AHMADIYYA MOVEMENT (Religious Movement)

Founder: Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (c. 1839-1908)

The Ahmadiyya movement provided, from a Muslim theological point of view, one of the more unusual responses from among those that emerged in the Asian subcontinent to modernization and westernization. The movement is regarded as unorthodox by Sunni Muslims principally on account of the claims made either by its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (c. 1839-1908) from Qadian in Kashmir or on his behalf by his followers. Two of these claims in particular have given rise to strong opposition from Sunnis the first of which was a threefold claim to be at one and the same time the Promised Messiah of the Christians who looked forward to the Second Coming of Jesus, the Mahdi or God guided one of Islam, a reincarnation of Prophet Muhammad and an Avatar of the Hindu deity Krishna.

The second unorthodox claim that put Ghulam Ahmad outside the Muslim fold was his assertion that he was a prophet of God entrusted with mission to interpret Islam in accordance with the requirements of the new age. This second claim was in conflict with the Sunni position which holds that there can be no further prophets or no new revelation after the Prophet Muhammad, the last and final prophet. Ahmadis would see this as a misinterpretation of their position since for them their founder was an avatar or manifestation of the prophet and not a completely new prophet whose advent made the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad redundant. This understanding of his status, followers maintain, does not conflict with Muhammad being the seal of the prophets. Ghulam Ahmad’s orthodoxy was also questioned over his claim that the era of jihad, in the sense of holy war, had come to an end.

In 1974 the Pakistani government declared the movement non-Muslim and forbade it to describe itself as a Muslim organization. Members are also officially prohibited from performing the hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca.

The Ahmadiyya began with a mission to halt the conversion of Muslims to Christianity using the strategy of modernizing Islam particularly in the field of education. In their schools they radically altered the Islamic curriculum by introducing Western subjects alongside the Islamic sciences. The movement was also concerned to stem the ever-growing number of young Muslims who, attracted by modernity, were abandoning Islam for Christianity which many of them regarded as more sophisticated and modern. The Ahmadiyya believed that by modernizing many of Islam’s customs, practices, and ceremonies, and by adopting aspects of Western culture they could improve Islam’s image and convince young Muslims that it was possible to be both Muslim and modern. Thus, the Ahmadiyya not only introduced a partly western curriculum into their schools but also encouraged western dress, and marriage and naming ceremonies modeled on those held in Christian churches.

The movement split in 1914 into Qadian and Lahore sections. The latter no longer accepting the claim to prophethood of the founder took the name of the Society for the Propagation of Islam. Following the partition of India in 1947 the Qadianis established their headquarters in Rabwah and the Lahoris in Lahore. Both sections are strongly missionary in orientation and heavily engaged in this work not only in South Asia but also in Africa, particularly West Africa, Europe, and the United States. One of the first Ahamadiyyah mosques to be built outside the subcontinent was erected in Woking, Surrey, England, in 1912. The movement claims to have at the time of writing more than 130 million members worldwide.

The leadership of the movement takes the form of a Caliphate which was instituted on the founder’s death in 1908 and the current caliph is Mirza Tahir Ahmad (b. 1928).

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