In the Name of Allah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful
The poet and philosopher Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) is widely respected throughout the Muslim world for his contribution to Islamic thought. However, I am of the opinion that Iqbal’s ideas are extremely harmful for the Muslim world and that he promoted the cancer of modernism and materialism by deceptively giving them an Islamic coloring.
Iqbal once described the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement in Islam, Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (d. 1908) as “probably the profoundest theologian among modern Indian Muslims.” (Indian Antiquary, vol. 29, September 1900, p. 239)
Regrettably, Iqbal later changed his view and became an opponent of the Ahmadiyya movement and its respected founder. The booklet Islam and Ahmadism was authored by Iqbal where he states his objections and arguments to the Ahmadiyya in a reply to an inquiry on the subject by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru (1889-1964), India’s first Prime Minister.
In this entry, I shall analyze this booklet and respond to the fallacious objections raised by Iqbal against Hadrat Mirza and the Ahmadiyya movement:
In the first attack on the Ahmadiyya in this booklet, Iqbal states: “the Pandit and the Qadianis [Ahmadiyya], perhaps because both inwardly resent, for different reasons, the prospects of Muslim political and religious solidarity particularly in India.” (p.9)
Iqbal explains this further: “It is equally obvious that the Qadianis, too, feel nervous by the political awakening of the Indian Muslims, because they feel that the rise of political prestige of the Indian Muslims is sure to defeat their designs to carve out from the Ummat of the Arabian Prophet a new Ummat for the Indian prophet.” (pp.9-10)
In this latter statement Iqbal has compounded one false allegation against the Ahmadiyya with an ever more grievous one. He claims that the Ahmadiyya movement “resent” and is “nervous” about a political awakening and solidarity among the Indian Muslims. Secondly, and more seriously, he fabricates a baseless allegation that the Ahmadiyya seek to “carve out” a new Ummah from the Ummah of the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam). Iqbal has absolutely no evidence to substantiate this latter allegation in particular. The emphatic claim of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and his followers is that they are part and parcel of the Ummah of the Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) and that their Movement is not a distinct Ummah, but rather, a Jama’ah and Firqah (Sect) that is within the confines of the Muslim Ummah. Hadrat Mirza himself did not claim to be a Prophet in a real or independent sense, but rather a prophet by way of reflecting the light and being infused with the spiritual excellences of the Prophethood of his master Muhammad (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam). Hence, Hadrat Mirza claimed to be an Ummati Nabi, that is, a prophet who is also an Ummati and follower of Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam).
As for the objection that the Ahmadiyya Movement is somehow threatened by the political solidarity of the Indian Muslims, this too is patently false. It should be borne in mind that the Ahmadiyya Movement is purely a religious movement and a sect within the circle of Islam. It is not a political party or movement, but nonetheless has the same feelings and hopes that the general body of Muslims have as it relates to their betterment and solidarity. In other words, the Ahmadiyya is distinct from other Muslims sects with regard to creed or beliefs, but in political affairs, being a part of the Muslim Ummah, it has no separate or distinct interests from the general body of Muslims. The son and second successor of the founder, Mirza Mahmud Ahmad (1889-1965), made this fact explicitly clear in the book Political Solidarity of Islam, wherein he states: “We have never made any distinction between ourselves and the other Muslims while demanding political rights for them. We have always supported the general Muslim demand, and for the attainment of this object have made sacrifices beyond our means.” (p.6)
History bears testament to this fact. The Ahmadiyya movement, for example, struggled along with the general body of Muslims for greater political autonomy and protection of Muslim interests and political rights in India. The Ahmadiyya was on the side of the Muslim League and the demand for Pakistan, while many of the narrow-minded opponents of the Ahmadiyya, such as the Deobandi mullas and the Ahrar (an obscure political party) opposed the political interests of the Muslim Ummah and opposed the creation of Pakistan by giving priority to their Indian nationalism. An eminent member of the Ahmadiyya community, Sir Zafrullah Khan (1893-1985) was in fact the first Foreign Minister of Pakistan, and also played a crucial role in arguing the case of the Arabs before the international community in opposing the Zionist takeover of Palestine.
Having failed to specify in what way the Ahmadiyya movement has opposed the political solidarity of the Muslims, Iqbal cleverly shifts gear by claiming that the very existence of the Ahmadiyya sect with its unique beliefs acts as a “disintegrating factor” that threatens to bring about “dissolution” of the community. Iqbal cites the excommunication of Spinoza by the Jewish elders of Amsterdam as an example. Spinoza was a pantheist and held unorthodox views which angered the Jewish elders who felt it necessary to have him excommunicated from their small and vulnerable community in order to protect it from disintegration. Similarly, according to Iqbal, the Indian Muslims are justified in excommunicating the Ahmadiyya sect from the fold of Islam.
There are two essential problems with Iqbal’s contention. Firstly, the Ahmadiyya sect’s difference with the mainstream Sunni Muslims is in fact a valid difference of interpretation that is within the confines of disagreement according to the principles of orthodox Sunni Islam. The disagreement or difference of interpretation revolve around the question of the life or death of the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth (peace be upon him), and the reality of the prophecy of the second coming of Jesus. In brief, the Ahmadiyya believe that Jesus of Nazareth died a natural death, and that the Islamic prophecy contained in the Hadith regarding his second advent signifies the birth of a saintly Muslim reformer from within the Ummah who, due to spiritual resemblance with the original Jesus, play the role of a new Messiah for the rejuvenation of Islam. The Ahmadiyya believe therefore that the second coming of Jesus was fulfilled in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. This position, though rejected by the majority of mainstream Sunni Muslims, cannot conceivably be understood as a rejection of any fundamental of Islam.
Iqbal, who himself diverges quite strongly with the mainstream Muslims, rejects the idea of the expectation of a coming Messiah. He characterizes such a doctrine as the penetration of a “Magian” idea into Islam. Thus, if on this point the Ahmadiyya movement has deviated beyond the pale, Iqbal himself is an even greater deviant because he rejects the second coming of the Messiah altogether, while the Ahmadiyya do not reject the second coming but merely have a difference of interpretation with the mainstream Sunni Muslims regarding its reality and details.
The second problem is evident from a purely Islamic perspective. Islam is a universal religion in which the values of truth and justice are paramount. Unlike Judaism, it is not a tribalistic community whose primary concern is political solidarity. The Holy Qur’an repeatedly condemns the attitude of the Jewish elders and community leaders who have a notorious history for opposing Prophets of God, including their own Messiah, in the name of social cohesion and political solidarity. It is well known that the Jewish Sanhedrin opposed the promised Messiah Jesus of Nazareth because they felt he was a threat to the political solidarity of their community that was occupied by the iron fist of the Roman empire. The Sanhedrin attempted to persuade the Roman governor of Judea province to have Jesus of Nazareth put to death on the cross for this very reason. Iqbal has defended the actions of the Jewish elders in Amsterdam for excommunicating Spinoza, but by the same token and using the exact same rationale, he should have also defended the actions of the Sanhedrin for doing the same to a Prophet recognized by Islam!
Next, Iqbal attempts to gloss over the dark chapters in Islamic history when he states: “Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru seems to think that a society founded on religious principles necessitates the institution of Inquisition. This is indeed true of the history of Christianity; but the history of Islam, contrary to the Pandit’s logic, shows that during the last thirteen hundred years of the life of Islam, the institution of Inquisition has been absolutely unknown in Muslim countries.” (Islam and Ahmadism; p.15)
The fact of the matter is that Iqbal is simply incorrect in making such a grandiose claim about the history of Islam. He seems to have deliberately ignored the first theological inquisition in the history of Islam known as the Mihnah. This inquisition was instituted by the Abbasid ruler Al-Ma’mun in 833 C.E and lasting for some eighteen years. Through this inquisition, the Abbasid government attempted to enforce the Mu’tazilite creed upon the Muslims, specifically the doctrine that the Qur’an is created. Any Imam or scholar who dissented from the official doctrine of the State was severely punished or imprisoned, among them the eminent Sunni Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal (may Allah have mercy on him).
A modern manifestation of the Inquisition which occurred after the death of Iqbal were the proceedings in the National Assembly of Pakistan in 1974 as a result of which the Ahmadiyya sect were officially declared as a non-Muslim minority expelled from Islam by way of an amendment to the Constitution.