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CHAPTER III:

INTERPRETATIONS AND NEW MOVEMENTS IN THE 19TH CENTURY



As explained in the previous chapter, available interpretations of the Qur'an are based on the conception that there shall be no further Prophet or Apostle of God appearing after Muhammad, and consequently, that no other Book or law shall be revealed after Islam. Traditions concerning the appearance of the Mahdi and the return of the Messiah are accepted, but each Muslim sect views them with particular reservations. In general, Muslims regard the Mahdi and the Messiah only as reformers of Islam, with a chief task of bringing Muslims back to traditional Islam and effecting its world-wide domination.

The Mahdi of the Sudan

Increasing corruption encouraged a few to lay claim to be the promised Mahdi. Among them was Muhammad Ahmad of the Sudan, who, encouraged by a growing number of followers, addressed letters to rulers and kings, calling upon them to believe in him and warning them against disbelief. In one of his circulars he assured his followers that Muhammad, the Apostle of God, told him that God had given him another sign that he was the Mahdi, a flag of light that would come forth in case of war, carried by the Angel 'Izra'il (angel of death), with which God would support his followers and strike terror into the hearts of his enemies. The Mahdi of the Sudan went to war against Egypt and Britain and initially won battles, but he was later routed in an engagement and died in 1885.


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Qadiyaniyyah and Ahmadiyyah Movements

That same period witnessed another movement that started in India, similar to the one in the Sudan but with much wider implications.

Mirza Ghulam-Ahmad of Qidiyan, India, who was born in 1839 and died in 1908, claimed to be the return of the Messiah announced in the Qur'an, and the renewer of religion, in the 14th century of the Hijra. He denied any claim to prophethood. He further explained in his book Ahmadiyyih Proofs, that the Messiahs who were to appear after Islam will be saintly persons, heirs of the Prophet (Awliya'). He further wrote: "... and our Apostle (Muhammad) is the seal of the Prophets and consequently the chain of the Apostles is discontinued ...." After his death, his followers divided into two sects. One became known as the Ahmadiyyih, who believe in his imamate but not his prophethood. The other came to be known as the Qadiyaniyyah who believe in his prophethood and justify their belief by explaining that the word "seal" in the verse of the Qur'an1 designating Muhammad as the "seal of the Prophets", should be read to mean "ornament" of the Prophets. The Arabic word for "seal" is "khatim", and that for "ornament" is "khatam". As there are no vowels in Arabic, both readings, "khatim" and "khatam", are permissible. The Qadiyanis read it "khatam" or "ornament", an interpretation which makes it possible for prophets to come forth after Muhammad. However, Shoghi Effendi has translated that word from the Writings of Baha'u'llah as "Seal" of the Prophets.2


  1. Qur'an 33:40
  2. Cf Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, pp. 57, 60, 162; Kitab-i-Iqan, pp. 161, 162, 163, 166-8, 178-9 and 213.



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Reformers, not Manifestations

It is not the purpose of this compilation to discuss in detail the above or similar movements, nor to analyze their doctrines in the light of religious truth. What is interesting to point out for the purpose of this study is the fact that the Mahdi of the Sudan and Mirza Ghulam-Ahmad of Qadiyan had based their movements on the belief that while Divine Revelation had terminated with the manifestation of the Prophet Muhammad, a "reformer" could come forth. Hence, the reason why these movements stressed "reform" was that it was more readily acceptable to the common individual, whose life had become darkened by the widespread evil and waywardness in the world.

The interpretations given to the Qur'an and to the traditions have caused much perplexity in the Muslim world. The Qadiyani denial of the future appearance of the Mahdi and the Messiah on the Day of Resurrection, and the de-emphasis of these two events, through the call raised by Ghulam-Ahmad as the promised Messiah, undermined the widely accepted and all-important pillar of Islamic belief.

The Qadiyanis rely on a single tradition of Muhammad to reject the belief in the appearance of the Mahdi. The tradition reads "No Mahdi except 'Isa" (Jesus). Many other traditions on the subject have been rejected by them. However, Arabic readers of the tradition in question would find no difficulty in understanding it as a confirmation that both the Mahdi and Jesus would be made manifest, that neither One would come without the other, and that the Mahdi would appear first.


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Yahya (John) and 'Isa (Jesus)

In the Surih of Mary (XIX, vv. 13-5) [19:13-15], mention is made of Yahya, the son of Zachariah, known as John the Baptist:
We said: "O John! receive the Book with purpose of
heart" and We bestowed on him wisdom while
yet a child;

And mercifulness from Ourself, and purity; and pious
was he, and duteous to his parents; and not proud,
rebellious.

And peace was on him on the day he was born, and the
day of his death, and shall be on the day when he
shall be raised to life!

In the same surih, verses 31-35 recount the
first words of Jesus, as an infant:3

... Verily, I am the servant of God; He hath given me the
book, and He hath made me a prophet,

And He hath made me blessed wherever I may be, and
hath enjoined me prayer and almsgiving so long
as I shall live;

And to be duteous to her that bare me: and he hath not
made me proud, depraved

And the peace of God was on me the day I was born,
and will be the day I shall die, and the day I shall
be raised to life.

This is Jesus, the son of Mary; this is a statement of the
truth concerning which they doubt.

The verses clearly indicate that both John, son
of Zachariah, and Jesus, son of Mary, shall be raised to
life on a certain day.



  1. In The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 201, 'Abdu'l-Baha is quoted as having said: "In the Koran a whole chapter is devoted to the story of Jesus Christ ... there is eulogy and commendation regarding Christ such as you do not find in the Gospel. The Gospel does not record that the child Jesus spoke at birth ..."



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The Qur'an and the Old and New Testaments make mention of a specific sign that preceded the appearance of Jesus Christ some twenty centuries ago. That sign was the appearance of John the Baptist, son of Zachariah, who heralded the coming of a great Manifestation. He preached amongst the people saying "repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand".4 In the end, John sacrificed his life for the glorious Manifestation, as a testimony for the people.

Likewise, the return of the Messiah was to be preceded by the appearance of a Herald, Who had been "raised to life". Baha'u'llah was preceded by His Herald, the Bab,5 to Whom Baha'u'llah refers to as "My first appearance".

In keeping with this, there are many passages in the Qur'an that indicate the occurrence of twin events on the Day of Resurrection.
One day, the disturbing trumpet-blast shall disturb it,
Which the second blast shall follow:
Men's hearts on that day shall be downcast.
The infidels will say, "Shall we indeed be restored as at
first?

What! when we have become rotten bones?"
"This then," say they, "will be a return to loss.
Verily, it will be but a single blast,
And lo! they are on the surface of the earth.
(Surih LXXIX, "Those Who Drag Forth", vv. 6-14) [79:6-14]

Here, the verses indicate that there would be two consecutive, violent commotions, which "will be but a single blast", indicating that they will be close to


  1. Matthew 3:2. See also Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 64. See also Epistle to the Son of the Wolf: p. 157 re: John the Baptist.
  2. Reference to the Bab as the "Return of John the Baptist" appears on p. 57 of God Passes By.



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each other in time and may be considered as one. Other verses in the Qur'an restate this theme:
And there shall be a blast on the trumpet, and all who
are in the Heavens and all who are in the Earth
shall expire, save those whom God shall vouchsafe
to live. Then shall there be another blast on it, and
lo! arising they shall gaze around them:

And the earth shall shine with the light of her Lord, and
the Book shall be set, and the prophets shall be
brought up, and the witnesses; and judgment
shall be given between them with equity; and none
shall be wronged
(Surih XXXIX, "The Troops", vv. 68-9) [39:68-69]

And the trumpet shall be blown, and, lo! they shall
speed out of their sepulchres to their Lord:
They shall say, "Oh! woe to us! who hath roused us
from our sleeping place? 'Tis what the God of
Mercy promised; and the Apostles spake the
truth."
But one blast shall there be, and, lo! they shall be
assembled before us, all together.
(Surih XXXVI, "Ya. Sin", vv. 51-3) [36:51-53]

In considering the meaning of these verses as they pertain to the appearance of the twin Manifestations for this day, it is of interest to note one of the most explicit traditions regarding the appearance of the Mahdi and the return of the Messiah, the Spirit of God, as quoted in the Futuhatal-Makkiyyah of the renowned Muhyi'd-Din Ibna'l-'Arabi, wherein the Prophet said:
By God Who sent me as a Prophet in truth, were it that only one day remained for the world, God would prolong that day until my son the Mahdi would have come forth and the Spirit of God would have come down and perform prayers behind him (i.e. the Mahdi), and His Sovereignty would have enveloped the East and the West.


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The Functions of the Two Manifestations of God

As previously stated, Muslims believe that upon Their return, the Mahdi and the Messiah will renew traditional Islam. Yet, as will be shown later in this text, Islam is not only specific with regard to the Revelation of Muhammad, but refers and relates to all previous Revelations. However, for the purpose of this chapter, it may be sufficient to point out that this concept of the renewal of traditional Islam would be very difficult to reconcile with the tumult that will occur within all who are in heaven and all who are on earth with the blasting of the first trumpet.

There are two traditions that need to be considered in relation to the Qadiyani and Ahmadi claims. The first tradition, narrated by Al-Hakim in Al-Mustadrak, on behalf of Abu Hurayrih, states that the Apostle of God Muhammad said:
Verily 'Isa (Jesus), the Spirit of God, shall come down to you .... He will destroy the cross; slay the swine; and release from capitation tax and call the people to Islam. On that day the false Messiah shall perish and tranquillity shall prevail on earth, so that the lion shall dwell with the camel; and the leopard shall lie down with the calf; and the wolf shall dwell with the lamb. And the children shall play with the asps that shall harm them not.

The second tradition as narrated by Bukhari, on behalf of Abu Hurayrih, reports that the Apostle of God Muhammad said:
By Him in whose Hands is my soul, soon shall the Son of Mary come down amongst you a just judge. He shall destroy the cross, slay the swine and abolish war, and bestow riches plenty to the extent that all shall refuse any more of it; so that a single prostration (to God) then will be worth more than all the earth and what is therein.


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In this connection, it is interesting to note that more than twenty centuries earlier, Isaiah had announced a prophecy in almost identical terms and words, of similar events.6
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of
Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of His roots:
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit
of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel
and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of
the Lord;
And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear
of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight
of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of
his ears:
But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and
reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and
he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the
wicked.
And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and
faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the
leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf
and the young lion and the fatling together; and a
little child shall lead them.
And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones
shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat
straw like the ox.
And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the
cockatrice' den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy
mountain: for the earth shall be full of knowledge
of the Lord, as the water covers the sea.



  1. Isaiah 11:1-

    For further study, Chapter 12 of Some Answered Questions provides a commentary of 'Abdu'l-Baha on this chapter of Isaiah, indicating that the verses apply "word for word to Baha'u'llah". The verses are also quoted by Shoghi Effendi in The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 203, in the context of a discussion of world unity and order.



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The Qadiyanis, like all other movements in the contemporary Muslim world, interpreted the prophecies within these traditions literally, i.e. the literal destruction of the cross, the slaying of the swine, etc. These interpretations are especially appealing to the average Muslim, because pork is prohibited in the Qur'an7 and a verse in that Book can be read to indicate that Jesus was not crucified.8 Obviously, Christians eat pork and hold the sign of the cross as sacred. The demise of either would represent the advancement of Islam to those envisioning its reform and ultimate domination.

What then is the meaning of the slaying of the swine and the destroying of the cross? An indication may be found in the following verses of the Qur'an:
Say: O people of the Book! do ye not disavow us only because we believe in God, and in what He hath sent down to us, and in what He hath sent down aforetime, and because most of you are doers of ill?

Say: Can I announce to you any retribution worse than that which awaiteth them from God? They whom God hath cursed and with whom He hath been angry some of them hath He changed into apes and swine; and they who worship Thagout are in evil plight, and have gone far astray from the right path!
(Surih V, "The Table", vv. 64-5) [5:64-65]



  1. cf. Qur'an 2:168, 5:4, 6:146 and 16:116.
  2. The verse to which the author refers is 4:156 and reads as follows: "And for their saying, 'Verily we have slain the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, an Apostle of God'. Yet they slew him not, and they crucified him not, but they had only his likeness... No sure knowledge had they about him, but followed only an opinion, and they did not really slay him, but God took him up to Himself." 'Abdu'l-Baha's interpretation of the verse is provided in a Tablet published in Star of the West, vol. 2, no. 7, p. 13, in which He has written: "In regard to the verse, which is revealed in the Koran, that His Highness, Christ, was not killed and was not crucified, by this is meant the Reality of Christ. Although they crucified this elemental body, yet the merciful reality and the heavenly existence remain eternal and undying, and it was protected from the oppression and persecution of the enemies, for Christ is eternal and Everlasting. How can He die? This death and crucifixion was imposed on the physical body of Christ, and not upon the Spirit of Christ" See also Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, pp. 85-6. Juan Ricardo Cole discusses Muslim objection to Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Christ in "the Christian-Muslim Encounter", World Order, Winter 1977-8, pp. 18 and 22.



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In similar terms, Christ referred to the wicked and to devils:
And the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out,
suffer us to go away into the herd of swine.
And he said unto them, Go. And when they were come
out, they went into the herd of swine: and, behold,
the whole herd of swine ran violently down a steep
place into the sea, and perished in the waters.9

The people of the Middle East consider swine to represent "filth" and apes to represent "ugliness". To turn the cursed into apes and swine can be understood to mean that they shall be ugly in character and degenerate in their lifestyle. Within the cited context, the cross represents the burdens of the times. By destroying the cross and slaying the swine, the Mahdi and the Messiah would relieve people of the burdens that were laid on their shoulders and transform the degenerate lifestyle of the people into a sane and spiritually rich life.


  1. Matthew 8:31-32.



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The Bab and Baha'u'llah declared that their Mission was to relieve the "burden" of injustice in the world and to institute a high moral standard in the conduct of its peoples. The Bab and Baha'u'llah have abrogated defensive wars and capitation taxes which are part of the Qur'anic law. Antagonistic nations shall be reconciled and differences causing conflict will disappear. Justice and harmony will be established and the banner of universal peace shall be raised.
"Peace!" shall be the word on the part of a merciful Lord.
(Surih XXXVI, "Ya. Sin", v. 58) [36:58]

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