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South Africa court case (1982-1985)

Preface to the book The Ahmadiyya Case
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Preface to the book
The Ahmadiyya Case

by the compiler and translator
Dr. Zahid Aziz

A characteristic of Islam, which has been much admired by non-Muslim students of comparative religion, is that its basic doctrines and practices can be stated very simply. The average person, without being a theologian, can easily understand what beliefs one must hold, and the practices one must perform, in order to be a Muslim. We would add, incidentally, that at the other end the philosopher and the intellectual can go on applying his mind to reach the ever deeper and finer points underlying these basic principles of the faith.

A related feature of Islam, which has also aroused admiration, is that there is no priesthood in this religious system. No theological body has been established with the authority to formulate the official dogma, to determine heretical beliefs, or to admit people into or expel them from the faith. This stems from the Islamic view that institutions of priesthood stand between man and God. Their role of ‘intermediary’ easily leads them to claim, in effect, Divine authority, and they begin to equate their own pronouncements with the word of God.

It may be thought that the lack of an authoritative priesthood in a religion must lead to a great divergence among its followers in matters of belief and practice. But this has not happened in Islam for precisely the reason that all its basic tenets and practices can be simply described, and have been known clearly since the beginning of its history. In fact, there is remarkably little divergence among the various Muslim sects as regards the fundamentals of the faith, and it is tragic that unscrupulous sectarian leaders should emphasise differences which common sense shows to be very minor.

Though there is no priesthood in Islam, there have always been individuals who devoted their lives to the study and practice of the faith, and who expounded its teachings by their words as well as actions, without seeking gain, honour or popularity for themselves. They did not interpose themselves between man and God, or claim to be the sole, infallible interpreters of the religion; rather, they showed others how to approach God directly and encouraged them to apply their own understanding to the faith. These saintly, learned men gained recognition due to their integrity, knowledge, high spiritual qualities, and selfless service of the faith, but this recognition usually came long after their death. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (d. 1908), the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement and the central figure in this court case, was a man of this honourable class.

Such eminent persons have, however, been few. More numerous throughout Islamic history has been a class of ‘professional’, petty theologians and preachers who assumed the role of priests, despite the absence of such a concept in Islam. They fulfil the worst fears that Islam has about a system of priesthood. Religion for them is a business and the means of their livelihood. In order to monopolise this field, they present religion as a complicated mystery which, they claim, only they are in a position to comprehend and convey to people. The much-admired simplicity of Islam, and its clear definition of a Muslim, is turned by them into a mass of confusion. They exploit the ignorance of the masses in religious matters for their own gain, and strive to perpetuate this ignorance by disallowing independent thought or study. Anyone not belonging to the narrow circle or sect of a particular cleric, or disagreeing with him on some point, is condemned by the said priest as being outside the faith of Islam. In modern times the professional clerics have become completely politicised, and openly hanker after political power and influence in Muslim countries. For this purpose, they have started the so-called ‘fundamentalist’ Islamic movements, which are so often in the international news.

Throughout Islamic history, the saintly scholars of the faith spoken of earlier, have had to face bitter opposition from the established clerics — the so-called ulama — of their times. The reason is easy to see. The domination of the priestly class, and its hold over the masses, was threatened by the reform work of these great men — the work of trying to restore the original, simple teachings of Islam. The clerics, therefore, used the full weight of their authority to condemn the noble reformers as self-seeking imposters and preachers of novel, un-Islamic ideas. They misrepresented and distorted their teachings beyond recognition, in order to provide grounds for branding them as kafir (unbelievers) and renegades. And on the basis of these faked charges, they tried to incite the governments of the day as well as the Muslim public to oppose the saintly reformers and their followers.

Precisely this has been the case with Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The established theologians, finding no basis in Islamic sources upon which to refute his teachings and arguments, resorted to a campaign of discrediting him by false allegations. The hostility he has faced is far more intense than anything a previous Muslim reformer had to endure, and this is simply a measure of the greatness of his rank and reformation work. Every conceivable allegation which could arouse the Muslim public against him, or make him an object of mockery, however untrue or improbable it may be, has been levelled at him by his opponents. From his time to the present day, they have tried to turn every government of his land against him, from the British rulers of colonial India to the Muslim governments of modern Pakistan. Some ulama have even made an occupation of abusing Hazrat Mirza and blackening his good name. And for what offence? That he pointed out to them that some of their notions which were doing immense harm to Islam could not be justified from the teachings of the faith, and from those very teachings he reiterated certain truths essential to the survival of Islam in this age! This book is an account of a court case between some followers of Hazrat Mirza and powerful organisations of ulama bitterly opposed to him.

Lahore Ahmadiyya Anjuman

The Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‘at Islam (Ahmadiyya Association for the Propagation of Islam) of Lahore, whose South African branch initiated this court case, was founded in 1914 by some prominent followers of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, with the object of preserving his true teachings and continuing his mission of the propagation of Islam. Today the clique of professional priests, as referred to above, is busily spreading the allegation in all Muslim countries and all Muslim communities in the world that members of this body are kafir and outside the fold of Islam. This is a great irony and tragedy because the Lahore Ahmadiyya Anjuman has a most distinguished record of service to Islam and to the interests of the Muslim people.

We note the following facts about this movement:

  1. It set up Muslim missions in many countries. These missions presented Islam as such, without reference to a particular sect or movement. These missions were supported by large numbers of Muslims outside the movement.
  2. It produced literature on all aspects of Islam, which was commended by numerous Sunni Muslim leaders as being unique, high quality, and perfectly authentic. Muslims outside the movement used this literature extensively to study Islam, and still do so.
  3. In public religious debates with other faiths, especially in India before partition, Lahore Ahmadiyya missionaries were often called upon by other Muslim organisations to represent Islam.
  4. This revivalist work of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Anjuman played a major part in restoring the self-confidence, pride and faith of the Muslims which had been shattered by the onslaught of other religions and philosophies.
  5. This restoration of Muslim national morale and identity led the Indian Muslims to claim that they constituted a distinctive, ideological nation which should have a homeland, i.e. the concept of a Pakistan. A key fundamental in this concept was the stand, championed by the Lahore Ahmadiyya movement, that all persons who profess the creed of Islam as expressed in the Kalima are Muslims and constitute one religious nation. This was the definition of a Muslim for the purposes of the demand for Pakistan.
  6. The founders and early leaders of Pakistan, such as Mr Jinnah, approved of the work of the Lahore Ahmadiyya movement, were on friendly terms with its leading figures, and often consulted its literature on matters of Islamic law.

This fine record was recognised till a few years ago, when the priestly element was not so dominant. From the early 1970s however, the professional, politically motivated religious leaders started gaining influence and power in Muslim national affairs. This took place notably in Pakistan, the home country of the Ahmadiyya movement as well as of the opposition to it. The clerics there have been using their political strength to direct a campaign of hate and oppression against the Ahmadiyya movement and its Founder. By acting through allied Muslim organisations in other countries, they have made their campaign world-wide.

The position in Pakistan since September 1974 is that members of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‘at Islam Lahore, a body with the impressive record listed above, are forcibly classified by the Pakistan constitution and law as being non-Muslims and belonging to a new religion separate from Islam! Since April 1984, it has been a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment, for a member of this body (or any follower of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad) to call himself a Muslim, or even to follow religious observances by which he would be represented as a Muslim. This is a colossal tragedy, not so much for the Divinely-supported Ahmadiyya movement, but for that country whose birth owes so much to this movement.

The legal action instituted by our Lahore Ahmadiyya members in Cape Town against some local Muslim organisations was undertaken to stop the malicious campaign of gross misrepresentation against us conducted by these bodies. By taking this action, our members were not, as it may appear superficially, indulging in an undignified sectarian squabble. This movement never involves itself in any form of internal wrangling between Muslim factions that weakens the cause of Islam and gets the religion into disrepute. We were, in fact, presenting an aspect of Islam which shows the beauty of its teachings, and which can establish peace and harmony between all the various Muslim sects. The basis of our case was that, according to Islamic teachings, anyone who simply professes faith in Islam using the words of the well-known Kalima, and claims to be a Muslim, must be regarded as a Muslim; and no one has the right to label him a kafir, expel him from the faith of Islam, or conduct an inquisition into his beliefs. Such a teaching not only raises the dignity of Islam in the eyes of all thinking human beings, but, if acted upon, can at once put an end to all sectarian bickering and strife among Muslims.

The fundamental issue raised by this court case for Muslims is whether we should regard the Holy Quran and the teachings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad as the ultimate authority for determining the faith of Islam, or else give this position to the clerics and priests of the religion, and blindly accept their verdicts even when these conflict with the prime sources of Islam. The choice and the challenge is clear.

About this book

This book records the essential details of the litigation in Cape Town. It is primarily concerned with the religious issues involved in the case, and has therefore been compiled from that point of view. The book consists of three main parts as follows:

I. A sketch of the History of the three year long litigation, including some reactions to the final judgment of the case.

II. The text of the final Judgment.

III. The written Evidence submitted to the court by the Lahore Ahmadiyya side over a period of six days during the final hearings.

An Appendix has been compiled, consisting of further notes on some aspects of the Evidence. Three indexes have been provided: a general index of subjects, an index of the authorities cited, and an index of the works of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad referred to.

The Evidence has been placed after the Judgment for two reasons. Firstly, the Judgment sums up the very lengthy and detailed Evidence, and may be read first as a convenient summary. Secondly, with this arrangement, all purely legal aspects of the Case are dispensed with first, leaving the Evidence and the Appendix which deal only with the religious issues involved, this being the primary concern of most readers.

Maulana Hafiz Sher Mohammad prepared and composed the written Evidence reproduced in Part III, which constitutes the overwhelming bulk of this book. Much of the Appendix is also based on his writings. He is, therefore, the chief contributor to this book. As our advocate commented before the court, at the outset of his final summary of argument, this case is a story of three remarkable men: Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Maulana Muhammad Ali, and Hafiz Sher Mohammad. The original work of the learned Hafiz sahib is in the Urdu language. Its English translation has been done by the writer of these lines, Zahid Aziz. It has also been my privilege to compile and write the rest of the book (i.e. excluding Parts II and III), and to design and typeset the entire volume using a computer.

Due to printing problems with the First edition of this book, which were beyond our control, the Second edition has had to be re-typeset. Advantage has been taken of this to improve the typography, to correct errors and misprints, and to revise and improve those portions of the book which I had compiled or written. In a few quotations given in the Evidence, references to sources works were wanting in some way (e.g. name of source missing or location within source not specified). In as many of these cases as information could be gathered about, fuller details have now been given.

We record our thanks to all those branches and individual members of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement around the world who provided invaluable support and assistance during this protracted and difficult litigation. Special mention must be made of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‘at Islam Lahore Inc. U.S.A. which has, in addition, also financed the production of this book.

Maulana Hafiz Sher Mohammad died on 9th October 1990, having served the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement for fifty years, and attained a distinguished and illustrious place in the history of Islam and this Movement. May his soul rest in peace and receive the mercy of God!

In the end, we humbly submit our Ahmadiyya case before our Lord and God — Almighty Allah — and await His true and perfect judgment. In the words of the Holy Quran: “In Allah do we trust. Our Lord, judge between us and our people with truth; and Thou art the best of judges” (ch. 7, v. 89).


Shortly after the case which is the subject of this book there was another court case in Cape Town in which Maulana Hafiz Sher Mohammad appeared as expert witness on behalf of the plaintiff. This consisted jointly of a defamation action brought by one Sheikh Jassiem against Sheikh Nazim Mohamed (case 1434/86), and incitement to wrongful dismissal by the same plaintiff against the MJC (case 1438/86). The plaintiff, a Sunni imam, had been maltreated by the defendants because he regarded Ahmadis as Muslims and refused to condemn them as kafir. The Maulana was again required to testify regarding the beliefs of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, even though Ahmadis were not a direct party to that case. He gave extensive evidence, from July to September 1987, and faced very hostile cross-examination. The judgment in that case too vindicated the Ahmadiyya stand-point. In this book there is no scope for going into the details of that lengthy litigation, though one or two passing comments have been made. The second case may be the subject of a later publication.

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