8 Things you Didn’t Know About Zion & Its Founder

By Farrukh Tahir – Canada

To Ahmadi Muslims around the world, the city of Zion, Illinois is a familiar place, but many of its own inhabitants are unaware of its historical significance. On 30 September 2022, his Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmed (aba) the worldwide head of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community delivered his Friday sermon in this very city. He stated:

“Today, you all have gathered here for the inauguration of the Zion mosque. Allah the Almighty has enabled the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in USA to build a mosque in such a city that holds great historical significance in the community.”

Here’s 8 things you didn’t know about Zion.

1- Zion was founded by a Claimant to Prophethood

The founding father of Zion City in Illinois, Dr. John Alexander Dowie, started off as a student of theology and became a religious minister. After his migration to America from Australia, rumours of alleged faith-healing techniques and preaching found surprising footing and support amongst the American people. He swiftly amassed notable renown in surrounding towns.

In the short span of a few years, his followers swelled in number from hundreds to thousands and beyond. At first, Dr. Dowie made no bold claims about his status, simply remaining an ‘authoritative teacher’.

But this soon would change. Dowie began to claim that he’d been sent – like John the Baptist – as the third advent of Elijah the prophet. A few years later, he would go on to call himself ‘The First Apostle’, appointed, he claimed, as a prophet and apostle of God Himself.

2- Zion was tasked with wiping out all Muslims from the Earth

Dowie was as unrelenting as he was vocal about his enmity of Muslims, Islam and its founder, the Prophet Muhammad (sa). He viewed Islam as the single greatest threat to Christianity and frequently warned Christian and Catholic organizations in the West to be cautious of the religion’s growth.

He proclaimed, ‘One of the greatest systems in the Orient is Mohammadanism… Zion will have to wipe out that blot upon humanity… May God help me knock at the fate of the Moslem before long!’[1]

3- Zion was named after a placename in the Bible

The term Zion is a placename in the Hebrew Bible. 2 Samuel (5:7) of the Bible refers to a hill in Jerusalem known as Mount Zion. Zion is also known to be synonymous with Jerusalem itself and has also been used to refer to the land of Israel.

4- Zion was initially governed theocratically

When Dowie founded the city of Zion, he envisioned it to be governed according to Biblical ethics. Accordingly, laws and policies such as the prohibition of drinking, smoking, theatre, dancing, and the consumption of pork were instated.

Because Dowie was a faith healer himself, he also refrained from and forbade the use of modern medicine. These policies then changed slowly through the mid 1900s, as other churches and policy makers made their way into the city. [2]

5- Little remains of the original city of Zion

Little remains of the original city of Zion built by Dowie. A great hall known as the Shiloh Tabernacle with a capacity to seat 8000 worshippers was built by Dowie for ministerial purposes. In 1937, this building, along with the city’s radio station, were desolated by a fire.

Another fire ravaged the city in 1954, when an entire district in downtown was destroyed. Today, a handful of Zion’s original buildings still stand, including Dowie’s house, a small chapel, a hotel, and remnants of Dowie’s lace factory.

6- John Alexander Dowie perished after a prayer duel with another claimant to Prophethood

In addition to his claims of spiritual eminence, Dowie left no stone unturned to abuse and malign the founder of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (sa), levelling baseless and unfounded allegations against him publicly.

When Mirza Ghulam Ahmad heard of this, he responded in a way that captured the attention of newspapers all over the world. A humble man from the rustic hamlet of Qadian in India, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed to be the Promised Messiah and Mahdi whose advent was foretold by all of the world’s major religions. He also claimed to have been sent by Almighty God as the second coming of Jesus Christ (as).

The hate-filled preaching of Dowie greatly pained him, and he repeatedly asked the Doctor to stop his abuse of Islam and glamorizing the destruction of all Muslims. When Dowie showed no sign of letting up, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad challenged him to a contest that caught the attention of media country-wide. It was a prayer duel which would decide which claimant to prophethood was truly sent by God.

The Promised Messiah (as) thus proposed, ‘There is a very easy way of determining whether Dowie’s god is true or our God. That way is that Dowie need not repeatedly announce his prophecy of the destruction of all Muslims. He should keep me alone in his mind and should pray that of the two of us, the one who is false may die before the other.’

Despite various newspapers expressing the importance of Dowie accepting the challenge, the founder of Zion city remained silent.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) once again openly published the challenge, inviting Dowie to a prayer duel. The public and news media grew increasingly interested in what would happen as headlines in other countries began to fill up with speculation and commentary on the affair.

As time went by, the gnawing pressure of an increasingly global audience became palpable. Even Dowie’s own followers started to ask him about the pending challenge.

Dr. Dowie finally spoke out.

‘In India, there is a Mohammedan Messiah who keeps writing to me that Jesus Christ lies buried in Kashmir. People ask me why do I not send him the necessary reply. Do you think that I should answer such gnats and flies? If I were to put my foot on them I would crush them to death. The fact is that I merely give them a chance to fly away and survive.’[3]

Unbeknownst to him, Dowie had with these words sealed his fate.

In no time, the thousands of followers he had gathered, the immense wealth he had accumulated, the sweeping fame and acceptance he had accrued began to slip away. His health deteriorated after a public stroke, and his own family disassociated from him after learning that he squandered upwards of two million dollars of church money.

He was discovered to have been regularly consuming alcohol (despite preaching against it) and having illicit relations with many women. Disgrace and humiliation overtook him, and as the Promised Messiah (as) foretold, he died a miserable death in March of 1907. He left behind a deeply unenviable legacy of utter humility took and failure, dying during the lifetime of the Promised Messiah (as).[4]

7- The name “Dowie” Was Omitted From His Gravestone

After uncovering the horrors of Dowie’s secret personal life and harrowing duplicity, his family (including his wife and son) stopped associating themselves with him. In the end, the name Dowie which once ascended to global acclaim evoked such disgrace and disgust that it was omitted from his gravestone.

8- Zion is now home to followers of the very Messiah that challenged Dowie to a Prayer Duel

With the passage of time, followers of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) made Zion their home and today, the Ahmadi population there is steadily growing. A city once founded on hostility toward Muslims has now become home to peace-loving and growing community of Ahmadi Muslims. What’s more is that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in USA has built a mosque in Zion, inaugurated by none other than the fifth successor and caliph of the Promised Messiah (as), Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba). The same soil that was deeply rooted with hate toward Islam is now the bedrock of a mosque built by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

About the Author: Farrukh Tahir is an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Canada, and member of the Existence Project Team for the Review of Religions.

[1] Leaves of Healing, Vol. 13, p. 474


[3] Leaves of Healing, December 27, 1903


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