A Critical Review: "Book of the Century"
by Tahira Parvez
This is the claim made on the cover of Mirza Tahir Ahmad's book "Revelation
Rationality Knowledge and Truth". The full affirmation reads,"...most
readers will testify that this will always stand out as a
book among books - perhaps the greatest literary achievement of this
This is a serious statement, not only for its shock-value, but also due to
a more fundamental reason. Mirza Tahir Ahmad is the head of "Ahmadi" Jamat
(Quadiani group), which has been declared unbeliever by Muslim Scholars
the world-over. Since the matters discussed in this book are sensitive to
the believers, it is hoped that such a grandiose statement is made with some
degree of responsibility.
If the purpose has been to merely throw another challenge to the Muslim
ummah, the wisdom of doing so in this manner remains to be seen. Indeed,
only a very small group of Muslims are likely to come across this book; the
great majority will just ignore it as more Quadiani propaganda to grab the
limelight or another futile attempt to be taken seriously.
Nevertheless, the history of the Mission shows that it has mastered the technique
of putting forward claims, which no reasonable individual can possibly take
seriously. Consequently, since no one had seen it fit to contest their claims,
the Mirzai leaders proclaim such statements to have been "facts", move to
incorporate them into Ahmadi folklore, and announce the fulfillment of yet
another obscure prophecy of their founder, Mirza Gulam Ahmad Quadiani! Indeed,
reliance on a series of similarly unfounded and fantastic claims by Mirza
Gulam, and a disjointed initial response from the Muslim community, allowed
the birth of this religion in the late 19th century. If this book were to
meet such a fate, Mirza Tahir's unfortunate followers may come to see him
as an "original" thinker.
My reason to read this book was quite simple: I found the above statement
scandalous. Mirza Tahir Ahmad promises ample reward to the readers and claims
that engaging in this "study will assist him by ushering him into the majestic
presence of his Lord - the Creator, the Master of the Universe". Sounds familiar?
The vocabulary has been borrowed from American Evangelical scene. I am less
certain about its meaning though, since Muslims believe in the presence of
Allah everywhere ("nearer than jugular vein"). The following review is my
reward and I am happy to share it with Mirza Sahib and the readers.
This book is essentially an expanded version of Mirza Sahib's lecture delivered
at the University of Zurich in 1987. Mirza Sahib tries to explain the need
for this book, "Many attempts were made during subsequent years to translate
the full Urdu manuscript ... to be exhausted and abandoned ... no single
scholar could translate ... no option but to rewrite in my own hand ..."!
He goes on without ever telling us the real reason behind his decision to
write this book.
The book has 756 pages, excluding publisher's note, acknowledgements, and
preface. It has been published by "Islam International Publications", based
at "Islamabad", Surrey (U.K.), on an expensive paper using "Times New Roman"
typeface and an unusually large font. Its cover price is set at £25.
The book was launched with some vigor at the annual international meeting
of Ahmadis in the U.K. this year. Since then, it has received endless
"advertisement" on their Satellite Channel and their gatherings around the
globe. It is being marketed as the next big accomplishment after "Brahin-e-
Ahmadiyyah". The mission claims to have sold thousands of copies to Ahmadis,
mostly to give away to non-Ahmadi friends, potential converts, and acquaintances.
If you are among these groups and have not yet received your copy, just ask
or be patient! It will not surprise me to hear in a few years time that this
book has reached the "best-seller" status among the Ahmadis.
The book has been "translated" into an exquisite English, which repeatedly
makes one forget the topic at hand. It is divided into seven Parts. Yet,
out of them, perhaps the first two justify any division. These early chapters
deal with the history of the development of Religious Thought, Philosophy,
and ideology of a few selected Religions. However, these are topics extensively
covered by Muslim and non-Muslim authors in the past and Mirza Tahir is unable
to offer any new or evolutionary insights into these well-covered fields.
In subsequence chapters, the author drifts among such varied topics as
Revelation, Cosmology, Evolution, Unseen, Holocaust, and Aids. Unfortunately,
these topics are inconsistently covered and often no attempt has been made
to tie them together in a coherent manner. However, this shortcoming is quite
understandable, considering the variety of topics involved and lack of competence
of the author in those subject areas.
To be sure, the reader comes across a few glimpses of quality writing in
chapters like "Belief in the Unseen". It is unfortunate, but well expected,
that the book eventually drifts into a baseless propaganda that "The Plague"
and "AIDS" have been among the prophecies of Mirza Gulam Ahmad and hence
a proof of his Prophethood! In some chapters, Mirza Sahib even manages to
squeeze in such age-old Ahmadi favorites like "Jesus versus Finality", assuming
that Muslims of today hold similar views to their old illiterate adversaries.
A detailed discussion on this book is beyond the scope of this review and,
probably, common sense. I will instead try to concentrate on a few issues
raised by the author and will leave the rest for other interested individuals.
As the name and contents of this book suggest, it is supposed to deal with
complex issues related to various disciplines, including Religion, Philosophy,
Entomology, and Medical Science. However, Mirza Tahir and the publisher neglect
to mention the audience targeted by this book. Has it been written for scholars,
general public, or Ahmadi faithful?
As a student of many of the disciplines allegedly covered by this book, I
can confidently state that every above average student of these disciplines
will find the coverage of topics by the author fairly elementary. This may
be disappointing for Ahmadi faithful, but we have no choice but to conclude
that the general public is likely target of this book. We are, however, still
left to contend with the grandiose claim of "literary work of the century".
Literature, as we know, covers a great variety of written works valued for
its form and style. We will have to give Mirza Sahib the benefit of the doubt.
Surely, his book is not being compared with the works of legends such as
Freud, Russell, Sartre, Hardy (or our home grown talents Ali Jauhar, Akbar
Ahmad, and others) in this century, since it falls well short of such literary
works. Let us then try to compare like for like, or even narrow it down to
the comparable works published in the English language in recent years.
The book starts promisingly. Mirza Tahir sets up his stall with an easy
introduction to the historical development of religious thought and a brief
comparative value of reason, logic, and revelation. However, as soon as he
begins to elaborate on these basic ideas in the subsequent chapters, he loses
direction and eventually the plot. The insertion of a chapter on "Individual
versus Society" at this point is a bolt out of the blue and unexplainable.
In the following chapters, the author tries to cover various Islamic Schools
of Thought, as well as European and Greek Philosophies. While covering the
Islamic thought, Mirza Tahir appears hollow and unnecessarily cautious. He
appears to advocate all sides of the argument, hence failing to advance his
own. He also fails to mention Imam Shafi's contribution in advancing Islamic
Thought, when the extremists were sitting in trenches. Unexplainably, he
is rather unkind to the Sufies, especially since Mirza Gulam Ahmad and his
successors have repeatedly borrowed Sufi concepts and practices to advance
their hidden agenda. Serious readers are recommended to review works by Sayyid
Nasr and Dr. Wadood to pull themselves out of the depths of despair.
Mirza Tahir's attempt at considering philosophy begins with summary reviews
of the great works of several philosophers (with some patronizing remarks
of his own), which appear to be simply borrowed from primary level Philosophy
encyclopaedias. However, he fails in his attempt to manage difficult concepts
and tie them to the thread of the discussion he has since lost.
Among others, Armstrong, Umberto, and Eaton, have written on related issues
in recent years; Mirza sahib simply fails to rise to their level. Those who
have had the pleasure of reading Ali Shariati's lectures may feel like being
in a torture chamber. It is true that there is no substitute to proper education,
and, the only conclusion one can arrive to is that, in discussing Philosophy,
Mirza Tahir is hopelessly out of his depth.
In the last part of the book, the author repeats the age-old Ahmadi propaganda
on the need for ongoing revelations, the "Prophethood" of Mirza Gulam Ahmad,
and hints at its continuation (Mirza Tahir regularly claims to be "in touch",
during his sermons and speeches). In the process, he attacks Allama Iqbal
and Maulana Moududi for having had defective thinking and views on this issue.
The main argument offered in support of his view is the "utter moral destitution
of man today".
Maulana Maududi has a large following and one would expect them to hit back,
because he has been bracketed with Baha' Ullah of Iranian infamy in this
book. Before I say a few words in defense of Iqbal, it is wise to point out
the fallacy in Mirza sahib's stance. In fact, arguments similar to his were
put forward by Mirza Gulam Ahmad and his associates to justify his claim
to being a reformer, Mahdi, Messiah, and eventually a Prophet in his own
right. But, what improvement did this alleged prophethood bring to the world?
It simply divided the Muslims further and has been responsible for terrible
suffering: the world is generally a worse place to live than before his claim.
Despite what they are being told publicly, unfortunate Ahmadis have also
gone from pillar to post in the last 100 years and will soon be labeled
"wandering Ahmadis" - hence proving that Mirza Gulam Ahmad was only a "Prophet
of destruction and death".
In attacking Allama Iqbal, Mirza Tahir accuses him of having borrowed Neitzsche's
views in thinking that revelation had ended with Prophet Muhammad(SAW) and
that the holy Quran is the last word of Allah. In fact, Allama Iqbal, the
distinguished Muslim poet and scholar, was one of the few who saw through
the deception of Mirza Gulam Ahmad and his associates, and made the Muslim
Ummah aware of their threat to Islamic Identity.
At the time when many Muslim personalities considered Ahmadiyyat as too trivial
for their attention, it was left to Iqbal to realize its hidden danger to
Muslim identity. While Sir Syed only wrote that "Gulam Ahmad's claims are
useless" and Maulana Azad saw it only fit to release a few condemning articles,
Iqbal realized the danger of this Mission and the hidden purpose of its
leadership. When the Indian Nehru spoke in their favor, Iqbal shredded his
arguments with the sword of his wisdom and Islamic knowledge and demanded
a separate religious status for them.
Since that time, Ahmadi leaders have spared no efforts to discredit Iqbal.
Where they failed miserably on the intellectual front, they tried to make
up for in the corridors of establishment in Pakistan. The gradual disappearance
of Iqbalian philosophy from the Pakistani public life is not without reason.
In this latest attempt, Mirza Tahir purposely shies away from the truth,
when discussing Iqbal's views on revelation. Iqbal actually proposed that,
by the advent of prophet Muhammad(SAW), mankind had achieved the high social
and cognitive maturity to be the recipient of Eternal Truths. Therefore,
Allah, in His wisdom, has completed His message in the holy Quran for eternity.
The Almighty has decreed that the holy Quran be detailed (S.6/1l5), contain
Eternal Truths (S.5/48), have no deficiency (S.6/38), carry the formulae
to address every problem (S.10/57), and be preserved (S.15/9). With the holy
Quran, and the authentic explanation of Prophet Muhammad(SAW), Al1ah proclaimed
that His religion has been completed (S.6/116) and will be valid for the
mankind (S.81/27) for all times.
Iqbal stressed that humankind can tackle all its present and future problems
under the guidance of the Islamic revelation; hence, there is no need for
future revelations or new prophets. Every Ahmadi should realize that reformers
do not have to be Prophets. A comparison of Jamal-Ud-Din Afghani with Mirza
Gulam Ahmad, for instance, could be a study in enlightenment for Mirza Tahir
and his associates.
In several chapters, Mirza Tahir has taken up the nature of revelation. As
expected, he has missed the point and tried to explain it absurdly in the
context of paranormal, illusions, hypnotism, hallucination, and dreams. In
all fairness, we will not consider sources that are disagreeable (according
to Mirza Gulam Ahmad "Ahadees are like a Madari's (juggler) patari, and you
can take out whatever you wish") or obscure (Physiology of the Brain) to
Mirza Sahib. Since the author would like us to accept his claim that his
belief in the holy Quran is similar to the rest of the Muslims (although
his Mission has shamelessly twisted and changed its meanings to suit their
purpose), let us revisit some Quranic concepts on the topic.
According to the holy Quran, Wahi (revelation) is an objective knowledge
or experience given to Allah's chosen individuals (S.6/l05). This knowledge
is direct (S.83/5) and not acquired (S.53/4). No one is aware of the exact
nature of this experience, except Allah who "reveals it on the heart of the
Nabi (Prophet)" (S.40/15). It is not an illusion, dream, or the interpretation
of a prophet, but Allah's own Word (S.9/6, S.2/75). Furthermore, there is
no classification of Wahi in the holy Quran. Age-old Ahmadi propaganda
of lesser Wahi, Ilham, and Kashaf of Mirza Gulam Ahmad
are Sufi concepts twisted and misappropriated to justify his claims. It is
interesting to note that Mirza Tahir has not even mentioned them in this
Mirza Tahir Ahmad is neither a scholar nor a philosopher. He lacks the knowledge,
ability, training, or necessary qualification to undertake a serious task
as writing a book on such complex issues. By his own admission, over 50 people
were involved in researching, printing, and revisions of the book. This is
in addition to those "scholars" and researchers who were involved in "things
I could not have handled alone". The "translators" must take genuine credit
for making this work at least readable; notwithstanding, Mirza Sahib's statement,
"....when I critically examined the translation, new ideas emerged...".
I know for certain that most of the topics in this book have either been
part of his Friday sermons or discussed in his "Question-Answer" sessions.
Thus, special recognition has to be given to those unknown volunteers who
work in special research cells/units in "Islamabad" and prepare topics for
Mirza Sahib to look presentable. He might have borrowed from some manuscripts
to delude himself or impress others, but to actually claim that he wrote
this book is simply pitiable. Those who know him could easily attested to
this fact. The effort was still worth while because it gave Ahmadi propaganda
machinery around the world a well-deserved rest from the routine. Alas! The
reality falls far short of the hype and the failure has to be seen as a
collective shortcoming of the entire Quadiani think-thank and leadership.
The ongoing curse ("prophecy") of (religious) intellectual inferiority in
"the family" continues.
Despite what the cover of this book would have the reader to believe, the
real biography of Mirza Tahir is as follows. According to Ian Adamson ("Man
of God"), Mirza Sahib's ambition in life was to become a physician (he is
now content with his "wor1d-renowned" Homeopathy practice without
qualifications), but failed in his FSc examination. This was no disgrace,
as his grandfather, Mirza Gu1am Ahmad, also had failed departmental examinations
three times before embarking upon his career as a "Prophet"! Similarly, Mirza
Tahir's father, Mirza Bashir (2nd head of Ahmadi Jamat), had failed his middle
school examination and was always taunted by Molvi Muhammad Ali (Head of
Lahori Ahmadi Jamat) for his unscholarly ways.
In Mirza Tahir's case, his father relied on his contacts and was able to
arrange for his undeserved admission into SOAS, London University. Obviously,
he lacked proper knowledge and soon had to drop out of university. He spent
the next few years enjoying western life and the hospitality of poor Ahmadis,
while travelling around Europe. In 1982, with crucial support from Sir Zafar
Ullah, he was "elected" the Head of Ahmadi Jamat. Since that time,
Mirza sahib and his close associates have been permanent guests of their
To his credit, Mirza Tahir's primary qualifications are his keen political
sense and his contacts in the right places, including the intelligence services
abroad. His "Escape from Pakistan" and overthrow of the government in Sierra
Leon with the help of MI6 are two prime examples of his strengths. As a
politician, he rightfully boasts that MTA (Muslim Television Ahmadyyiah)
is his biggest achievement. TV being an effective tool in propaganda and
mass control, he is well aware of what he is talking about.
Mirza Tahir is a keen sportsman, but an intellectual lightweight, who would
not be able to stand against any Muslim scholar. This is the reason why he
is advised to refrain from boxing out of his weight. To make sure, I would
like to seek a legal injunction against the publishers of this book, stopping
them from making intellectually insulting claims.
Good luck to those who want to follow suit.