by Sadat bin Anwar, MDI Canada
The controversy in Toronto surrounding the organized/proposed debate between Imam Sheharyar Shaikh (Sunni Muslim) of the North American Muslim Foundation (NAMF) and Ansar Raza, a top Qadiani (Ahmadi) missionary in Canada continues to grow. Raza (pictured above), who had been requesting Shaikh for the past four years for such a debate, is now unwilling to attend the event. The debate topic was set up unilaterally by NAMF as “Mirza Ghulam Ahmed: A Prophet or an Imposter?”
Raza has pointed out that the debate topic should have been set by mutual agreement by both parties. What is left out in his complaint, however, is the larger backdrop to the story. Raza is basically unwilling to debate anything about the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (whom Qadianis believe in as a prophet) in a formal setting. In other words, mutual agreement could never have been reached on this particular topic, even though Raza discusses this topic (ie. the allegations against Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s personality) and other related-issues on his radio program all the time. The only topic that Raza is willing to engage in on an even-leveled formal debate is whether Prophethood is still open or not, ie. are there more Prophets to come after the Prophet Muhammad? While this topic of discussion is itself closed for the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims who believe that the Prophet Muhammad is the final Seal of the Prophets (Qur’an 33:40) , the 10 million or so mostly Pakistani Qadianis (Ahmadis) assert that Prophethood is still open and that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was in fact a Prophet. (If you have never heard of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, you should not feel bad. I assure you, most of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims outside of Pakistan have never heard of his name either, nor have the world’s 2 billion or so Christians, which sort of doubly undermines the Mirza’s claim to be the saviour of Islam and a Punjabi spiritual reincarnation of Jesus Christ)
Raza’s logical angle on the whole situation does make some sense. He gives the analogy of a business corporation that is not hiring any new employees; what would be the purpose of such a corporation holding an employment interview? Similarly, Raza argues, there is no purpose in debating the prophetic credentials or lack thereof of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad with Muslims, since Muslims are not searching or expecting any other Prophet in the first place. What should be done, Raza would say, is a debate about Prophethood itself; is Prophethood open? (are there more Prophets on the way?)
One can see the logic from Raza’s point of view. On the other hand, one can understand the logic as well as the resulting frustration on the part of Muslims as well. Let us just suppose for a moment, we Muslims would say, that Prophethood is indeed open and there can be more Prophets after Prophet Muhammad. With that as our theoretical and working premise, does Mirza Ghulam Ahmad fulfil the credentials of a bona fide Prophet? For the sake of argument, if we were to agree that more Prophets may come after Prophet Muhammad, can we consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani’s character, his teachings, his demeanour, and his overall life example to be congruent and in harmony with what we would expect of a genuine reformer or saint, let alone a Prophet? This is what Muslims are very eager to discuss, and they are confident that this would be a no-contest debate and that this is why no Qadiani is willing to formally engage on this topic. Furthermore, the Muslim side also realizes that what the Qadianis are effectively saying is this: “We will not debate anything about the person and character of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad until you have first altered your aqeedah (theology) to believe in more Prophets.” In other words, a Qadiani will not debate about the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad until the opposite side has at least done a half-conversion to Qadianism and accepted and believed that there are future Prophets to come after Prophet Muhammad. This appears illogical and unreasonable from the Muslim point of view.
So the Muslim side has an equally if not more powerful logical angle on this situation. Let us put aside the specifics of the Imam Sheharyar-Ansar Raza debate scenario for just a moment. The question is not just whether Ansar Raza should accept the debate challenge from NAMF and participate in this specific event with Imam Sheharyar, but rather there is a larger looming question of whether Qadianis will ever engage in a full-fledged formal debate about Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s character or not. The answer appears to be no. This is akin to Muslims refusing to debate Christians, unless the Christian side first accepts monotheism, accepts Jesus as a Prophet of God, and accepts that there is a Prophet to come after Jesus. No Muslim, to date, has laid down such conditions for a debate with a Christian. There are atheists and agnostics (people who are neither expecting a Prophet from God, nor are they expecting God or gods to speak to mankind) who have changed their world view and belief system based on their study of the life of the Prophet Muhammad. I’m sure that there have also been many agnostics and atheists who have had to do no more than to read about the life of Jesus in the Bible to become converted to the Christian faith. By Raza’s logic, a Christian missionary should pass over the opportunity to discuss Jesus or to try to prove that Jesus is God if he is presented with an audience of agnostics; the agnostics should at least “half convert” by accepting theism and assert their belief in God before anything about the person of Jesus is discussed.
Keep in mind that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad himself engaged in debates with Hindus and Christians in early 20th century British India without laying down such strict pre-conditions. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad often addressed allegations against the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an in his writings, without insisting that the opposite side first accept the Oneness of God and the possibility of a coming Prophet and Book.
In my opinion, Raza’s complaint about the debate topic being set unilaterally by NAMF has some merit on the surface, but the surrounding controversy and back-and-forths have revealed a much larger problem and weak spot for Qadianis; they are simply not willing to debate and defend the personality and character of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in a formal, full-fledged debate setting, whether this time, or any other time. End of story. Rightly or wrongly, this only adds to the Muslim perception that such a debate would turn out to be a complete failure for the Qadiani side. It also begs the question: If Qadianis themselves appear to lack confidence in the prophetic credentials, personal character, and accomplishments of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, why should Muslims bother to give him the time of day? Can we be blamed for never having heard of his name or of his supposedly revolutionary writings?
Aside from the issue of the contentious topic, the other reasons that Raza has cited in a recently released Urdu-language video on YouTube are petty and lame, if not disingenuous. He mentions that Pastor Neil Bulloch, who was appointed the moderator for the Sheharyar Shaikh-Tarek Fatah debate in 2011, complained about the security arrangements for the debate and this is in part why Tarek Fatah did not show up. Raza must have gotten his facts mixed up. Out of the various, often conflicting reasons that Fatah gave for not showing up, Neil Bulloch complaining about security arrangements was not one of them, to my knowledge. Bulloch, like everyone else, was present in the NAMF hall that evening on January 21, 2011, waiting for and expecting Tarek Fatah to show up. To cite Fatah and his allegations against NAMF as a reason for not attending this debate is to rely on a discredited, weak crutch. Raza should mention, or perhaps he has mentioned elsewhere, that Qadiani missionaries have even entered the NAMF mosque on at least two occasions and actually engaged in (informal) dialogue with Imam Sheharyar.
Raza also questions the personal credibility and integrity of Imam Sheharyar by alleging that he hacked his (Raza’s) email account. Unless Raza is himself a master counter-hacker, we are not sure how he arrived at the conclusion that it was Imam Sheharyar or NAMF who did this. This one allegation against Imam Sheharyar/NAMF by Raza, in our opinion, undermines all of Raza’s attempts at gentlemanly one upmanship, and it is hardly to be expected of someone who purports to be a believer in the Qur’an and a mazhabi (religious) person.
O you who believe! Avoid most of suspicion, for surely suspicion in some cases is a sin. (Qur’an 49:12)
Another rather hollow complaint is that the flyer for the event promotes “hate speech”, because it uses the word “imposter” on it. A person of Raza’s calibre should have noted that the advertisement uses the word “Prophet” as well. That is the proposed debate, afterall: “Mirza Ghulam Ahmad: Prophet or Imposter?”
As mentioned near the beginning of this article, the majority of the world’s Muslims (and Christians) have not even heard of the name of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The names of Joseph Smith (Mormon prophet), Ellen White (7th-Day Adventist prophet), Baha-ullah, and Sai Baba are far more well-known. If I was a Qadiani missionary myself, I would want to jump at this rare opportunity to be able to enter a Muslim mosque and to give my sales pitch for Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. A good salesperson is able to sell a product, against the odds. My home is full of products that I don’t want or need. If the product is presented right or its attractive qualities are highlighted in the right way, it will at least beg attention and some consideration. At the moment, most Arabs, Iranians, Somalis, Chinese Muslims, etc., have never even heard of the name of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Qadianis really have a long way to go in this regard, and beggars should not be choosers. If the Imam Mahdi and Nabi `Isa (Jesus) of the Muslims really has come back in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and is now buried in Punjab, India, don’t the Somali, Turkish, and Russian Muslims deserve to know of this? Or is it that, on some subconscious level, the Qadianis themselves realize the unsaleability of their views outside of 20th century Indian Punjab and some isolated villages in West Africa?
We hope that the situation in Toronto will be something of a wake-up call for the western-educated Qadiani youth, both in North America as well as the U.K., where the movement is (rather appropriately) headquartered. Will they really find it convincing as to why Raza is not willing to debate Imam Sheharyar? Or will they see the larger backdrop and recognize that Raza’s turnabout is part of a larger effort and strategy on their organization’s part to avoid any and all debates about the personal character of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad? Admittedly, the Qadiani youth are not given much air to breathe or think about such issues, especially those views that might be critical to their Jamaat (organization/movement) and its workings. It is a fact that most of their youth are discouraged from even informal exchanges with Muslims unless one of their murabbis (missionary tutors) is present for the occasion. They should not, for example, ever be in a Muslim mosque by themselves, lest they be swayed by normative Islam and its teachings. What’s worse, now one of their top missionaries and trainers, Ansar Raza, is himself unwilling to sit in the hot seat and discuss and debate the very issue that has divided Muslims and Qadianis for the past 100 years.
Old Urdu-language debates and mubaahilas (prayer duels), the details of which are buried in pre-Partition Urdu newspapers, are of no benefit to either the Muslim or the Qadiani youth in the West today. The debate proposed by NAMF, in the English language and easily accessible to the English-speaking audience worldwide, is much needed at this time. In the absence of Mr. Ansar Raza attending, we can probably expect an informative lecture by Imam Sheharyar Shaikh on the topic. In any event, we hope that the Qadiani youth will have an open mind and turn up anyway, even if their elders and murabbis work hard to convince them that they should not. We hope and pray that none of us will be from among the people who are described in the Qur’anic verse below:
“And when it is said to them, ‘Follow that which Allah has sent down,’ they say, ‘No, we will follow that which we found our fathers believing and doing.’ What! Even if their fathers had no sense at all and no guidance?!” (Qur’an 2:170)