100 Years Ago… – Ahmadiyya Jamaat’s welcome to Lord Reading, Viceroy of India

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Last Updated on 18th June 2021

The Review of Religions (English), June 1921

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On 23 June 1921, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IIra, the then head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, sent a delegation of Ahmadis to Lord Reading and a welcome address was presented to this newly appointed viceroy of India. 

In this address, the viceroy was introduced to the founder Ahmadiyya Jamaat, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, and the loyal services of his family and members of the Jamaat towards the British government in times of war and unrest. 

The peace promoting role of the Promised Messiahas and the true teachings of the Holy Quran about jihad were highlighted. 

Moreover, the issue of Turkey was brought up and the autonomy of the Hijaz government and the greater interests of Muslims were advocated.  

As Lord Reading, the crown-appointed viceroy of India 1921, was responsible for protecting the interests of the people of British India and ensuring their rights, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra ensured that he understood the real situation of the subcontinent and the concerns of its people.

We present here the said address (Editor, Al Hakam):

May it please Your Excellency, 

We the representatives of the Ahmadiyya community beg to approach Your Excellency on behalf of our Holy Leader and our community to tender to Your Excellency heartfelt congratulations on your assumption of the important duties of your exalted office and to offer to Your Excellency and Lady Reading a most cordial welcome to India.

Our movement is comparatively of recent origin; it was established only thirty-one years ago. The holy founder of the movement, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad[as] of Qadian, belonged to a respectable family of Punjab Chiefs, which has been mentioned in Sir Lepel Griffin’s Book. The family did, to quote Sir Lepel Griffin, excellent service during the Mutiny of 1857 and Mirza Ghulam Murtaza (father of the holy founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement) enlisted many men and his son, Mirza Ghulam Qadir, was serving in the force of General Nicholson when that officer destroyed the mutineers of the 46th Native Infantry who had fled from Sialkot at Trimmu Ghat. General Nicholson gave Mirza Ghulam Qadir a certificate stating that in 1857, the Qadian family showed greater loyalty than any other in the district. 

It was in 1891 that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad announced his claim to be the Promised one who is known as Mahdi and Messiah in the Muslim Scriptures and as Messiah in the Christian sacred literature. As was to be expected, as soon as he announced his claim, a storm of opposition rose against him from every corner of India and the followers of all religions in general and his own co-religionists in particular displayed towards him and his disciples (who in the beginning did not number more than one hundred) such hostility as is not to be found in the annals of any religious community save in the history of the former prophets and their followers. 

Not only was the public bitterly opposed to the new claimant but even the government regarded such a claim with suspicion, for it had, after repeated and bitter experiences, come to the conclusion that the appearance of a Mahdi was invariably followed by disturbances and bloodshed. 

In the face of all these obstacles, the holy founder of the movement openly declared that he would overcome all these difficulties and that his movement would spread to the remotest corners of the earth, for God had told him that his name would be made known throughout the world and that people would be drawn towards him from long distances. 

Month after month, year after year rolled away and opposition grew more and more bitter, but in spite of all this, men continued to join the movement one by one, and when the holy founder of the movement passed away about thirteen years ago, his followers were counted by hundreds of thousands.

The present is not the occasion to make any reference to the religious and spiritual services which the holy founder of the movement has rendered to the world. But Your Excellency, we believe, will be pleased to learn the services which he rendered to the cause of peace. When he first announced his claim, the whole Muslim World was ringing with false ideas about Jehad; it was in a highly inflammable condition and a spark might have set it aflame. But the holy founder of the movement started such a vigorous campaign against these foolish, un-Islamic and unpeaceful doctrines, that before many years had passed the government itself was convinced that the movement which it regarded as a menace to peace was really a valuable promoter thereof. Not only those who were initiated into the movement acknowledged the soundness of his views, but even his bitterest foes who had declared him to be a kafir on account of his repudiation of the current ideas about Jehad were compelled to change their views by the force of his argument and many of the ulama in the hostile camp had to admit the truth of his teachings on this subject. To the wholesome influence of his teachings even in the frontier districts testimony was borne in the pages of the Pioneer of 30 December 1906. 

From the very beginning he laid stress on the fact that according to the teachings of Islam, it was the duty of every Muslim to be loyal to the government under which he lived – a teaching which if acted upon will not only remove internal disturbances but will also avert many a war, for that which actuates one nation to make war upon another is the belief that some members of the invaded people will make common cause with the invading nation and ruin their own country. If a nation is certain that all members of another nation, an invasion of which it contemplated, will stand by their own government and will be ready to lay down their lives in the battlefield, it will think twice before making a declaration of war. 

After making this brief reference to the life and teachings of the holy founder of the movement, we beg leave to state that though the movement was inaugurated only a short time ago, its branches have already been established in the following countries. 

In Asia, it has not only spread throughout India, the birthplace of the movement, but has also spread in Afghanistan, Persia, Bukhara, Arabia, Syria, Straits Settlement and Ceylon. In Africa, it has succeeded in establishing its branches in British East Africa, Uganda, Belgian East Africa, Natal, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Mauritius; and in the last two months, about five thousand persons have joined the movement in the Gold Coast Colony. 

Even the continent of Europe is not devoid of its adherents. Our mission has worked in England for the last five years and more than a hundred Europeans have already been converted and a plot of land has been purchased at Putney in London for the erection of a mosque. The movement has won a number of converts in Germany also. To America we turned our attention only a year ago and about two dozen Americans have been initiated and many have become interested. 

In short, the Ahmadiyya movement is not a local movement, it is spreading throughout the world. Every year it takes deeper roots into the earth and its trunk is daily gaining in strength and volume. But the path by which we have made this progress was not strewn with flowers; we have achieved all this at the cost of great sacrifices. In Afghanistan, for instance, two of our men were put to death merely because of their joining our movement, one of them occupying such a high position that he had been chosen for the honour of performing the coronation ceremony of the late Amir Habibullah Khan. 

As we have already said, we were enjoined by our Imam, the holy founder of the movement, to remain perfectly loyal to the government under which we live and never to disturb the peace of the country. We have ever kept this teaching in view and have ever remained loyal to the government under very trying circumstances. The following letter from the private secretary to your worthy predecessor to the present head of our community throws some light on the conduct of the community during the troubled days of the Punjab disturbances: 

“I am desired to acknowledge with thanks your letter of the 4th May giving a detailed account of the exertions of the Ahmadiyya Community under your leadership in the cause of law and order during the recent disturbances in the Punjab. His Excellency had already heard something of the good work done by you, from the Punjab Government, and it has also been publicly acknowledged in the press. But he has been much interested in hearing some of the details and I am desired to convey to you his congratulations on the loyal attitude of the Community in the face of great difficulties.” 

During the recent war with Afghanistan, our community rendered aid which was in fact out of proportion to its resources; and besides services of various other kinds, it offered an Ahmadiyya Double Company, for enlistment in which more than a thousand Ahmadis had volunteered themselves but the formation of which was prevented by the war coming to a speedy end. One of those who offered their services was the youngest son of the holy founder of the movement who rendered honorary service in the Transport Corps for six months. The service which the community has rendered during the present agitation is not mean contribution to the preservation of peace in the land and certainly it was the book entitled “Non-Cooperation according to the Precepts of Islam” written by the present head of the Ahmadiyya community which silenced the ulama who were issuing fatwas declaring non-Cooperation with the government to be the religious duty of every Muslim and with the help of which Ahmadi students were able to render good service to counteract the agitation in favour of Non-cooperation. 

The above is a very brief outline of the services which our community has been rendering as a loyal duty to our king-emperor, and our object in making a reference to them is to humbly assure Your Excellency that it is in the spirit of true loyalty that we have approached Your Excellency today and it is in this spirit that we further assure Your Excellency, as the chief representative of our king-emperor in India, that we will employ every possible and lawful means in our power to make Your Excellency’s measures and schemes a success and that we will, in cooperation with our country men, render all assistance in our power to help Your Excellency in the arduous task of maintaining and promoting order and peace in the land and that no amount of opposition on the part of our opponents will make its swerve even a hair’s breadth from our course, God helping us. We are loyal to the government because we believe it to be our religious duty. We have never asked for any reward from the government; we cannot do so consistently with our principles. 

Our numbers are indeed small, compared with other communities, but ours is an organised community, widely spread throughout the world and working under this direction of a single leader; so we are in a position to render certain services which even the bigger communities are unable to render. We are comparatively weak, and our resources bear no proportion to those of other communities. But we assure Your Excellency that whenever there is a question of service to the country and an occasion for giving proof of loyalty to the king-emperor, Your Excellency will never, if God please, find us weak hearted. 

In the end, we beg leave to say a few words with regard to the momentous task for the carrying out of which His Imperial Majesty has selected Your Excellency, for a true welcome is that which is of some practical good. A welcome which is confined to mere words is not of much value. 

We are not of those people who find fault with every man that departs and bid welcome to every man that comes. We firmly believe that your worthy predecessor is in no way responsible for the unrest that now prevails in India and that mere change of officers will not bring about any corresponding change in the country. 

The present state of things is the outcome of a long chain of events covering scores of years and no more declaration of policy, however generous and liberal, can remedy it. In our opinion there is only one remedy for it and it is this that both the ruler and the ruled should be made to realise fully that they are not infallible but only human. Unless the officials realise that they are men after all and that it is not impossible for them to err and that it is in no way incompatible with their position to admit their errors, there can be no peace. 

Similarly, so long as the people do not realise that both they and the officials are men and that both are equally liable to err, there can be no peace. But as the attitude of the Indians is a sequence of the attitude of the British officers, and as it is easier to reform a particular class of men than a whole people, therefore we respectfully request Your Excellency to try to infuse a healthier spirit into the British officers so that: (1) if they or their subordinate officers happen to make a mistake, they should keep in view the real purpose for which His Majesty’s government has sent them to such a distant country as India, rather than feel anxious about their prestige and (2) they should treat Indians as brothers. 

In our opinion, if this defect is removed, there will occur a corresponding change in the attitude of the people also. We may, however, point out that the reform suggested above is not easy of accomplishment. Your Excellency has declared that the chief task before you during your term of office will be the obliteration of all racial distinctions. But we beg leave to submit that Your Excellency should aim at the obliteration of distinctions not only between different races but also between the rulers and the ruled. Then and not till then there will be peace in the land. 

After making the above suggestions with regard to the internal administration of the country, we beg leave to say a few words with regard to the foreign policy of the government. Indians generally complain of the treatment which is meted out to them in the British Colonies – a complaint made by the most loyal as well as the extremist section of the Indian population. We hope that this question will receive Your Excellency’s full attention and Your Excellency will not only spare no pains to have this grievance redressed, but will at the same time keep the Indian people informed of your efforts, so that there may be no occasion for misunderstanding. 

The next point to which we beg leave to draw Your Excellency’s attention is the question of the near East. Notwithstanding that we do not acknowledge the Sultan of Turkey as the Khalifa of the Muslims and have thereby exposed ourselves to the reproaches of our fellow countrymen, we fully sympathise with the Turkish government in its affliction, for we feel that Turkey has not received fair treatment; and as it is a wrong which can be righted at any time, there is no reason why the Indian government should give up its efforts to secure a fair treatment for Turkey. If, after a lapse of fifty years, Alsace Lorraine could be restored to France through the efforts of the British government, the provinces of Smyrna and Thrace where the Turkish population certainly preponderates, may similarly be restored to Turkey in spite of the present settlement. 

But more important still, in our opinion is the question of the independence of Hedjaz, which must remain free from outside interference. 

When this question arose every Muslim entertained the misgiving that the freeing of Hedjaz from Turkish control might mean the bringing of it under the control of a European power. Hedjaz being a sterile country would, it was feared, be unable to produce sufficient income to defray the expenses of its administration and the Hedjaz government would be compelled to borrow money from a foreign country, thus placing itself under the control of a European power. 

Recent cables tend to strengthen these misgivings. Reuter, the other day, mentioned a scheme outlined by Mr. Churchill, the secretary of state for colonies, wherein an annual subsidy is promised to the Hedjaz government provided the latter should undertake to maintain internal peace and put its foreign policy under the control of Great Britain. 

This gives rise to certain misgivings and we request Your Excellency to draw the attention of the Home government to their removal. 

First, the scheme, coming as it does from the Colonial secretary, has nothing to do with independent States. Secondly, to put foreign relations under the control of another government is clearly incompatible with independence. Thirdly, the stipulation as to the responsibility for the maintenance of internal peace runs counter to the very conception of independence. The stipulation can only mean that if there is ever any disturbance in the country, Great Britain will have the right to change its government, or interfere with its internal administration or put the country under military control. 

Surely, this is no independence. It amounts to complete subjection, with this difference, that Great Britain will rule Hedjaz not directly but through a Muslim chief. If the Hedjaz government is not able to take care of itself, it may better be put under Turkish control subject to the same conditions under which Mr. Churchill proposes to place it under British control. We confidently hope that Your Excellency will be pleased to warn the Home government of the dangerous consequences of such a fatal step and give publicity to the result of your representations. 

In the end, we beg to repeat our heartfelt congratulations and sincere welcome to Your Excellency and Lady Reading on behalf of our holy leader and the Ahmadiyya community and pray to Allah that He may enable Your Excellency to tread the path of rectitude and justice and may, through Your Excellency, restore to India peace and tranquillity and apply balm to wounded hearts. May He direct Your Excellency to the right path both in matters spiritual and temporal. 

[In response to the above address, the Viceroy delivered a speech, which will be presented in the next issue of Al Hakaminsha-Allah]

(Transcribed by Al Hakam from the original article in The Review of Religions [English], June 1921)

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