The First Word: Aims and Origins of the Muslim Sunrise

Written by | Ahmadiyya, Featured, Society

One hundred years ago, Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiq (ra) (1872–1957) published the inaugural issue of the “Moslem Sunrise” from Detroit, Michigan (1). This article documents the circumstances leading up to the magazine’s launch, its aims, and its initial impact in America.

Sadiq’s Arrival from England

In January 1920, a 48-year-old, bespectacled Sadiq, wearing a long, grey Indian-style coat and a dark green turban with gold trim, set sail from Liverpool, England, aboard the SS Haverford. 

Having spent nearly three years propagating Islam in London, Sadiq’s next mission from the Khalifa was clear: Establish the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in America. Ever eager to spread the message of Islam and Ahmadiyyat, Sadiq converted several people on the trans-Atlantic voyage itself (2). Finally, after a twenty-day journey, on February 15, 1920, the missionary of Islam arrived at the port of Philadelphia (3).

Detained but Not Deterred

Sadiq was denied entry on the charge that he had come to spread the teaching of polygamy. He appealed and was held in a detention center in Gloucester, New Jersey, near the port, until his case could be reviewed by the higher authorities (4). The door to this small building opened just twice a day, when food was served, but detainees were allowed to stroll on the roof.

In an open letter to US authorities, Hazrat Maulvi Sher Ali (ra), a contemporary of Sadiq’s and translator of the Holy Qu’ran into English, forcefully decried the decision as “highly intolerant and inequitable” (5). Sadiq’s plight drew the attention of the press, which interviewed Sadiq at the detention center and ran stories carrying news of his arrival and mission.

While detained, Sadiq met many European youths, most of whom were being held due to not having a passport. They were respectful to Sadiq, even establishing a place for him to offer his prayers. Ultimately, Sadiq converted at least fifteen of these young men to Islam (6).

After spending about two months in detention, Sadiq won his appeal and was released, making America’s largest city, New York, his initial base of operations, at 245 West 72nd Street and 1897 Madison Avenue (7). Over the next year, he traveled the country, delivering some fifty lectures in New York, Chicago, Sioux Falls, and other cities. He also wrote numerous articles for newspapers, large and small, including the New York Times.

Move to Detroit, Michigan

Shortly after leaving the detention center, Sadiq had received an invitation from Detroit to deliver a lecture. There, he found the Muslim population in America in large numbers. Beginning in the 1880s, Arabs had immigrated to Detroit, known as the Motor City, to work at the Ford manufacturing plant.

In early 1921, Sadiq moved to the Highland Park neighborhood of Detroit, which proved to be fertile grounds for building a mission. For example, an Arab Muslim named Mohammad Karoub, described as a “wealthy Highland Park real estate man,” had undertaken a project to construct a mosque at 242 Victor Avenue (now Street), which Sadiq fully supported upon arriving and in whose inauguration and services he became a central participant. Sadiq took up residence just down the road from the mosque, and led a parade along the avenue on Eid Day in 1921.

The Word in Print

The 1800s witnessed technological revolutions that made printing periodicals radically cheaper. The result was a sharp increase in the number of newspapers, special interest, and faith-based publications worldwide. By way of example, Dr. John Alexander Dowie (1847–1907), the founder of Zion City, Illinois, and a rival of the Promised Messiah (as), published his newspaper, Leaves of Healing, for many years, attracting a global following thereby.

Aims and Origins of the Muslim Sunrise

Sadiq generated a great deal of press, both as a subject of articles and interviews and as a writer. However, he felt that the Community needed its own publication for three primary purposes: 

  1. To defend Islam and Muslims;
  2. To prove the truthfulness of Islam; and
  3. To report on the Mission’s progress.

To launch an English language periodical in the United States would not be easy. For one thing, Sadiq arrived in America virtually penniless. For another, running a magazine was not a solitary endeavor. Both these difficulties were resolved through Tabligh (propagation).

Spending a year touring the country to lecture on Islam led to converts and funds. Sadiq gathered contributions, honoraria, and advance magazine subscriptions during his mission work, managing to save the $300 he would need to publish the first issue. This was a small but significant sum for Sadiq, reflecting his straitened circumstances in advance of the magazine’s publication (8).

Then, new converts such as Ella May Garber, who took the name Siddicatun-Nissa Rahatullah, JL Mott, and James Sodick helped Sadiq prepare content for the magazine. Early Ahmadi Muslims would contribute articles and poems for future installments too.

With the first issue prepared, Sadiq advertised it in periodicals to generate subscriptions that would help expand missionary work in America and make the magazine sustainable.

First Issue: Call to Action

On Friday, June 24, 1921, Sadiq published the inaugural issue of the Moslem Sunrise, dated July 1921 (9). In a special message for this inauguralissue, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad (ra), the Second Successor of the Promised Messiah (as), addressed not the general public, but rather, converts to Islam in America, dubbing them “Pioneers in the spiritual colonization of the western world” and calling upon them to work with “love, zeal, sincerity, and loyalty” (10).

In a letter to the Alfazl (a weekly publication of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Rabwah, Pakistan), Sadiq wrote that he hoped this magazine would help manifest a prophecy of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa), that in the Latter Days, the sun would rise in the West. Indeed, the first issue carries an Arabic title: “Shams-ul-Islam,” or “the “Sun of Islam.” In early covers, this sun of Islam is depicted as rising over the heartland of America. The magazine began quarterly, but Sadiq hoped that it would eventually become a monthly magazine (11).

Early Issues: A Report of Progress

As advertised, The Muslim Sunrise defended Islam and Muslims, argued for Islam’s truthfulness, and reported on the Mission’s progress. Sadiq published the first nine issues of the magazine before returning to Qadian in 1923. The first four issues were published out of the 27 La Belle Avenue address in Michigan, while Sadiq resided at Victor Avenue. 

Soon, however, Sadiq was on the move again. This time to Chicago. After New York, the burgeoning “Second City” was considered America’s most important metropolis for its relatively central location, ingenuity, and opportunity. No doubt these same traits had drawn Dr. Dowie to Chicago as well, where he rose from relative obscurity to fame and fortune just thirty years earlier, during the 1890s.

In early 1922, Sadiq purchased a southside Chicago walk-up with a $1,000 down payment (12). In July 1922, the home-turned-mosque, named “Almasjid Chicago,” at 4448 S. Wabash Ave. in Chicago, became the first formal headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA, and Chicago’s first mosque (13 ). A later missionary would briefly move the  headquarters to the Chicago Auditorium, but more or less, Almasjid Chicago served as the central office of the mission and the magazine till 1950. The fifth issue of the Muslim Sunrise, dated July 1922, was the first to be published in Chicago.

The 1920s: From Uncertainty to Resilience 

A year into publication, it was decided that the Muslim Sunrise and Review of Religions should be combined, likely to avoid duplication of effort and save on printing costs. Both would be edited by Hazrat Maulvi Muhammad Din (ra), the second missionary to America (14 ).

Ultimately, the magazines were not combined, with the Review serving as a global English-language organ of the Community and the Sunrise focusing primarily on the United States.

In 1924, Din left America, and the Muslim Sunrise halted publication. Finally, in 1930, “under a heavy burden of debts” but due to the generosity of Muslims in Indiana and Illinois, the third missionary to America, Sufi Mutiur-Rahman Bengalee (who had arrived in 1928), was able to resume publication, and it has continued regularly, more or less, ever since. 

Impact of the Muslim Sunrise

Speaking for Islam: The immediate effect of the Moslem Sunrise was to establish a forceful presence of an Islamic organization in the United States. It filled a vacuum in responding to the hitherto mostly unchallenged attacks on Islam in the American press. The Muslim Sunrise became both a lightning rod and lighthouse: attracting opposition of Christian evangelicals and shining like a beacon light for seekers after truth. The Courier-Journal of Louisville observed:

“It might seem daring for Dr. Sadiq to invade a Christian country like America to plant the seeds of another religion, but certainly it is no more so than the invasion by American missionaries of the strongholds of Confucianism and Buddhism. According to Dr. Sadiq, a number of Americans have already succumbed to Mohammedanism, and their names are duly listed in ‘The Moslem Sunrise’” (15).

Building community: The magazine brought together converts from diverse backgrounds scattered across a vast country, providing them with a national mouthpiece that helped explain and proselytize their new faith.

Tackling racial inequality: Just sixty years removed from the Civil War, America remained deeply divided along racial lines in the 1920s. Even co-religionists of different races did not mingle with one another: churches were either black or white but scarcely ever integrated; even immigrant Muslims did not mix much with their American-born counterparts. The activist Sunrise tackled this segregation head-on, promoting Islam’s teachings on racial equality. A 1923 editorial of the Review of Religions observes:

“[C]onverts come from both the white and negro population of the country, and some of them are very zealous in their new faith” (16).

Iowa University Professor Richard Brent Turner writes:

“The Ahmadiyya was unquestionably one of the most significant movements in the history of Islam in the United States in the 20th century, providing as it did the first multi-racial model for American Islam. The Ahmadis disseminated Islamic literature and converted black and white Americans. Thus, their goal was to alter permanently the historic patterns of racial and ethnic separation that existed among Muslims in America” (17).

In her article about the first-ever issue of the Muslim Sunrise, Humera Malik observes:

“The Muslim Sunrise magazine had a humble start, assembled by a small team, which typed out its content in black ink on white paper, stapled its pages together, and distributed by hand. But it was apparent from the very start that it was a diamond in the rough, a magazine full of gems of knowledge. […] every issue is a testament to [Sadiq] and all the early American Ahmadi Muslims’ efforts to spread the message of Islam in America” (18 ).

Over the past hundred years, whatever form the Muslim Sunrise took, from scholarly publication to the modern-day magazine, it held to its three founding aims. We pray that as the Muslim Sunrise evolves over the next hundred years, it continues to live up to these aims and the lofty standard set by Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiq (ra) and the pioneering staff that accompanied and followed him this past century.

This article appears in the Special Centennial Issue of the Muslim Sunrise.


1. In 1950, the name of the publication was changed to “Muslim Sunrise.”

2. Review of Religions, July 1920, p. 240.

3. Tarikh-e-Ahmadiyyat (Urdu), p. 250.

4. Review of Religions, July 1920, p. 243.

5. Review of Religions, April–May 1920, p.158.

6. Tarikh-e-Ahmadiyyat (Urdu), p. 250.

7. Al-Hakam (Urdu), July 7, 1920, p. 11. 

8. Alfazl (Urdu), July 21, 1921, p.1.

9. Detroit Free Press, June 25, 1921, p. 1.

 10. Muslim Sunrise, July 1921, p. 3.

11. Alfazl (Urdu), July 21, 1921, p.1.

12. Review of Religions, October–November 1922, p. 367.

13. Tarikh-e-Ahmadiyyat (Urdu), p. 251.

14. Muslim Sunrise, 1922, issue 4, p. 135.

15. “Sadiq’s Sunrise,” Courier Journal, July 3, 1921, p. 1.

16. Review of Religions, February–March 1923, p. 99.

17. Islam in the African-American Experience, Bloomington: IUP, 1997, pp. 109–10.

18. Muslim Sunrise, 2011, issue 2, p. 20.

Last modified: December 2021

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