The Conference of World Religions: God in the 21st Century
The Ahmadi 1913-2013 centenary marking the arrival of the first Ahmadi missionary to London was a distinctly UK Ahmadi affair of particular importance to the British Ahmadi diaspora. For this centenary celebration, the connections between the history of Britain, the prophecies of the promised messiah and a visit to London by the second khalifa in 1924 were brought together to create a coherent narrative of the Ahmadi presence in the UK.
When I received an invitation to attend the conference, I wondered why the Ahmadis had decided to hold a conference on God in the 21st Century in the Guildhall in London rather than in the Baitul Futuh Mosque, a spacious and flagship Ahmadi mosque, as part of their centenary celebrations. After the conference I also wondered why, in particular, the Ahmadis chose to highlight, across a range of publications, in sermons and speeches, the connections between this conference and one held in London some 90 years earlier which the Ahmadi khalifa of the day had attended in person. Given that from 2003 the Ahmadis have hosted well-attended Peace Symposia at their Baitul Futuh Mosque in Merton, inviting prominent politicians and dignitaries to take part in an evening at which, from 2009, they have also awarded an Ahmadiyya Muslim Prize for the Advancement of Peace, why was the additional effort of organizing the 2014 God in the 21st Cenmry conference even considered and where did the idea for this event come from?
One possible answer, I thought, might be found in a khilafat centenary celebration issue of the February 2008 Review of Religions, an Ahmadi journal established in India in 1902.5 On page 39 of the February 2008 issue are to be found two photographs of the khalifa. This raised for me the question of whether the publication of these photographs in 2008 and the reminder of the event which they commemorated, ‘The Conference of Religions within the Empire’, also known as the Wembley Conference, in London in 1924, had not planted the idea of a future conference along similar lines. The 2014 conference, unlike its 1924 precedent, was planned and executed by the Ahmadis themselves to foreground the role of the Ahmadi khalifa in the propagation of knowledge about Ahmadiyya Islam as a means to bring about peace in a troubled world. In a sequence of conferences held 90 years apart, the second and fifth khalifas, the son and great-grandson respectively of Ghulam Ahmad, would have in addition reprised an even earlier conference presentation written by Ghulam Ahmad himself for the Conference of Great Religions held in India in 1896. Three men, across three centuries, each
Figure 2.1 Khalifa Bashir ud-Din Ahmad (seated in the centre wearing a white turban) at the Conference of Religions within the Empire, 1924, with 11 fellow travellers
Figure 2.2 Khalifa Bashir ud-Din Ahmad (standing at the podium wearing a white turban) at the Conference of Religions within the Empire, 1924
with the same message for their followers and for humankind. Each later conference recalled the earlier one. the past in the present, and repeated an unchanging message, in some respects, erasing the passage of time as the past is not past at all but relived and re-experienced with the necessary variations and inflections to accommodate contemporary conditions both for and across the generations.
When I asked one of the men on the centenary events committee about the choice of the Guildhall for the conference, I was told that the committee members, who had been brought together to form the committee some 12 to 18 months before the centenary year began, had decided that they wanted what he described as a ‘neutral’ venue for the conference but one that had sufficient significance for such a momentous event in the history of Ahmadiyyat in Britain. The decision not to use the Baitul Futuh Mosque for the conference, therefore, was a choice explicitly discussed by the committee members. The committee had considered and, mostly for practical reasons, rejected several other possible venues including Inigo Jones’s Banqueting House. So while the Guildhall was the place eventually chosen for the event and hence the one that has entered into Ahmadi history as the site of the centenary conference, this was not an inevitable outcome at the initial planning stage itself.
And as for the idea of a conference in 2014 replaying, this time under Ahmadi auspices, the 1924 conference which the second Ahmadi khalifa himself attended and spoke at, spurred by the reawakened memory of this event from the photographs reproduced in the 2008 Review of Religions, well this, it seems, was a concoction of the anthropologist’s imagination. It was made clear to me that the Wembley Conference and the presence of the khalifa in London in 1924 were, in fact, matters of general knowledge to UK Ahmadis as this was also the year in which he laid the foundation stone for the Fazl Mosque, the first Ahmadi mosque in the country, in Southfields, London.
When it came to the guest speakers for the conference, the British politicians and human rights activists one might expect to attend such an event were duly invited. In addition, and unusually for such events, the centenary committee also took the decision to invite and host speakers from Jerusalem. The significance of the centenary justified the additional expense of hiring the Guildhall and meeting the costs of inviting international speakers to the conference. And the choice of Jerusalem is clearly one that has religious significance as a place of origin for the Abrahamic faiths, but also links to another Ahmadi diaspora: the Haifa Ahmadi community, which now numbers about 2,000 people who descend from those who settled in there in the 1920s in what was at the time the British Mandate of Palestine (Del Re 2014; Farhat 2013; Rudee 2018). The Haifa Ahmadis maintain good contacts with their neighbours, including the 40,000-strong Druze community and the Baha’i community, who have established their World Center in Haifa (Del Re 2014:117). Long-term relationships already in place in Haifa between the Ahmadis and other faith groups meant that invitations from the Ahmadis to, for example, the spiritual head of the Druze community in Israel to attend a conference in London would be more readily received and positively responded to.
The 1913-2013 centenary conference to mark the arrival of the first Ahmadi missionary to the UK was, in fact, held in early 2014.1 was told this was because the Ahmadi missionary had arrived part way through 1913, so strictly speaking, the centenary year also began part way through 2013 and therefore extended, quite legitimately, into 2014. After more than a year of planning, on 11 February 2014 the Ahmadiyya Muslim community held the evening-long conference in the medieval Great Hall at the Guildhall in London. The setting for the conference, with its sixteenth-century ’soaring high-arched ceiling . . . Gothic stained glass windows’6 and statues of Gog and Magog (a detail that became unexpectedly relevant to some Ahmadis subsequently, as we will see) in the heart of the city of London, evokes permanence, gravitas, grandeur and spectacle. I attended this event as one of the 500 guests from some 26 countries invited to listen to a keynote speech by the Ahmadi khalifa. The khalifa’s speech was preceded by brief comments on the role of religion today in promoting world peace from dignitaries, including Rabbi Jackie Tabick, joint president of the World Congress of Faiths;7 Umesh Sharma, the chairman of the Hindu Council UK; the Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP, attorney general; Geshe Tashi Tsering representing His Holiness the Dalai Lama; Prof Kwaku Danso-Boafo, high commissioner of Ghana; Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, spiritual head of the Druze Community of Israel; Dr Katrina Lantos-Swett, vice chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; Baroness Berridge, chair of the UK Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom; Archbishop Kevin McDonald, representing the Roman Catholic Church; the Rt Hon Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister of State at the Foreign Office; and Rabbi Professor Daniel Sperber, representing the chief rabbi of Israel. This was clearly a distinguished set of conference speakers and testament to the Ahmadi community’s ability to organize a major event and attract such participants. The evening also included messages of support from ’Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Prime Minister David Cameron and several other dignitaries’.8
Figure 2.3 Guildhall, Great Hall with Khalifa Masroor Ahmad addressing the invited guests at the Conference of World Religions, 11 February 2014
While representatives of Hindu, Christian, Druze, Buddhist and Jewish faiths spoke at this event, the absence of Muslim speakers was noted by some of those sitting at my table. Rather, and to be more precise, while Baroness Warsi, a Muslim, did speak, she did so not do so as a faith representative but as a British politician who highlighted the Ahmadi Guildhall event as one that ‘celebrated all faiths’. And from an Ahmadi perspective, the Muslim speakers at the event were, of course, the Ahmadis themselves. Other speakers represented organizations that monitor religious freedom around the globe - a matter of obvious concern to the Ahmadis - or were representatives of governments in countries such as Ghana, where the Ahmadis have long-term educational and social projects and established communities.
The Conference of World Religions in 2014 was significant in many respects. For the Ahmadi community it was one highlight of their centenary celebrations commemorating the initially tentative spread of the faith in the diaspora with the first Ahmadi missionary to come to the UK, Chaudhry Fateh Muhammad Sayal Sahib.9 His arrival marked the start of the Ahmadi presence in what was at the time the heart of the British empire.10 In 2014 this event also, for Ahmadis, served to symbolize their continued success and survival in spite of hostility and persecution from other Muslim sects and states. Whatever the event may have meant to non-Ahmadi attendees, this conference was eagerly anticipated with places at the event limited and keenly sought after by Ahmadis themselves. In fact, one senior Ahmadi woman I had hoped to meet during the evening (who did not, as it turned out, attend) later told me that she thought the scramble for invitations among the Ahmadi ladies was so unseemly that she had decided to withdraw from any attempt to secure herself a place at the conference.
The Ahmadi Conference of World Religions was not, however, only an Ahmadi centenary event. It also marked, as the Ahmadis themselves recognized, the ninetieth anniversary of the 1924 Conference on Living Religions within the British Empire held in London, a conference which itself took explicit inspiration from the Chicago Parliament of World's Religions in 1893 (Howard 2017; Hare 1924).11 The 1924 Conference on Living Religions within the British Empire, held in conjunction with the British Empire Exhibition of 1924, was widely reported in the British national media at the time, with the Ahmadi Khalifa, Bashir-ud Din, regularly featured in the reports as a conference speaker of particular interest to the British public. The Ahmadi khalifa’s paper on ‘The Ahmadiyya Movement’ was delivered during the second day of the conference which was reserved for Islam (Hare 1925:xxx). Despite representing a religious movement that was at the time just in its thirty-fourth year of existence and had an estimated half million followers,12 the khalifa did not speak in the section of the conference reserved for ‘modern movements’ in religion which covered the ‘Baha'i Cause’ and the Brahmo and Arya Samaj, and took place later in the course of the ten-day conference (Hare 1924:735-739). Perhaps even more surprisingly from a twenty-first-century perspective, the Yorkshire Observer on 30 August 1924 gave advance notice of the Islam day of the conference by declaring: ‘The three great branches of the Islamic faith - the
Sunnis, Shiahs and the Ahmadia - will have representatives, and so will the Sufist sect’ (in Howard 2017:9).
It appears that an Ahmadi, Hadrat Maulwi Abdul Raheem Nayyer Sahib, who had taken bai'at in 190113 and had arrived in the UK in 1923, came to hear of the conference as it was being organized. He took it upon himself to meet with the conference secretary, Miss Mabel Sharpies, and seems to have managed to persuade the conference organizers to discuss the inclusion of an Ahmadi representative at the conference. All this, according to a Friday sermon given by the current khalifa on 28 February 2014, happened after speakers for the conference had already been chosen. However, the success of Hadrat Maulwi Abdul Raheem Nayyer Sahib in securing a place for the Ahmadi khalifa to speak at the 1924 conference may also have had to do with Sir Thomas Arnold, a key member of the Executive Committee for the Conference on Living Religions within the British Empire (Howard 2017:7). One of Arnold’s offices was as a member of the Trust for Guardianship of the Woking Mosque in Surrey, which had appointed Khwaja Kamaluddin, a Lahori Ahmadi, as imam of the mosque (Germain 2008:95).14 Khwaja Kamaluddin himself wrote a paper on ‘The Basic Principles of Islam’ for the conference in 1924 which was, in his absence, read by Mr Yusuf Ali as the first paper given by a faith representative on the day of the conference reserved for Islam (Hare 1924:719, 1925:65-85 ).15 This in effect, meant that two of the papers on the Islam day were written by Ahmadis, one a member of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, which had split from the Qadian branch in 1914 over a succession dispute (Friedmann 1989:147ff; for the Ahmadi position on this, see Ahmad 2008:10-46), and the other, the khalifa of the Qadian branch who represented the great majority of Ahmadis on the subcontinent. A third Ahmadi, Dr Muhammad Din, read, with the khalifa’s permission, the paper prepared by Hafiz Raushan Ali on Sufism which was also presented on the same day (Howard 2017:15).
Ar nold had himself had a distinguished career which included a position teaching in the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College, Aligarh and a post, from 1898, as professor of philosophy at Government College, Lahore.16 In 1896 he published the first edition of The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith, which focused on the missionizing of Islam with a chapter devoted to the spread of Islam in India and. although he does not explicitly mention the Ahmadi Muslims in this text, it is very likely that he was aware of them during his time in India and certainly so by the time of the 1924 conference.17 Arnold was clearly familiar with the Lahori Ahmadis and had spent time in India lecturing in Lahore where Muhammad Iqbal, who had close associations with Ahmadis in India, was one of his students.18 The invitation to the khalifa of the Qadian branch of Ahmadiyya Islam was, therefore, one that Arnold, as a member of the Executive Committee, may have agreed to when the opportunity presented itself, in full knowledge of how such missionizing Muslim groups were organized in India and increasingly also abroad.19 In other words, Arnold's experiences in India and his pre-existing knowledge of proselytizing Muslim movements may well have worked to the advantage of Hadrat Maulwi Abdul Raheem Nayyer Sahib when he came to make the case for inviting the Ahmadi khalifa to the conference.
In due course, the khalifa was invited to travel to England to speak at the conference and, ‘after prayer and Istikhara and consultation with the Jama'at the journey was made with special Divine succor'.20 While the Friday sermon of 28 February 2014 given by the current Ahmadi khalifa makes clear that the journey of Bashir-ud Din to the UK with an entourage of 11 represented a significant financial burden for the community, Howard and Hare both note that of the three official receptions given during the conference, one was hosted by the khalifa at the Ritz hotel (Howard 2017:16; Hare 1924:53).21
In what follows I consider what the Guildhall Conference of World Religions: God in the 21st Century means for Ahmadis today and why it was important for the khalifa to make the connections to the 1924 Conference on Living Religions explicit in his Friday sermon on 28 February 2014. The importance of the 1924 and 2014 conferences is also made clear by the lengthy coverage of the events in the April-June 2014 issue of Maryam, a journal for the women and girls of the jama ‘at, and in texts designed to educate children about the history and significance of their faith. Here, I also discuss the relation to time, prophecy and historicity in the Ahmadi re-presentations of past events as well as consider some of the implications and outcomes of the repeated conference attendance and speeches over time and in different venues by Ahmadi leaders. Additionally, I consider how the Ahmadi recounting and remembrance of each conference, noting both comparisons and differences, of past events discussed in the present is a means of making Ahmadi historicity, understood as a social relation with time. In other words, what difference did it make that the 1924 conference to which the Ahmadis were invited was, in significant ways, reprised in the 2014 Ahmadi centenary conference which they took the lead in organizing and to which they invited speakers? What kind of ceremonial event was the 2014 conference and what did it say about Ahmadiyya Islam in the diaspora in the twenty-first century?
At one level the conference of 2014 served to create collective memories for Ahmadis in the present at a point when, in Pierre Nora’s terms, the memory of the 1924 event has become history: no longer part of experience, living and present but an artefact, ‘the reconstruction, always problematic and incomplete, of what is no longer' while ‘memory, insofar as it is affective and magical, only accommodates those facts that suit it; it nourishes recollections that may be out of focus or telescopic, global or detached, particular or symbolic ... memory installs remembrance within the sacred’ (Nora 1989:8-9). Those who attended the conference in 2014 now have this event both as embodied experience and as a memory forged during the evening itself, while those who watched the filmed event on MTA, heard about it in sermons, or read about it in journals, experienced the event in mediated form. Even though only 500 or so persons participated directly in the evening conference, many hundreds more have seen, read or heard of this event and it has become part of their knowledge, and mediated memory, of Ahmadi achievements. Those who read about the conference of 2014, or who listened to the khalifa’s sermon about the 1924 conference, given less than two weeks after the 2014 event, were encouraged to link the two conferences and to see them in terms of historical continuity. The early twentieth-century conference was one in which the khalifa of the day made a memorable impression on all those who were present, but it was an occasion which no one in 2014 could claim, heeding Berliner's warnings about the “‘danger of overextension” of the [memory] concept’, to have as an actual memory, whether collective, vicarious or otherwise?2 The linking of the two conferences, both ceremonial events, made them become, for Ahmadis, part of a single historical trajectory, something which was not in any sense a necessary outcome of the first conference. In Kapferer’s (2010:16) terms, events such as these conferences, are creative and generative of possibilities when the ‘connection, as it were, is made by events in the future that do not flow as a necessity from specific preceding events’. To understand why, and in what ways, the 2014 conference became, in Ahmadi understandings, the necessary historical successor of the 1924 conference, some of the features that were kept from the 1924 conference as well as the differences in the organization and form of the 2014 conference can be explored.
One key feature of both the 1924 and the 2014 conferences was the decision to have representatives of faiths, ‘native expositors’ as Hare (1924:711) described them, rather than academics and experts, talk about their faiths and for there to be no opportunity for discussion or questions after the presentations. The papers presented at both conferences were also not to include material that might challenge or cause offence to any of the faith groups present. For the organizers of the 1924 conference this was an explicit break with the World’s Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, and designed to avert any possible religious controversy (Hare 1924:707-709; Howard 2017:3). As the Tinies of India (30 June 1924) had noted for the Conference on Living Religions within the British Empire:
This important gathering is not to be regarded as a sort of re-establishment of the Congresses of Religions held in pre-War years at Chicago, Paris and Oxford. At these assemblies there were animated, if not indeed controversial, discussions of the respective claims of different religions. The present purpose is to present a conspectus, made as authoritative as circumstances will permit, of the religions followed within the dominions of the King. . . . Apart from such remarks as the various chairmen may make in opening or closing each day’s proceedings, there will be no discussion. The papers read by adherents of the faiths brought under review one by one are not to contain hostile criticisms of other systems, encomia of persons, or historical narratives, except so far as these may be necessary for understanding the system.
Key differences between the two conferences, however, included the fact that in 1924 Christianity and Judaism were not represented on the grounds that the conference organizers did not wish to be in the invidious position of having to choose among the many Christian groups which few were to be represented, and also because they did not want to find themselves ‘instructing the already instructed’ (Hare 1924:712). In 2014, by contrast, both Christian and Jewish faith representatives gave short talks. The 1924 conference was a ten-day affair and included, on its final days, papers by academics presenting their work on the ‘Psychology and Sociology of Religion’ (Howard 2017:8; Hare 1925:40111), while the 2014 conference was a single-evening event concluded by a three-course dinner for all the participants. Both conferences were focused on the role religions have to play in the contemporary world, and in this respect there were some clear continuities between the two conferences. As Sir Francis Younghusband stated in his 1924 opening address on the intended outcomes of the conference:
We hope . . . that the conference will testify to our faith that religion is no waning force in human affairs, but that more than ever before it should be the vital and determining factor in human progress, the inspiring motive of all morality and all art as well as of science and philosophy, and should compact that solidarity which welds men into nations and binds nations to mankind as a whole and mankind to that great world from which mankind arose.
This, with the explicit addition of a focus on the role that religion can play in securing world peace, something that perhaps did not need to be spelled out just six years after the end of the First World War, was very close to the sentiments expressed by the speakers at the Ahmadi conference 90 years after Younghusband first gave his speech. It was also close to the sentiments expressed in the June 2014 issue of Review of Religions article, which presented the Ahmadi account of the two conferences (Hayat 2014:18-23) and further linked them to the Annual Peace Symposium held from 2003 onwards by the UK Ahmadis to promote ‘tolerance and respect’ (Hayat 2014:20). In this article Hayat goes on explicitly to describe the 1924 conference as one in which the Ahmadis continued the promised mes-siah’s somewhat anachronistically expressed ‘vision for interfaith conferences to be held around the world to unite all religions on a common platform’, and notes that ‘such conferences hosted by the Ahmadiyya Community continue to be one of its hallmarks' (Hayat 2014:20-21).
One significant difference between the two conferences of 1924 and 2014. however, was the fact that the 2014 conference was organized not by a committee comprised of academics including Sir E. Denison Ross, the director of the School of Oriental Studies (later to become the School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS]) and experts in comparative religion but by the Ahmadis themselves who invited all the other speakers and participants to attend and who gave pride of place, and the longest talk, to their own khalifa. The conference of 1924 to which the Ahmadi khalifa had been invited to speak on the same terms as all other speakers, was repeated in 2014 but this time as a vehicle for the Ahmadis as hosts, inviting others to speak and listen to a well-orchestrated and orderly presentation, the focus of which was the Ahmadi khalifa and the Ahmadi perspective on the need for faith in the twenty-first century as a guarantor of world peace.
By taking the initiative to organize this conference, to invite others to participate and to link it in a historical trajectory from the 1924 conference, the Ahmadis were locating themselves in the present in a form that made the past tangible to produce a distinctive Ahmadi history, or what Stewart describes as one form of
‘historicity’ - that is to say, ‘the culturally patterned way or ways of experiencing and understanding history’ (Ohnuki-Tierney 1990 in Stewart 2016:82) which ‘calls attention to the techniques such as rituals that people use to learn about the past, the principles that guide them, and the performances and genres in which information about the past can be presented’ (Stewart 2016:79). In this sense, the 2014 conference was a means not only to showcase Ahmadi success and longevity to themselves and to their invited guests but also a performative event in which this history could be presented and experienced.
The very building in which the 2014 conference was held became part of Ahmadi history, as a location which itself mattered because of its own particular history as was made clear in the April-June 2014 issue of Maryam. This issue of Maryam devoted some 22 pages, a third of the entire issue, to the conferences of 1924, 2014 and additionally also to the second Conference of Great Religions held in Lahore from 26 to 29 December 1896, at which a paper written by Ghu-lam Ahmad was read. The historical importance of the Guildhall is noted in one article in Maryam that begins with the Roman and Saxon origins of the Guildhall site and then quickly moves through history to link the Guildhall’s statues of Gog and Magog to ‘Ahmadiyyat and ... the writings of the Promised Messiah’5 who connected the pair, Gog and Magog, to Western nations and to the end times. As Khokhar (2014:16) explains:
According to Islam, Gog and Magog were two nations that made use of fire. The Promised Messiah’5 wrote that there were nations who used fire; so that their ‘ships, trains and machines will run on fire’ and who ‘will fight their battles with fire’. He went on to suggest that these are the countries of Europe, Russia in particular. This can now be interpreted as the Western superpowers including America. In the Holy Qu’ran, Surah Al-Kahf makes reference to these nations of Gog and Magog as ‘creating disorder in the earth’, as well as being a sign of the Tatter days’. Later in the same Surah it states:
And on that day We shall leave some of them to surge against others, and the trumpet will be blown Then shall We gather them all together.
The prophecy from the Qu’ran which ends this quote is explained as relating to Ahmadiyyat with the trumpet as a symbol referring to the promised messiah and the Guildhall ‘statues of Gog and Magog linked to the Surah Al-Kahf' making possible this ‘reflection of the Qu’ranic interpretations of the figures’ (Khokhar 2014:17). By this means the Qu’ran is connected, via the statues of Gog and Magog, to the Guildhall, and this centre for government in England from the fifteenth century, one where the Lord Mayor of London continues to takes office,23 is further explicitly linked to Ahmadiyya Islam in particular. In essence, the Guildhall by this historicizing process is transformed into an always already Ahmadi site, and so becomes one that was a clearly suitable location for the conference held there in 2014.24
Railton (2003:25) notes that Gog and Magog ‘play an important role in Muslim eschatology, in particular with regard to the re-appearance of Isa (Jesus)’. Further, he adds, Muslim commentators divide into two groups:
those who seek an historical interpretation, either in the past or in the future, and those who see these eschatological personages as purely allegorical, applying not to any specific tribes or beings but to a series of social catastrophes which would cause a complete destruction of man’s civilization before the coming of the Last Hour.
For the Ahmadis, Gog and Magog symbolize the Christian nations where materialism is rife and spirituality wanting,25 and even more precisely as the Ahmadi commentary on the Qu’ran (2016:849) states: ‘The Book of Ezekiel mentions Gog as “Prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal”, evidently Rosh standing for Russia, Meshech for Moscow and Tubal for Tobolsk’. And, after explaining that the modern Western countries of Europe are those of Biblical prophecy, the Ahmadi Qur'anic commentary informs the reader of the existence of the statues of Gog and Magog in the Guildhall in London, and then continues with reference to the Bible, stating:
Again from Ezekiel and Revelation it appears that Gog and Magog were to make their appearance in the Latter Days, i.e. in the time just before the Second Coming of the Messiah: ‘After many years thou shalt be visited in the latter years, thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword’ (Ezekiel, 38:16. See also Rev., 20:7-10). These verses show that this prophecy refers to a people who were to appear in the distant future. The age in which Gog and Magog were to make their appearance was to be marked by wars, earthquakes, pestilences and terrible catastrophes.
Gog and Magog are memorialized in sculptural form in the Guildhall and hence refer to past events as those described in ancient texts, yet they also look to the present as a time of war and catastrophe and the near future when history will end. Writing on Islamic apocalyptic eschatology, Railton (2003:27) concludes:
The Anglo-American ‘democratic’ Christian block and the Soviet-led ‘Communist’ block ... (as in the Ahmadiyyah Koran), are the Yajuj [Gog] and Majuj [Magog] in the Islamic end-times scenario. They represent, metaphorically, the forces of materialism and falsehood. Together they will wage war and no earthly power will be able to resist their military might. God himself will bring about the circumstances which will usher in their annihilation. The material glory of Christendom, in its Western democratic and Comminist [sic] expressions, both camps showing in different ways an utter disregard for God and religion, will be destroyed by Allah at the end of history.
The Ahmadi strand of Muslim apocalyptic thought linked to Gog and Magog views the pair as symbols of materialist Western nations which the promised mes-siah has come to vanquish. For the:
Promised Messiah, Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, will succeed in delivering the Muslim world from this great danger. The cross will be broken as this was one of his missions. With the prayers of the Promised Messiah and frightful heavenly signs,... the power of Gog and Magog will be shattered. The Promised Messiah said that all nations will be united under the banner of Islam.
The ‘breaking of the cross’ in this quotation is a reference to Christianity, and to the Ahmadi belief that when the message of Ahmadiyyat is understood Christianity will give way to Ahmadiyya Islam. This is also when Ahmadis believe the sun will rise from the west, signaling the acceptance of Islam by the West.
The process of inserting Ahmadi Islam into what might be called by historians ‘the verifiable past' or ‘factuality’ serving to produce a coherent and inevitable historical narrative, is further shown by additional articles in the April-June 2014 issue of Maryam, which draw on visions and prophecies to explain how and why the conference of 1924 and that of 2014 not only happened and were linked, but had to happen. Visions, dreams and prophecies are all means by which the past can be drawn upon to make sense of the present and of events that take place between the time of the prophecy and today. This is shown most clearly in two sections of Maryam where the same vision or prophecy is recounted, the first time in a question and answer section in the ‘Kid’s Spread’ of the magazine, where girls are asked what was the vision that ‘the Promised Messiah” saw . . . during his lifetime that was fulfilled through Hazrat Musleh Maud’s” [the second Khalifa, Bashir-ud Din] attendance at the Wembley Conference [?]’ The answer which immediately follows the question reads:
The Promised Messiah” described the vision as follows: ‘I saw in a vision that I was standing on a pulpit in the city of London and was setting forth the troth of Islam in the English language, in a very well reasoned address. Thereafter I caught several birds who were sitting upon small trees and were of white colour and their bodies resembled the bodies of partridges. I interpreted this vision as meaning that though I would not be able to travel to that country but that my writings will be published there and many righteous English people will accept the truth’ (Tadhkirah 2009:239). Hazrat Musleh Maud’s” treatise being read out at the Wembley Conference was the fulfillment of this vision about the propagation of Islam and Ahmadiyyat in London.
Thus, the vision was seen to foretell the conference paper given in 1924 by the khalifa in London, some 16 years after the death of Ghulam Ahmad himself. This same vision, however, was also used to show the inevitable spread of Ahmadi
Islam during the lifetime of the promised messiah and once again in the context of a conference presentation, this time in Lahore, India, in 1896. This makes the Ahmadi historical chronology of conferences linked to visions and a proselytizing mission that spread from India to the UK, and from there to the rest of the world, a mission that begins with an invitation to a conference in colonial India in 1896, continues in British colonial London in 1924 and then is organized and directed by the Ahmadis themselves in post-colonial London in 2014. At each, the Ahmadi khalifa of the day sets out the tenets of the faith for an awestruck audience of primarily non-Muslims.
The same April-June 2014 issue of Maryam includes a four-page article outlining the Conference of Great Religions held in Lahore in 1896, for which the promised messiah wrote a paper that itself was the subject of the same vision from God: ‘God the All-Knowing, has revealed to me that my paper will be declared supreme over all other papers’, and further that ‘it was thus disclosed to me that the wide publication of this paper would expose the untruth of false religions and the truth of the Qur'an will spread progressively around the earth till arrives its climax' (Rehman 2014:33). This paper, which was translated into English and published as Grand Piece of News for Seekers after Truth, was also considered to be the fulfillment of the prophecy cited here in which the promised messiah saw himself in a vision preaching from a pulpit in London. This point is reinforced by Rehman (2014:36), who adds:
This vision of the Promised Messiah’5 clearly shows Islam Ahmadiyyat spreading through London and Britain. Ahmadiyyat has shown the truth to the people of the West through the hand of Khilafat; London has become the centre for the community and hundreds of Englishmen and women have already embraced Ahmadiyyat to be the truth and accepted Islam Ahmadiyyat as a result.
Here the contemporary situation of the Ahmadis, many of whom migrated to London because of the difficulties they face in modern Pakistan, is incorporated into the fulfilment of a divine vision and precursor of the necessary spread of Ahmadiyya Islam rather than the capricious outcome of political and religious persecution resulting in the formation of a diasporic community now settled in the UK. Historicity as factuality, verifiable actual events and occurrences, becomes historicity as the selective remembering and reshaping of particular events to produce a coherent and compelling historical narrative for members of the Ahmadi community in the present (Stewart 2016:80).
The historical import of the Ahmadi conference presentations, however, does not rest simply on a community-focused and divinely ordained narrative of events; it is one that also includes and reaches out to Ahmadi involvement in national, international and global affairs of historical significance. This was made explicit in the 2014 conference itself and also in the Ahmadi texts about the conference with reference to the participation, in 1924, of Zafrulla Khan as the person chosen to read the khalifa's paper at the Conference on Living Religions within the British Empire which was discussed in Maryam (2014 April-June, issue 10), as well as in the February 2008 issue of the Review of Religions (Khan 2008:76-79). In these Ahmadi publications the high-profile political career of Zafrulla Khan does not need to be spelled out. But in 2014, for example, one of the speakers at the conference, Dr Swett, the vice chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, noted ‘the role of the late Sir Chaudhry Zafrullah Khan Sahib in negotiating the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the fact that he signed it on behalf of the State of Pakistan’ (in Maryam 2014:22). Zafrulla Khan’s political position in Pakistan would have been well-known to all Ahmadis present but not to many of the invited conference participants. Zafrulla Khan’s career extended beyond more parochial Ahmadi limits and connects him - and through him also Ahmadiyyat - to events of global historical significance. And while Zafrulla Khan's later political career was the focus of much religiously inspired political strife in the newly formed Pakistan, 1924, as the Friday sermon of 28 February 2014 noted, was a time before the Ahmadis were known, as they are today, to human rights organizations because of the state-sanctioned discrimination and persecution they experience. The irony of the fact that the high-ranking Pakistani politician who signed the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights on behalf of the State of Pakistan should be himself an Ahmadi and personally the subject of much anti-Ahmadi rhetoric was not lost on the Ahmadis present at the conference in 2014. And while the 1924 conference resulted in positive national newspaper coverage for the Ahmadis and for their khalifa, the current khalifa lamented in his Friday sermon of 7 March 2014 that the jama‘at had not done enough to promote the event beyond the community itself. Before going on to describe the conference in some detail, he stated:
the administration of UK Jama'at which organised such a big event did not promote it ahead of time as they should have and were satisfied by simply organising it and anticipating a large number of guests. This was a chance to introduce the Jama'at on a wide scale and disseminate the beautiful teaching of Islam to as many people as possible. If the media had been contacted properly it would have produced better results than what we have as a result of efforts Ameer Sahib and his team is making now. These days press is a huge source of promoting one’s message. In this regard most Jama'ats around the world do not perform as required and show failings. USA is now improving somewhat in this regard and good work is being carried out in this regard in Ghana, Sierra Leone and francophone Africa [szc] countries. We should have access to the media on evety level so that the world gets to know the beautiful teaching of Islam. This is great source of Tabligh and Jama'ats need to pay attention to this.26
An opportunity to disseminate, using modern media, the Ahmadi message appeared to have been missed, and this failing is one that other jama ‘ats were quite bluntly warned not to emulate.
Conferences such as the ones described earlier matter for who they bring together, what they say and for what might become of them as they are remembered, reinterpreted and perhaps repeated in the future, in ways that participants in the present cannot foresee. For the Ahmadis, invitations to conferences organized by authoritative others, such as the committee that came together for the 1924 conference, is testament to their important message and the desire of non-Ahmadis to hear it. The willingness of those invited to the 2014 conference organized by the Ahmadis to celebrate their centenary in the UK, along with the good wishes read out from highly placed politicians and dignitaries, including the Queen, is further evidence of their legitimacy and a public recognition of their place in the UK. Ahmadi accounts of the reception of the conference papers written by the khalifas in both 1924 and 2014 stress how well received they were and indeed, for 1924 there are statements in the British press to support this. The reporter for the Manchester Guardian of 24 September 1924, for example, noted (under a heading that read ‘The New Messiah’):
The sensation of the conference so far was the appearance this afternoon of a new sect of Islam (a convenient description, however, which is not admitted as accurate by the new sect), which claims to have been founded 34 years ago by the Messiah of Biblical and other prophecy and to have an express divine command to lead mankind to God through Islam. A white-turbaned, black-bearded Indian of a radiant, pleasing countenance, who described himself as his Holiness the Khilafat Al Massiah Alhaj, the Hirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad - or for short his Holiness Khalifatul-Masih - presented this bold claim in a paper entitled ‘the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam’. .. . The paper, it must be added, was followed with much more applause than any of its predecessors.
And yet, despite the success of the Ahmadi contribution to the 1924 conference together with the media coverage of this at the time and the opening of the Fazl Mosque in Southfields in 1926, it is clear from British National Archive records for 1935 about the annual convention (jalsa sal an a) the Ahmadis were planning that the Ahmadis were not yet very well-known and had not yet made a strong impression on the British authorities in the UK itself.
On 4 February 1935, Dr Y. H. Sullaiman, the foreign secretary to the imam of the London Mosque, called on the Colonial Office to request the attendance of a representative at the annual festival which was held by the community in March each year. This event, the jalsa, was going to be held on 19 March at the Fazl Mosque, and the community was hoping ‘the Secretary of State, or failing him someone else from the Colonial Office, could attend the festival representing the Ahmadiya Community in the Colonies’ (CO 1935 323 1346/4). Following this meeting, on 5 February, a note was sent by a member of the Colonial Office asking for information about the Ahmadiyya community and advice on ‘how much importance should be attached to Dr. Sullaiman’s request’. A handwritten note was added to the bottom of this note on 12 February which states:
‘The importance of the movement is hardly sufficient to justify the presence of the S. of S. [Secretary of State], but it seems to me that it would be an easy piece of courtesy, which would probably be much appreciated for someone to go from the C.O. [Colonial Office]'. On the same day a further handwritten response in reply to this one adds: ‘We appear to have very little information of the importance of the sect and it seems to me rather difficult for the C.O. to send a representative’. The following day a curt message was added to the file: ‘The Ahmadiyya are one of many Mohamedan sects in the Empire and I don’t think the S. of S. could be expected to attend their function any more than those of any other sect’. Other contributors note that they have not heard of this group and one suggests asking the I.O. (India Office) about it, but somewhat peevishly adds: ‘(If we are to be represented at the festivals of all the sects which have adherents in the Colonial Empire, I hope that Personnel Division will accept the responsibility.)’ The exchanges which followed seem to focus on the relative lack of knowledge in the Colonial Office about the Ahmadiyya sect, even though it is acknowledged that they appear to be a ‘reasonable and moderate body’. A particular concern raised is that by sending a representative to one event the Colonial Office might be starting a ‘practice of which [they] cannot see the end’. The decision is eventually, and by general consensus, taken to send a letter declining to attend the jalsa but seeking also to ensure that it is ‘wrapped up’: as one note puts it, ‘the “wrapping up” might take the form of an expression of interest in the special features of the movement’. The matter was in essence sealed by a typed letter from the India Office to the Colonial Office in which it was made clear that the India Office saw:
no harm in some lesser personage [i.e. not the Colonial Secretary] attending one of their functions, but at the moment we ourselves should be inclined ... to keep aloof from them for the following reason. There is a feud going on between two different sects of Moslems in the Punjab, and the people at the London Mosque keep bothering us with representations in favour of one of the parties and protesting against the line which is being taken by the Government of the Punjab. This is embarrassing to us, and, in the circumstances, we should prefer not to show them any particular favour at the moment so far as the India Office is concerned.
The party against which the UK Ahmadis in the 1930s were ‘bothering’ the India Office about were the Majlis-i-Ahrar, a Muslim political party founded in 1929 in Lahore, which campaigned in the 1934 elections for the Indian legislature in the Punjab and appealed to the Muslim masses with their calls for the ‘explusion of the farangis [i.e. English rulers] from India, and the Ahmadis from Islam’ (Awan 2010:109; and Chapter 1). In the post-partition period the Ahrars would go on to re-invent themselves as Khatm-e-Nabuwat and in this guise continue to agitate for the expulsion of Ahmadis from Islam and latterly also from Pakistan. As Khatm-e-Nabuwat, members of this organization continue to pursue anti-Ahmadi objectives in the diaspora and in the UK from its base in Forest Gate, London (Balzani 2015:58-59; Qureshi 2016:29ff; Mortimer 2016).27 But in 1935, what the
Ahrar-Ahmadi conflict in the Punjab meant for the London Mosque was that no official representative of the Colonial Office would attend the annual jalsa.
Yet, despite the Colonial Office’s concerns about how sending a high-ranking representative to one Muslim group would be interpreted by other Muslim groups already based in the UK, in 1936 Prime Minister Lloyd George saw fit to give a speech titled ‘Islam and the British Empire' in front of dignitaries comprised of ‘ambassadors and ministers, chargés d’affaires, London mayors, ex-governors of Indian provinces and famous Oriental scholars’ at the Woking Mosque in Surrey (Germain 2008:95-96). In 1935, therefore, some 11 years after the khalifa’s well-received and successful first European visit, the delivery of liis paper at the Wembley Conference and nine years after the opening of the Fazl Mosque in Southfields, London, the Ahmadi community was not yet well-known to the Colonial Office and did not have the visibility of the Woking Mosque, where ‘its first imam, Khwaja Kamaluddin could present himself as the paramount Muslim authority for London and the whole kingdom’ and claim as he did in 1924, the year of the Wembley Conference, to have ‘spiritual leadership’ over ‘the thousand British Muslims scattered about the country and the 10,000 Muslims from overseas’ (Germain 2008:95).