Caliph in Europe 1924: The Messiah’s words fulfilled through divine intervention

(A series highlighting the chronological events in connection with Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud’s [ra] 1924 tour of the Arab world and Europe)


Uniting the Empire 

The end of the First World War marked a monumental moment in history, as the world slowly but surely began to move towards normality once again. From a war that had been the biggest calamity ever faced by humanity, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Moreover, while the British Empire emerged victorious, little did they know that this moment would mark the beginning of the end. It would take a few decades for the cracks to become visible, but historians will undoubtedly look back on this moment as a turning point in the course of history.

The Empire had its flaws, and in 1923, it was at its largest ever. Being such a massive entity, it needed something extraordinary to keep itself together. That was when an exhibition of epic proportions was conceived – one that would bring together every part of the empire to the heart of London. The British Empire Exhibition was inaugurated by King George V on 23 April 1924, and it was a magnificent display of the Empire’s power and might.

Reflecting on the grandeur of the 1924 British Empire Exhibition, contemporary media captured the essence of the event. Here’s how one newspaper described the opening ceremony:

“The British Empire Exhibition, a spectacle which in its way represents the climax of human achievement, was formally opened at Wembley,” on 23 April 1924, “by His Majesty the King, on the formal invitation of the Prince of Wales.” (The Isle of Man Examiner, 25 April 1924) 

Nonetheless, bureaucrats saw this as an opportunity for political gain, businessmen for profit, and entertainers for fame. The academic could not help but wonder, is this it? Will London finally get its version of Chicago 1893? A theological discussion like never before with scholars from the world over, including the likes of Sir E Denison Ross and Sir Francis Edward Younghusband. This idea took shape and formed “The Conference on Some Living Religions Within the Empire”. However, decades earlier a remarkable individual from across the globe had proposed something similar in 1895 under the title “Jalsa Tahqiq-e-Mazahib” — A conference for a test of religions. What was that conference and how was it connected to the Empire Exhibition? We will get to that, but first, some background information is needed.

A global village

The early 1900s marked a new era for commercial travelling, thanks to the advent of steamboats. This development made various parts of the world more accessible than ever before. As a result, a new “global village” emerged, giving rise to an international community. No longer did people have to rely only on books to learn about foreign cultures. They could now attend international conferences, where people from all over the world could gather in one place and exchange information. One of the earliest and most notable examples of such an event was the World’s Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World’s Fair, which took place in 1893. The crown jewel of the World’s Columbian Exposition was the first formal gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions from around the world, Parliament of the World’s Religions.

In September 1893, the “World’s Parliament of Religions” was held as part of the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which was the first formal gathering of religious representatives of the Eastern and Western. It continued for 17 days at the Permanent Memorial Art Palace, now known as the Art Institute of Chicago. Muhammad Alexander Russell Webb, an Anglo-American who had accepted Islam by reading the works of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah and Mahdias and through detailed correspondence with him, represented Islam. (Islam in the African-American Experience, Richard Turner, Indiana University Press, Indianapolis, 1997, p. 63)

This conference would establish a new standard for what was possible in our rapidly evolving world. Unfortunately, due to the world war, it will be some time before another significant religious conference can be held. As the saying goes, war never changes.

The Promised Messiah’sas proposal

As mentioned earlier, in 1895, a grand proposal was put forth in the East for a conference of religion — an event that would change the course of history. This visionary proposition was made by none other than Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas of Qadian, the Promised Messiah and Mahdi.

With his keen foresight and deep understanding of the contemporary global landscape, the Champion of Islam envisaged a world that would soon be embroiled in a fierce East-West clash, but this time Islam would emerge as the ultimate victor. He first called for a month-long religious gathering in Qadian, at his personal expense, in an announcement dated 29 December 1895, titled “Jalsa Tahqiq-e-Mazahib” — A conference for a test of religions. (Majmu‘ah-e-Ishtiharat [2019], Vol. 2, pp. 77-83)

A 19th-century newspaper captured the ambitious nature of this early call for interfaith dialogue as follows:

“Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, of Kadian in the Gurdaspur district, intends holding a conference, open to the representatives of all creeds, ‘to the Jews, the Christians, the Aryan; the Parsis, the Brahmos, the Jainies, the Buddhists, the Sanatan Dharama Hindus and to atheists.’” (The Civil and Military Gazette, 25 March 1896)

In December 1896, Allah the Almighty fulfilled the words of His Prophet in the form of the Conference of Great Religions, held at Lahore. It was evident that one religion was dominant, and the paper presented by the Promised Messiahas was so compelling that the next speaker forfeited their time, and the conference was extended by another day. This paper was later published as a book titled “The Teachings of Islam.” (Report Jalsa-e-Azam Mazahib [Dharam-Mahotso], pp. 79-81 and 140)

Even though the conference was great, the Promised Messiahas believed that the world had progressed beyond the concept of “national borders”. It is only a matter of time before the world becomes truly international and distance simply becomes a number. In 1897, the Promised Messiahas wrote to Queen Victoria, suggesting the idea of holding an interreligious conference in London, with the aim that “every participant present his faith’s excellences and not malign others.” (A Gift for the Queen, p. 25)

Emphasising the objective from the perspective of Islam, the Promised Messiahas said that such a conference was essential for the Western people since they “will be introduced to the true face of Islam” and learn about it from the Muslims themselves, instead of the Christian priests who mislead them about Islam. He continued by stating that “The reason that the Christians of Europe look at Islam with hatred and dislike is that these same priests have been giving the lessons of hate by presenting unauthentic incidents.” (Ibid., 25-27)

The transformative vision of the Promised Messiahas captured international attention, leading to media coverage of his innovative proposals for interfaith dialogue. In 1899, a New York Times article highlighted his unique approach to showcasing the merits of different religions:

“East Indian Wants to Prove Mohammed’s Greatness. A curious proposition has been made to Lord Curzon of Kedleston, the Viceroy of India, by Mirza Ahmad, a well-known Mohammedan of Kadian. He wants the British Government to call a public conference of all the religions and submit them to competitive examination under two demonstrations of the sublimity of their moral teachings and an outward sign of Divine support by the performance within a year of some miracle transcending all human limits.” (New York Times, 3 December 1899)

Religions of the Empire

Now that we are up to speed, let us head towards the 1924 British Empire Exhibition. The exhibition was held at Wembley Park and included contributions from countries from around the world, a true visualisation of the Empire. That being said, one key aspect was amiss, religion. In 1923, William Loftus Hare wrote to Sir Edward Denison Ross, the director of the London School of Oriental Studies (now SOAS), with a suggestion. Realising that this exhibition would draw in people from all over the world, from different religions, he saw the possibility of organising a conference of religions, one that might even supersede Chicago.

Thus, the Committee decided to invite the cooperation of the Sociological Society. The Society agreed to the proposal and “strengthened by the accession to our ranks of Sir Francis Younghusband, Mr Victor Branford, and Mr FC Channing, we were able at the meeting held on December 13th to form an Executive Committee of the Conference representative of the School of Oriental Studies and the Sociological Society.”

Sir Edward Denison Ross was appointed as the Chairman of the Committee, Sir Thomas W Arnold was the Vice-Chairman, and Mr W Loftus Hare and Miss M Sharples were the Honourary Secretaries. (Religions of the Empire: A Conference on Some Living Religions within the Empire, Introduction By Sir E. Denison Ross, London, 1925, pp. 3-4)

As mentioned above, Miss Mable Sharples was the Secretary of the Executive Committee and worked with the National Council of Women of Great Britain as well. It is from their handbook that we learnt that the address attributed to Miss M Sharples was the same address that would issue tickets for the conference.

“As emphatically as I can, I would urge every reader of the Clarion in London between September 22 and October 3 to obtain a programme and one of their ridiculously cheap tickets from the Secretaries of the Conference, 17, Mecklenburgh Square.” (The Clarion, 19 September 1924, p. 3)

Thomas Albert Howard, in his book “The Faiths of Others,” mentions that the newly established SOS had already started planning to use the Empire Exhibition as a means of advertisement. They even formed a committee to improve the School’s publicity through the Exhibition. (The Faiths of Others: A History of Interreligious Dialogue, p. 142). Just like that, the planning begins and preparations are very quickly underway.

“Conference on Living Religions within the Empire (C.M.M. 52).—Reported:- (1) A request from the Organising Committee of the Conference on Living Religions within the Empire to be held at the Empire Exhibition from 22 September to 2 October 1924, that they be allowed to state that the Conference will be held under the auspicious of the School of Oriental Studies. A series of lectures is to be given during the Conference. (2) That the Sociological Society had associated itself with the Conference in a similar way. (3) That with the concurrence with the Chairman of the Governing Body, the request contained in the foregoing was acceded to by the Committee of Management.

“Resolved: That the notion reported above be approved.” (Governing Body Minutes, Vol. VIII, Oct. 1923-July 1924 [24 January 1924])

It is important to acknowledge that with everything that has positive aspects, there are also negative ones. This is true for enthusiasts and critics alike. For instance, during the preparation of the conference of living religions, some critics raised concerns about the exclusion of Christianity and Judaism. They were worried that this might imply that these religions are no longer, according to the organisers, “living religions”. William Loftus Hare quickly addressed the concerns by stating that the organisers did not have any objection towards biblical religions. They believed the public was already familiar with these religions and felt that allotting time to Christianity and Judaism would require an extensive program. (The Open Court, December 1924, pp. 711-712)

Moving on to the enthusiastic support for the conference, another article captures the planning and collaborative efforts that were underway:

“The Churches and the Age”

“Mention was made in these notes last week of the effort of missionary societies to bring their work to the knowledge of the public through the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. As all the great religions of the earth are included within the bounds of the Empire, it is quite fitting that they should have a voice as well, and a series of meetings has been arranged for the end of September, when representatives of great religions like Hinduism and Mohammedanism will give an exposition in English of the leading doctrines of their own Faiths. Emphasis is to be given to some of the new developments in these great religions, and the meetings will provide a unique opportunity of getting to know at first hand something of the religions included in the British Empire.” (Westminster Gazette, 2 February 1924)


An Invitation

As we approach the conclusion of this article, it’s essential to further clarify the role of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat during the 1924 British Empire Exhibition. Initially, the conference planning largely overlooked the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat of Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, instead featuring the Lahori movement as the apparent sole representative of Islam. However, by divine providence and through diligent efforts, the Jamaat’s representation was not only included but also came to play a pivotal role in presenting Islam at this prestigious international forum. Hence, Allah fulfilled His Prophet’sas words. 

How the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was eventually invited and the surrounding situation has been best presented by Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad,Khalifatul Masih Vaa:

“In those days, Hazrat Maulvi Abdur Rahim Nayyarra, who had arrived in London in the beginning of 1923, was in London, but he could not know about this conference. While the committee had been formed and the speakers had also been finalised (these tasks had already been completed), and some part of 1924 had also passed, someone at a gathering casually told Hazrat Maulana Abdur Rahim Nayyarra about this. Upon this, he contacted the Joint Secretary of the Committee Miss M Sharples. Upon listening to him, Miss Sharples felt that the views of the Ahmadiyya [Muslim] Jamaat about Islam must be represented and thus she discussed the matter with the Committee. The Vice Chairman, Sir Thomas W Arnold, was so impressed with his personality and knowledge that he called the attention of [the committee] to consult with Nayyar Sahibra while selecting the speakers.

“Nowadays we often lose heart and say ‘Well, the time is up now. Nothing can be done.’ At that time, he put in a huge effort despite everything being finalised, approached the organisers and convinced them all. Thereafter, the programme was revised with the consultation of Nayyar Sahibra, and the names of the representatives of Hinduism and Buddhism, and they also consulted with him in regards to the representative of Tasawwuf, and the name of  Hazrat Sufi Hafiz Roshan Alira was finalised to represent Tasawwuf. However, he also emphasised that Hafiz Roshan Ali Sahibra could only come with the approval of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra, who is the Imam Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya. Thus, when these names were presented [to the Committee], the members, particularly Dr [Thomas W] Arnold and Professor Margoliouth very sincerely and lovingly decided to send an invitation to Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra to attend the Conference and to request to bring along Sufi Sahibra as well. In this way, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra received the invitation from the biggest orientalists of England.” (Khutbat-e-Masroor, Vol. 12, pp. 123-124)

Looking at the engagement of Hazrat Maulvi Abdur Rahim Nayyarra, we conclude that the gathering during which he was informed about the Conference could have been a session of the Central Asian Society, which he attended on 8 April 1924. Upon being invited by the chairman, Nayyarra Sahib delivered a short speech on the issue of Pan-Islamism. (Journal of The Royal Central Asian Society, Vol. 11, No. 3 (1924): pp. 204-228)

“We came to know about the religious conference in May, after which I carried out a consultation and decided that I shall send an article for it. The information [from the organisers] was incomplete so a telegram was sent to the Secretary [of the Conference] and his reply was received around 12 May.” (Daurah-e-Europe 1924, Anwar-ul-Ulum, Vol. 8, pp. 421-422)


Mentioning the Divine Hand behind this invitation that paved the way for Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud’sra visit to England in 1924, he himself stated that it was a glorious proof of the Promised Messiah’sas truthfulness and said:

“Who would have even thought of this journey a few months back?”

Moreover, Huzoorra emphasised that the circumstances created for the progress of Islam in the West were all based on Divine Will and grand fulfilment of the prophecies of the Holy Quran, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, and the Promised Messiahas. (Daurah-e-Europe 1924Anwar-ul-Ulum, Vol. 8, pp. 433-436)

(Prepared by Ahmadiyya Archive & Research Centre)

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