‘A curious proposition’: Religious challenge goes viral in 1899

Aizaz Khan, Canada
The Promised Messiahas 

In the digital age, it is common to witness ideas, stories, and videos that rapidly spread online and become widely popular, often referred to as “going viral.” Books have been written on this subject, marketing agents establish their careers around this concept, and unlimited resources are available that promise to teach people how their next big idea can catch on. But have you ever wondered how things went viral before the digital age, when even the concept of the internet was unfathomable? The internet itself became mainstream in the 1990s. The following story of “a curious proposition”, which gained worldwide publicity purely with the help of Allah, predates all these means by nearly a hundred years.

In 1899, under divine inspiration, the Promised Messiahas published an announcement urging the British government to organise a religious conference to determine, once and for all, the one true religion. Perhaps this request would have been viewed as insignificant and trivial, were it not for the stakes wagered by the one who announced it.

The Promised Messiahas proposed that a representative from each religion should: (i) expound upon the beauties of their faith by presenting teachings that are superior to other religions and that can irrigate all branches of the human tree, i.e., they have the ability to nourish and provide sustenance to all aspects of human life; (ii) prove that the same spirituality and power exist in their religion as was claimed at the very beginning. For the second condition to be doubtlessly visible to the masses, the representatives should make a prophecy under Divine direction that should be fulfilled within one year of its pronouncement. Then, he stated something that would shock and astound the world – if a sign was not shown by him in favour of the truthfulness of Islam, he would willingly submit himself to the crucifixion and have his bones broken. (Tiryaq-ul-Quloob, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 15, pp. 487-500)

Such a bold submission could only have been made by one who had complete certainty in his faith and reliance on the support of God.

The publication of this simple yet profound proposition that sought to demonstrate the truth of Islam over all other religions would be blessed by the Divine spirit that initially inspired it. News of this religious challenge went viral and it was published in over one hundred newspapers across the UK, USA and Canada, potentially reaching millions of readers across the globe.

In his concluding address at the MTA International Conference in 2021, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa stated that “Indeed, history bears witness to the fact that the message of the Promised Messiahas reached the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom during his life through an array of media coverage. For example, the open challenges he made to the opponents of Islam were reported upon by famous newspapers in the West. It is not necessary to mention the details of those incidents at this time, but suffice it to say that it is clear that the Promised Messiahas frequently utilised the print media for the sake of serving Islam and in the cause of imparting its noble teachings to a vast audience.” (Concluding address at MTA International Conference, 27 June 2021, YouTube, uploaded by Alislam, 27 June 2021, www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCfNYBWYV5E)

Although this incredible challenge by the Promised Messiahas gained the momentum that it did, a religious conference of this nature was never organised and not a single soul would accept the challenge to defend their faith and become a contender against Islam. Maulana Dost Muhammad Shahid, the historian of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamat, states that the world was forever deprived of this golden opportunity to identify the true religion. (Tarikh-e-Ahmadiyyat, Vol. 2, pp. 61-62)

Nevertheless, the fact that this challenge was published in more than a hundred newspapers in 1899 and was read by potentially millions of people – without a single contender – stands as a testament to the truth of the Promised Messiahas and to his unwavering faith that Islam is the only true, living religion.

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Facts and Figures

Presented below are some facts about the publication of this novel challenge and its widespread circulation:

It was printed in at least 103 newspapers across the UK, USA, and Canada

According to the 103 newspapers that have been retrieved thus far, it was published from 2 December 1899 to 1 June 1900

It appears to have been first published in The Saturday Review (London, UK) on 2 December 1899

It was published in some of the most popular mainstream newspapers at the time, i.e., The New York TimesNew York JournalChicago TribuneThe Los Angeles TimesThe Evening Star (now known as Toronto Star), The Gazette (now known as Montreal Gazette) and The Evening Citizen (now known as Ottawa Citizen), to name a few

Its publication in Canada currently serves as the earliest known mention of the Promised Messiahas in Canadian newspapers

Among Canadian newspapers, it was published in the following:

The Evening Star (Toronto Star), Toronto, Ontario

The Evening Citizen (Ottawa Citizen), Ottawa, Ontario

The Gazette (Montreal Gazette), Montreal, Quebec

Free Press Home Journal, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Vancouver Daily World, Vancouver, British Columbia

The Weekly News-Advertiser, Vancouver, British Columbia

Daily News Advertiser, Vancouver, British Columbia

The Daily British Whig, Kingston, Ontario

The Weekly British Whig, Kingston, Ontario

The Halifax Herald, Halifax, Nova Scotia

The Evening Mail, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Complete List of Newspapers

Below is a list of the 103 newspapers that have been retrieved thus far, in which this challenge was published.


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