Sarmad Naveed, Canada
For someone visiting the newly built mosque in Zion – a historically Christian city – there may be a lot of questions; what’s a mosque doing here in Zion? Why is this town so significant to these Muslims? What is the religion of Islam?
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community thought ahead and anticipated that there would be a learning curve as to their presence in the city of Zion, in addition to the missions they’ve established in over 200 countries.
To help educate anyone who visits the Zion mosque, a dedicated exhibition has been created, taking a look back to the origins of this Community in Zion. In his address at the inauguration of the Zion mosque, the Fifth Caliph and Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) encouraged people to visit this special exhibition when he said,
‘a special exhibition about the prayer duel has been set up at this mosque and so if you wish to learn more you can visit before you leave or you might have visited it already.’
A Special Exhibition
At first glance, upon walking in to the exhibition, it’s interesting to see the combination of glass cases containing historical artifacts, with state of the art high quality screens along the walls giving a modern touch with information and even interactive stations where visitors can flip though different content.
Starting with the Basics – Islam 101
The exhibition starts with a section dedicated to the basics of Islam, displaying the holiest Islamic site, the Ka’bah, the sacred scripture of Islam, the Holy Qur’an and information on the prophet of Islam, Muhammad (sa), including the rights which he established for all different types of people and parts of society.
Dowie – The Scottish Evangelist who Founded an American City
The next stop is a brief history of Zion’s founder, John Alexander Dowie. A screen displays a timeline of his life, along with some of the principles upon which he built his church in Zion, like ‘the Christian Church was established to destroy the Jewish Church’, ‘disease in the foul offspring of Satan and sin’, ‘Islam must go, Mohammedanism must be destroyed’.
A glance down at the glass case show various artifacts which help give insight into Dowie’s life, including his tabernacle.
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) – 11,500+ km Away from Zion
Moving along to the next part of the exhibition is where the connection of this city with Islam Ahmadiyyat starts making more sense.
The tour guide explains that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), believed to be the Promised Messiah, was an ardent lover of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa). As such, when he learned of Dowie’s denigrating attacks on Islam and his desire to eradicate the entire religion, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) stood up to challenge him and defend the faith and it’s Prophet (sa) under whom he’d been commissioned as the Messiah.
In fact, since he claimed to be the very Messiah awaited by all major religions, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) stood up to Dowie because of his lowly views of other Christians outside his own denomination as well.
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) desired to combat the bigotry, hate and prejudice of Dowie with prayer. That’s why, as the tour guide explains, the theme of this exhibition is ‘Prayer over Prejudice’.
Underneath the infographics explaining the life and work of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), encased in glass and what seems to be in pristine condition for a century-old garment, is a coat worn by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as).
The Prayer Duel
This stop of the exhibition takes us on a deeper dive into the history of the prayer duel between Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) and John Alexander Dowie. Displayed in a glass case is a bound copy of Leaves of Healing, Dowie’s publication in which he shared many of his views, including those against Islam.
It’s astounding to hear the tour guide explain how, from a small hamlet in India called Qadian, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) was subscribed to a magazine from a small town in the USA. After reading Dowie’s views, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) would write to him, but was only taunted in return.
In the same glass case are original copies of The Review of Religions, an English magazine initiated by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as). It was in this very magazine that he challenged Dowie to a prayer duel. He said that it was not possible for two people to have been sent by God and to be opposed to each other, hence it to be discerned who was the truthful.
Further along, on the wall is a display from the New York Times, which covered this prayer duel in its newspaper, and noted that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) was more generous than fair in his stipulations for the prayer duel. He had said that between them, the one who was false would perish within the lifetime of the other. He said this knowing he was 12 years senior to Dowie and his health was much more frail compared to Dowie’s good health.
The Results of the Prayer Duel are in! – The Great Victory
This is the station of the exhibition where everything ties together and the significance of this city to Ahmadi Muslims becomes evident.
Various clippings show the gradual downfall of Dowie after the issuance of the prayer duel; from losing grip over his city, public blunders and deteriorating health – all in accordance with the prophecy made by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.
On display in this section is a one of a kind artifact – a first edition copy of the Literary Digestmagazine, the predecessor to Time Magazine, displaying the single, most clear photo of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) published in America.
Then, both in size and significance, the tour guide moves along to what he describes as the center piece of the exhibition; an enlarged, original clipping of the Sunday Heraldfrom Boston, with the title reading ‘Great is Mirza Ghulam Ahmad the Messiah’, highlighting his foretelling of Dowie’s pathetic death and imminent plagues, floods and earthquakes that were yet to come.
Towards the end of the exhibition is an interactive geographical display launched by the Fifth Caliph (aba) himself, showing the over 160 different clippings which covered this prayer duel around the world, it truly becomes evident why the city of Zion bears such historical significance and why this new mosque has been so aptly named Fath-e-Azeem, The Mosque of a Grand Victory.
Whereas Dowie’s legacy is his miserable end, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s (as) legacy is in his every-growing Community, the Caliphate which succeeds him and indeed, the mosque which shines bright in the city of Zion.
For visitors to Zion and even residents of the city, this exhibition which was inaugurated by the Fifth Caliph, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) has been an eye-opener to the profound history and divine signs that took place in this seemingly obscure city. The exhibition is now synonymous to the mosque which stands as testament to the truth and divine help that accompanied the Promised Messiah (as).
Those who visited the exhibition during its inaugural week were mesmerized by the profound history on display. It serves as a window into history, for young and old alike to take a peek back into the history of Zion and Ahmadiyyat.
Special credits are due to Anwar Khan, Amjad Khan and Ibrahim Ahmed Ijaz who worked tirelessly to curate the exhibition at the Zion mosque.
About the Author: Sarmad Naveed is an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community who graduated from the Ahmadiyya Institute for Languages and Theology in Canada. He serves on the Editorial Board of The Review of Religions and coordinates the Facts from Fiction section. He has also appeared as a panelist and host of programmes on Muslim Television Ahmadiyya (MTA) such as ‘Ahmadiyyat: Roots to Branches.’