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Roots of Ahmadiyya's problems (#3)
by Akber Choudhry
This series of articles is dedicated to finding the root causes of the current problems of the Ahmadiyya from a historical context. Throughout its short history, this community has been accused of lying and recently, lying about its membership.
The roots of this can be traced to the ambiguity that the community's founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, employed in using the word "nabi". In the second article on “nabi”, we saw that he agreed that it was not to be used before him - even though there were people in the Islamic world who possessed "prophet-like" qualities. We also compared ibn Arabi’s postulations on this subject.
Wrapping this up, we will follow on "shari'" or 'imperative' prophethood and "tabi'" or 'follower' prophethood and go on to show how ibn Arabi's clarification makes sense, and to depart from that is illogical. We will show that the non-questioning demand of the Ahmadiyya of its followers is enforced through this dogma of “nabi”.
Then, we will try to analyze history from this theological perspective, and we will see how strategic and tactical errors have led to the predicament that the Ahmadiyya find themselves in -- and try to find a way out for them – with altruistic intentions!
Finally, we will try to present a way in which followers of the Ahmadiyya can benefit from the greatness of Islam and together with Muslims, prepare to take Islam into the Information Age.
Note: References of all events will be available in the final book form of these articles, insha-Allah.
Despite all the confusion over the word ‘nabi’ – which we have tried to simplify -- the Ahmadiyya have consistently said that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was not a law-giving prophet. Here again, there is unfortunate confusion over the common Urdu-comprehensible word – “Shariat” – and the automatic comparison to Musa and Muhammad as the “law-bearing” prophets.
This over-simplification is not quite accurate. Let us look at some examples from the Holy Qur’an:
Haroon, Ya’qoob, Is-haq and Ismail are examples of direct follower prophets. They followed in the footsteps of Musa and Ibrahim. On the other hand, Saleh, Hood, Nooh, Shu’aib did not follow anyone directly.
In the Holy Qur’an the difference is very clear and that is the observation that led ibn Arabi to make his observations. In the Holy Qur'an – a follower prophet never gets up and says “God says to me to tell you this”; whereas an imperative prophet’s first words are “God has sent me to you and God wants you to do this – or not to do that”. This is also part of the Islamic distinction between “rasool” and “nabi” – messenger and prophet. Now ibn Arabi’s classification will make more sense to the reader.
In Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s writings, there is no such distinction between messenger and prophet – and according to him – his revelations have been –
Despite mentioning his latter revelations, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad never stood up and declared his prophethood as the shari’ prophets of yore had done. His “clarifications” come very close to declarations, but in my opinion, not quite. However, in one book, he clearly says the obvious, “that whenever there is 'do' or 'don't do' in a prophets words, he becomes shari” ! (see reference nabi #1)
However, the confusion regarding the mixing of rasool and nabi, and Shariat and Shari’, lent a sense of the imperative prophethood of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to most of his followers. Let us see how this is inherently illogical.
The Great Qur’an says: 4:82 : "Do they not ponder over the Qur'an? Had it been from other than God, they would surely have found therein much discrepancy."
This remarkable statement, in its logical reverse, spells out the fact that any human work of comparative size – and duration of compilation -- is bound to have contradictions – and lots of them! And Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's body of work, spanning 28 years and thousands of pages, was no exception.
However, by interpreting his claimed revelations of the latter period in the strictest sense, the Ahmadiyya have NEVER endeavoured to resolve the contradictions and inconsistencies in his writings. Even the discussion of such things is considered an excommunicable sin. More on this on the following pages.
Simple contradictions like the death of Jesus are admitted by the Ahmadiyya and are fairly simple to explain. For example, before God told him that Jesus had died, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad believed that Jesus was still in Heaven. This is simple to understand. What has not been explained or reduced to non-rhetorical beliefs are the different angles with which he approached certain of his claims and beliefs, especially the ones regarding prophethood and the Muslim nation. As a substantial part of his writings were reactionary, and hastily put together, and his sayings (mulfoozat) were copied by others as he spoke, there are different angles discussed, and discrepancies abound.
My point is here it is the perception of “imperative” and “God-sent” prophet in the Ahmadiyya followers that forces them to take every word literally – and quote from different books and sayings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, depending on the situation. This led led to the schism in 1914 and is the cause of many of their existing problems, as we shall see shortly.
Combine Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s writings and sayings with the writings and rhetorical speeches of the subsequent heads of the Ahmadiyya, and it becomes an “untouchable” and “un-discussable” corpus – which in my opinion is the cause of the intellectual paralysis of the Ahmadiyya that we see today, and that is being exposed in the Information Age.
The irony is that some opponents of the Ahmadiyya now feel that the tables have been turned. One of the rallying points of the Ahmadiyya was the perceived superiority of their intellectual and logical stance. Also, they encouraged an impression among their followers that Muslims and their leaders were ignorant, corrupt and that Muslim society was full of utter chaos and illogical beliefs.
To aggravate the situation further, it is worth noting that the initial followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad were from the educated segment of society and people deeply concerned about the future of Islam. The offspring of that initial group is what forms the core of the Ahmadiyya community now, and the sense of frustration is almost palpable among some members of this core segment.
The Second Head of the Qadiani Ahmadiyya, Mirza Mahmud Ahmad, studied the papacy of Rome in great detail, and many of the structures and procedures that he developed for his community were based on the lessons learnt from that institution. Reading his books and commentary on the Qur'an, his knowledge of and appreciation for the long-lasting and constant nature of the Roman Catholic Papacy is obvious. The concept of Rabwah, the Electoral College, missionaries, Khilafat Palace, a degree of pomp and ritual, translations, missionary techniques in Africa, Youth organization etc. are examples of such institutions and procedures.
However, he and his successors were unable to complete the organization of the community according to the pattern of the Papacy. Here are five characteristics of the Roman Catholic Church which throw light on our discussion:
I wil leave it up to the leader to recognize the gaps in elaboration, discipline, openness, sincerity and consistency. The closest the Ahmadiyya come to non-bureaucratic consultative bodies are the International Shura and the Electoral College, which leave a lot to be desired.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's self-descriptions and opportunity missed – wisdom of ibn Arabi’s analysis, and Mulla Ali Qari
In the details of his arguments with other scholars and as part of his unique style of preaching, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad left a huge amount of writings and sayings about himself. From 1908 to 1918, there was an opportunity to depart from the rhetorical and iron out the inconsistencies and come up with a platform for going forward. But partly due to the paralysis described above – where it was considered a sin and a weakness of faith to question even a word of what a presumed prophet sent from God had said – it was not done.
THIS is the DILEMMA that any person who DECLARES his prophethood will face in Islam. The moment a person says, “God sent me to ask you to do this and not do that” or others perceive him to say that, Islam will be abrogated. A careful reading of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's work shows that he tried hard to stay within this line, but his effluent self-descriptions have led his followers and his opponents to draw wildly differing conclusions. There was a golden opportunity to reconcile his statements and draw up a chatecism, and relegate his rhetorical or extremely theological positions to the status of his personal opinions and NOT a creed of his followers.
And THIS is the reason why ibn Arabi said that hidden prophet-like characteristics will not be exposed after Muhammad (saw). This is what Mulla Ali Qari means when he said that anyone CLAIMING prophethood is automatically a disbeliever by the consensus of Muslims. A member of the Ahmadiyya, Hadi Ali, has attempted to write something about this quote, but like most Ahmadiyya literature, it is rhetorical, shallow and accusatory. And this is what Mirza Ghulam Ahmad meant when he said that for 1300 years prophet-like characteristics of God's pious people could not be called prophethood and this is what he meant when he limited to calling himself a 'muhaddis'.
Two of the issues that should have been addressed during that critical period:
Critical mass is a term in nuclear physics to denote the minimum mass in which a nuclear reaction can propagate by itself. At various times, from 1901 to as recently as 2001, the leadership of the Ahmadiyya has actively pursued the strategy that a sufficient number of followers will obviate the need to explain or argue about their religious beliefs. For an organization whose criteria for membership are quite high and record-keeping immaculate, it is a curiosity that they never release their official numbers. During such spasmsodic attempts to increase membership, pressure from the leadership results in borderline dishonest means to recruit.
on various estimates and, by constructing a model on the following
rules – -- Ahmadiyya do not offer prayer behind Muslims and
have their own mosques
It should be noted that the official Ahmadiyya reported numbers of converts each year (not total) are in the tens of millions and considerable controversy surrounds those numbers.
Between 1930 and 1950, Mirza Mahmud Ahmad pursued a strategy of political power without pursuing numbers – and as part of that strategy, decided to move the HQ of the community to Pakistan; by 1950 that decision was being regretted in some circles.
Between 1950 and 1972, considerable missionary activity was conducted in Africa, especially West Africa, using the Catholic model of schools and hospitals. Considerable political gains were made but mostly in the animist coastal areas that have a laissez-faire attitude to religion. Another minor schism occurred in Nigeria. In areas bordering the Sahara, existing Muslim populations resisted the Ahmadiyya.
The Ahmadiyya schism happened in 1914 on these very ambiguous issues. The differences could have been reconciled but politics, power plays and theological extremism prevented it. The details are the topic for another paper.
The world as we know it changed between 1918 and 1968. The Ahmadiyya moved to Pakistan, a new-born Muslim state. World War II redrew the map of the world and the power structure. Aristocracy vanished. Communism took hold. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were razed. Colonialization was wrapped up. The United Nations was formed. Sexual liberation took hold of society. The Pope called the Vatican II council in 1960. Major social upheaval occurred in the 1960s in all parts of the world. Ironically, one of the Ahmadiyya's proofs that this is the age of reformation is the sign of the last age, yet they were woefully underprepared for this tumultuous time and the dawn of the Information Age.
There was an opportunity in the 1960s to again consolidate the Ahmadiyya beliefs and learn from the events of 1953 and subsequent political events (more on those later) but that opportunity was lost due to the illness of the Second Leader and the development of a bureaucracy. Also, the force of personality of the Second Leader was no more and the community started to feel a sense of drifting.
Thus the information age dawned and the Ahmadiyya were not prepared. It was in the 1960s that general dissatisfaction with the administration and with a lack of strategic direction for the goal-oriented community started to emerge within the youth of the Ahmadiyya (in keeping with the global trend). Strict measures were used to enforce discipline and . Some acknowledgement of problems were made by the leadership, but the discontent was generally attributed to weakness of faith. It is at this point that the cult-like tendencies start to emerge and a gap starts to appear between the official statements of the Ahmadiyya and the perception on the street. A perception was created that the eventual 'victory' of the Ahmadiyya would come with the 'defeat' of the Muslims. I myself am a witness to the spread of that perception. All this was to avoid the issue of having to deal with the legacy of the personal beliefs of the previous leaders.
In summary: long-simmering problems of consolidation of beliefs were swept under the rug and various strategies to avoid dealing with those issues did not result in much success – i.e the critical mass strategy and political power strategy. One strategy that worked was that members of the Community attained higher education and were represented in substantial proportion in the military and civil leadership of Pakistan. Unfortunately, this successful strategy backfired as the social isolation created by the Ahmadiyya for themselves during the 1950s and 1960s in Pakistan created a distrust in Muslims for them.
US President Kennedy – a Catholic – was asked whether his loyalties to the Pope would hinder his work as the President. This is a natural question and great pains must be taken to avoid a conflict of interest. The newfound positions of power by Ahmadiyya followers were being welcomed and used by the Ahmadiyya leadership, which was both politically short-sighted and led to an inevitable involvement in politics.
Due to their unique beliefs, yet AGAIN, the Ahmadiyya followers stayed as a distinct social group from Muslims while achieving success in the corridors of power. Distrust and persecution were bound to follow.
In 1974, the Pakistani Parliament declared Ahmadiyya followers non-Muslims. The cause was “claiming prophethood and following a claimant of prophethood” and not anything else. Many political friends of the Ahmadiyya leadership, lawyers and the Pakistan attorney-general advised the Ahmadiyya leadership to back down and find a way out.
It should be noted that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and his arch-rival, Muhammad Hussain Batalvi were once prosecuted in criminal court for threats against each other. The magistrate offered to dismiss the case if both parties signed an agreement to cease and desist and not to use certain words about each other – and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad did sign that agreement.
It should also be noted that the Second Leader of the Ahmadiyya, Mirza Mahmud Ahmad also negotiated on a statement with opposing lawyers in 1953 during the Munir inquiry and softened his rhetorical stand and gave a more normal description of some ambiguous religious terms and words. The statement was carefully worded to answer the objections that were beign raised.
However, in front of this Parliamentary Committee, which was openly hostile, no attempt was made to broker a deal, or to retract the issue of “prophethood”. In fact the defense of the Ahmadiyya leadership was surprising to most of the attendees, and in which they never tackled the issue head-on, but rather gave a rhetorical account of what other people believed and had written.
The defence can be considered a valiant stand against persecution. My point, however, is that had the Ahmadiyya consolidated their beliefs earlier and tried to stay within the Islamic social circle, it would perhaps not have come to this.
Maybe there was no way to escape the unanimous mindset of the Parliament at that time, and various international political forces were also active in that decision, but there was nothing major at stake that could not be sacrificed at that point.
After having read the books and style of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad numerous times, it is my belief that had Mirza Ghulam Ahmad been in front of that committee, he would have retracted his earlier statements as inconsequential and reached a compromise. My assertion is based on the fact that he had once asked for all references to the word 'prophet' be removed from his books if it offended other Muslims (exact quote later).
Was it negligence, or was it ego born of the schism, or was it a fear of dilution of power by the Ahmadiyya leadership. If the Ahmadiyya became miscible with Muslims, the absolute monarchical power that the Leader's office had slowly accumulated would be diluted.
In any case, I will, insha-Allah, try to prove my case in this and subsequent papers that it was a combination of all three, and the Ahmadiyya members were shortchanged by their leadership.
The Ahmadiyya leadership were quick to realize that abody blow had been dealt to the Ahmadiyya by its opposition. By that time, the 'flower movement' of the early 1970s and the Arab-Palestinian issue and the Arab oil embargo had changed the perception of Muslims in the minds of some people of the West.
The Bahai movement, which, despite consolidation of teachings by its leaders, was so far off the spectrum, that its leadership was re-inventing it as a universal peace-loving type of movement that allowed people of all faiths.
The Third leader embarked on trips to other countries during these years and in his press conferences and other meetings, emphasized the peace-loving nature of the Ahmadiyya. He also coined a phrase, “Love for All, Hatred for None” as a mantra for the increasingly cult-like Ahmadiyya.
The 1974 laws, persecution and a lack of direction brought even more fear, secrecy, paranoia and backroom political games into the Ahmadiyya bureaucracy. Many young Ahmadis left the Ahmadiyya or could not leave the social ties and became hypocrites, with atheism seething inside them. Atheism, in this situation, was a product of the transparent cult-like tactics being used by the Ahmadiyya leadership. When one's frame of reference built by an intense religious experience during childhood is found to be hollow, and social ties and the fear of boycott are the only things remaining, hypocrisy and atheism are sometimes the only options for some people. The alternate is hard to accomplish – what I am typing right now! The world had changed, but the Ahmadiyya leadership had not changed.
Mirza Tahir Ahmad came on board as the Fourth Leader, and with a reform agenda. He did not fully realize the severity of the problems and in his first few years, which were spent adjusting to England and fixing the bureaucracy. A fresh hope was springing in the members of the Ahmadiyya, the apex of which was in 1988 with the crash of the helicopter of President Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan. He also contributed to the cult phenomenon with his obsession with homeopathy and how it could save the world.
With his force of personality, he also contributed to the cult phenomenon by getting rid of able advisors and surrounding himself with people who would agree with whatever he would say, further eroding the intellectual capital and level of the Ahmadiyya.
Now that he had the attention of his followers, he embarked on a very erudite series of sermons for a few yars, perhaps knowning that the belief system of the Ahmadiyya needed to be bolstered.
His program to dedicate children since childhood (waqf nau) was also born of the same conern that the belief systems were so corrupted that only the fresh minds of children could save them. But again he failed to realize that it was the basic lack of consolidation of beliefs that nothing could save.
He was a man of action, but succumbed to the temptation of critical mass after the fall of the USSR and Eastern Europe and saw it as a means to an end. However, the Albanians and Bosnians and Central Asians who became involved with the Ahmadiyya quickly slipped away once they found out about the true street beliefs of the Ahmadiyya, not the ones on the shiny brochures.
Help and aid for Bosnians was mixed with propagation, thus violating the Quranic model of feeding the hungry (without any other desire except for the pleasure of Allah).
He then turned his attention to Africa, especially the French part, as it was virgin territory and the Ahmadiyya opponents were not known for their French. The European setback was especially painful and he set goals for doubling the number of converts every year. He did not tell which year to stop in, and the reader can imagine the painful details of the pressures of exponential progression!
He then saw that dubious quantity without quality was unreal – so he started a movement almost identical to the one in the 1960s and 1970s -- providing basic humanitarian aid to different parts of the world, but this time – WITHOUT the name of the Ahmadiyya – as an attempt at sincere humanitarian work. This organization is called 'Humanity First'. However, the street-level belief systems of the Ahmadiyya are so distorted that, as this organization was collecting and distributing relief to the Bam earthquake victims, an Ahmadiyya preacher was overheard saying that the earthquake was part of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's prophecy and this has to happen to Muslims.
The European setback also gave him the opportunity to read the literature of the neo-opponents of the information age. He did some reconciliation with the Lahore Ahmadiyya group and went as far as to name the leader of the schism, Maulana Muhammad Ali, a 'respectable man'.
In his question-answer sessions, he would regularly swerve away from the belief patterns of his predecessors, and some Luddites objected to that. He formally changed some translations of Qur'anic verses that the Second Leader, and his father, had done. Many people were up in arms, but he was emphatic that this was his opinion, and the Second Leader had his own opinion.
In this way, he tried to break the mold of this type of ancestor-following, but was not bold enough, or did not have time enough (Allah knows) to tackle the catechism of the Ahmadiyya. Also, the implicit belief (not overt belief) of the Ahmadiyya that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a “sent-Prophet” will not allow them to evaluate, edit, categorize or catechize the writings and sayings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. This is how serious the concept of “shari'” or “imperative” prophethood is, and ibn Arabi was right to say that it had ended.
Right from the first Web site of the Ahmadiyya in 1994 (started by me – for the record) there was a belief among the volunteers that this was a God-send to a community whose beliefs were always misunderstood. The reluctance and hesitation of the leadership preplexed them, and finally the leadership closed down all web sites. They were started but as of today only one official site is open and no dicussion is allowed. The Fourth and present, Fifth, Leader has instructed a moratorium on all discussions and all arguments with opponents.
One way to get out of this predicament is --
-- instantly remove the cult mentality and let people live without fear
-- then cultivate a culture of sincerity and honesty over a few years
-- bring together the best God-fearing and oldest people in the Ahmadiyya who have extensively knowledge of issues and are intelligent, but not dependent on the leadership for their livelihood.
-- Hold a council of a few hundred such people and hash out what has been postponed for many years. Keep the leadership away from this council.
It is my estimate that such a course of action would result in the Ahmadiyya becoming closer to Islam, while diluting the leadership of their powers.
The only other alternative is to keep moving away from Islam and develop a reputation for falsehood and lose the best and brightest of their future generations.
In the next article, we will pick up from here and discuss ways in which
Ahmadiyya members can alter their individual lives to correspond to Islamic teachings even while under the mental control of the Ahmadiyya leadership.
.... to be continued.
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