Seventh-day Adventists and Ahmadiyat

Seventh-day Adventists and Ahmadiyat (Part 1)

A look at a revivalist movement within Islam.

Dr. E. R. Reynolds, Jr., is the academic dean of the Paki­stan Union School, Ghuharkana Mandi. Sheikhupura District, West Pakistan. He recently completed his studies and was granted the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Islamics, Decem­ber. 1966, at the Punjab University in Lahore.

MANY of the readers of this journal will find the word Ahmadiyat a new one to them, or one, at least, that has fuzzy con­notations.

Spelled variously as Ahmadiyat, Ahmad­iyyat, or Ahmediyyat, the term signifies the religious movement founded in the late nineteenth century by Mirza Ghulam Ah­mad of Qadian, in Northern India. Its world headquarters today is at Rabwah, in West Pakistan. It was intended to be a re­vivalist movement within Islam, not only to call Moslems back to what Mirza Ghu­lam Ahmad considered was pristine Islam but also to challenge both Christianity and Hinduism to defend their positions, or more appropriately to leave their apostate religions in exchange for what the Ah­madi founder believed to be the "true" Is­lam.

The size of this sect is as numerically insignificant among the hundreds of mil­lions of Moslems as are Seventh-day Ad­ventists among the hundreds of millions of Christians. But quantity is not always the sole determining factor as to what consti­tutes significance.

The interest of Seventh-day Adventists in this sect ought to lie in two major areas.

The first of these is theological, embracing either points of faith that have marked similarities or are prominent features of be­liefs that are diametrically opposed. The second is the intensive proselytical activity of the movement, which uses many meth­ods of Christian missions to attract the at­tention of large numbers of people in cer­tain areas of the world, influencing them away from the appeal of Jesus Christ.

Needs Entire Book

This article cannot begin to treat ade­quately the first interest. It needs an entire book. Outside of brief encyclopedia arti­cles, there is very little recent scholarly work on Ahmadiyat. Professor Smith of Mc­Gill University's Institute of Islamic Stud­ies suggests that the last scholarly work was Lucien Bouvat's article in the Journal Asi­atique in 1928. Smith himself has written in the New Encyclopaedia of Islam, and touched on them from a social point of view in some of his books. Dr. Kenneth Cragg, in his book The Call of the Minaret, discusses them somewhat also. But theolog­ically speaking, there is nothing in print that takes up their work in a systematic and detailed academic manner.

My interest in Ahmadiyat first began be­cause of a friendship formed with an Ah­madi printer who was kind enough to help me translate some evangelistic advertising fifteen years ago when I first came to Paki­stan. I did not know the language well, and the Pakistani worker helping me did not know English any better. This Ahmadi was well enough versed in Christian ideas to help me with words that had the right nuance.

Later, during graduate study at the Uni­versity of the Punjab, I had occasion to broaden my academic knowledge of Ah­madiyat, and to study the life and work of the founder in considerable detail. This has resulted further in some fine friend­ships and contacts with these very sincere people.

Arising out of this study, it was my privi­lege recently to spend some time in inter­viewing the present head of the movement, Mirza Nasir Ahmad, Khalifat-ul-Masih III, who is the grandson of the founder, and who was elected to his present position by the community upon the death of his fa­ther in November of 1965.

Embarrassing Methods

No one working in the larger centers of Moslem population can long avoid meet­ing the Ahmadi missionaries. Wherever a Christian evangelist begins a work of pub­lic missionary effort, one of these persistent emissaries of Ahmadiyat is sure soon to show up. His presence can be embarrass­ing if the evangelist is unacquainted with the methods of the Ahmadis.

Appearing to be the spokesman for the Moslems present, the Ahmadi evangelist will do his best to pose logical dilemmas that the tactful Christian would rather meet in private, and his attempt to side­step the interruption in a public confronta­tion is turned frequently to mean an in­ability to answer the questions posed, and is meant to imply thereby the spiritual in­feriority of Christianity. At times, antag­onistic slogans are employed, based upon a turn of some religious phrase known to arouse Moslem prejudices, and mob re­sentment is raised to a fever pitch. By these tactics the Moslem masses, and the other non-Christians who are spiritually un­decided, are swayed away from the message the Christian evangelist would present.

Put Some to Shame

Let me not imply that the Ahmadi is basically dishonest in his efforts. He is a man of very strong convictions, sincere earnestness, and often in private he pos­sesses a gentleness and thoughtful courtesy that many a Christian would do well to emulate. He is faithful in the practice of his beliefs to an extent that would put many an Adventist to shame. To him, Ah­madivat is more than a nominal expression of a religious way of life. It is all in all, the one true religion, the only hope for the world today, he believes. It is this crusad­ing, evangelistic fervor that Seventh-day Adventists will have to contend with today in the Moslem world. The great advances of Islam in certain areas of earth today, as opposed to the spread of Christianity, are for the most part the work of Ahmadiyat, or stimulated by Ahmadis.

It is with this aspect of Ahmadiyat that I would be principally concerned herein. On the occasion of my interview with Mirza Nasir Ahmad, I went first to the Foreign Missions office where I was introduced to Mr. Naseem Saifi, who was to be my guide for the day. Mr. Saifi had just returned from twenty years of missionary service in Ni­geria and other parts of West Africa.

Billy Graham Challenged

It was Mr. Saifi who in 1960 first chal­lenged Dr. Billy Graham to a debate in Lagos, Nigeria, during the latter's African safari for Christ. It was also an Ahmadi mis­sionary, Sheikh Mubarik Ahmad, who chal­lenged the evangelist in East Africa to a prayer dual. While the Christian world's presses and newspapers took note of the incidents, reporting how Dr. Graham had handled the two situations without becom­ing embroiled in controversy, the Ah­madis published widely the triumph for Islam his failure to meet them openly seemed to them to imply.

With respect to Mr. Saifi, I would like to add that, having read the press reports of Dr. Graham's contacts with him, I ex­pected to meet a firebrand. Instead, I found him to be a quiet, assured gentle­man. It was a pleasure to make his ac­quaintance.

Educational and Publishing System

Ahmadis learn fast from Christian mis­sionaries. They have their own educational system and give a good education. Many of their members are widely respected for their learning and abilities. Perhaps the most outstanding example of this is Chau­dry Sir Zafrulla Khan, currently on the bench of the World Court. Having been a past president of the United Nations Gen­eral Assembly, he is an Ahmadi of interna­tional repute, and is also the author of a number of religious works designed to share his faith.

The Ahmadi publishing houses turn out literature for their cause in more volume than those of most religious organizations of the present time. Their philanthropy and care for the widow and orphan should also be noted. While they have not ap­proached a Seventh-day Adventist level of medical missions, many an Ahmadi physi­cian is a medical missionary on his own.

When I was ushered into the parlor of the Khalif a's home for my appointment, I was met most courteously by the dis­tinguished leader. A kind, quiet-spoken gentleman in his late fifties, the Mirza Sa­hib is a graduate of Oxford University, and a former college principal. We talked of their organizational structure, which has many parallels to that of Seventh-day Ad­ventists. We also discussed the future of their mission program. Their greatest suc­cesses are in West Africa, with East Africa and Indonesia following.

Mirza Nasir Ahmad stated that the prog­ress of Ahmadiyat today is as rapid in Tanzania as in West Africa. The size of the group, however, has not yet reached that of West Africa, where the largest group is in Ghana. The converts in Ghana come largely from paganism. In Sierra Leone, however, Mirza Nasir Ahmad told me, they are converting to Ahmadiyat more mem­bers from the Christian community than from other groups. In Nigeria, on the other hand, the growth of Ahmadiyat is largely taking place within the Moslem commu­nity, he reported.

Classified Secret

Another interesting observation is that in all three West African countries, it is from the Negro populace rather than from Arab, European, or mixed racial stock that they are making their greatest gains. The same holds true in Tanzania, the Khalifa reported, but it was not clear to him whether the converts were mostly from pa­gan, Christian, or Moslem communities. In Indonesia, it is largely from among the Moslems that they are recording their great­est successes.

As for future plans, Mirza Nasir Ahmad advised me that he planned to make a pub­lic announcement in the near future, and that therefore for the present their strategy was a religiously classified secret. We smiled mutually at that remark.

(To be continued)

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Dr. E. R. Reynolds, Jr., is the academic dean of the Paki­stan Union School, Ghuharkana Mandi. Sheikhupura District, West Pakistan. He recently completed his studies and was granted the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Islamics, Decem­ber. 1966, at the Punjab University in Lahore.

March 1967

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