Awwab Saad Hayat, Al Hakam
In his Friday Sermon on 17 November 2023, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaa, while urging for continuous prayers for Palestinians, said:
“The UN Secretary-General is speaking well these days, but it seems his words carry no weight.
“It appears that if this conflict escalates further and acquires the form of a world war, then, after its conclusion, the UN might also come to an end.
“May Allah grant wisdom to the world.” (“UN faces collapse amidst World War: Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa warns of escalating tensions following oppression against Palestine“, www.alhakam.org)
Reflecting on Huzoor’saa words, a historical perspective becomes essential. This article delves into the League of Nations’ history, drawing parallels to the current state of the UN and emphasising the importance of learning from past mistakes to ensure a stable and peaceful global future.
We see that the First World War lasted from 1914 to 1918, during which millions of people, including both military personnel and civilians, died, and many more were injured and became disabled for the rest of their lives.
After World War I, peace movements proliferated across Europe. These groups advocated for the prevention of future wars, emphasising everyone’s right to live in peace. This momentum led to the founding of the “League of Nations” as part of the Paris Peace Conference. Officially formed on 10 January 1920, in the wake of the Treaty of Versailles, the League initially included a mix of allied and neutral countries, with its membership evolving over time.
Along with the establishment of the League of Nations, some of its auxiliary institutions were also established to facilitate the organisation in carrying out its duties. These included the establishment of the Assembly, the Council, the Security Treaty, the International Labour Office, and the International Court of Justice.
The League of Nations remained in existence until 20 April 1946, after which the above-mentioned bodies of the League were merged into the United Nations.
And today we have the United Nations, 75 years into its existence, and the arguments about the success or failure of this organisation continue.
In this article, we delve into the history of the League of Nations, examining the causes of its failure to inform the future trajectory of the United Nations.
Introduction to the League
The original charter of the League of Nations allowed any independent nation willing to undertake international responsibilities and adhere to the League’s decisions in military matters to become a member. The League’s primary goal was to foster cooperation based on justice and mutual respect among member states to prevent future wars.
The League’s headquarters were located in Geneva, with English and French as its official languages. According to the charter, member countries pledged to seek peaceful resolutions in conflicts with other nations, resorting to war only after exhausting all reconciliation efforts. Additionally, members were required to sever economic and financial relations with any aggressor nation. Notably, the lack of a mandate for collective military action against aggressors was a fundamental weakness contributing to the League’s eventual failure.
Some of the League’s initial achievements
The League of Nations, established in 1920, played a pivotal role in resolving several international disputes. One notable success was the mediation of the conflict over the Åland Islands between Sweden and Finland in the early 1920s, where the League’s decision favoured Finnish sovereignty while ensuring protection for the islands’ Swedish-speaking population. Additionally, the League effectively intervened in the 1925 incident between Greece and Bulgaria, known as the “War of the Stray Dog.” This minor conflict, triggered by a border incident, was swiftly resolved through the League’s diplomatic efforts, averting a larger-scale confrontation. These instances exemplify the League’s initial effectiveness in managing and resolving international disputes, showcasing its potential as a peacekeeping organisation in the interwar period.
However, this period of effectiveness was short-lived.
Member States of the League and the beginning of its decline
As the League of Nations matured, its membership fluctuated, with key nations joining and leaving. Germany, not an original member, joined in 1926 but withdrew in 1933. Japan also left in 1933, following disputes over its actions in Manchuria. Italy’s departure came in 1937, after facing sanctions for its invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia).
The League’s challenges in enforcing its resolutions increasingly undermined its effectiveness. This ineffectiveness was particularly evident in its response to Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 and Japan’s occupation of Manchuria in the early 1930s. The League’s sanctions against Italy, while significant, fell short of a full arms embargo, highlighting its limitations.
The League’s inability to prevent or adequately respond to Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938, the occupation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, and the later annexation of the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939 further demonstrated its weaknesses. By the time of Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, which marked the beginning of World War II, the League had become largely ineffective, signalling its decline and the failure to maintain peace in Europe.
Crucial League meeting and an Ahmadi’s final bid to better the situation
When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in November 1939, the League of Nations convened a meeting in December, leading to the Soviet Union’s condemnation and expulsion. However, by this time, with World War II already underway, the League’s influence had significantly diminished.
Hear the account of this meeting from the perspective of a participant, Hazrat Chaudhry Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khanra. In his book ‘Tehdis-e-Nimat‘, he recounts that while in England for the Dominion Ministers’ conference in 1939, he was called to represent India at a League of Nations Assembly meeting. This meeting was convened in response to Russia’s aggression against Finland. The Viceroy of India instructed Hazrat Chaudhry Sahibra to attend as India’s representative. Accompanied by an experienced official from the India Office and another secretary from India, he formed a complete delegation and led it as the head to Geneva. The Viceroy advised Hazrat Chaudhry Sahibra on the clear situation of the war between Russia and Finland, expressing sympathy for Finland and advising him to assess the situation and lead the delegation’s response, consulting the Viceroy if necessary.
Hazrat Chaudhry Sahibra writes in his memoirs under the title Recommendations of the Assembly of the League of Nations, after mentioning his trip and the participants of the trip:
‘‘After deliberating on the protest of Finland, the council of the League recommended Russia’s expulsion. Most speeches were in support but subdued for fear of retaliation by Russia. All European nations were afraid of Hitler and wary of hurting his sensibilities. I was surprised and even upset by such a state of affairs and told Mr Butler that I must speak plainly. He said, ‘For Heaven’s sake, you must, for we dare not’. On my turn, I began by drawing a comparison between the politics, culture and social norms of Finland and Russia and strongly supported the resolution and concluded by urging the audience to ‘unammously raise a voice against every kind of wrong and take steps to prevent it. ‘If we don’t, all of us will be crushed one after the other, and the flame of civilisation and morality will be extinguished for centuries to come,’ I concluded.
“The president of the assembly, Mr Hembro, representing Norway, looked scared by my unrestrained warning. He could not stop me, but as I finished, he told the interpreter that, under the rules, it wouldn’t be necessary to translate the speech in full – a summary should suffice. The proposal of the council was approved, and Russia was expelled from the League of Nations. Sir Aga Khan later told me that the Swiss delegate told him that in the whole session, the only speech worth its while was that of the delegate from India.” (Tehdis-e-Nimat, p. 448)
The final session of the League of Nations Assembly was held in April 1946, with its dissolution formalised on 20 April 1946, marking an end to the organisation’s 26-year existence. Meanwhile, World War II had concluded in mid-1945, punctuated by the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan, and the United Nations was established later that year, coming into effect 24 October 1945.
Flaws pointed out by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat
It is not that no one paid attention to some of the flaws and power imbalances of the League of Nations, but it was the Ahmadiyya Jamaat that recognised these dangers in its early days and focused on reforms. For example, In 1924, when Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra, al-Muslih al-Maud, embarked on his historic journey to Europe, he raised the issue of the League of Nations at the grand conference of the member states of the British Empire. With reference to the League of Nations, he took care of the point in front of eminent people from around the world and opened before the League of Nations the correct Islamic teaching. In his address, he declared:
“As the Promised Messiahas was only a spiritual Khalifah his successors will also remain, so far as possible, outside and above politics, even when sovereigns and States join the Movement. They will perform the functions of a real League of Nations, and will endeavour, with the help and advice of the representatives of different countries, to regulate international relations.” (Ahmadiyyat or The True Islam, p. 270)
During his historic tour of Europe, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra also called on the Secretary of the Religion and Ethics Department in the League of Nations on 11 September 1924, and a topic of mutual interest – world peace – was discussed in detail.
Hazrat Sheikh Yaqub Ali Irfanira has recorded the details of this meeting in his report as follows:
“After five o’clock, the Secretary of the Religion and Ethics Department of the League of Nations, Mr Ellison, and Mr Ren came to a meeting, and Huzoorra answered their questions.
I am the Caliph of the Prince of Peace
“Mr Ellison asked how Huzoorra could help them.
“He answered, ‘I sympathise with every movement that aims for the betterment and peace in the world because one of the names of the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement is Prince of Peace. This is the purpose for which Allah sent him. It is my duty to try to fulfil this goal because I am the Caliph of this Prince of Peace. Some of the prophecies of the Holy Quran were to be fulfilled in the time of the prophet of the Latter Days, and their practical propagation was associated with this era. One of them is the propagation of peace. The propagation of religion is prohibited by the sword. The teachings of our Community have greatly helped and benefited the world in spreading peace. Therefore, regarding the establishment of peace on the border of India, the British government officials themselves have admitted that they have benefited a lot from the teachings of the Ahmadiyya Community.
“We do not believe in the sword and warfare for the propagation of religion. ‘Jihad’ of the sword for the propagation of religion, which Muslims mistakenly consider their last resort, is prohibited in our Movement. This is the teaching of Islam. Its implementation and propagation have been done by the Founder of our Movement. That is why, due to the propagation and expression of this teaching in India and other Muslim countries, we face persecution. Therefore, the people of Afghanistan and the Afghan government have martyred our people. Just recently, on 31 August 1924, one of our preachers was martyred by stoning. However, despite all these sufferings and persecutions, I consider it my duty to complete what the Founder of the Community has initiated for global peace, and for this purpose, I am ready to give all possible help and willing to make every sacrifice.’” (Al Fazl, Qadian, 14 October 1924, pp. 3-4)
After that, Mr Ren asked a question about religious tolerance, to which Huzoorra gave a detailed answer.
While reporting further, Hazrat Sheikh Sahibra wrote:
Assistance in peacekeeping
“Mr Ellison asked if they wanted to establish a branch in India; would he help them, as Mrs Benson has also promised them assistance?
“Huzoorra said: Mrs Benson interferes in politics. Hence, her assistance would not be of much benefit to the League of Nations. We are ready to provide all kinds of assistance, and we will cooperate with people who are even our opponents for this pure cause. However, the condition is that we are not forced to join on the basis of any religious principles.
“I also want to say that the League is not yet a perfect means for peace, because peace can be established in two ways: first, through changes in hearts. If there is a change in hearts, then there is no need for a League. Second, by force. And by power, I do not mean that the League should maintain an army. In that case, the League itself will become a party. Rather, what I mean is that when a nation violates peace, all other nations should use moral force against it, and when they are defeated, at the time of peace, only that issue that was the cause of conflict should be resolved. Other issues should not be raised, as stated in the Treaty of Versailles.
“Mr Ellison enquired about how they should keep Huzoorra informed of their efforts.
“He said, ‘Through our local representative, who will be Maulvi Abdur Rahim Dardra in London.’” (Ibid.)
In the same way, on 12 October 1951, while addressing the ijtima‘ of Majlis Khuddam-ul-Ahmadiyya, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra said:
“Even today, the Holy Quran can fulfil all the needs of the world. The world has made numerous efforts to establish peace – at times through the League of Nations and at other times through the United Nations – however, they are proving unsuccessful since these efforts are not based on spirituality, and each party prioritises its own interests and rights. In reality, the solution to the world’s problems lies in the establishment of pure morals, and pure morals cannot be established through worldly efforts, but rather through the teachings given in the Holy Quran.” (Daily Al Fazl, Lahore, 16 October 1951, p. 2)
The Ahmadiyya Jamaat called on the League of Nations to raise its voice upon the painful martyrdom of the Ahmadis in Kabul in 1924 for the sake of their faith. As a result, the contemporary newspapers of the subcontinent also declared that the Ahmadiyya Jamaat was in the right with this demand. After all, the protection of the religious rights of the members in the member countries is also one of the most important issues.
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra appreciated every effort to establish and maintain peace, including the League of Nations, but it is also a special virtue to point out someone’s obvious mistakes and save that person or organisation from failure. Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra comments on Surah al-Kauthar in his Tafsir-e Kabir are as follows:
“Islam has laid down laws regarding relations between governments that no religion can compete with. For instance, Islam has proposed certain fundamental principles to resolve disputes between governments, which are so comprehensive that neither the League of Nations, which existed before, nor the United Nations, which has now become a body, could compete with them because neither the former association fully adopted the principles prescribed in the Holy Quran nor is the current association adopting them. It is mentioned in the Holy Quran that when two nations engage in conflict, other governments should exert pressure on both and resolve their differences. And if after the decision has been made, one nation refuses to accept it and attacks the other, then all governments should unite and use force against the aggressor until the conflict ceases and the decision made by the representatives of different nations is accepted. And if the aggressor nation accepts its mistake and ceases hostilities, then the peacekeeping governments should enforce their initial decision without taking undue advantage of the other party or attempting to loot. This alone is sufficient for establishing peace in the world.
When the League of Nations was formed, I was in England at the time, and I said then that it would never be successful because the Holy Quran has stipulated that when there is discord between two nations and one of them does not accept your decision, then all the other governments should join forces against it. However, the League of Nations did not resort to this kind of force, and now the United Nations has been formed. Regarding this, I say the same: it will never succeed until they amend their rules. Because it also lacks the conditions entirely that Islam has prescribed.” (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 10, pp. 312-313)
The missionaries sent by Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra also continued to point out some of the shortcomings of the League of Nations and the United Nations in their respective spheres of influence. They tried to convey this important message to the people working in the corridors of power with great confidence. For example, a prominent preacher of the Jamaat, Maulana Muhammad Siddiq Amritsari, in his very valuable work Ruh Parwar Yadein, writes at one point under the title Identifying a clear flaw of the United Nations:
In December 1959, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, visited Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, during an official visit to African countries. He stayed for three days to study the political, cultural, and general conditions of Liberia. Seizing this opportunity, I, as the missionary in charge of the Ahmadiyya Mission in Liberia, met him on 23 December 23 1959, and presented him with a copy of the Holy Quran in English, as well as other books on the teachings of Islam, Ahmadiyyat, Life of Muhammadsa, and our foreign missions, among others. I also provided him with a typed welcome address, parts of which he read at the time and expressed his gratitude.
Boldly addressing the head of an institution like the United Nations, this Ahmadi missionary, while highlighting the UNؔs shortcomings, would have drawn in the interpretation of verse 10 of Surah Al-Hujurat, as expressed by Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, who writes:
“This verse depicts the role of the UN. Unfortunately, the League of Nations did not act upon it and failed. The UN also appears cowardly and is experiencing the consequences of failure. As long as the UN does not act in accordance with the conditions outlined in this verse, it will not be successful.” (Tafsir-e-Saghir, under the above verse, p. 859, footnote no. 1)
The Urdu version of this valuable address presented by this Ahmadi missionary and the response from the Executive Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations can be found in the letter of thanks from their Personal Secretary, Wachmeister, titled Memories that Inspire (pp. 534-538). In this, the Personal Secretary wrote, “The Secretary-General of the United Nations carefully considered the principles presented from the Holy Quran and expressed good wishes for your mission and community.”
Ambassador of peace for peace in the world
Hence, after the League of Nations, the United Nations also continued its journey down the same slope, the next phase of which is known to everyone. But it is not that the Ahmadiyya Jamaat has stopped the process of awakening the United Nations from its slumber and guiding it on the right path, that is not the case at all.
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa once said while commenting on the current world situation:
“Upon analysis, it would seem that the major powers are bent on fanning the flames of war, rather than putting them out; they do not wish to end warfare. After the First World War, the major powers created the League of Nations in order to put an end to wars. However, due to their failure to fulfil the demands of justice, and establish its authority, it proved unsuccessful. Consequently, the Second World War broke out, and it is said that more than 70 million lives were lost. The same is happening now with the UN. It was created to establish justice in the world, support the oppressed and to try to put an end to wars. However, these are all far from becoming reality. Everyone is simply concerned with their own interests.’’ (Friday Sermon, 13 October 2023, “Muhammadssa: The Great Exemplar“, www.alhakam.org)
In the same way, on 22 May 2021, during a virtual mulaqat of the Gambian journalists with the Huzooraa, a journalist, referenced Huzoor’saa book, World Crisis and the Pathway to Peace, and said that Huzooraa had paid a lot of emphasis on global peace. He asked about the importance of justice and why it was crucial to speak out against injustices. In response, Huzooraa said:
“[…] In the case of worldly affairs, if there is no justice, there is no peace. If you have double standards, as we can see in today’s world shown by the big powers, they cannot maintain peace in the world. This is what happened when the League of Nations was formed. The League of Nations was formed to maintain justice and give equal rights to each and every nation, but it failed. Resultantly, there was an eruption of the Second World War. And the same is happening with the UNO – they are not maintaining justice, they have double standards for poor countries and for the rich countries, for Western countries and African and Asian countries. This is why you can see there is disturbance in the world today. So, if there is no justice, there is no peace.” (Al Hakam, 28 May 2021, Issue 167, pp. 1-2)
The most recent example of this guidance and concern is the Friday Sermon in which the fifth successor of the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, reiterated the prayer for the oppressed Palestinians in the war between Hamas and the Israeli government, saying:
“These people simply follow the rule that ‘might is right’. They bow before those who have worldly wealth.
“Upon analysis, it would seem that the major powers are bent on fanning the flames of war, rather than putting them out; they do not wish to end warfare. After the First World War, the major powers created the League of Nations in order to put an end to wars. However, due to their failure to fulfil the demands of justice, and establish its authority, it proved unsuccessful. Consequently, the Second World War broke out, and it is said that more than 70 million lives were lost. The same is happening now with the UN. It was created to establish justice in the world, support the oppressed and to try to put an end to wars. However, these are all far from becoming reality. Everyone is simply concerned with their own interests.
“The average person cannot even fathom the harmful consequences of the war that will result from these injustices; however, all the major powers are well aware of the grave consequences. Yet, despite this, there is no attention given to establishing justice. No one is even prepared to pay attention to this.” (Friday Sermon, 13 October 2023, “Muhammadsa: The Great Exemplar“, www.alhakam.org)
When the United Nations was established, its charter proclaimed the primary goal of “protecting future generations from the scourge of war”. Despite this, numerous wars have erupted, with two major conflicts currently impacting the world intensely. Increasingly, there are concerns about these conflicts becoming unmanageable. If the first League failed due to flaws in its charter, the UN now faces a unique challenge posed by the veto power rule. This veto right, held by a few nations, starkly contrasts with the democratic norms prevalent in the Western world, where the global consensus can be overridden by a single veto-wielding country.
Today, the situation is such that, under the very noses of all the member countries of the United Nations, the lives of millions of innocent people are being made hell. Remember that Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran:
مَنۡ قَتَلَ نَفۡسًۢا بِغَیۡرِ نَفۡسٍ اَوۡ فَسَادٍ فِی الۡاَرۡضِ فَکَاَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِیۡعًا
“[W]hosoever killed a person — unless it be for killing a person or for creating disorder in the land — it shall be as if he had killed all mankind.” (Surah al-Mai’dah, Ch.5: V.33)
The Word of God is incredibly subtle and extraordinary. In light of this verse, for all those unfortunate souls drenched in innocent blood by the hands of oppressors in the Holy Land or anywhere on the face of the earth, the entire political leadership of the world today stands as good as dead in terms of its power and status.
Reflecting further upon this verse, we observe that today, the inhabitants of the East and West of the world, in their ignorance, believe that only the people of Palestine and Ukraine are being crushed in the mill of destruction and war, and people in other countries of the world are living in comfort with their families, enjoying all the pleasures of life. They are gravely mistaken. This is because other nations and cities of the world are at peace only because the hands of the oppressors and aggressors have not yet reached them. Otherwise, the ones who drenched the Holy Land in blood, if necessary, will not hesitate to obliterate another city or village. The sanctity of human life is universal, and in today’s world, no one seems to restrain the hand of the oppressor except God. In front of this very God, Ahmadis, men and women around the world, are prostrating in response to the call of their beloved Imam, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih V, may Allah strengthen him with His mighty help. He will surely hear the cries of His beloved and will cut off the hand of the oppressors, insha’Allah.