Asif M Basit, Curator, Ahmadiyya Archive and Research Centre
The reason why the age of Hazrat Ahmadas has remained debatable is primarily due to a revelation that he received regarding his age:
ثمانین حولاً أو قریباً من ذلک، أو تزید علیہ سنیناً
“Eighty years or around that, or a little more…” (Arba‘in III, Ruhani Khazain Vol. 17, pp. 29-30; Zamima Tohfa Golarviya, Ruhani Khazain Vol. 17, p. 66)
The exact time when this revelation was vouchsafed to him is not known, as he has only alluded to it in his later works, stating on both occasions that he had received it around 35 years before.
Both of these works – Arba‘in III and Tohfa Golarviya, were written in the year 1900. Taking out 35 years from the time of the writing of these works takes us back to 1865. Although certain writings indicate that he had been a recipient of divine inspiration from earlier, but in his writings (to follow below), he has marked forty-years-of-age as a starting point.
On another occasion, Hazrat Ahmadas refers to the same prophecy in the following words:
“I am now around seventy years of age. God Almighty informed me in clear words that I shall live to see the age of eighty, add or take five, six years.” (Zamima Barahin-i-Ahmadiyya, Part 5, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 21, p. 258)
If one insists on the revelation above being seen in the literal sense, the context cannot be disregarded and will have to be taken literally. This will set his year of birth to 1825, which is not the timeframe that can be established through his original works. To try and establish a timeframe, we will have to take a look at where his original works point to.
Before going into the details, I must state that what follows is based on the extensive research carried out by the likes of Syed Ahmad Ali, (Al Fazl 11 June and 18 June 1933) Maulana AR Dardra (Al Fazl, 3 September 1933), and Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra. (Al Fazl, 11 August 1936)
This article is an attempt to collate the work of the above scholars, albeit in a different order, not to speak of the little commentary that such an adjustment calls for.
Hazrat Ahmadas understood this revelation to have meant that his age would be not less than 74, yet not more than 86. (Zamima Barahin-i- Ahmadiyya, Part 5, p. 97, first edition) This is the age expectancy that the recipient of the revelation understood where the span of ten years – 75 to 85 – was bracketed within.
What creates confusion and, hence, leads to allegations, are the writings where Hazrat Ahmadas states his birth to have taken place at a time that, at his time of death in 1908, leave him at around the age of 70 or even less.
However, when asked on one occasion about his age, he replied: “Only God has knowledge of my age.” (Zamima Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Part 5, p. 194) This is not an unusual statement to have been made by someone born in his time, and that too in a tiny village in Punjab. Birth records were rarely maintained, and only approximations could be established through whatever little information was passed down through word of mouth – word that relied on memory and memory that relied on memorable incidents surrounding the birth.
The first and foremost piece of Huzur’sas writings that are taken as most authentic are based on similar estimation:
’’۔۔۔ میری پیدائش۱۸۳۹ یا ۱۸۴۰ میں سکھوں کے آخری وقت میں ہوئی ہے اور میں ۱۸۵۷ میں سولہ برس کا یا سترھویں برس میں تھا۔۔۔‘‘
“I was born in 1839 or 1840, in the twilight of the Sikh rule, and was in my sixteenth or seventeenth year in 1857…” (Kitab al-Bariyya, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 13, p. 177)
Here, reference is made to two memorable historic incidents: the twilight of Sikh rule and the Indian Mutiny. While reference to the mutiny is the exact year, his age at that time is based on his estimate of his birth year, which, according to this statement, seems to have happened in the “twilight of the Sikh rule”. This twilight had set in towards the latter years of Ranjit Singh and loomed over the Sikh kingdom from his death in 1839 for a whole decade until its collapse.
Although this estimate spans over a decade or even more, Hazrat Ahmad’sas early biographers took this estimate word-for-word and put his year of birth down as 1839. (Mian Miraj Din Umar published Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya with a biographical note on Hazrat Ahmadas; Sheikh Yaqub Ali Irfani held the same opinion in Hayat-e-Ahmad)
What further strengthens that Hazrat Ahmadas here only presented an estimate is where he says that he was “sixteenth or seventeenth year in 1857”. If 1839/1840 are to be taken as accurate, his age by 1857 would have been seventeen or eighteen and not as literally stated. This simple arithmetic shows that the statement was purely based on an estimate and not exact dates.
In the above statement, he goes on to say that his “father had endured huge hardships” (Kitab al-Bariyya, p. 177) before his birth. He goes on to state that “with my birth, my father’s days of hardship had taken a turn towards prosperity, and, hence, it is by Allah’s mercy that I never got to see his days of hardship.” (Ibid)
These hardships that his father had to face was the confiscation of vast estates that spanned over hundreds of acres of land, Qadian inclusive, to the Rangarhia Sikhs – the predecessors of Ranjit Singh. Sir Lepel Griffin, in The Chiefs of Punjab, mentions the partial return of these lands to Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Murtaza, the father of Hazrat Ahmadas:
“…Ranjit Singh, who had taken possession of all the lands of the Ramgharia misl, invited Ghulam Murtaza to return to Kadian and restored to him a large portion of his ancestral estates. He then, with his brothers, entered the army of the Maharaja and performed efficient service on the Kashmir frontier and other places.” (Lepel Griffin, The Punjab Chiefs, Lahore, 1865, pp. 380-381)
Hazrat Ahmadas, just a couple of pages before the 1839/1840 statement, writes:
“My father, the late Mirza Ghulam Murtaza, returned to Qadian in the latter part of Ranjit Singh’s rule as he was awarded back five villages from his father’s estate…” (Kitab al-Bariyya, pp. 175-176)
All these statements put together point to the fact that Hazrat Ahmadas was born in the latter part of Ranjit Singh, and not in the year of/after his death.
The debate of Jang-i-Muqaddas took place in mid-1893. Since the debate ended with a prophecy by Hazrat Ahmadas that the opponent’s champion, Abdullah Athem, would die within his lifetime, Hazrat Ahmadas mentioned his age several times while referring to the prophecy.
Hazrat Ahmadas refers to this prophecy and the subsequent death of Atham in his book Ijaz-i-Ahmadi (published 1902):
“Show me where Atham has gone? He was sixty-four years old – the same age as me.” (Ijaz-i-Ahmadi, p. 3)
If he was sixty-four at the time of Atham’s death in 1896, then he would be 76 at the time of his death, which takes the year of birth back to 1831 (and 78 according to the lunar calendar).
In another work of Hazrat Ahmadas, Anwar al-Islam (published 1894), he says:
“I can trust in my Truthful and Absolute God that I cannot die without having accomplished my divine task. Although I am sixty years of age now, but I will live on by his grace until I have completed the mission of my faith.” (Anwaar al-Islam, p. 36)
This means he died at the age of 74 (lunar 76) and, accordingly, was born in 1834.
In 1894, while Atham was still alive and Hazrat Ahmad’sas opponents saw this as a failure of his death-prophecy, Hazrat Ahmadas challenged Atham to say on oath that he had not repented. He states in this challenge:
“I too am around sixty years of age; Atham and I are both under the same law of nature. I know that God Almighty will keep me alive at the decisive moment.” (Majmuah-e-Ishtiharat, Ishtihar Inaami Chaar Hazar Rupay [challenge worth 4,000 rupees], Vol. 2, p. 105, 1894)
This would mean that if he was sixty in 1894, he died at the age of 74 (lunar 76), taking his year of birth to 1834.
When it came to challenges to his opponents, he would usually make reference to his own age. Challenging Alexander Dowie in 1903, he states:
“I am about seventy years of age …” (The Review of Religions, November/December 1903, p. 480)
This makes his year-of-birth 1833, however, the word “about” again highlights estimation because, when asked about his age in c. 1905, he replied:
“Only God has knowledge of my age, but as far as I know, I am around seventy years of age as of now, 1323 Hijri. God knows best.” (Zamima Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya, Part 5, p. 194)
The time of this writing being 1905, this statement places his year of birth somewhere around 1835, meaning he was 73 at the time of his death (lunar 75).
How we know that this book, Barahin-i-Ahmadiyya V was written in 1905 is proven from a poetic couplet he wrote and included in this book:
اک نشاں ہے آنے والا آج سے کچھ دن کے بعد
جس سے گردش کھائیں گے دیہات و شہر و مرغزار
“A sign is to appear in a few days’ time; a sign that will shake villages, cities and green lands.” As a footnote to the first line, he adds: “The date today is 15 April 1905. (Barahin-i-Ahmadiyya, Part 5, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 21, p. 151)
Staying in the same book and in the poetic works included therein, Hazrat Ahmadas provides another indicator of his age:
“I had been in this passing world for forty years when I was elevated through divine revelation.” (Ibid, p. 135)
This takes us to determine the timeframe of when he started first became a recipient of divine revelation. He states in Kitab al-Bariyya:
“I spent around forty years of my life under my father’s shelter. As soon as he departed this world, divine revelations started to shower on me with full force.” (Kitab al-Bariyya, p. 195)
The natural question here is to determine when his father died. He writes in Nuzul al-Masih:
“Today, 10 August 1902, it has been twenty-eight years that my father died.” (Nuzul-ul-Masih, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 18, p. 495)
In light of this statement, the year of death of Hazrat Ahmad’s father goes back to 1874, meaning Hazrat Ahmadas passed away at the age of seventy-four (lunar 76).
Days, dates and seasons:
The above estimates take us to roughly determine that Hazrat Ahmadas was born in the early 1830s and not at the latter end of the decade. Now, moving from years into days and dates, we see that Hazrat Ahmadas is more clear in stating the day and date of his birth:
“I was born on Friday, the 14th of a lunar month…” (Tohfa-i-Golarviyya, Ruhani Khazain, V 17, p. 281, footnote)
Another statement, recorded by his private secretary and biographer, Mufti Muhammad Sadiq, has it that Hazrat Ahmadas stated that he was born in the Phagan month of the Punjabi calendar. (Mufti M Sadiq, Zikr-i-Habib, p. 189)
Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra (Al Fazl, 11 August 1936) took upon him the task to put the jigsaw pieces together. The pieces being:
- 14th day of a lunar month
- The Punjabi/Hindi month of Phagan
Where all of these came together, in the whole decade of 1830 are two dates:
- 17 February 1832, when it was the 14th day of Lunar/Islamic month of Ramazan and the 1st of Phagan in the Punjabi/Hindi calendar
- 13 February 1835, when it was the 14th day of Lunar/Islamic month of Shawwal and the 1st of Phagan in the Punjabi/Hindi calendar
While there is the possibility that the former could be Hazrat Ahmad’sas date of birth, what keeps us from setting it there is that had it been Ramadan, he would have mentioned it more prominently than the Punjabi/Hindi month and, also, not merely as “a lunar month”.
Taking the latter to be a relatively more exact estimate of Hazrat Ahmad’s birth, his age at the time of his demise would be seventy-three according to the Gregorian calendar, and seventy-five according to the Lunar.
Since the only exact detail provided by Hazrat Ahmadas himself in this regard is a date and a lunar month, one feels inclined towards rounding off his age at the time of his death according to the Lunar calendar. However, only Allah knows best.
Where absolute certainty is hard to achieve regarding the exact date or year of Hazrat Ahmad’s birth, we can see that the closest we can get to is 13 February 1835. When Hazrat Ahmadas mentioned his age, he was doing so to the best of his knowledge. So, whenever he mentioned his age, even under oath in a court of law, it was according to the best of his knowledge, just as anyone would in that time when no records were kept or maintained.
On a side note, the apparent confusion around the deaths of Jesusas, the first Messiah, and Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the Promised Messiah, only goes to prove yet another similarity between the two beloved Messiahs of Allah the Almighty.