Zafir Malik, UK
It takes a lot to give up something you cherish dearly. But what about pledging to completely submit your entire will, desire, wishes to someone else? That is what Ahmadi Muslims do each year on the third day of the Annual Convention known as Jalsa Salana. They pledge allegiance to the Caliph of the time that they will live every moment of their lives by the teachings of Islam and the Holy Qur’an. This type of pledge is known as بَيْعَة (bai’at) comes from the root word باع ,which means to “sell” something. Interestingly when the Arabic letter ة is added to the three letter Arabic root of a verb, it denotes that action takes place once. Explaining the meaning of ba’ait, the famous Muslim Theologian, Ibn Khaldun says:
‘It should be known that the bai’at is a contract to render obedience. It is as though the person who renders the oath of allegiance made a contract with his leader, to the effect that he surrenders supervision of his own affairs and those of the Muslims to him and that he will not contest his authority in any of (those affairs) and that he will obey him by (executing) all the duties with which he might be charged, whether agreeable or disagreeable.’
Pledge in Early Islam
This is not an innovation of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, rather it was a practice of the Holy Prophet (sa). The earliest documented pledge taken by the Holy Prophet (sa) was known as the Pledge of Aqabah. Just before he migrated to Madinah, a group of 12 men from Yathrib (later known as Madinah) met the Holy Prophet (sa) and pledged the following:
‘We shall believe in one God, shall not associate partners with God, shall not steal, shall not commit adultery or fornication, shall abstain from murder, shall not defame anyone, and shall obey you [i.e. the Prophet] in everything good.’
The Holy Prophet (sa) would not only take the pledge from men, but he would take it from women as well. The wife of the Holy Prophet, Hazrat Aisha (ra) would say that the Holy Prophet (sa) only took a verbal pledge from women after reciting verse 13 of chapter 60 of the Quran
Pledge of the Tree
When the Holy Prophet (sa) set off from Madinah to perform the pilgrimage at the Holy House, the Ka’ba, the disbelievers stopped him from entering Makkah and so he camped at a place known as Hudaibiyyah. The Makkans began to send various envoys to speak to Prophet Muhammad but these meetings did not reach any conclusion. The Holy Prophet (sa) decided to send Uthman (ra) to speak to the chieftains of Makkah and explain to them why they were there. Uthman’s (ra) talks with the Chieftains took some time and as a result, a rumour was spread that Uthman has been killed. When this reached the Prophet (sa), he immediately gathered the Muslims under an Acacia tree and asked them to pledge that if news of his death is true, none of them would turn back and even if it means they would be ready to lay down their lives.” Allah the Almighty has recorded this significant moment in Islamic history in the following words:
لَّقَدۡ رَضِيَ ٱللَّهُ عَنِ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ إِذۡ يُبَايِعُونَكَ تَحۡتَ ٱلشَّجَرَةِ
Surely, Allah was well pleased with the believers when they were swearing allegiance to thee under the Tree.
First Pledge in Ahmadiyya
When Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) claimed to be commissioned by God Almighty, he initially did not take the pledge of allegiance from his followers. Whenever a devotee would wish to pledge allegiance to him, the Promised Messiah (as) would simply reply that since God had not commanded him to do so, it would not be appropriate for him to take the bai’at of his own initiative. However, in December 1888, the Promised Messiah (as) published an announcement that God Almighty had instructed him to take the pledge of allegiance from all those who wish to join his mission. On 12th January 1889, the Promised Messiah (as) outlined ten conditions that one must follow if they wish to enter the community, all of which are the essence of the teachings of Islam and the Holy Quran.
The blessed day on which the first bai’at took place was 23rd March 1889. It took place in Ludhiana, at the home of Hazrat Sufi Ahmad Jaan Sahib, a devout follower who had passed away a few years earlier. In line with the practice of the Holy Prophet (sa), the Promised Messiah (as) extended his right hand and held the right hand of his closest companion, Hazrat Hakim Maulvi Nooruddin (ra). The wording of this historic bai’at were:
‘Today, I repent at the hand of Ahmad (as) for all the sins and ill-habits in which I was engulfed. I most truthfully and solemnly pledge that to the last day of my life, I shall eschew, to the best of my ability, all manner of sin. I will give precedence to my faith above all worldly desires. I strive to the best of my ability to abide by the ten conditions of bai‘at as outlined on 12 January 1889. I seek forgiveness of God for all my past sins.
أستغفر الله ربي من كل ذنب واتوب إليه أَشْهَدُ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَحْدَهُ لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ وَأَشْهَدُ أَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا عَبْدُهُ وَرَسُولُهُ ربّي إِنِّي ظَلَمْتُ نَفْسِي واعترفت بذنبي فَاغْفِر لي ذنوبي فاِنّہ لا يَغْفِر الذُّنوبَ إِلاَّ أَنْتَ ‘
In total, 40 individuals had the chance to pledge allegiance at the hands of the Promised Messiah (as) on this day.
This historic day fulfilled a prophecy of the Holy Prophet (sa) wherein he stated:
‘When you see him [i.e. the Imam Mahdi], pledge allegiance to him [Bai’at], even if you have to crawl across snow (to reach him), for he is the Caliph of Allah, the Mahdi.’
So in answer to the question in the title; if you are an Ahmadi Muslim, then yes, you have already pledged to submit yourselves to the Caliph of the time in accordance to the instructions of the Holy Prophet (sa) – with the intention of becoming a force for good and propagating the true teachings of Islam.
About the Author: Zafir Malik serves as the Associate Editor of The Review of Religions, having graduated from Jamia Ahmadiyya UK – Institute of Modern Languages and Theology. He is also an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and regularly appears as a panellist on MTA International and Voice of Islam radio station answering questions on Islam.