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Friday, 14 January 2011


Mirza’s challenge to Hazrat for a written debating contest
Nettled by the aforesaid demand, Mirza threw a challenge to Hazrat, in a poster issued on 20 July 1900 and witnessed by twenty persons, to engage in an open debate with him. Curiously, however, the challenge was not for a debate on the specific disputed issue (viz., the “death” of Christ, or on Mirza’s own claims to be the masil of Christ, the Promised Messiah and a zilli nabi, i.e., shadow prophet), but for a contest in the writing of an Arabic language commentary on selected Quranic verses.
According to the poster, the proposed contest was to take place at Lahore, the capital city of Punjab Province (and at no other place), at a venue to be selected and arranged by Hazrat, or failing this by Mirza himself. A maximum of 40 Quranic verses were to be selected by ballot, all of them from one particular Surah of the Quran, and commentaries thereon were to be completed within a period of seven hours on the same day and in the presence of witnesses, without the help of any book or other assistance. A maximum of one hour would be given to each party to prepare himself for writing the commentary. The commentaries, each of which was to span at least 20 leaves (40 pages) of normal-sized paper and writing, would, after their completion and signatures by the respective contestants, be read out to three learned persons for adjudication. These persons would be nominated, and arrangement for their presence made, by Hazrat Meher Ali Shah. Mirza indicated that the names of Maulvi Muhammad Hussain of Batala, Maulvi Abdul Jabbar Ghaznavi, and Prof. Maulvi Abdullah of Lahore, or some other three neutral Maulvis would be acceptable to him for this purpose. After listening to the two commentaries, the judges would pronounce on solemn triple oath as to which one was considered by them to be superior and written “with Divine endorsement”. In the event of Hazrat’s commentary being adjudged better or even equal in merit to that of Mirza, the latter pledged to admit that the truth was on the side of Pir Meher Ali Shah. He would then burn all books containing his claims to messiah-ship and prophet-hood, and acknowledge himself to be “the damned and the disgraced one”. On the other hand, if Mirza were to be adjudged the victor, or if Pir Meher Ali Shah were to refuse to enter the contest, he would repent and pledge allegiance to Mirza and announce this through a published poster.
Hazrat was asked in the poster to convey acceptance of the challenge, along with an assurance that he would pledge allegiance to Mirza in the event of his defeat in the contest, within ten days, through a printed poster witnessed (like the poster of Mirza) by twenty respectable persons. Five thousand (5,000) copies of this poster were to be prepared and distributed by Hazrat to the interested quarters.
Mirza’s poster was accompanied by a supplement, which inter alia emphasized categorically that the commentaries to be written by the contestants would be wholly in Arabic language and would not include any portion in Urdu. It further spelt out some of the conditions mentioned in the main poster, set out arrangements for the contest in greater detail, and also made a few additional proposals. One such proposal was that the participation of Hazrat Pir Sahib in the contest would be essential in any event since he had the reputation of being superior to all other maulvis (Muslim clergy) in the knowledge of Arabic and the Quran. At the same time, however, he felt it was necessary to widen the purview of the contest and to include in it as many other ulama as possible, on the express condition that these ulama would sit at some distance from each other and from the two main contestants so that they could not provide any written or oral assistance to one another or to see what others were writing. This would help avoid the possibility of some ulama regarding themselves as superior to the Pir Sahib in the knowledge of Arabic and the Quran, and on that basis refusing to accept the defeat of Pir Sahib as binding on them. It would also ensure that the “Sign of God” was manifested with the maximum strength and glory. Mirza suggested, therefore, that the Pir Sahib should furnish a list of at least forty ulama (besides himself) who would also take part in the contest. Furthermore, he asked Hazrat to suggest a date for the contest not earlier than one month hence, in order to allow enough time to the other participating ulama to make the necessary preparations and arrangement to be present in Lahore on the date of the contest. A notice of one week was to be given by Hazrat to Mirza, through a registered letter, after fixing the date of the contest. At the end of the supplement, Mirza gave his own list of 86 eminent ulama and mashaikh from all over the country, from among whom the forty ulama other than the Pir Sahib should preferably be selected, and invited them all to be present at the contest.
Hazrat’s reply accepting the challenge
Mirza’s poster and its supplement were received in Golra Sharif on 25 July 1900. Hazrat immediately prepared a poster in reply and had it printed and published the very next day in all leading newspapers of the country. As desired by Mirza, 5,000 copies of this poster were prepared and some copies were sent to Mirza at Qadian by registered post. Copies were also mailed or sent by hand to ulama in all parts of India, including the 86 ulama listed at the end of the supplement to Mirza’s poster, and also to ulama in adjoining Afghanistan. All this generated widespread interest among the people.
In his reply, Hazrat wrote that he whole-heartedly accepted the invitation for a public contest extended by Mirza as well as the conditions listed by him, including the venue proposed for the contest (viz., Lahore). He also accepted the three ulama named by him as prospective judges. He suggested, however, as an additional condition from his side, that the two contestants should first engage in an oral debate elaborating their respective points of view. In this debate, Mirza Sahib should first try to convince the audience, through oral arguments, about the validity of his professed claims to be the Promised Massiah, the Mahdi, and a prophet of Allah. Hazrat, in his turn, should try to effectively refute those claims. The judges should then give their verdict in the light of these presentations, and the written contest in commentary proposed by Mirza should take place only after the judges and the audience had expressed their judgment about the oral debate. Furthermore, as far as written presentation was concerned, the many books written by Mirza were filled with his various claims and views, and these had already been read and commented upon in detail by various ulama and also by other fair-minded intellectuals from time to time. Because of all this Hazrat concluded, it seemed but appropriate to give first priority to an oral debate and a secondary one to a written contest.
As desired by Mirza, the 25th of August 1900,i.e exactly one month after the date of Hazrat’s answering poster, was proposed by Hazrat as the date for the contest, and Mirza was asked to reach Lahore on that date. Also as desired by Mirza, Hazrat’s poster was witnessed by twenty respectable persons, mostly ulama.
A reply to the supplement to Mirza’s poster was written, on Hazrat’s behalf and with his approval, by Maulana Muhammad Ghazi, head teacher of the madressah at Golra Sharif, and was appended to the main poster. It reaffirmed Hazrat’s readiness, as expressed in the main poster, to undertake the contest proposed by Mirza on the latter’s own conditions, with the additional condition to have an oral contest before the written one. It also added a few auxiliary observations. For example, it reproduced a selected sampling of the many absurd interpretations that had been placed on verses of the Quran by Mirza Sahib, to suit his own ends and to establish his claims to prophet-hood etc.
Qadiani’s objection to Hazrat’s proposal
Mirza had been asked from Hazrat’s side to give timely intimation about any changes that he desired to be made in the conditions of the proposed contest. However, no such intimation was received until just four days before the scheduled date of the contest (i.e.25 August 1900), when a copy of the printed letter was delivered in Golra Sharif. This letter had been written, not by Mirza Sahib himself but by Syed Muhammad Ahsan Amrohi, one of his close associates. The letter rejected, on Mirza’s behalf, the proposal made by Hazrat for an oral debate and insisted on a written contest in commentary writing only. In reply, Mirza was promptly informed through a poster issued on Hazrat’s behalf on 21-22 August 1900 by Hakim Sultan Mahmood of Rawalpindi (one of Hazrat’s devotees), that although Hazrat still considered an oral debate to be the best method of deciding the issue, he was ready for only a written contest also on Mirza’s own conditions and was therefore leaving for Lahore to participate in such a contest. A copy of the poster was sent by registered post to Mirza at Qadian. All other interested quarters, which could be contacted within the very short time then left until the date of the contest, were also notified accordingly, although the poster could not be published as widely as would have been desirable.
In their various subsequent writings and statements, Mirza Sahib and other Qadyani writers have contended that in the poster published by Hakim Sultan Mehmood, the condition for oral debate, which was unacceptable to Mirza, had been allowed to stand and had not been withdrawn by Hazrat. Because of this, they say, Mirza Sahib could not have participated in the contest under any circumstances.

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