Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was born during a time of great fervor. His birth in 1835 in Qadian, India coincided with anticipation from followers of many religions of the advent of a Promised Reformer. Simultaneously, humanism and anti-religious sentiments had won over many of the world’s faithful – including many of Ahmad’s relatives. Qadian itself was in disrepair – malaria was common, no functioning sewage system existed, wild animals were rampant, and there was virtually no economy.
In such an environment, Ahmad spent his youth in comparative religious study, logic, philosophy, various hard sciences, medicine, and learning languages. Ahmad’s fondness of learning became so intense that his father feared for his health.
His first marriage to Hurmat Bibi, while bearing him two children, was not successful. Ahmad, still a young man, separated from his wife, retiring to the mosque to spend his days in study, contemplation and prayer. At the behest of his father, Ahmad learned law to address some legal issues the family was facing – but his heart was elsewhere. After the legal battles finished, Ahmad returned to the mosque – often servicing patients when he was not studying or praying. Despite his reclusiveness, Ahmad’s contemporaries found him affable, hospitable and extremely intelligent.
He was particularly interested in Islam, partly because of its inherent beauty, but partly because of the sad state of the Muslim world. In a Persian couplet, he wrote, “Before your eyes Islam has fallen in the dust. What excuse will you offer God, O Muslims, who pass your lives in luxury?” As a result of this zeal, he would often engage in polemics with commoners and scholars alike – gaining a reputation as a fierce, yet dignified and affable, defender of Islam.
Early Spiritual Milestones
For years, Ahmad had practiced an austere lifestyle. In 1875, however, he saw a vision in which he was instructed to observe the way of prophets before him by engaging in a prolonged period of fasting. The fasting continued for months, allowing Ahmad to experience wondrous and intense aspects of spirituality.
In 1876, signs of his father’s death appeared. Ahmad feared for his future. At this moment, he received the revelation, “Is not Allah sufficient for His servant?” This revelation, also a verse of the Holy Quran (39:37), provided Ahmad with such a serenity that he said from then on he never entertained any such worry.
Jihad of the Pen
Ahmad had been writing in the defense of Islam before the death of his father, but his father’s death gave him unprecedented freedom to defend Islam through the written word. He had a peculiar way of writing – placing two ink pots, one at each end of the room, and writing while walking from one pot to the other.
In 1880, he penned the first volume of his monumental five-volume work entitled Braheen-e-Ahmadiyya. The work, which garnered admiration throughout India, demonstrated Ahmad’s breathtaking command of secular and religious sciences. Essentially, Ahmad argued for Islam’s superiority over all other religions and secular ideologies. Ahmad even offered a prize of 10,000 rupees to anyone who could refute the book’s arguments and give even one-fifth of these proofs in favour of their own position – a prize that was never collected. In fact, the book even won the praise of Maulvi Muhammad Husain Batalvi – a man who would become Ahmad’s most bitter enemy. Of the book, Batalvi exclaimed,
“It is well known that Satanic suggestions are mostly false but not one of the revelations received by the author of Braheen e Ahmadiyya have been proved false up to this day. These cannot therefore be considered Satanic suggestions. Can any Muslim follower of the Quran believe that Satan can be given knowledge, like the Prophets and the angels, of that which is hidden so that none of his disclosures should lack truth” (Ishaat-us Sunnah Vol. VII no. 6 June/August 1884 pp. 169-170)?
This habit of defending Islam through the pen would continue throughout his life. In fact, Ahmad emphatically declared that the doctrine of aggressive jihad violated Islam’s teachings. Instead, Ahmad argued for a jihad of the pen – he himself writing more than 80 books, hundreds of poems, and thousands of letters to illustrate the intellectual and spiritual superiority of Islam. His reasoning was ironclad:
“In the present age, the pen has been raised against Islam and it was through it that Muslims had been caused so much pain and suffering. Therefore, the pen should be the weapon of the Muslims. It is the duty of every Muslim to join this battle … The jihad of this age is to propagate Islam and refute the allegation of the critics; to spread the beauty of the true religion, Islam, in the world, and to manifest the truth of Prophet Muhammad to the world. But this did not mean that jihad by the sword now is abrogated, only that today, jihad by the pen is the real jihad, until God produces different circumstances in the world” (Malfoozat Vol. I, pp. 44, 219).
Ultimately, Ahmad, through poetry and prose, in Arabic, Urdu and Persian, presented Islam’s position on subjects as diverse as hermeneutics, archeology, linguistics, epistemology, astronomy, determinism, comparative religious study, women’s rights, blasphemy, the afterlife, statehood, prophethood, ethics, cosmology, Islamic history, ecumenism, miracles, apostasy, Sharia, mysticism, citizenship, child rearing, reincarnation, prophecy, soul, revelation, evolution, soteriology, prayer, Trinity, marital rights, jihad, belief, dogma, the compatibility between science and religion, the Tomb of Jesus Christ, the meaning of life, etc.
Ahmad embodied the title God annointed him with: Sultanul Qalam (King of the Pen).
After receiving a number of revelations bearing glad tidings of a fruitful marriage, Ahmad married Nusrat Jehan Begum in 1884. It was a blessed marriage, the couple becoming parents to five boys and five girls. The couple also exhibited extreme love and respect to each other. One anecdote is illustrative. Once, Nusrat Jehan wanted to surprise her husband by making a rice pudding. She, however, accidentally put four times the amount of sugar required for the dish. Ahmad, however, ate the dish with visible relish and continued talking to his wife until her anxiety had passed.
Throughout the marriage, Ahmad personified Prophet Muhammad’s teaching, “He is best among you who is best in behavior towards his wife.” His brother-in-law remarked that he never observed Ahmad speaking harshly towards his wife, and using the most refined Urdu when addressing her.
His children, too, were privy to Ahmad’s love. For example, Ahmad was once busy in drafting an important document when his toddler son, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad – who would later become the 2nd Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – knocked on the door. Ahmad opened the door, let his son run around the room and when the son grew bored, he left the room. Only a few minutes later, the son again knocked on the door. Ahmad again opened the door and the routine was repeated. Ahmad’s companion remarked that this happened at least twenty times but not even the slightest expression of displeasure appeared on Ahmad’s face.
Founding The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
After receiving revelation, Ahmad, on January 12th, 1889, published a pamphlet describing 10 conditions for initiation into the Community. On March 23rd, 1889 he began initiating members into the Community. Hazrat Maulvi Hakim Nuruddin would be his first follower, and later the 1st Khalifa of the Community.
In 1890 Ahmad received revelation that Jesus, Son of Mary, (peace be upon him) had passed away like all previous prophets and that Ahmad was the metaphorical second coming of Jesus of Nazareth, whose advent was foretold by the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad. The exact revelation was as follows:
“The Messiah, Son of Mary, Prophet of God, is dead. It is thou who hast appeared in his spirit, according to the promise. And the promise of God is bound to be fulfilled.”
Ahmad’s likening unto Jesus indicated the purpose of his advent was to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace. Ahmad’s advent has brought about an unprecedented era of Islamic revival. He divested Muslims of fanatical beliefs and practices by vigorously championing Islam’s true and essential teachings. He also recognized the noble teachings of the great religious founders and saints, including Zoroaster, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu and Guru Nanak, and explained how such teachings converged into the one true Islam.
The claim contradicted the belief of Christians and Muslims – both of whom believed Jesus, Son of Mary, to be alive and one day returning to revive mankind. Ahmad already faced opposition from other Muslims and non-Muslims, but this claim generated unprecedented opposition.
Annual Gathering & World Religions Conference
From December 27th to 29th at the Aqsa Mosque in Qadian, Ahmad held the first Jalsa Salana (Annual Gathering). While only 75 members attended that year, the Gathering today is observed in 200 countries, commanding an audience in the tens of millions.
Along with the Community’s Annual Gathering, Ahmad was also a passionate advocate of participating in functions promoting inter-religious harmony. In 1896, the Conference of Great Religions was held to allow scholars of the world’s religions to explain the beauties of their respective faiths before the public. Ahmad’s speech – The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam – unanimously won over the more than 7,000 attendees. Ahmad, in fact, had received revelation that his treatise would stand superior to all others. Scores of newspapers noted the miraculous nature of the speech. The speech also gained the praise of the likes of Leo Tolstoy: “I approved very much of ‘How to get rid of sin’ and ‘The Life to come’. The ideas are very profound and very true.”
Final Years & Death
As revelation indicated that his death was near, Ahmad penned Al-Wasiyyat (The Will) in 1905 to instruct his followers on making a testamentary donation for the victory of Islam and the glad tidings of the revival of the Islamic Caliphate that had vanished after the passing of Hazrat Ali, the fourth Caliph of Prophet Muhammad. Ahmad explained that God manifests His blessings first through his prophets and, after their passing, He establishes the Caliphate, which is the second manifestation of His divine power.
“You must not be sad at what I have described. Your hearts ought not be sorrowful because it is incumbent that you must see the Second Manifestation of God also.”
In April 1908, Ahmad travelled to Lahore to meet members of his Community and various dignitaries. While there, he also penned “Paygham-e-Sulah” (A Message of Peace) to outline a proposal to bring Hindus and Muslims together.
Soon thereafter, on May 25th, 1908 he fell ill. He passed away, at the age of 74, on May 26, 1908. He was buried in Qadian, India.
His last words were:
Allah, meray piyaray Allah
(Lord, my beloved Lord)