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Dynamic Religious Movements

 

Edited by David Hesselgrave

Publishers: Baker Book House, Michigan (1978)

 

Asif M Basit

 

The last four decades of the twentieth-century saw a major shift in the general worldview of mankind; the shift from modernity to post-modernity. 

The general population of the world becoming weary of religion in general – complemented by the advancement of logical and analytical approach of science and philosophical reasoning – widened the gulf between human mind and the belief in metaphysics. With movements like Logical Positivism and ideological schools like that of Sigmund Freud forecasting that religion would soon become a phenomenon of history, evidence was rapidly piling up to support their predictions. 

Since this decline of religious inclination was portrayed as being inversely proportional to intellectual maturity, almost all sections of society deemed it urgent to be classed as intellectual and mature individuals, and, hence, be counted among the intellectually mature.

This was a challenging time for world religions; every tenet of every religion was questioned on the pattern of scientific investigation and the answers were expected to be on similar lines. What this situation resulted in was what we know as a logical fallacy: those questioning were not ready to accept anything beyond the physical realm, while those being tried had nothing but metaphysics to offer. Religions, cornered and pinned down by the surge of scientific enquiry, explored new avenues to be able to defend their position. New sects and denominations emerged in almost all religions that went beyond mere defence and started proselytising its beliefs along with defending them. 

Dynamic Religious Movements is an anthology of essays written by scholars with the aim to understand such new movements within the world religions. The scope of the book is global as it delves into the ebb and flow of such movements that emerged all across the world, from the Far East to the far Western parts of human population. In his flight from Iglesia ni Cristo in the Far East to African Zionist Movement and to Umbanda in Brazil, the editor could not miss the Ahmadiyya Movement, when carefully cherry-picking sects that played a significant role in defending the beliefs of their religion from the overwhelming attack of the strictly materialistic scrutiny of scientific investigation. 

We will have a look at the chapter on “The Ahmadiyya Movement”, not only for our affiliation to the movement but also for the fact that out of the thirteen movements selected by the editor of the book, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is now the most well-known and successful sect in not only Islam, but all other religions also.

The eighth chapter of the book is the one that deals with the Ahmadiyya and is written by Merlin W Inniger. The writer sets off by introducing the backdrop against which arose this dynamic movement and then goes on to explain how it was accepted (and rejected).

 

 

  Sir Syed Ahmad Khan|Wiki Commons

“The appearing of a ‘Renewer’ in Indian Islam took place against a background of uncertain hopes and a feeling of insecurity and instability in Muslims of the subcontinent. The mutiny of 1857 had been unsuccessful in driving the British out of India. Furthermore, Muslims were outnumbered and overshadowed by the Hindus, who threatened to keep them permanently in a place of subjugation, especially if the ruling British should depart. The Muslim who desired the well-being of his people felt frustrated between the call by the conservative maulvis to return to traditional orthodoxy and the reforming spirit of men like Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who urged adoption of Western thought and ways.”

Inniger, as quoted above, has given what one may call the most concise description of the climate that witnessed the genesis of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam. The author seems and sounds well aware of how the message of the founder of the community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas of Qadian, was taken by the clergy, and consequently by the lay-adherents of all three major religions of colonial India. 

Starting with the co-religionists of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas – Muslims – Inniger states, “Between 1880 and 1884 Ghulam Ahmad wrote his first and most celebrated work, the four-volume Barahin-i-Ahmadiyya (Ahmadiyya Proofs). This was well received among orthodox Muslims, even though the seeds of his later, unique Ahmadiyya doctrines can be found throughout the work”.

This observation truly reflects the acceptance shown by the orthodox Muslims for the teachings of the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement which were no less than a breeze amidst the extremely humid atmosphere where Islam was struggling to breathe and survive. Everything in the garden was rosy until the claim of being the Promised Messiah and the awaited Mahdi by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas came about, very rightly notes the author. After this observation comes another interesting one:

“Hereafter, the storm of controversy broke suddenly and continued not only through Ahmad’s lifetime, but throughout the twentieth century, shaking the modern state of Pakistan to its foundations.”

This statement is alone sufficient to prove that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat has had the greatest impact amongst all other movements touched upon in the book. More is yet to follow.

The author then goes on to bring to light the impact the movement had on Christian missionary societies that were successfully busy in winning converts to Christianity from the Muslim masses. They saw the movement “to be largely an anti-Christian polemic”. The Christian missionaries, and the author, are absolutely correct in seeing it to be so as the teachings of the founder of the community left the centuries-old Christian tactic of converting Muslims incapacitated: inviting them to Jesus who is alive in heaven when Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, is dead. By saying that Jesus had died a natural death and was never to come back in person, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas rendered the greatest Christian argument invalidated, thus securing Muslims from losing faith. 

The author then shows the opposition faced by Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas of Qadian at the hands of the Hindus, especially by the Arya Samajist movement. Another unique side of the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement has been highlighted here by the author where Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas predicted the fall of the opponents that caused nothing but mischief.

 

 

 

“One prophecy concerns the Arya Samaj preacher Lekh Ram, of whom Ahmad predicted in 1893 that he would meet his end within six years under mysterious circumstances. Lekh Ram was indeed murdered in 1897. Another prediction concerned the well-known American evangelist and faith healer, John Alexander Dowie, who founded Zion, Illinois. Ahmad challenged Dowie’s faith and claims, and predicted a shameful end for Dowie. When Dowie’s fortunes crumbled and he died more or less in accordance with Ahmad’s prediction, the Renewer could claim that Allah was indeed putting his seal upon his claims, and thousands of his countrymen were persuaded that this indeed was the case.”

John Alexander Dowie before 1907 | Wiki Commons

Moving on to the issue that has been kept alive for well over a century now and still remains the bone of contention between Ahmadis and other Muslims, the author states:

“Are Ahmadis true Muslims? This question has been implicit in the movement from the beginning, although it has been only very recently that modern Pakistan has felt its explosive significance. Ahmadis would reply that their community in fact embodies the only form of Islam, revitalized and informed by the revelations given to Ghulam Ahmad. The basics – the unity of God, Muhammad as the prophet of God, the Quran as the revelation given through Muhammad – are indeed held in common with the larger world of Islam. But there are at least four important departures from the orthodox faith, and these gave the followers of Ghulam Ahmad their distinctive character as a new sect, provided them with adequate content from polemic and persuasion, and made them self-assured and confident in their encounter with Islam and Christianity.”

The “four departures from the orthodox faith”, as the author opines, are: inspiration (wahi and ilham), finality of prophethood, christology and Jihad.

The chapter goes on to cover the history of migration, when Ahmadis “migrated from Qadian to a barren tract of land located ninety miles southwest of Lahore, and set about to prove that rugged will and patient labor could make it habitable. Out of this has emerged Rabwah…”

The strength of the community that brought about its rapid, global spread is acknowledged by the author in saying that the “… strong and centralized organization has made possible well-planned and vigorous missionary work throughout the world”.

Worth mentioning is a passage by Dr Kenneth Cragg from his work Counsels in Contemporary Islam which the writer has quoted. Dr Cragg, stating that Ahmadis have inaugurated a new tradition in Islam, claims that such a specific, organised mission sustained by offerings of the community and carefully directed and planned with personnel, literature, schools and clinics indeed knows no parallel among Muslims. Dr Cragg states that “Ahmadiya initiative in this way has been in part a factor in arousing similar projects of dissemination on the part of venerable bodies like Al-Azhar, either in emulation or correction of its zeal”.

Readers might wonder why a chapter from a book published forty years ago has been reviewed now. Well, time is the greatest test of all. Out of all other reform movements that emerged at a critical time for religions, the one movement to have stood the test of time, with great success, prosperity and dignity, is undoubtedly the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, whose future seemed unclear when the book was compiled four decades ago. The success story was then an amazing one; now it is even more amazing and manifold more inspiring.

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