Seventh-day Adventists and Ahmadiyat (Part 1)
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.
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.
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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