The Bubonic Plague: Prophecies of the Promised Messiah (as)

COVID-19 garnered early comparisons to the Spanish Flu of 1918, which killed at least 20 million people globally, if not many more. Just a decade prior to that deadly flu, the third and last great plague pandemic, which took place during the lifetime of the Promised Messiah and Mahdi, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), killed more than 15 million people globally. As we shall see, this plague was sent by God in support of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as).

Plague in the Holy Qur’an and Bible as Latter-Day Sign

The plague is a Sign attached to the coming of the Messiah in the Latter Days in both Islam and Christianity.

The Holy Qur’an says:

“And when the sentence is passed against them, We shall bring forth an insect out of the earth which shall wound them because people did not believe in our Signs” (1).

The Hadith also points to the plague’s appearance in the Latter Days. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) said that when Dajjal [the Antichrist]appeared and turned to Madinah, a plague epidemic will appear in the world (2).

In the Bible, Prophet Jesus (as) gives Signs of the Latter Days, related to his second advent, saying:

“For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earth- quakes in various places” (3).

Surah Bani Isra’il, 17:59 in the Holy Qur’an, Zachariah 14:12, and Revelations 22:8 in the Bible, also all point to the plague as a sign for seekers that the Messiah has come.

As the prophecy of plague is contained in the scripture, there was no need for further prophecies by the Promised Messiah (as) concerning its appearance. Nevertheless, long before the plague arrived at India’s ports, God bestowed esoteric revelations upon Hazrat Ahmad (as) intimating its outbreak and, later, he received exoteric promises of being safeguarded from the plague as a sign from God. The prophecies of the Qur’an, the Bible, the Holy Prophet (sa), Prophet Jesus (as), and Hazrat Ahmad (as), along with his prayers relating to the plague, would all be fulfilled miraculously. (Note: due to length, only a handful of the many prophecies can be presented).

About the Plague

Unbeknownst to anyone in India at the time, the Bubonic Plague began in 1855 in the Yunnan province of China (4). It was rats, or more precisely, rat fleas that carried the bacterium Yersinia pestis, first along with the tin and opium routes, then on trade ships, eventually spreading it throughout the world. Of the plague’s 15 million victims, an astounding 10 million would die in India, with Punjab (the home of the Messiah (as)) being among the hardest-hit provinces.

It would take forty years for the plague to reach India from the Yunnan Province of China

The Prophecies: Abstruse and Evident

As noted, prophecies that intimated the outbreak of the plague were not immediately clear, requiring events to unfold for their meaning to become manifest. Some Muslim opponents, e.g., Maulvi Ahmad Hasan of Amroha, took issue with these abstruse prophecies and their “convenient” interpretation to fit a specific context later.

It is, however, an observable fact that esoteric prophecies, which, per the Promised Messiah (as), “may at times contain metaphors and allegorical expressions” (5), have existed since the beginning of revelation. Such literal-minded clerics need to look only to the prophecies of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) concerning the Latter Days, such as ‘the rising of the sun from the west,’‘the smoke,’‘the worm of the earth,’ ‘the donkey of Dajjal,’ and “Gog and Magog,” to list a few (6). These took more than a thousand years to be prop- erly understood but were nonetheless fulfilled in their entirety in support of the Promised Messiah (as).

Part I – Prophecies of a Coming Plague

In 1880, long before the plague hit India, the Promised Messiah (as) received the following revelation, pub- lished in Part IV of his magnum opus, Barahin-e-Ah- madiyya:

“Do not supplicate to Me in the matter of the wrongdo- ers; they will be drowned.”

The prophecy was indeed esoteric, neither were the ‘wrongdoers’ named, nor was the matter of ‘drowning’ immediately clear. Accordingly, in his 1902 book, Defense Against the Plague and Criterion for the Elect of God, the Promised Messiah (as) himself explained the meaning as so:

“This means, do not intercede with Me on behalf of those people who do not repent from cruelty, defiance, corruption, and abusive language, because they will be drowned” (7).

And in presenting this prophecy as relating to the plague, he also conveyed the meaning of ‘drowned’ as dying in a sweeping flood of pestilence.

Prayer for Plague

Frustrated by the stubborn denial of opponents, the Promised Messiah (as) prayed for the plague to befall those enemies of God who would not desist in rejection. Prayers in his Arabic books Hamamatul-Bushra (1893) and Sirrul-Khilafah (1894) called for the plague, such as these verses in the latter:

“O, my Lord! Seize the one, who is inimical to righteous path and deed, and creates mischief, and strike him with [rijz]the chastisement of plague and destroy him!” (8).

The Arabic word رجز—rijz means divine chastisement, which Edward Lane’s ‘Classical Arabic-English Lexicon’ states, is a synonym for طاعون—ta‘un, or plague. (See entry under ra-ja-za.)

In 1893, the Promised Messiah (as) received the following esoteric revelation: “Say, I have with me proof from Allah, then will you believe or not? Say, I have with me proof from Allah, then will you submit or not?” (9).

These two “proofs” were to be heavenly and earthly Signs from God, in that order. In Defense Against the Plague, the Promised Messiah (as) explained that three points could be gleaned from this otherwise abstruse prophecy.

First, the word ‘believe’ indicates a heavenly Sign, lunar and solar eclipses, long prophesied to accompany the advent of the Mahdi and Messiah. ‘Seeing is believing,’ and so, those who saw this ‘proof’ should believe in it. The word ‘submit,’ referred to a Sign with the force to subdue deniers who refused to believe in the first Sign; this, of course, was the horrific plague that would claim 10 million lives in India.

The very next year, in 1894, the Ramadan eclipses took place in exact accordance with the Hadith recorded in the book Dar Qutni, dating back 1,000 years. In 1895, they re-occurred in the West. Yet despite this heavenly Sign, many persisted in their denial.

People in quarantine in Karachi during the outbreak.
(Credit: Wellcome Library, London/Creative Commons CC BY 4.0)

Thus, in 1896, the earthly Sign was manifested, and the plague reached India’s shores, arriving in Mumbai via trade ships. (The last two points relating to this prophecy will be presented in Part II, below).

Prophecy of the Plague’s Arrival in Punjab

In 1893 the Promised Messiah (as) was informed through revelation that shortly after the fulfillment of the death prophecy concerning Lekh Ram, a fierce enemy of Islam from the Hindu sect Arya Samaj, Punjab will be affected by the plague (10). This appears to have been in answer to his prayers earlier the same year. Now, his prophecy spoke not just of the outbreak of plague, or its arrival in India, but its arrival in his very province.

Lekh Ram was brutally murdered four years later, on March 6, 1897. The first recorded case of the plague in Punjab was on October 17, 1897, in the Khatkar Kalan village, some eighty miles from Qadian (11). Indeed, the plague, which had begun in China in 1855, and had reached Mumbai in 1896 (12), arrived in Punjab shortly after the death of Lekh Ram, yet four years after this prophecy was made, which was dependent on another prophecy being fulfilled. This is truly a remarkable manifestation.

The next year, in 1898, the Promised Messiah (as) published a revelation, saying:

“A terrible plague will soon afflict Punjab; I have seen the black trees of the plague in this country, which have been planted in every single town and village; if the people repent, this disease will not exceed two winters, and God will remove it” (13).

Until 1899, the plague was contained in two districts of the Punjab

The prophecy spoke about the scale of the plague’s devastation in Punjab. As noted, the first case was recorded in 1897, though historian and author Aanchal Malhotra observes that, “until 1899, the plague remained confined to the Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur districts” (14). (Note: Qadian is in District Gurdaspur, and at the time, there were nearly 30 districts in colonial Punjab, none of which had reported cases.) Indeed, it was not until 1904 that the plague spread across Punjab. Associate Professor Sasha Tandon of Punjab University in Chandigarh observes: “By 1904-5, the plague had spread to twenty-six districts, including Dera Ghazi Khan across the Indus” (15). As such, the Promised Messiah (as) was yet again proven true, as the plague indeed ravaged Punjab in the years that followed.

Part II – Prophecies of Protection Against the Plague 

Professor Tandon writes:

“From 1897 to 1918, the plague erupted with varied intensity in twenty-six districts [of Punjab], and had a mortality rate which was approximately four times the all India average. In mortality and dreadfulness, the plague surpassed all other epidemics in the Punjab” (16). (emphasis by the author)

By 1902, the Promised Messiah (as) reported that “the plague is raging on all four sides of Qadian at a distance of just two kose (around four miles)” (17). It was against this backdrop that Hazrat Ahmad (as) made bold claims that God would safeguard him and his followers and the village of Qadian, in the eye of this storm, against the plague. The Promised Messiah (as) received repeated revelations assuring him of Divine protection, one of which was the following 1902 revelation:

“I shall safeguard from plague all those who dwell in the four walls of your house. We shall make this a Sign of mercy for people. This has been decreed from the beginning. I have many remedies” (18).

The plague would only increase in intensity after 1902, its worst year coming in 1907, with over 1.3 million deaths in India alone. Yet Hazrat Ahmad (as), trusting God’s promise completely and placing his life in His hands, even refused to take the newly manufactured vaccine. He did not, however, prevent anyone from his community from being inoculated, and even encouraged cooperation with the authorities in their public health measures, and expressed gratitude for their efforts.

Mumbai plague epidemic, 1896–1897: inoculation against the plague.
Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Returning to the 1893 prophecy of the heavenly and earthly proofs, the second observation of the Promised Messiah (as) was that for the plague to abate, the enemies of the Promised Messiah (as) will at the very least have to cease their mischief, cruelty, and abusive language. Accordingly, he announced in his lecture on Islam in Sialkot in 1904: “It was only when this Sign of Divine chastisement appeared and thousands of lives were lost in Punjab, and a dreadful earthquake devastated this land, that some people came to their senses and, in a short time, about 200,000 people pledged allegiance at my hand, and this process is ongoing” (19). People finally began to “submit.”

The prophecy, and Hazrat Ahmad’s (as) prayer for chastisement, proved true in another sense too, as many of Hazrat Ahmad’s (as) bitter opponents perished due to the plague, including, but not limited to, Rusul Baba, Muhammad Bakhsh, Charagh Din, Abdul Hakim Khan, Muhammad Hasan Baig, and Maulawi Zainul-Abidin, Hafiz Sultan of Sialkot, Hakim Muhammad Shafi, and Mirza Sardar Baig (20). The final point I give in the words of the Promised Messiah (as) himself:

“The third point which is proven from this revelation is that, in any case, however long the plague remains upon the earth, even if it should last for seventy years, God Almighty will safeguard Qadian from its horrific destruction, because this is the throne of His Messenger. This is a Sign for all nations” (21 ).

The number “seventy” is used to express a large number or a long period in Islamic literature and does not necessarily mean seventy in a literal sense. That said, according to the World Health Organization, this plague was considered active until 1960, when the number of cases annually dropped to 200, a full 63 years from when it first arrived in Punjab (22). Yet in all this time and after- ward, Qadian remained safe, unlike nearby villages that were utterly devastated. The Promised Messiah (as) and his followers, too, remained almost entirely unaffected by the plague, an inexplicable miracle. Those who became ill, including his son Sharif, Mir Nasir Nawab’s (ra) son Ishaq, and Maulawi Muhammad Ali, all recovered miraculously. All this serves as a clear and remarkable Sign in favor of the Promised Messiah (as).

Prophecies Manifested, Prayers Answered

The Qur’an and Bible speak of a plague to accompany the advent of the Messiah. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) had claimed this office by 1891, and not long after, many Signs recorded in scripture were shown for him, including eclipses, earthquakes, and the plague. He, too, gave news of this plague and the devastation it would wreak before its arrival in Punjab and declared that he would survive it, as would his people and his village. All of this came to pass.

Not only this, but he had also prayed for plague as Divine chastisement against those opponents who had exceeded all bounds, and indeed many died of the plague.

When God desires to turn humanity’s attention toward Himself and His Messenger of the time, He shows heavenly and earthly Signs. That calamity which befell the world, and India in particular, can only point to the truthfulness of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) as the Imam of the Age. Let those with eyes see and let those given to reason reflect.

This article appears in the Summer 2020 issue.

References

1. The Holy Qur’an (27:83)

2. Sahih at-Tirmidhi

3. Matthew 24:7

4. History.com https://www.history.com/news/6-devastating-plagues. [Accessed May 20, 2020].

5. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, Essence of Islam, Vol. 5. IIP (London 2007), p. 31.

6. Sahih al-Muslim, Kitab-ul-Iman; see also Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Fitan. There are several narrations of this hadith in a number of hadith compilations.

7. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, Defence Against the Plague, IIP (London, 2015). P. 13.

8. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, Haqiqatul-Wahi, p 288. IIP (London 2018). P. 287.

9. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, Defence Against the Plague, p. 17. See also Tadhkirah pp. 306–11.

10. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, Tadhkirah, IIP, Ltd (London, 2009). P. 1893.

11. Malhotra, Aanchal, “When the 1897 Bubonic Plague Ravaged India”. https://www.livemint.com/mint-lounge/features/when-the-1897-bubonic-plague-ravaged-india-11587876174403.html Last accessed May 20, 2020.

12. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/plague/History. [Accessed May 20, 2020].

13. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, Defence Against the Plague. Pp. 10–11.

14. Malhotra, Aanchal, “When the 1897 Bubonic Plague Ravaged India”.

15. Tandon, Sasha. “Epidemics in Colonial Punjab”. P. 219.

16. Tandon, Sasha, “Epidemics in Colonial Punjab”. https://punjab.global.ucsb.edu/sites/default/_les/site_les/journals/volume20/10-Sasha%2020.pdf [Accessed May 20, 2020].

17. Defence Against the Plague, p. 28.

18. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, Tadhkirah, p. 1902.

19. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, Lecture Sialkot, IIP (London 2007). Pp. 56–57.

20. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, Haqiqatul-Wahi. Pp. 289–291.

21. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, Haqiqatul-Wahi, p. 18.

22. Frith, John. “The History of the Plague: Part I: The Three Great Pandemics”. Journal of Military Veteran Health. Vol. 20, no. 2. https://jmvh.org/article/the-history-of-plague-part-1-the-three-great-pandemics/ [accessed May 20, 2020].

Last modified: July 2020

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