The Ahmadiyya movement in Islam began as one aspect of the larger revival of Islam that swept through the Muslim world in the 19th century; in the years after the death of its founder, however, it took a direction that pushed it to the fringe of Islam. The movement was launched by Mirza Ghulam Hazrat Ahmad (1835-1908), a Pakistani government worker, who as a devout Muslim brooded over what he perceived was the decline of the Muslim community. In 1880 he published a book, Barahin-i-Ahmadiyah, in which he revealed the calling he felt to help revive Islam in the face of a militant Christian mission in India.
In 1891 he proclaimed that he was al-Mahdi, the expected Hidden Imam of the Shia Muslims who was expected to return at the end of the age to reform Islam. His proclamation came as part of an attack upon Christianity, in which he also declared his belief that Jesus was a prophet (in other words, a person of the same high status as Muhammad) but was not divine. He went on to articulate his unique belief that Jesus had not died on the cross but had survived his ordeal and later moved to Kashmir, where he lived out his normal life. The Second Coming would not involve the reappearance of the resurrected Jesus, but the appearance of someone with the spirit and power of Jesus, a person like Ahmad.
Ahmad began a massive missionary effort directed to the West arguing for Islam, but including as an integral part of his message the claim about his role as the fulfiller of the prophecy of the Second Coming of Jesus. In 1901, he took the additional step of declaring himself a prophet, and hence equal to Muhammad. After his death, those Muslims attracted to his movement argued about his prophethood. The majority continued to align themselves with Ahmad’s family and proclaimed his prophethood, even going so far as to suggest that only those who acknowledged the new Prophet Ahmad were true Muslims. But a significant minority rejected the claim (while asserting Ahmad’s role as a renewer, or mujaddid, of Islam) and organized as the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Islaat Islam, Lahore.
Upon Ahmad’s death, a caliphate (without any political powers) was instituted to lead the movement. The first caliph and successor to Ahmad was Hazrat Haji Hakeem Maulvi Nurud-Din Sahib (1841-1914). He was succeeded in turn by Sahibzada Bashirud-Din Mahmud Ahmad Sahib (1889-1965), only 25 years old at the time. He was called to lead the movement through the early 1950s, when popular feeling against it reached a new peak and led to rioting. In 1954 he was almost killed when a man stabbed him in the neck. In 1955, he established an electoral college consisting of some 150 of the movement’s leaders, who were to determine his successor.
Following the caliph’s death in 1965, his son, Sahibzada Mirza Nasir Ahmad Sahib (1909-1982), was elected to succeed him. He led the movement as it spread internationally, while at the same time fighting for its status in the Muslim world. He was succeeded by Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (1928-2003) and he in 2003 by the current caliph, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad Khalifatul Masih V (b. 1950), who is also the son of Sahibzada Mirza Nasir Ahmad Sahib.
The Ahmadiyya movement in Islam holds most beliefs common to Orthodox Sunni Islam, although Ahmad did challenge one of the principal beliefs of Islam by declaring the end to jihad (holy war). The primary belief that separates the movement from the larger world of Islam, however, remains the role it assigns to its founder. That additional affirmation has led to the movement being seen as a sectarian Islamic movement by the great majority of Muslims. In 1974, the Pakistani government declared the movement to be non-Muslim, a move followed by the World Muslim League, which also declared it to be outside of Islam. In 1984, Pakistan also passed an ordinance forbidding Ahmadiyyas to refer to or represent themselves as Muslims. These actions have not stopped the movement’s spread, and it now exists in more than 193 countries (2008), its legal status secure in the great majority where Islam is also a minority faith. It has spread across North America, where it has experienced a significant response from African Americans.
The international headquarters of the movement is in Rabwah, Pakistan. The American branch has developed an expansive Internet site at www.alislam.org. As the new century begins, it claims more than 130 million adherents worldwide. As this encyclopedia goes to press, the Ahmadiyya movement is experiencing significant problems in Indonesia, where Orthodox Sunnis have challenged its legitimacy and called upon the government to suppress it. The Sunni effort challenges the country’s commitments to religious freedom.
Masjid Aqsa Goal Bazar Rabwah Rabwah Pakistan www.alislam.org
Ahmad, Mirza Ghulam Hazrat; Ahmadiyya Anjuman Islaat Islam, Lahore; Muhammad; World Muslim Congress.
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