Coming from every distant track: Theodore Leighton Pennell, English Protestant missionary and doctor, visits Qadian – Part II


Click here for Part I

A series looking at the high standard of morals of the Promised Messiahas and his Khulafa when receiving visitors in Qadian

Tahmeed Ahmad, Ahmadiyya Archive & Research Centre (ARC)

Old Qadian

In the previous part of this series, I quoted Dr TL Pennell from his book, Among the Wild Tribes of the Afghan Frontier. Let us now have a look at what Al Hakam (Urdu) had to say about his visit to Qadian. 

A full report on his visit and stay can be found in Al Hakam divided into two parts with the headline “An English Missionary in Qadian”. The first part can be found in the 10 January 1904 edition and the second in the next edition, dated 17 January 1904. In the Al Hakam articles, Dr Pennell is being referred to as “Doctor Sahib”. The first editor of Al Hakam, Hazrat Sheikh Yaqub Ali Irfanira writes: 

“On the morning of 4 January 1904, a plain brown bearded sufi/faqir [mystic] with blue eyes, in ochre-coloured clothing, wearing a turban of the same colour, thick native shoes on his bare feet, spectacles on his eyes, riding a bicycle, with a companion who was riding another bicycle and wore similar clothing, landed in Qadian. He said, ‘I have come to meet Mirza Sahib’. People brought him to the Madrasa Talim-ul-Islam where the headmaster of the madrasa, Mufti Muhammad Sadiq Sahib, after finding out from his appearance and accent that he was an Englishman dressed in traditional clothing, immediately prepared a resting place for him out of hospitality and enquired about the situation. It turned out that this was Dr Pennell who was an Englishman and a missionary doctor for the Church of England. He has been working in Bannu for eleven years and can speak and understand Pashto and Urdu and has now departed from Bannu in the guise of a beggar with the intention of meeting Muslims and Hindu elders, whilst also preaching on the way. He says that he intends to reach Calcutta in a period of four months and has come here by bicycle, intending on making the next journey by bicycle as well. Doctor Sahib’s companion was a young boy whom Doctor Sahib called his adopted son and portrayed him to be a Muslim. However, he was a spitting image of Doctor Sahib in all matters. 

“The editor and other friends who met with Doctor Sahib had all insisted that when Doctor Sahib had ventured out to see the elders of different religions in different places, there was no other place more deserving of prolonging his stay [than Qadian], since here lives such a great and glorious person, community and religious sect that has currently no equal in terms of claim and its apparent results. However, Doctor Sahib had already decided that he would not stay for more than a day at any one place and could not cancel his plan due to the Promised Messiahas not feeling well. 

“Thus, Doctor Sahib left the next morning without meeting the Promised Messiahas. Nevertheless, in this short period, Doctor Sahib was able to witness much from the members of this blessed community. Therefore, we will now briefly present a few words from Hazrat Maulana Maulvi Nuruddin Sahib’s lecture that Doctor Sahib listened to and a dialogue he had with Mufti Muhammad Sadiq Sahib. 

“Whilst listening, Doctor Sahib would silently nod his head in agreement, saying, ‘Yes, yes’, but we will also present any questions or comments Doctor Sahib might have made during the conversation.”

Al Hakam has given a detailed report on the lecture given by Hazrat Maulvi Nuruddinra which Dr Pennell attended. I will only briefly mention the part that later becomes a topic of discussion between Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra and Dr Pennell. 

Editor of Al Hakam, Hazrat Sheikh Yaqub Ali Irfanira continued: 

“A student read out a hadith that instructed to read a portion of the Holy Quran during every rak‘at [unit]. Hazrat Maulana said that this was done so that the Holy Quran would be preserved with its original statement and text. Furthermore, since then, the Holy Quran has been preserved by memorisation and there can be no doubt as to the authenticity of the Holy Quran, unlike the Torah and the Gospels that have been buried under many doubts and suspicions. According to most Christian researchers, a large portion of it is fake and not written by the people to whom it is attributed and the Gospels in their original languages are completely lost to the world. 

“During this lesson, students read out several times mentions of different locations where various chapters of the Holy Quran had been revealed to the Holy Prophetsa. Hazrat Maulana said that it is clear from this that the arrangement of verses and chapters of the Holy Quran has been preserved since the time of the Holy Prophetsa and it is absolutely wrong to say that someone, later on, arranged the order of verses and chapters etc.”

The discussion that ensued between Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra and Dr Pennell was mainly in regard to the prophecy made by the Promised Messiahas pertaining to John Hugh Smyth Pigott and John Alexander Dowie. They later speak on the authenticity of the Gospels too, only to come back to the prophecy at hand.

Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra: “Faith is a great wealth and a great blessing. All the righteous prophets, saints and their sincere friends and followers that have come to this world were victorious because of the power of faith, leaving a lasting impact on the world. It was faith that dried up the sea for Moses, it was faith that cooled the fire for Abraham, it was faith and only faith that saved Christ from the cursed death of the cross. Faith is the thing about which Christ tells his disciples in the Gospel, ‘If you have faith equal to the grain of a mustard seed, then if you tell a mountain to get up from here and go somewhere, it will do so’. Whenever this faith disappears from the world and people become discouraged and uncertain, Allah the Almighty sends a person in this world to restore this lost faith by showing miracles and through the strength of his own faith […] 

“At present, in the countries of Europe and America, the dishonesty and disrespect for the word of God, the denial of miracles, supernatural events and the disrespect of the prophets are taking place. All of this is the result of the fact that there is no one among the Christians in these countries who possesses the same level of faith that Christ himself mentioned; if you have faith equal to a grain of mustard seed, you can lift a mountain from one place to another. That is, even the most difficult and tedious of tasks will become easier for you. 

“So, we read in the books, magazines, newspapers and in the personal letters that are coming to us from Europe and America, we read every day that the scholars and learned of these countries consider the Bible to be false, wrong, a lie, mythical and absurd. These words are not only limited to those countries alone but also in India last year in Calcutta and this year in Lahore, some priests have said these very things in their lectures. Doctor Sahib, you must have heard of them.”

Dr Pennell
Theodore Leighton Pennell

Dr Pennell: “I myself was present at this lecture in Lahore.”

Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra: “Then, at a place where all the clergy were present and the Bible was being attacked so severely, did anyone respond?”

Dr Pennell: “Yes, some objected.”

Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra: “The Civil [and Military Gazette] newspaper published that lecture, but no mention of the objections of that time were made. Why?”

Dr Pennell: “The Civil newspaper did not publish the objections at the time, but later published the objections Father Norman had made.”

Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra: “Answers to his objections were also printed by the Civil newspaper but, they later refused to publish further objections made on the answer given, which shows that maybe the viewpoint of the Civil newspaper is similar to that of other eminent and scholarly Christians.”

Dr Pennell: “Maybe so.”

Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra: “The priest who gave this lecture in a crowded meeting full of clergy and said that the Bible is often full of unreliable and false narrations. Also, that the miracles it contains are questionable stories. Who is this gentleman and what does he do?”

Dr Pennell: “The lecturer is Father Peep Worth. He is the religious head of this large church in Lahore which was built for the sake of the British railway employees.”

Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra: “Good. When this is the religion of the religious heads, then what would be the condition of their poor followers? However, when European scholars do not believe the Bible to be true, then their religion should not be called Christianity.”

Dr Pennell: “To me, these people have become atheists.”

Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra: “Then, instead of coming here, why don’t you spread your mission to Europe and America in order to correct them?”

Dr Pennell: “Missionaries are also working over there, but it is written that disbelief will spread a lot in the Latter Days. These researchers are completely denying miracles. What do you think about them?”

Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra: “Just as I was saying before. First of all, from the very beginning, the Holy Quran has been protected by God Almighty in such a way, through memorisation, that from the time of the Holy Prophetsa till today, the Holy Quran has been preserved by hundreds of thousands of huffaz who have memorised the Holy Quran in every age. They keep reciting it to each other and in prayers, leaving no possibility for any mistakes. So, no one can ever object that any part of the Holy Quran is wrong, fake, unreal or that it has been distorted as it has been said about the Gospels. It seems to be absolutely true because for once, the original Gospels are nowhere to be found and the translation is the thought of the translator, whatever he made of it was published and his own thought has been spread throughout the world, not the original word. Then there are thousands of doubts as to who wrote these words and who did not and how reliable the writers were etc.”

Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra spoke at great length regarding prophecies and the acceptance of prayer. He gave examples of various prophets leading up to the Promised Messiahas and how God had aided them in the face of enemies and against all odds. He said:

“Similarly, we have Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya which was published about 22 years ago, containing a revelation of Hazrat Mirza Sahib which was published even before that: ‘People will come to you from far and wide’, and another revelation published quite some time ago is, ‘You will have four sons’. At that time, there was no sign of these things. No one came from outside and even the people of Qadian themselves were less familiar with Hazrat Mirza Sahib. Today, after 25 or 30 years, those words are being fulfilled as clear as day in the face of fierce opposition of the opponents. Is this the work of man?

“If all the people of the world were to engage in the same desperate effort to prevent the fulfilment of these revelations, as some have been doing and are still doing, they would all be helplessly defeated [in their purpose] and this miracle is being displayed and will continue as clear as day.

“Furthermore, many Christians, Arya and non-religious opponents grouped together, wanting to charge Hazrat Mirza Sahib with attempted murder and filed a big case. A boy also testified and his testimony was given against Hazrat Aqdas Mirza Sahib before two magistrates. There was no hope of survival, but the Promised Messiahas had been informed of this incident and its acquittal in advance, something we had all heard [beforehand] and then exactly that happened. God touched the heart of the Magistrate Mr Douglas, He set him on the path of justice and righteousness and Hazrat Sahib survived and all became his opponents. So was this not a great miracle? Like this, there are many other events which we are witnessing day and night in the company of Hazrat Aqdas and everyone living here can see them. 

“Apart from the miracles that appeared at the hands of these [chosen] people and that also becomes a means of guidance for others, we have the miracle of the acceptance of prayers; Allah the Almighty hears and accepts the prayers of His chosen ones. Hence, we find many examples of this in the life of prophets and saints. For example, when a great calamity befell Jesus Christ and his enemies crucified him (i.e., intended to kill him with a cursed death), Jesus wept all night and bowed before Allah and prayed that may this disaster be averted and at the same time, said, ‘That is not for my sake but for Your will’. Thus, Allah heard his prayer and saved him from this cursed death (as is clear from the letter of Hebrews that his prayers were accepted due to his piety).”

Dr Pennell: “Why should it be said that despite being a prophet, he [Jesus] was afraid of death even though Maulvi Abdul Latif was not afraid of death despite not being a prophet?”

Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra: “It is true that prophets do not fear death, nor do their companions fear such misery. However, the death of a prophet in such a manner disintegrates their whole mission, the truth falls victim to doubt, the work remains incomplete and their life becomes a cause of error for humanity instead of guidance. (Also, according to the Torah, to die on the cross is a curse, and death on the cross, according to Jewish law, is to be considered a liar and sinful one, not a righteous person. It was, therefore, important to seek refuge in the presence of Allah the Almighty from such a death. Editor [Sheikh Yaqub Ali Irfanira]) and the martyrdom of Hazrat Maulvi Abdul Latif Sahib was a great blessing and became a great service to this community. Hence, at this time delivering the announcements of Hazrat Aqdas and preaching of religion can be archived to all over the world, through postage, etc. But Afghanistan is an area where no book, announcement or sermon can be sent and it was the intention of Allah the Almighty that this country should also be preached the message of His prophet, the news of his coming and the research done on the death of Jesus Christ. For this reason, through His perfect wisdom, He published an announcement of blood in this country, which will soon be known to the whole world, but even now there is a prophet among us in this world, to whom God Almighty has promised through divine revelation that he will be around 80 years of age. Although the opponents were able to martyr Maulvi Abdul Latif because of a greater means, no one will be able to martyr this prophet whom Allah the Almighty has made a promise to.

“It must be understood that Allah the Almighty saved Christ from death on the cross, he was then taken down from the cross in a state of unconsciousness and placed in a cave-like grave. Furthermore, it is a medical phenomenon that the heat of the earth becomes very useful for the human body in gaining consciousness in certain cases. Remember that Christ’s short stay on the cross is a great testimony to the fact that God saved him from crucifixion. We have read the sayings of Josephus, the great Jewish historian, that when some of the criminals who had been hanged for three days on the crosses of that time were taken down, they were still alive and well [and] given some treatment. So, it would not be a surprise for Christ to come down alive after a few hours on the cross – but it would be a surprise if he died in such a short time – and then when he recovered, he stayed there for a few days and left for the East. He came to Kashmir which was then inhabited by Jews, and spent the rest of his life there. Thus, the history of his tomb testifies that it is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Dr Pennell: “But the disciples testify that he went to heaven.”

Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra: “You should think that if, in this day and age, the government orders the execution of someone and he, somehow, manages to escape, will his friends announce it to the people, that he has escaped the execution? Not at all. Rather, they would keep the matter a secret so that their friend would not be caught again and hanged. There was no point in revealing the secret to someone, endangering the life of Jesus Christ again and perishing with him.

“The disciples thought it best for Christ to go to a distant land, they went with him to the foot of a mountain to bid him farewell and when he had said ‘goodbye’ to them, he went up the mountain as they were left looking at it from below. As you know, clouds descend on the mountains. Thus, he hid in a cloud and, the disciples metaphorically described the event as falling into a cloud and ascending to heaven. This is something they had to do.

“Let me now turn to my original topic that Allah the Almighty hears the prayers of His chosen ones. He heard Christ’s prayer. Hence, the acceptance of prayer is a miracle and sign for the people. That is why the Promised Messiahas has called the false claimant of this time, Pigott and Dowie, for a contest on the acceptance of prayer. He who is truthful, is from God. It is necessary that God, by His grace and favour, listens to his prayers and humiliates those who oppose him. The challenge of Pigott and Dowie is a big sign for Europe and America, this sign is being fulfilled and will be fulfilled, whether or not Pigott and Dowie respond to this announcement.”

Now that our readers have had the opportunity to read both the viewpoint of Dr Pennell and the Jamaat, one can get a complete picture of the doctor’s visit to Qadian, another manifestation of the prophecy, “People will come to you from every distant track”. 

For Dr Pennell, it was unfortunate that he could not meet the Promised Messiahas; however, the high morals and characteristics of the companions were highlighted during this incident – no doubt, these morals were a result of the blessed presence and nearness of the Promised Messiahas. His teachings, guidance and moral example transformed the people around him, a fact the doctor was witness to. 

Today, the same teachings and guidance live on in the form of his writings and his successors, namely the blessed institution of Khilafat.  

We also ought to set a similar example as the Companionsra of the Promised Messiahas and display his teachings to the world through our own beings, a task that should be fulfilled by every Ahmadi Muslim. 

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