed into something much more far-reaching and important than we had imagined possible.”27
In another report Dr. Henry Martyn Clark described the far-reaching effects of this debate in the following words:
“…it sent a thrill through the whole heart of Islam in India.”28
Edicts of Disbelief Against the Promised Messiahas Yet he Represents Islam
It is also worth noting here that from the time the claim was made by the Promised Messiahas until 1892, all the “great” leaders of Islam had issued approximately 200 edicts of disbelief against the Promised Messiahas. However, the very people who issued the edicts, the supposed scholars and leaders of the Muslims, were so utterly helpless in front of Christian priests that the person (i.e. Hazrat Mirza Ghluam Ahmad) who they had previously called the Anti-Christ, disbeliever, kafir (God forbid) and God knows what else, were compelled to accept him as their champion and become his vigilant audience when it came to defending Islam. What else could they have possibly done? For, if they had presented their own commentaries on the Qur’anic verses pertaining to Jesusas, rather than defending Islam they would have ironically strengthened the Christians’ standpoint on the divinity of Jesusas. Therefore, it could have been nobody other than the “breaker of the cross” himself who championed the cause of Islam in its true spirit and falsified Christian beliefs. The following excerpt highlights how Muslim scholars of the time confessed that the Promised Messiahas was the only one who could truly champion the cause of Islam:
“Mohammedans, as a whole, were full of glee. Though a heretic as regards Islam, they held he was perfectly sound in his attitude towards Christianity, and they frankly said: ‘We have no one his equal for language and eloquence. However much he may differ from us on points of our own faith, he will nobly represent us against Christianity.’”29
While the acknowledgement of the opponents was forthcoming, God’s decision to choose the Promised Messiahas as the “breaker of the cross” was manifested through his actions and is also proven from the analysis hereunder:
The editor of the newspaper of the Church Mission Society, Eugene Stock, wrote about Father Pfander as follows:
“… the greatest of all missionaries to Mohammedinism…”30
Father Pfander was considered the most effective priest against the Muslims because his belief was directly expressed in terms that lent support to the claim that Jesusas was still alive. Speaking to the Muslims near the end of his book Mizan ul Haq, he writes that the Muslims needed to decide whether they wanted to be affiliated with a prophet who is dead or one who is alive. It may be noted that this is the same Pfander whose book, Mizan ul Haq was considered to be a handbook for Christian preachers. Therefore, if the person whose belief is premised on the fact that Jesusas is still alive is considered to be the greatest threat to the Muslims, then surely, the person who said, “…let Jesus die, for in that lies the life of Islam,” would appear to be the best suited for defending Islam against Christianity.
From the very beginning of this debate, the Promised Messiahas emphasised that a living religion is recognised by the Heavenly Signs that support it and he argued that Islam has the power to show such Heavenly Signs. However, when invited to compete with the Muslims in this regard, the Christians issued no response.
To be continued in the next Edition with the final part.
Asif M. Basit is a writer, researcher and broadcaster with special interests in Islamic and Christian history of the subcontinent in the 19th and 20th centuries. He is the producer and presenter of Rahe Huda, a weekly discussion programme covering contemporary and historical debates pertaining to Islam. He is also the Director of Programming at MTA International, the first 24-hour Muslim satellite television station.
1. Sahih Bukhari, Kitabul-Anbiya, Baab Nuzuul Isa bin Maryam
2. Malfoozat Vol. 2 pp. 367 – 369, 2003 edition, published in Rabwah
3. Malfoozat, Vol. 2 pp. 369-370, 2003 edition, printed in Rabwah
4. Christian Mission to Muslims, The Record, by Lyle L. Weriff, published by The William Carey Library 1977, Chapter 1, n. 1 p. 7
5. Visit: www.youtube.com/rahehudaarchives1 and search for “Jonathan Ingleby”
6. Henry Martyn, ‘The Comprehensive Biography by George Smith’, London, 1892, p. 218
7. See Five Sermons Never Before Published, edited by G. T. Fox, London 1862, p. 4
8. Ad-Dua wa Istajaba (translated as ‘Prayer and its Acceptance’ by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Mufeed-e-Aam Press, Agra, India, 1892, online source: http://www.sirsyedtoday.org/books/?cid=64 as viewed on April 4th, 2013)
9. The Holy Quran, Ch.2:V.187
10. Church Missionary Intelligencer, 1894
11. The Church of Scotland’s India Mission, or, A Brief Exposition of the Principles on Which That Mission Has Been Conducted in Calcutta, Being The Substance of An address Delivered Before The General Assembly of the Church, On Monday, 25th May, 1835 by Rev. Alexander Duff A.M., Printed by John Waugh, Printer to the Church of Scotland
12. Avril Powell (1995): Contested gods and prophets: discourse among minorities in late nineteenth-century Punjab, Renaissance and Modern Studies, 38:1, pp. 38-59
13. Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Part 2, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 1, p. 68
14. Call of the Minaret, Bishop Kenneth Cragg, One World Publications, Oxford, 2008
15. For a more detailed exposition of this subject see, Islam Mein Ikhtalafaat ka Aghaaz, by Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmadra
16. For a detailed discussion of this subject, the following books of the Promised Messiahas may be consulted: Izal e Auham, Aina e kamalaat e Islam, The Heavenly Decree, Jesus in India, Raaz e Haqeeqat, Haqeeqatul Mahdi, Anjam e Atham, Chashma e Masihy, Kitaab ul Bariya: www.alislam.org/library/
17. See Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition entitled “Ahmadiyya”, Vol. 1, p. 301, W.S Smith, Brill, 1960
18. See C. G. Pfander, Mizan ul Haq, The Religious Tract Society, London, 1910
19. Debates on Jesus and Muhammad in Europe, India and Pakistan by Dr Jan Slomp, David Kerr, World Christianity in Muslim Encounter, Continuum Publishing House 2009
20. The Islamic View of Major Christian Teachings, by Christine Shirmacher, World Evangelical Alliance, 2008
21. Call of the Minaret, Bishop Kenneth Cragg, One World Publications Oxford, 2008, p. 224
22. Julius Richter D. Theo. D.D., “A History of Missions in India”, Translated into English by Sydney H. Moore, Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, Edinburgh and London 1908
23. The Church Missionary Intelligencer, p. 96, Vol. XLV, 1894, Church Missionary Society, London
24. Missionary Herald: Containing The Proceedings of The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Vol. XC, p.167, Published: Press of Samuel Usher, Boston, 1894
25. CMI, February 1894, p. 98
26. Missionary Herald: Containing The Proceedings of The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Vol. XC, p. 167, Published: Press of Samuel Usher, Boston, 1894
27. CMI, February 1894, p. 98
28. CMI, November 1894, p. 813
29. CMI, February 1894, p. 97
30. Beginnings in India, by Eugene Stock, Central Board of Missions, 1917