Translated by Rabib Ahmad and Sarah Waseem
The essence of Islam is the belief in and worship of the One God. This was the message propagated most of all by the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw), the Founder of Islam, and then by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), the Promised Messiah(as). The Promised Messiah(as) spent every moment of his life striving to achieve this goal. Whenever he came across anything that amounted to Shirk (associating partners with God), he would challenge this and would endeavour his utmost to prove that God is One and no other is worthy of being associated with Him.
This article will discuss the Promised Messiah(as)’s challenge to one instance of Shirk, that occurred during his lifetime. That challenge was made in 1902, to the Reverend John Hugh Pigott (1852-1927), the leader of an organisation in London, called ‘Agapemone’.
Agapemone was originally founded by Reverend Henry Prince (1811-1899). Its fundamental doctrines were similar to those of Protestant Christianity, with the major exception that Reverend Henry Prince considered himself to be the second coming of the Messiah and also to be immortal. After his death, his successor John Hugh Smith Pigott assumed this mantle. Although the community was initially shocked at the death of the ‘Eternal Messiah’, Pigott cajoled them to believe that, in fact, Henry Prince had only been a harbinger, and that he—Pigott, was in reality, the ever-lasting Messiah.
Both men deemed it entirely appropriate to engage in sexual relationships with their female adherents. Henry Prince claimed having intercourse with a female represented the conjugation of the Holy Spirit and a human body, and therefore there could be no impregnation as a result. Interestingly, after one of his female adherents became pregnant, he declared that to be the work of Satan!
The organisation’s church in Clapton, London was known as the ‘Ark of the Covenant’. On the 7th of September 1902, Pigott delivered his inaugural sermon there. It is claimed that a gathering of around 6000 attended.
Pigott began to explain the usual Christian Doctrines, but then added that he was the second advent of the Messiah, Jesus(as). He admonished the audience that there was no need to search for God in the heavens, for “he is present amongst you”.
As he was saying this, he pointed towards himself and his followers fell into prostration before him. But some of the other members of the audience present, were outraged by his claim to godship. They verbally abused Pigott and pelted him with stones and whatever else they could lay their hands on. Upon witnessing the violence, the police hurriedly accompanied Pigott back to his residency. However, Pigott’s blasphemous remarks had caused such an outcry that it was feared that his presence in any area, would lead to a breach of the peace.
The newspapers also exploited his blasphemous claim to be God and therefore, under police protection, Pigott was moved to Spaxton which became the new centre for the organisation.
The Promised Messiah, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) of Qadian, the Imam of the latter days, wrote to Pigott informing him that such a blasphemous proposition did not behove man, and that in the future he should abstain from making such claims, or he would be destroyed. This message was sent to him in November 1902. Although it is unknown as to exactly when Pigott received this notification, research has confirmed that he certainly did receive it.
Dr. Joshua J Schwieso, an expert in sociology and a lecturer at the University of the West of England, has made a study of Agapemone. His research is very thorough, unlike previous studies of this group, which have often lacked such academic rigour, and tended to focus on the more sensational activities of this organisation. Newspapers especially feasted on the unorthodox sexual practices of the group members, making it hard for readers to differentiate fact from fiction.
There are two very important studies regarding this organisation. One is Charles Manders’ The Reverend Prince and His Abode of Love, and the other-Donald McCormick’s book The Temple of Love.
Pigott’s granddaughter, Kate Barlow, also wrote a book about her personal experiences, but this is not as thoroughly researched as Dr. Schwieso’s work, for which he received a doctorate from the University of Reading. The title for his dissertation was ‘Deluded Inmates, Frantic Ravers and Communists: A sociological Study of the Agapemone, a sect of Victorian Apocalyptic Milleniars’. He writes in it:
‘We can see traces of Agapemone activities in India in 1902…in this very year another claimer to messiahship in India, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, chief of Qadian, Punjab, published an announcement in which Pigott was given a warning that…….if he did not abstain from his claim to godship then he would immediately be destroyed/turned to dust and bones.’
The Promised Messiah, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) of Qadian’s notification was also published in newspapers in America and Europe. Due to the fact that Pigott had access to the outside world, the fact is inevitable that he was informed about this announcement.
In Tadhkirah, a book which is a collection of the verbal revelations, dreams and visions vouchsafed to the Promised Messiah(as), there is a prophecy regarding Pigott:
“November, 20 (Thursday)
Upon prayer with concentration concerning Pigottt, the Promised Messiah(as) saw in a dream some books on which it was written three times: Tasbeeh, Tasbeeh, Tasbeeh [Holiness belongs to Allah], and then received a revelation:
Wallahu Shadeedul Iqaab Inna Hum La Yuhsinun [English Transliteration of Arabic original] [Translation: Allah is severe in retribution. They are not acting righteously.]
This revelation indicated that the present condition of Pigottt is not good or that he would not repent in future. It can also mean that he would not believe in God or that what he has done by telling such a lie against God and planning against him, is not good. The part Allahu Shadeedul Iqaab [English Transliteration of Arabic original] [Translation: Allah is severe in retribution] shows that his end will be doomed and he will be afflicted with God’s chastisement. Indeed, it is a very daring thing to claim to be God.”
It was stated earlier that the immediate reaction to Pigott’s false claim was one of anger and violence from those who heard it initially, making it impossible for him to remain in London. Indeed, the police had warned him that should another such situation arise where there was a breach of peace, he would be arrested and prosecuted. Already then, there were warnings of humiliation and ignominy.
Pigott then moved to Spaxton, in West England, where Agapemone’s founder Henry Prince had built a house fashioned like a church and palace, stretching over a large area, with adjoining plots and houses which were used as offices and residencies for his followers. The colony’s name “Agapemone” means ‘Abode of Love’. Enclosed by four walls it was far away from the city, and considered to be the safest place for Pigott to reside.
In accordance with its name ‘Abode of Love’, the colony propagated complete sexual freedom. According to researchers, the followers of Agapemone became the prey of generic complacency, misguidance and aberrance. Pigott spent his remaining years here, cut off from the world. He would sometimes go abroad but on his return, he would lock himself away in this fortress where no unauthorised personnel were allowed to enter. Whenever colony members entered the village to buy provisions, they would be surrounded by various newspaper representatives vying for sensational titbits regarding the licentiousness and profligacy occurring inside Agapemone’s walls. That is why it was considered a bad omen for followers to go outside. Pigott, however, remained enclosed in this colony. Researchers have commented that after the move to Spaxton; ‘the flamboyant Messiah of Clapton became the quiet, gentle pastor at Spaxton,’ and that:
‘Smyth-Pigottt had learned his lesson at Clapton, that the opinion of the outside world still counted and he had no desire to face in Somersetshire the kind of demonstrations he had endured in London…..When (he) drove through the village he adopted the worldly role of a benign squire rather than that of the Messiah.’
During this research, I came across many of Pigott’s sermons, personal diaries and letters from the Hackney Archive Centre. Further material was found with Pigott’s granddaughter, Ann Buckleys’ personal library, and from newspaper articles stored at the Somerset Archive Centre. All these sources clearly indicate that from November 1902 until 1908 i.e. during the Promised Messiah(as)’s lifetime, Pigott made no further claims to godship.
When Pigott registered the births of his children, he described his occupation as ‘Priest in Holy Orders’. This is the same designation he used in 1889 on his marriage certificate before he had made any claims to godship, and again in 1905 after his child was born. This conclusively indicates that he never made any further claims to godship during the lifetime of the Promised Messiah(as). This was the purpose of issuing Pigott a warning, and we can see that this warning and other factors, such as the media uproar and the reaction of orthodox Christians, were instrumental in stopping Pigott from repeating his claim.
In fact, there is not a single note in his personal Bible that he claimed godship. More evidence comes from a gift of a Bible to his son David in which it is written: “To my first born son, David from your father who says with you ‘’Our Father, Which art in Heaven.” This clearly shows Pigott believed in a Deity ‘in heaven’, who was unrelated to his (Pigott’s) physical being.
Amongst his personal possessions is a plaque inscribed in Latin: Homo Sum. Humani Nihil A Me Alienum Puto. The translation of this text recorded at the back of the pendulum reads: ‘’I am a Man. Nothing akin to Humanity do I consider alien to me.”
From all these facts researchers have concluded that Pigottt did certainly give up his claim to godship. According to Dr. Joshua Schwieso’s research, after his initial claim to godship, Pigott later shied away from it.
Dr. Nick Barratt-a well-known family historian, and better known for the BBC programme ‘Who Do You Think You Are’, has also conducted research into Pigott’s life. He too believes that although Pigott initially made a claim to godship, upon seeing people’s negative reaction to it, he then -consciously or unconsciously-downgraded his claim to that of a mere spiritual healer.
By contrast, when the Promised Messiah(as) issued his warning to Pigott, he wrote the word ‘Prophet’ by his own name, thereby making his own claim to Prophethood very clear. Furthermore, he maintained this claim until his death. The Community that he started- the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community- has to this day also maintained this claim.
Those Muslims who raise allegations against the Promised Messiah(as) forget that they are disrespecting God Almighty’s Magnificence. They forget that in the case of Pigott, the confrontation was between one who was guilty of the worst form of Shirk i.e. calling himself God, and on the other side was the Promised Messiah(as), who was a most obedient servant of God and so devoted to Holy Prophet(saw), that he spent his days propagating Islam and trying to establish the unity of God Almighty.
How pitiful then that such people can make allegations against the Promised Messiah(as), and actually state that he who claimed godship achieved victory over the one who defended the Oneness of Allah, and the name of Islam and the Holy Prophet(saw).
However, it is important not to ignore the allegation and look in to what was behind it. The foundation for this allegation rests on the fact that the Promised Messiah(as) passed away in 1908, while Pigott died in 1927. The announcement that the Promised Messiah(as) sent to Pigott and Western newspapers clearly stated that if Pigott did not abstain from his claim to godship, he would be destroyed instantly, and possibly during the lifetime of the Promised Messiah(as) . The actual words of the English text are as follows:
‘I therefore warn him through this notice that if he does not repent of this irreverent claim, he shall be soon annihilated.’
It is a proven fact that during the lifetime of the Promised Messiah(as) Pigott never again reiterated his claim, and so remained safe from any punishment which could have engulfed him were he to have repeated his claim. Whether this was out of the fear of the fierce reaction of the masses around him or the fear of the Wrath of God, is of secondary importance. What is important is that he never claimed godship again in the life of the Promised Messiah(as). It must not be forgotten that this was not a personal feud. As long as the claim was not repeated, the Promised Messaih(as) had no issues with Pigott. It was the Promised Messiah’s(as) sole intention to curb anything giving rise to Shirk, that is the association of someone or something with Allah.
However in 1909, one year after the demise of the Promised Messiah(as), Pigott repeated his claim to godship. At the time he was living with a number of women whom he termed his ‘soul brides’. One of these was Ruth Preece, whom Pigott had given the title ‘Chief soul bride’. She bore him three children. When Pigott went to the local registrar of Somerset to record the names of these illegitimate children, the news got out, because he was also legally married to another woman. As Pigottt was a Church of England Reverend, the scandal spread like wildfire. The Church removed him from his post. The defiant Pigott declared, “I do not care for this decision, I am God!!” thus fulfilling the prophecy recorded in Tadhkirah.
The Divine revelation granted to the Promised Messiah(as) was that Pigott would not repent and that his end would not be a good one. Indeed, it was from this point on, after he had once again reiterated his claim to godship, that his descent into ignominy began. Newspapers in the Somerset Archive Centre dating from this time are full of accounts of his adulterous relationships and illegitimate children.
Gradually, Pigott’s mental health started to deteriorate. His favourite soul bride, Ruth Preece, dissociated herself from him and left the colony. Donald McCormick refers to her departure:
‘It was a slow process, brought about principally through a disintegration of his character.
McCormick has detailed Pigott’s cognitive deterioration. His speech became muddled and his thought processes were confused. Those who were with him, referred to his tendency to paranoia. Some followers even went as far as to say that he be removed from his post or the whole community would be damaged. It is also written that due to his autocracy he could not be removed, but he spent his remaining days in aggravation, whilst his followers spent it in monotony and dreariness. His so-called followers began to depart.
Although Pigott did not die until 1927, his final days were spent in a state of mental, physical and social crisis. After his death he was buried in his own church. The church was later sold and is now a residential establishment run by an English family.
On my visit to Spaxton to see the ruins of Pigott’s church and colony, I was struck at how Pigott’s death serves as a warning for all. No one could recall who he was. The space where his grave once was is now a storage area. No one knows what happened to his body, not even family members.
The current owner and resident of the chapel reported that at the site of his grave, there used to be an expensive goldfinch tablet, which had engraved on it Pigott’s name, his date of birth and the date of his death. However, Pigott’s son had an addiction to alcohol and gambling, and not only sold the entire colony, but also sold this goldfinch tablet too, in order to fund his addiction for alcohol. The incident has been confirmed by Pigott’s granddaughter, Ms Ann Buckley.
This was the prophetic end of one who claimed to be God, and who was warned by the Imam of the time and the Promised Messiah(as). God Almighty’s revelation was fulfilled with immense magnitude and in such a manifest way, that there is no room left for doubt as to the veracity of the message of the Promised Messiah(as).
Pigott’s death effectively marked the end of Agapemone. Ruth Preece tried to maintain the cult, but after her death it ceased to exist. Today there is not a single Agapemonite in existence. Pigott, his doctrines, and his followers have all been annihilated. This is a living sign of Allahu Shadeedul Iqaab [English Transliteration of Arabic original] [Translation: Allah is severe in retribution].
Dr. Joshua Schwieso writes about the end of Agapemone:
‘In exact opposite to Agapemone’s situation, the foundation for the Islamic sect which Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had laid down is today still flourishing.’
The annihilation of Pigott’s organisation and the propagation of the Promised Messiah’s(as) community to the corners of the earth, has been noted in Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions.
In the process of researching Pigott’s life, I met his granddaughter, Ann Buckley who was extremely helpful in providing Pigott’s personal notebooks, all his documents and his belongings for the purposes of the television programme mentioned earlier.
On the 26th March 2011 she came to the Annual Peace Symposium hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK, and was privileged to be able to meet with its current Worldwide Head, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba), Khalifatul Masih V.
Following this, she requested another meeting with His Holiness. Subsequently, on 22nd April 2011, this granddaughter of John Hugh Smyth Pigott met with the Fifth Successor of the Promised Messiah(as), Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba). At the meeting, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba) spoke to her at length about correspondences that took place between Pigott and the Promised Messiah(as). After this meeting, which lasted for half an hour, she asked for her photo to be taken with Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba).
It was of note that she commented repeatedly:
“I never knew that such spiritual people still exist”
“I have just met a very beautiful personality”
After this she was taken to the Makhzan-e-Tasaweer exhibition (the central image library and exhibition of Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community). Upon seeing Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad’s(aba) photo she once again said:
“It looks as if he can see the inside of people.”
This was a very faith-inspiring sight. The light which the Promised Messiah(as) desired to show Pigott did not go in vain. Indeed, it could not have gone in vain because it was that light which spouted from one who had been truly commissioned by God Almighty. Although Pigott deprived himself of this light, a woman from his progeny experienced it for herself.
After this, Ms Ann Buckley wrote a letter of gratitude to His Holiness(aba). Thus, another sign from among the many signs of God Almighty was fulfilled in favour of the Promised Messiah(as).
Asif M Basit is on the Board of Directors of Muslim Television Ahmadiyya International, where he also produces and presents the weekly religious discussion programme, ‘Rah-e-Huda’ (www.mta.tv/rah-e-huda/).
- The Hackney & Kingsland Gazette, Wednesday 10th September 1902
- Deluded Inmates, Frantic Ravers and Communists: A sociological Study of the Agapemone, a sect of Victorian Apocalyptic Milleniars, p.171
- Tadhkirah, p.567 (2009)
- The Temple of Love by Donal McCormick, p.97, 1962, The Citadel Press, New York
- The Temple of Love by Donald McCormick, p.95
- The Temple of Love by Donald McCormick, p.112
- The Temple of Love by Donald McCormick, p.149
- Abingdon Dictionary of Living Religions, Keith R. Crim, 1981