What is bai‘at?


Jalees Ahmad, Al Hakam

As 23 March approaches, we are reminded of those blessed souls who were guided by Allah and took bai‘at at the hands of the Messiah, making it a lot easier for us today to accept the truthfulness of the Promised Messiahas

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This simple act was in accordance with the Holy Prophet’ssa command who emphasised that at the advent of the Messiah, one should go to him and pledge his allegiance, “even if you have to crawl over snow, for he is the Khalifa of Allah, the Mahdi.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab-ul-Fitan, Chapter Khuruj al-Mahdi, Hadith 4084)

The Holy Prophetsa, describing the Latter Days and the decline of Islam, stated that the “scholars” of that time would be the worst people and strife would issue from, and avert to, them. If we truly wish to be among those who are rightly guided, then it is essential to recognise the Imam of the age and pledge allegiance to him as outlined by the Prophetsa.

The history of bai‘at is not something exclusive to the Ahmadiyya Jamaat alone. This is a repeated theme throughout the time of the Holy Prophetsa and early Islam.

Meaning of bai‘at

Bai‘at literally means to sell yourself or to make a pledge of allegiance. 

The Promised Messiahas explains:

“To take bai‘at means handing over your life to the Almighty Allah. It means, ‘Today we have sold our lives to the Almighty Allah.’ It is wrong to say that by treading the path of Allah, anybody can ultimately suffer a loss.” (Malfuzat, Vol. 7, pp. 29-30)

At another place, he says: 

“Bai‘at truly means to sell oneself; its blessings and impact are based on that condition. Just as a seed is sown into the ground, its original condition is that the hand of the farmer has sown it, but it is not known what will happen to it. If the seed is of good quality and possesses the capacity to grow, then with the grace of Allah and as a consequence of the work done by the farmer, it grows until one grain turns into a thousand grains. 

“Similarly, the person taking bai‘at has to first adopt lowliness and humility and has to distance himself from his ego and selfishness. Then, that person becomes fit for growth. But he who continues to hold on to his ego, along with taking bai‘at, will never receive any grace.” (Malfuzat, Vol. 6, p. 173)

Bai‘at in early Islam

The earliest and most prominent incident of bai‘at in the history of Islam was when the Holy Prophetsa, in 12 Nabawi, journeyed to Aqabah where he met with a group of 12 men from Yathrib (later Medina), among whom five had met and accepted him a year prior. This group took the bai‘at and pledged their allegiance at his hand. 

After the bai‘at, the Holy Prophetsa said: 

“If you remain true to this pledge in honesty and steadfastness, then you shall gain Paradise. But if you show weakness, then your matter is with Allah the Exalted, for He shall do what He wills.” (The Life & Character of the Seal of Prophets, Vol. 1, p. 304)

When these blessed souls from Yathrib departed, they requested the Holy Prophetsa to send a person who may continue to teach them about Islam. Accepting this request, he sent Hazrat Mus‘abra bin Umair. This, in history, is known as the First Aqabah Pledge (bai‘at). 

The following year, around 70 people travelled to meet with the Holy Prophetsa. After arriving, it was decided a private meeting would be held. As the degree of persecution continued to grow in Mecca, the Holy Prophetsa ordered them to come in pairs during the night. 

In the meeting, the Holy Prophetsa recited a few verses of the Holy Quran and proceeded to explain the teachings of Islam. Upon completing his address, they all swore allegiance to the Holy Prophetsa.   

Among them was Hazrat Abdullahra bin Kaab, who later narrated:

وَلَقَدْ شَهِدْتُ مَعَ النَّبِيِّ صلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لَيْلَةَ الْعَقَبَةِ حِينَ تَوَاثَقْنَا عَلَى الْإِسْلَامِ

“I witnessed the Al-Aqabah pledge of allegiance at night with the Prophetsa when we jointly agreed to support Islam with all our efforts.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Munaqib al-Ansar, Hadith 3889) 

The Holy Prophet’ssa method of taking bai‘at

The Holy Prophetsa would extend and stretch out his hand and the Companionsra would take hold of it and pledge their allegiance. 

The Holy Quran has already shed light on this. In Surah al-Fath, Allah states:

اِنَّ الَّذِيۡنَ يُبَايِعُوۡنَكَ اِنَّمَا يُبَايِعُوۡنَ اللّٰهَ ؕ يَدُ اللّٰهِ فَوۡقَ اَيۡدِيۡهِمۡ

“Verily, those who swear allegiance to thee indeed swear allegiance to Allah. The hand of Allah is over their hands.” (Surah al-Fath, Ch.48: V.11)

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This verse alludes to the incident of the treaty of Hudaybiyya and the oath taken by the believers at the hand of the Holy Prophetsa under a tree. This oath was taken when a rumour reached the Holy Prophetsa that Hazrat Uthmanra had been killed. The believers took the oath that they would stand by the Holy Prophetsa till very the end. 

In relation to this incident, we find a hadith recorded in Sunan al-Nasai:

عَنْ يَزِيدَ بْنِ أَبِي عُبَيْدٍ، قَالَ قُلْتُ لِسَلَمَةَ بْنِ الأَكْوَعِ عَلَى أَىِّ شَىْءٍ بَايَعْتُمُ النَّبِيَّ صلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَوْمَ الْحُدَيْبِيَةِ قَالَ عَلَى الْمَوْتِ

“Yazid bin Abi Ubaid narrated, ‘I said to Salamah bin Al-Akwa, “What pledge did you make to the Prophet on the Day of Al-Hudaibiyyah?” He replied, “For death.”’” (Sunan al-Nasai, Kitab al-Baiat, Hadith 4159)

When a person would come to do bai‘at, the Holy Prophetsa would take his hand into his own. The believer would then swear allegiance and promise to abide and obey every decision made by the Holy Prophetsa. Whilst taking bai‘at from women, the Holy Prophetsa would take a verbal oath of allegiance. 

In this regard, Hazrat Aishara narrates:

“The Holy Prophetsa used to take the pledge from the women only verbally after reciting this verse [of Surah al-Mumtahinah, Ch.60: V.13]  لَّا‭ ‬يُشۡرِكۡنَ‭ ‬بِاللّٰهِ‭ ‬شَيۡئًا ‘[…] they will not associate anything in worship with Allah.’” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Ahkam, Hadith 7214)

What the Companionsra pledged

Through various narrations and ahadith, we find that the Companionsra pledged that they would not worship anything save Allah; they would refrain from stealing, regularly perform Salat, along with various other Islamic injunctions. 

Hazrat Ubadara bin Al-Samit narrates:

بَايَعْنَاهُ عَلَى أَنْ لاَ نُشْرِكَ بِاللّٰهِ شَيْئًا، وَلاَ نَسْرِقَ، وَلَا نَزْنِيَ

“We gave the pledge of allegiance to him that we would not worship anything other than Allah, would not steal, would not commit adultery.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Munaqib al-Ansar, Hadith 3893)

Then, in another hadith, he narrates:

قَالَ بَايَعْنَا رَسُولَ اللّٰهِ صلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَلَى السَّمْعِ وَالطَّاعَةِ فِي الْيُسْرِ وَالْعُسْرِ

“We pledged to the Messengersa of Allah to hear and obey, both in times of ease and hardship. (Sunan al-Nasai, Kitab al- Bai‘at, Hadith 4149)

Hazrat Ibn Umarra narrates:

عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ، قَالَ كُنَّا نُبَايِعُ رَسُولَ اللّٰهِ صلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَلَى السَّمْعِ وَالطَّاعَةِ ‏

“We used to pledge to the Messengersa of Allah to hear and obey.” (Sunan al-Nasai, Kitab al-Bai‘at, Hadith 4187)

Hazrat Jarirra narrates:

عَنْ جَرِيرٍ، قَالَ بَايَعْتُ رَسُولَ اللّٰهِ صلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَلَى إِقَامِ الصَّلَاةِ وَإِيتَاءِ الزَّكَاةِ وَالنُّصْحِ لِكُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ وَعَلَى فِرَاقِ الْمُشْرِكِ ‏

“I pledged to the Messengersa of Allah to perform Salat, pay the Zakat, be sincere towards every Muslim and forsake the idolaters. (Sunan al-Nasai, Kitab al-Bai‘at, Hadith 4175)

Later, the Holy Prophetsa made an addition to the words of the bai‘at when the injunction of Jihad by the sword was revealed.  

Bai‘at in Islam Ahmadiyyat

It is common practice for prophets of God to not assert or say anything from themselves; rather, they wait for Allah to reveal certain matters. 

Some pious and noble Muslims, such as Hazrat Sufi Ahmad Jan, whilst observing the deteriorating conditions of morality and spirituality among Muslims, desired and requested Hazrat Ahmadas to take their bai‘at as they firmly believed that Islam needed to be revived to save Muslims from drowning in this ever-growing materialistic world. However, Hazrat Ahmadas would reply by saying: 

لَسْتُ‭ ‬بِمَاْمُوْرٍ

“I have not been commissioned.” 

The Promised Messiahas would add, “Since the Almighty Allah has not conveyed anything to me in the matter of bai‘at, it is not proper that I should do so on my own initiative.” (Hayat-e-Ahmad, Vol. 2, p. 150) 

This incident encapsulates the noble example of the Promised Messiahas

There are those who raise allegations against Hazrat Ahmadas that he only desired to take people’s bai‘at and start a movement so that he could progress in worldly matters and gain recognition. Thus, this incident and narration sheds light and proves this allegation to be baseless and only highlights their own moral compass. 

Hazrat Ahmadas was not concerned about gaining fame as it did not matter to him if people agreed with him or not. His main focus was reviving the true message and teachings of Islam. His entire life was dedicated to this cause. 

When Hazrat Ahmadas was divinely instructed to take bai‘at and start a jamaat, he published an announcement on 1 December 1888, saying:

“Another message that I wish to convey to the people at large, and to my Muslim brothers in particular, is that I have been commanded to take an oath of allegiance [bai‘at] from seekers of truth who wish to acquire true faith and purity; who yearn to find the path to Allah’s love; who want to give up their foul, slothful and false existence. 

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Hazrat Sufi Ahmad Jan’s home in Ludhiana, where the first bai‘at took place in 1889

“Whosoever finds in themselves the willingness to do this must come to me. I will be their comforter and will do my best to ease their burden. God will bless them through my prayers and my attention, provided they are ready with heart and soul to abide by His conditions. This is a divine command which I have hereby conveyed. The actual words of the revelation in Arabic are as follows: 

إِذَا‭ ‬عَزَمْتَ‭ ‬فَتَوَكَّلْ‭ ‬عَلَى‭ ‬اللّٰهِ۔‭ ‬وَاصْنَعِ‭ ‬الْفُلْكَ‭ ‬بِأَعْيُنِنَا‭ ‬وَوَحْيِنَا۔‭ ‬إِنَّ‭ ‬الَّذِيْنَ‭ ‬يُبَايِعُوْنَكَ‭ ‬إِنَّمَا‭ ‬يُبَايِعُوْنَ‭ ‬اللّٰهَ‭ ‬يَدُ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬فَوْقَ‭ ‬أَيْدِيْهِمْ

[“When you have made up your mind, you must have trust in God. Make an ark under Our eyes and under Our command. Those who will take bai‘at at your hands will really be giving their hands into the hand of God. The hand of God is over their hands.”] 

“Peace be on him who follows the guidance. 

“Ghulam Ahmad. 1 December 1888”. (Majmua-e-Ishtiharat, Vol. 1, p. 205)

The Promised Messiahas put forward the 10 conditions of bai‘at on 12 January 1889. He announced that those who desired to do bai‘atshould come to Ludhiana after 20 March 1889. (See page 48 of this issue for the full English text of the 10 conditions) The bai‘at was taken on 23 March 1889 in Hazrat Sufi Ahmad Jan Sahib’s house in Ludhiana, who had passed away earlier. This blessed house is now known as Dar-ul-Bai‘at. 

The bai‘at ceremony was very simple. Hazrat Ahmadas, seated on the floor, extended his right hand and held the right hand of his disciple who then repeated the words:

“I repent today, at the hand of Ahmadas, of all the sins and bad habits to which I was addicted; and most truthfully and solemnly do I promise that to the last day of my life, I shall eschew, to the best of my ability, all manner of sin. I will hold my faith above all worldly considerations. I shall try, as far as I can to observe the 10 conditions of bai‘at laid down in the leaflet dated 12 January 1889. I seek forgiveness of God for my past sins.” (Life of Ahmad, AR Dard, p. 206)

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Register of the first Bai’at at the hand of the Promised Messiahas with names including Hazrat Maulvi Nuruddinra, Hazrat Hafiz Hamid Alira and Hazrat Munshi Rustam Alira

For more details about the Bai‘at Register, please see: https://www.alhakam.org/the-baiat-register/.

Some people term doing bai‘at and abiding by the 10 conditions as bidah (an unwarranted innovation in Islam). First and foremost, let it be clear that bai‘at is a repetitive theme in Islam, as already mentioned earlier. Many Companionsra of the Holy Prophetsa are reported to have mentioned their incidents of bai‘at and the Holy Quran even makes mention of bai‘at that was taken during the treaty of Hudaybiyya. Thus, anyone who has studied Islamic history will know that bai‘at itself is not new to Islam. 

Those who do bai‘at and accept Islam Ahmadiyyat are in fact following the commandment of the Holy Prophetsa because he instructed Muslims:

فَإِذَا‭ ‬رَأَيْتُمُوهُ‭ ‬فَبَايِعُوهُ‭ ‬وَلَوْ‭ ‬حَبْوًا‭ ‬عَلَى‭ ‬الثَّلْجِ‭ ‬فَإِنَّهُ‭ ‬خَلِيْفَةُ‭ ‬اللّٰهِ‭ ‬الْمَهْدِيُّ‭ ‬‏‏

“When you see him [the Messiah], then pledge your allegiance to him even if you have to crawl over snow, for he is the Khalifa of Allah, the Mahdi.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab-ul-Fitan, Chapter Khuruj al-Mahdi, Hadith 4084)

من‭ ‬أدركه‭ ‬منكم‭ ‬فليقرأ‭ ‬عليه‭ ‬السلام

“Anyone who gets the honour of meeting him [the Messiah], he must convey my salaam to him.” (Dur al-Manthur fi al-Tafsir bil Ma’thur Vol. 5, p. 113) 

On another occasion, whilst describing the decline of Islam, the Holy Prophetsa, said that in order to save oneself, one must “attach firmly to the jamaat [group] of Muslims and their imam.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Fitan, Hadith 7084)

With regard to the objection of the 10 conditions of bai‘at being an innovation in Islam, let it be clear that not even a single condition negates an iota of the Holy Quran. In brief, the 10 conditions are to:

(i) Abstain from shirk

(ii) Keep away from falsehood

(iii) Regularly offer the five daily prayers

(iv) Cause no harm to the creatures of God

(v) Remain faithful to God

(vi) Refrain from following un-Islamic customs

(vii) Give up pride and vanity

(viii) Hold faith and the honour of Islam dear to one

(ix) Remain occupied in the service of God’s creatures

(x) Enter into a bond of brotherhood with Hazrat Ahmadas, pledging obedience to him in everything good for the sake of God. (See page 48 of this issue for the full text of the 10 conditions.)

Explaining the establishment of bai‘at, the Promised Messiahas states:

“This system of bai‘at has been established solely to gather together a group of the righteous people in a Jamaat so that a weighty group of the righteous people should make a holy impact on the world. The unity of these righteous people should be a source of blessings, grandeur and positive results for Islam. The blessings of being united on one creed may enable them to perform noble and righteous services for the sake of Islam.” (Majmua-e-Ishtiharat, Vol. 1, p. 196)

This objection holds no ground as the conditions of bai‘at are to ensure one abides by the true teachings of Islam.

Do Ahmadi Muslims prostrate to the Khalifa?

Non-Ahmadi Muslims object to the method of bai‘at adopted by Ahmadis and allege that all Ahmadis fall prostrate before the Khalifa – God forbid – and in this way, succumb to shirk.

This objection is completely false. One only needs to read the 10 conditions of bai‘at to realise the reality of this. The very first condition is to solemnly promise that one shall abstain from shirk. Thus, simply shedding light on the conditions of bai‘at and common sense, this allegation is evidently negated. One simply cannot entertain this belief. 

In actuality, after the bai‘at ceremony, Ahmadi Muslims fall in prostration before Allah, which is known as sajdah-e-shukr – a prostration before Allah in order to show one’s gratitude to Him for guiding us on the right path and enabling us to recognise the Imam of the age and fulfilling the instruction of the Holy Prophetsa. We find a narration where Hazrat Abu Bakrra said: 

وَعَنْ أَبِي بَكْرَةَ ‏رَضِىَ اللّٰهُ عَنْهُ ‏أَنَّ اَلنَّبِيَّ صلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ‏ كَانَ إِذَا جَاءَهُ أَمْرٌ يَسُرُّهُ خَرَّ سَاجِدًا لِلّٰهِ رَوَاهُ الْخَمْسَةُ إِلَّا النَّسَائِيَّ

“Whenever the Holy Prophetsa received a matter which pleased him, he used to prostrate to Allah [out of gratitude].” (Bulugh al-Maram, Kitab al-Salat, Hadith 249)

We find another hadith narrated by Hazrat Anas bin Malik:

عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ  صلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ  بُشِّرَ بِحَاجَةٍ  فَخَرَّ سَاجِدًا

“It was narrated from Anas bin Malik that the Holy Prophetsa was given glad tidings that a need of his had been met, and he fell down prostrate.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Iqamat al-Salat wa al-sunnah fiha, Hadith 590)

Thus, with a study of these two ahadith, we see that sajdah-e-shukr is performed immediately and upon showing gratitude. There is no obligation mentioned to perform sajdah in a state of ablution or to face the qibla as these are spontaneous acts of devotion and love. 

In a hadith, we read: 

مَنْ‭ ‬بَايَعَ‭ ‬إِمَامًا‭ ‬فَأَعْطَاهُ‭ ‬صَفْقَةَ‭ ‬يَدِهِ‭ ‬وَثَمَرَةَ‭ ‬قَلْبِهِ

“He who swears allegiance to an imam should give him the pledge of his hand and the sincerity of his heart.” (Sahih Muslim, Kitab al-Imarah, Hadith 1844)

This hadith clearly shows that bai‘at is closely linked to one’s words and heart and thus, after being guided and overcome with such emotion, it is only right that one submits before his lord to express his appreciation.

It is astonishing to see Muslims object against Ahmadi Muslims, as raising similar allegations was the practice of the enemies of Islam who fabricated stories against the Holy Prophetsa

A similar accusation is levelled against the Holy Prophetsa and his Companionsra that they prostrated before the idols Lat, Uzza and Manaat.

However, with a cursory glance at history and the life of the Holy Prophetsa, this can be proven a mere tale and holds no significance. 

As bai‘at literally means to sell yourself, does it mean Muslims are blind followers?

Some people, being engulfed in the materialistic world, suggest that religious people, mainly those belonging to an organised religion, follow faith blindly. 

Islam is the biggest problem for many people today who oppose organised religion. Bring into the equation the system of bai‘at, which literally means to sell yourself and eschew everything, and pledging allegiance to a religious figurehead, it appears to them a means of bringing to san end any scientific progress. 

Atheists today believe that religion and science are not compatible with one another and they suggest that faith demands belief without any evidence at all. 

Many have grappled with this idea for a long period. Traces of this allegation can be found with Galileo Galilei and his conflict with the Catholic Church. Galileo was deemed a heretic by the Catholic Church for holding the belief that the Earth revolved around the Sun.

With time, this notion progressed further, that faith and religion worked as a way of stopping science.

The fact of the matter is that Islam does not encourage blind faith. In fact, the Holy Quran, on multiple occasions, reminds Muslims to continuously think and to ponder over matters of faith, the universe and God’s creation. The Holy Quran even states that by doing so, one can find signs of the truthfulness and existence of God. 

The words أَفَلَا‭ ‬تَعْقِلُونَ and‭ ‬أَفَلَا‭ ‬تَتَفَكَّرُونَ‭ ‬and phrases that encourage one to contemplate and reflect are often repeated in the Holy Quran and serves as a reminder to all Muslims to continue to reflect and contemplate. 

In the Holy Quran, Allah states:

“In the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of the night and the day there are indeed Signs for men of understanding”. (Surah Al-e-Imran, Ch.3: V.191)

Of course, for anyone who has studied a bit of Islamic history, it is clear how Muslim scientists, doctors, academics and philosophers provided the pillars of modern advancements in science, innovation and research across a plethora of disciplines.

Muslims, first and foremost, present the revolutionary teachings of the Holy Quran that span across countless subjects – morals, ethics, society, economy, international peace, science, research, discovery, the role of religion, atheism, the soul, the Hereafter etc. By following such teachings, humanity can – as proven throughout the history of Islam – steer its ship towards huge advancements spiritually and physically. Couple these teachings with the practise of the Holy Prophetsa and you have a force of good that the world had never seen.

Islam is the religion that encourages continuous learning and understanding. Thus, blind faith or following an ideology irrationally is not considered a part of Islam. 

The key misunderstanding simply arises from not comprehending the true teachings of Islam, for if those who raise this objection ponder over the commandments of the Holy Quran, they would realise that this allegation is baseless.

As we enter the 132nd year since the establishment of this blessed Jamaat, we must always remember God’s blessings for enabling us to recognise the Messiah of the age who rejuvenated and revived Islam, as prophesied by the Holy Prophetsa:

لَوْ‭ ‬كَانَ‭ ‬الْإِيمَانُ‭ ‬عِنْدَ‭ ‬الثُّرَيَّا‭ ‬لَنَا‭ ‬لَهُ‭ ‬رِجَالٌ۔‭ ‬أَوْ‭ ‬رَجُلٌ۔‭ ‬مِنْ‭ ‬هَؤُلَاءِ

“Even if faith ascended to the Pleiades [completely disappearing from the earth], there would be some from his people [in another version, “one man” is mentioned instead of “some people”] who would restore faith back to earth.’” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Tafsir, Hadith 4897)

The Promised Messiahas guided people who then brought about a magnificent spiritual and moral change within themselves. And through the revival of Islam, many are witnessing God and are accepting Islam Ahmadiyya on a daily basis, holding true to the verse:

كَتَبَ‭ ‬اللّٰهُ‭ ‬لَاَغۡلِبَنَّ‭ ‬اَنَا‭ ‬وَ‭ ‬رُسُلِيۡ

“Allah has decreed: ‘Most surely I will prevail, I and My Messengers.’” (Surah al-Mujadalah, Ch.58: V.22)

The Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdias states:

“I came only to sow the seed, which has been planted by my hand. It shall now grow and flourish and there is none who can impede its growth.” (Tadhkiratush-Shahadatain, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 20, p. 67)

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