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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 century"!

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 book.

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 naive followers.

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.

 

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