Under the wings of the Caliph: A response to “Far From the Caliph’s Gaze” – Part I

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Zafar Bhatti, UK

I remember in the fourth and final year of my physics degree at Imperial College in London, we were all given a welcome diversion from the usual heavy equations racking our brains and the university provided us a short introductory course on the philosophy of science. Philosophers from another college in the University of London were brought in, providing them with the opportunity to challenge the idealism of a young generation of budding scientists.

I remember one of the challenges they presented us with was based on how the perception of observation, and therefore reality, can differ between individuals with both equally maintaining their viewpoint as correct.

To prove this point, they presented what is now a commonly seen picture in the Internet age, (at that time, the Internet was just starting to take off; yes, I am that old!) which shows the image of both a young and old woman at the same time; depending on how you look at it.

Indeed, when the visiting philosophers challenged the students to identify whether there was a young or an old woman in the picture, there was a divergence of opinion as they had expected: it all depended on the subjective point of view of the observer.

I was reminded of this illusion when I came across the book, Far From the Caliph’s Gaze by Nicholas Evans. His book is a critique of the system of Khilafat in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community under the bizarre guise of exploring the quality of faith of the community in Qadian.

Yet most of the examples he presents as a critique of this system are precisely those attributes which not just Ahmadis find beautiful, but indeed those outside the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community also find beautiful and worthy of praise.

Unfortunately, in this book, the author seems to mock every feature of beauty within the Ahmadiyya Khilafat in a very sarcastic and cynical manner – whether it’s the Khalifa’s workload, his message of peace and love (something the world is in dire need of), help during humanitarian crises or even followers writing to their Khalifa about their problems.

Evans seems to be looking for an ulterior motive in all these and they then become reasons for distrust in the Khalifa. The workload is mocked as “superhuman” (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p. 86), the speeches of love as repeated “over and over again” (Ibid, p. 172), helping during humanitarian crises is apparently the Khalifa’s way of emphasising his “personal connection” (Ibid, p. 127).

But these are all reasons why the Khalifa is loved not just by Ahmadi Muslims, but also by scores of others outside the community. Why wouldn’t I love someone who works hard to care for people of his community and to establish world peace and humanity throughout the world; someone who always advises me to deal with others with sympathy and kindness and is always there to hear my problems and offer me advice?

Beauty and ugliness are indeed in the eye of the beholder, as those philosophers of science taught me all those years ago. The problem with Nicholas Evans’ narrative is not that he raises objections against Khilafat, but the way he has chosen to do so.

A lie – or if we kindly put it, an untruth – can be presented in many ways. One is to twist or give a false meaning to a fact, thereby creating an untruth; the other of course is to simply state something which is blatantly untrue.

According to Islam, after the worship of the One God, the most important quality is speaking the truth. In chapter 33, verse 71 of the Holy Quran, Allah tells us to not only keep to the truth, but to speak with “qaulan sadeeda” – to say “the right words”, which means that it is forbidden to even create a false impression through word, deed, action or expression.

In fact, the highest spiritual station in Islam after prophethood is that of truthfulness. As such, both to tell an outright lie and to create a false impression are forbidden in Islam. Apparently not restricted by such religious doctrine, the author seems to flirt between twisting truths, through a prism of distrust and using outright untruths to prove his case. This is exasperated by the fact that Evans has written the book in what can best be described as an anecdotal style.

For instance, most of the narrative of the book goes something like this:

“The issue with X is Y, this can be proved by a conversation I had with an anonymous individual who said Z”.

Obviously, there is a flaw in any such presentation as it becomes completely non-verifiable, beyond the realms of fact checking and removes any knowledge of the context or motives of the individual who has said it. I’m not saying all the anecdotes are false, but such a style lends itself to creating false narratives: asking the same question to a thousand people until you get the answer you desire and then quoting it selectively to create a false impression and giving it a meaning that was not even intended by the interlocutor.

This gives the author a tool to give any opinion and then back it up by an anecdote that clearly does not represent the wider community view.

For example, in a particularly disparaging remark (which I choose not to repeat here) about the present Khalifa that targets his appearance, Evans says the interlocutor who made such remarks also claimed the Khalifa did not have a beard on his election as Khalifa (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p.72). This is simply not true: the Khalifa’s appearance on his election was broadcast worldwide and is freely available extensively on YouTube; he is clearly seen with a beard. Any investigator into Islam Ahmadiyyat, but particularly someone like Evans – who has evidently searched far and wide through the Ahmadiyya archives – would be aware of this and not write something so factually incorrect, especially as an academic.

Basic academia requires one to fact check, even sources. Some may ask, what is in a beard? Those familiar with Islamic beliefs are aware that it was the practice of Prophet Muhammadsa to have a beard, a fact Evans is obviously drawing on as if to present the Khalifa growing a beard as an attempt at spiritual legitimacy, with the interlocutor apparently getting used to the idea of the new Khalifa as “he began to grow a beard immediately upon being elected”. (Ibid)

Politely speaking, Evans’ presentation is an untruth – the “fact” is false – and this could easily have been verified. One is compelled to presume that he knew the truth, yet still was brazen enough to present it. At this point, I would like to digress and explain the definition of Khilafat as this will not only help to explain the point presently under discussion, but will also provide context to the rest of these articles.

Islam was founded by the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, in the year 610 CE. Upon Islam’s establishment, he and his followers were subjected to bitter persecution in their hometown of Mecca. Eventually, after 13 years of facing relentless persecution, during which time the Prophetsa had lost his wife and uncle due to the persecution, he emigrated to a town called Medina about 200 miles north of Mecca.

In Medina, many people had already accepted Islam prior to the Prophet’s migration. Soon after the Prophet’s migration to Medina, the five tribes of Medina, many of whom had become Muslim (a sizeable portion had not, however), jointly approached the Prophetsa to appoint him as the head of state of Medina. The Holy Prophetsa now not only had the status of prophethood, but ruler of a state as well.

It is noteworthy that the offices of prophethood and state ruler were independent of each other and that the Holy Prophetsa even dispensed independent judicial systems so as not to impose Islamic law on anyone who was not a Muslim. Initially, the state of Medina was under constant attack from the surrounding tribes of Arabia; however, after the peace treaty of Hudaibiyyah was signed, the ensuing peace provided the opportunity to spread Islam freely and within a short period of time the entire Arabian peninsula had joined Islam.

In this way, the Holy Prophetsa was now not only recognised as the Prophet of God, but also the ruler of all Arabia. Upon the passing away of the Prophetsa, in accordance with the promise of God in the Holy Quran (Ch.24: V. 56), Abu Bakrra was elected as the Khalifa of the Holy Prophetsa; thus, he inherited both the spiritual and temporal authority of the Prophetsa.

The system of Khilafat, therefore, is the recognised system of leadership in Islam as a successor of the Holy Prophetsa on earth. The majority of the Muslim Community is in agreement that the progress of Islam depends on this institution. The first four Khulafara of Islam are widely regarded as the Rashidun (rightly guided) Khulafara appointed by God.

It is widely recognised that following the period of the Rashidun Khilafat, a progressive decline set in the Islamic world, which is still apparent today. The Prophetsa had prophecied that this would occur:

قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: تكون النبوة فيكم ما شاء الله أن تكون، ثم يرفعها الله إذا شاء أن يرفعها، ثم تكون خلافة على منهاج النبوة فتكون ما شاء الله أن تكون، ثم يرفعها الله إذا شاء أن يرفعها، ثم تكون ملكًا عاضًا فيكون ما شاء الله أن يكون، ثم يرفعها إذا شاء الله أن يرفعها، ثم تكون ملكًا جبرية فتكون ما شاء الله أن تكون، ثم يرفعها الله إذا شاء أن يرفعها، ثم تكون خلافة على منهاج النبوة، ثم سكت

The Holy Prophetsa said, “Prophethood shall remain among you as long as God wills. He will bring about its end and follow it with Khilafat on the precepts of Prophethood for as long as He wills and then bring about its end. Kingship shall then follow, to remain as long as God wills and then come to an end. There shall then be monarchical despotism, which shall remain as long as God wills and come to an end upon His decree. There will then emerge Khilafat on the precepts of Prophethood.” The Prophetsa then became silent.” (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal)

Muslims have been waiting for the day when Khilafat would be re-established and with it, the lost glory of Islam. In the world of Islam today, there is only one Muslim community that has had a continuous system of Khilafat for the last century; the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

However, one significant difference between the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s definition of Khilafat and that of the mainstream Muslims is that Ahmadis explain that the Latter Day Khilafat was meant to be purely spiritual (as the Holy Prophetsa foretold) and as Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas did not have any political role, naturally, his Khulafa (successors) would not be political.

Prophet Muhammadsa was not dependent on any political power; political power was granted to him; his first role was as a spiritual reformer. But as he also had a political role, his successors also had this capacity.

Reaction to a peaceful community

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been under constant attack and far-fetched conspiracy theories have been levelled against it. Why such attacks are made against a community, whose very motto is “Love for all, hatred for none”, whose founder teaches that the “jihad of the sword has ended but the jihad of purifying the soul continues”, as vouchsafed in Prophet Muhammad’ssa prophecies about the Messiah, is difficult to comprehend. Ahmadi Muslims have purely spiritual motives, for the betterment of society.

The question is why amongst the many sects in Islam are Ahmadis singled out for such a fierce literary attack? Why are they persecuted in some countries for their beliefs? Why unjustly critique, censure or physically attack a movement that teaches peace? Why attempt to assassinate the character of the community’s founder, whose widespread teachings not only emphasise love, but his actions and the actions of his followers are manifestly known and acknowledged to practice love?

Despite this widespread acknowledgement of the peaceful teachings of Islam Ahmadiyyat, there still exists a reactionary activism towards the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The critique of Ahmadis seems to progress in the following way: it begins with a critique of the ideology of Ahmadiyya beliefs; once that approach fails, it then leads onto a critique of the character of the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, and once that approach fails, the critique moves onto the institution of Khilafat. This then tends to repeat itself over time and in different languages, mediums and parts of the world.

In the English medium, the initial discussions and debates were often over ideology; once little success was seen by the opponents of the Ahmadiyya using this methodology and finding a high level of familiarity (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p. 122) of the community with arguments in this field, the critique turned to the character and writings of the founder; and now we see it turning to a direct critique of the institution of Khilafat.

This critique of the institution of Khilafat has direct parallels to the early history of Islam. Once Islam had been firmly established by the Holy Prophetsa and it became an unassailable fortress, the attack on Islam took on a different guise. Realising that the strength of Islam lay in its unity behind Khilafat, a concerted and systematic campaign was implemented to undermine this institution, by infiltration into the Muslim community. This eventually led to the martyrdoms of the third and fourth Khulafa of Islam and the end of the Rashidun Khilafat in Islam.

In a similar way, those who have – for the best part of over 100 years – attempted to grapple with the Ahmadiyya “problem” have also realised that the only way to face it is to strike at the beating heart of Islam Ahmadiyyat – Khilafat.

The Pakistani dictator, General Zia, also realised this and he had his own take on it. Being a military commander, his goal was to tackle this institution by force. All eff orts of successive governments of Pakistan in usurping the basic rights of Ahmadis had failed to check its advance in the country – Zia had a “brainwave”: he attacked the heart of the Ahmadiyya community, Khilafat. What he attempted to do was to arrest the Khalifa and cut the rest of the community from him.

In 1984, he issued orders for the arrest of the then Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh; however, this attempt was unsuccessful and the Fourth Khalifa migrated to the UK and began directing the affairs of the community from London. What’s interesting is that far from cutting off the link between the Khalifa and community, Zia unwittingly became the catalyst through which the link of the Khalifa would directly reach into every Ahmadi home. Whereas before, each Ahmadi was in the physical sense “far from the Caliph’s gaze”, albeit not in the spiritual sense, the move to London within a few years had given birth to MTA – Muslim Television Ahmadiyya, a satellite television channel providing means for the Khalifa to reach every Ahmadi home in the world.

Furthermore, since the Fourth Khalifa migrated to the UK, more mosques, literature and new converts have been witnessed than in the entire combined history of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Therefore, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community has always been under attack through different mediums, but sadly, the critique is often out of touch, with reality and facts sometimes fuelled by agendas.

Evans’ issues with the Ahmadiyya Khilafat

Throughout the book, Evans does not hide from giving vent to misrepresentations of Ahmadiyyat. For example, in the very first chapter, he explores what is in his opinion, “the ambivalent political aspirations of the Ahmadiyya caliphate” (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p. 40)

What is ambivalent to him has been unambiguous to every Ahmadi Khalifa and Ahmadi: the Khalifa is a spiritual leader and not a political leader and has no political aspiration. As the current Khalifa, addressing the Annual Convention in Germany in June 2014, made crystal clear:

“Let me make it clear that the institution of Khilafat leading the Ahmadiyya Community has no interest in power or government. Rest assured that true Khilafat has no worldly or political objectives. The sole concern of the Ahmadiyya Khilafat is that the people of the world come to recognise their Creator and bow down before the One God.” (www.pressahmadiyya.com/press-releases/2014/06/head-ahmadiyyamuslim-community-true-khilafat-spiritualleadership-no-interest-power-government/)

The author is evidently well read about the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and its beliefs, so I find it surprising that he would not be familiar with this stance of the non-political nature of the Ahmadiyya Khilafat.

It raises the question: why did Evans choose to ignore it? Paranoia borders on incredulous as Evans attempts to back up his point by comparing the Ahmadiyya Khilafat to sufi leaders (Ibid, p. 65).

Sufis (mystics) are unanimously regarded as a personification of spirituality and antitheses of politics and any form of worldly desire. Indeed it was the famous King Ibrahim of Balkh who gave up his sovereignty to become a sufi. The great sufi poet, Rumi, encapsulates this thinking in the couplet “How long will you play in this dusty world like a child filling his skirt with worthless stones?” (Rumi: In the Arms of the Beloved)

Equally mystifying is the author’s example of the Sufi mystic, Nizamuddin, who supposedly defied a king by saying, “The house of this weak one has two doors. If the Sultan enters by one door, I will go out through the other!” (Ibid)

Either Evans was unaware of the context in which these words were said or the use of this example is aimed at misleading those who are unfamiliar with Sufi thought or thinking. The great sufi mystic Nizamuddin survived many Sultans in Delhi. The particular Sultan whom Nizamuddin made this response to was the cruel Sultan Jalaluddin Khilji who had brutally executed Nizamuddin’s compatriot, Sidi Maula, for the supposed crimes of being “popular” and “feeding hundreds of poor people everyday”. (The Book of Nizamuddin Aulia, Mehru Jaffer, p. 13)

When the Sultan’s successor, Alauddin, assumed office, jealous of Nizamuddin’s popularity, he wrote to him to clarify his supposed political pretentions, in response to which the great Sufi wrote:

“We dervishes have nothing to do with the affairs of the state. I have settled in a corner, away from the men of the city and spend my time praying for the Sultan and other Muslims. If the Sultan does not like this, let him tell me so. I will go and live elsewhere … God’s earth is vast enough.” (Ibid, p. 16)

The Ahmadiyya Khilafat desires no political power. Any suggestions that it does must be backed by hard evidence, not loose and inaccurate comparisons. Where the Ahmadiyya Khilafat has interacted with political leaders, it is only to bring them towards Islamic teachings, which we firmly believe can make the world a better place – their conversations prove this.

The Ahmadiyya history gives testimony that its Khilafat has never tried for political power. Evans gives very poor evidence, let alone academic evidence, to suggest that the Ahmadiyya Khilafat has political aspirations. The author then moves onto presenting the “New World Order”, a book written by the Second Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, as proof of the political aspirations of the Ahmadiyya Khilafat, stating that “it is by far the most unambiguous statement of political intent found among the Jamaat’s large corpus of texts.” (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p. 167)

It seems to be a smart move – to deceive a person unfamiliar with the doctrines of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Any newcomer to the movement would undoubtedly raise an eyebrow or two at such a title. However, the book is nothing more than a system proposed by the Second Khalifa through which Ahmadis would give up a portion of their wealth for charity “devoted to the relief of poverty and distress all over the world.” (New World Order, p. 128)

It highlights how Islam Ahmadiyyat will help alleviate, through Islamic teachings, the grave problem of socio-economic inequality in the world. It is not a book that aims to establish a whole new political system for the spread of Islam Ahmadiyyat and a “new order” in the political sense.

The book analyses the failures of political systems in alleviating poverty; it is a book about how Islamic teachings will help establish a humanitarian society and alleviate poverty. It is therefore surprising that Evans even uses this book to suggest the Ahmadiyya Khilafat wants a “new world order” in the political sense and aims to establish itself politically.

According to Evans, another act of political aspiration of Khilafat are the constant lectures of peace and how to avoid global conflict, in which “he gifts … his message of justice and peace”. (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p. 65)

This is where Evans gives voice to his own paranoia in the guise of being the opinion of those in Qadian; “In Qadian, the future of the world and the dawning of a new global order are said to rest on the willingness of individuals and nations to embrace the caliph as their one true global leader.” (Ibid, p. 74)

Interestingly, although the author often backs up his far-fetched interpretations with a convenient anecdote, however it seems he does not provide any quotation or anecdote, anonymous or otherwise, to back up this claim.

Here, he is clearly attempting to create the impression that the aspiration of Ahmadis is the secular domination of the world by a single leader in the form of the Khalifa. Yet if this is his opinion, then it is his and his alone. Without any evidence whatsoever, he attempts to make it the opinion of “Qadian” (Ibid, p. 62) with the obvious implication that it is probably the private opinion of every Ahmadi.

Of all the lectures the Khalifa delivers on the subject of world peace, whether in the Houses of Parliament, House of Congress, European Parliament, Canadian Parliament or elsewhere in Peace Symposia or letters written to world leaders, never once has he presented world peace to be based on him as the “global political leader”.

In fact the nine principles that he has presented to establish global world peace are as follows:

1. Recognition of the Creator

2. Global unity amongst nations

3. Absolute justice

4. Rejecting extremism

5. Loyalty to one’s country

6. Need for nuclear disarmament

7. Elimination of weapon profiteering

8. Need for economic equity and eradicating poverty

9. Service to humanity

Maybe in Evans’ eyes, adopting these nine principles would make the Khalifa the de-facto leader of the world. Maybe in his eyes the Khalifa should not be urging people to be “loyal to the country” and urging countries to act with “absolute justice”?

If presenting such ideals, if urging people towards goodness is global leadership, then I don’t think there is a single person who can object to such leadership. To suggest these speeches to save the world from destruction are a manifestation of the “ambiguous political aspirations” of the Khalifa is a very cynical feat.

There has never been any ambiguity that the aim of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is to spread its message to every individual, with the hope that they will accept it due to its truth, and as such, a new era of world peace and prosperity will dawn. This is something that we Ahmadis don’t shy away from – even the Third Khalifa expressed this when visiting Europe for the first time in his capacity as Khalifatul Masih in 1978. When asked in an interview “How do you conduct your mission in Europe?” his reply was simple, “We try to win the hearts”.

Every religious community wants its message heard and Islam leaves it to the listener to accept or not. If the Ahmadiyya Khilafat is spreading the message of peace, unity and humanity, especially to those in charge, how can one stretch this to insinuate a “political aspiration”? Such a suggestion is absurd. The avowed mission of the community is to spread its mission of love and peace throughout the world and to win the hearts of people and bring them under the spiritual banner of the representative of Muhammadsa in the present age, the Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas.

In this regard we believe we are meeting success and we believe that in this battle for ideas, we will ultimately be successful – not through swords, but through prayers and rational arguments, as the Fourth Khalifa famously put it, “Swords can win territories but not hearts, force can bend heads but not minds.” (Murder in the Name of Allah, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh)

It is this force of love that seems to worry Evans and which most certainly worried others in the past.

Click here for Part II

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