This prophecy relating to Abdullah Atham is a sign for Christians in general and Indian Christians in particular.
There was a group of Christian missionaries that made vile attacks on the person and character of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). These attacks were at their peak in the time of Ahmad (as). This is one out of a series of prophecies which Ahmad (as) published against this hostile group of Christians.
Among vilifiers of the front rank at the time was one Abdullah Atham, a retired civil servant. It so happened that a public debate was arranged between Ahmad (as) and Abdullah Atham. The debate was held at Amritsar, and in this debate Abdullah Atham suffered disgrace. He employed devices of various kinds but could make no impression. He sank low in the estimation of both Christians and others. In the debate was raised the subject of miracles. Because of this, it seems, God did not let the debate go without a miracle. Ahmad (as) received the revelation:
‘In this debate the party which follows falsehood deliberately, which has abandoned the True God, and which seeks to make God of a mere man will drop in Hell. This will happen within fifteen months, i.e. within a period counted at the rate of one month to every day of this debate, the only condition being that the party should not retreat from its position’.
In his last paper for the debate, Ahmad (as) included this prophecy and declared that the prophecy would prove that the Holy Prophet (pbuh), whom Abdullah Atham in his book Andruna-i-Bible (lit. ‘Inner Nature of the Bible’) had described (God forbid) as the Dajjal, was a true Prophet and Messenger of God.
The parts of the Prophecy:
The prophecy consisted of two important parts:
(1) that Abdullah Atham (who sought to prove that Jesus was God) would go to Hell because of his deliberate fault-finding and vilification;
(2) that if he should feel repentant and realize his mistake, he would be saved from this punishment. Or, if he did not change his attitude but persisted in hostility and fault-finding, and yet escaped punishment, the prophecy would be untrue; on the other hand, if he should change but still met his death within fifteen months from the conclusion of the debate, even then the prophecy would be untrue.
The words of the prophecy clearly indicated that, according to God, Atham was due to live longer than fifteen months, but that he would die within fifteen months if he persisted in his hostility. A Little reflection on the words would show that the two steps of the second alternative lent greater grandeur to the prophecy than the two steps of the first alternative. The two steps of the first alternative were that if Atham persisted in hostility, then he would die within fifteen months. For Atham to persist in hostility and unjust opposition was natural and easy. He was a Christian writer who had written books in support of Christianity and against Islam. He held high social status and enjoyed valuable contacts with Englishmen. And so the real sign and aim of the prophecy was to be his retreat.
For this public debate between Christians and Muslims, he had been selected as the Christian exponent in preference to other padres and preachers. Important Christian missionaries acted as his assistants. Such a man could be expected to continue to hold fast to all his Christian beliefs. Having done so much for the publicity of Christianity and played the role of exponent and advocate, one would not expect that he would, even for a moment, recant his belief in the godhead of Jesus or be impressed by the miraculous power of Islam to say that in that case he would die within fifteen months seemed a grand prophecy.
But Atham was sixty-five and a man as old can be said to have completed his span of life. Were he to die it would not have been so extraordinary. But consider the other alternative. Were Atham to retreat from prejudice and hostility, he would be safe from death for fifteen months. It was far more difficult for Atham to retreat from his confirmed and settled attitude against Islam than to persist in it. And while death can be brought about by human hand, a guarantee of life for fifteen months cannot be given by anybody. The steps of the second alternative were evidently more difficult. The second alternative could make the prophecy more grand and more impressive. It appears that God chose the more difficult alternative.
Atham, in spite of his circumstances, his associations, his position and his past, became overawed by God and the prophecy. The first sign of it occurred in the debate when Atham put his fingers over his ears and said that he had not called the Holy Prophet a Dajjal. After the publication of the prophecy everybody in the country was agog, anxiously awaiting the result. But God did not let fifteen months pass without more signs of Atham’s retreat from hostility. Atham stopped all his work in support of Christianity. He stopped speaking and writing. A well-known preacher and author cannot at once retire into silence. The fact that Atham did so, proves that Islam had made some impression upon his mind, that at least he had come to think it wrong to attack, and perhaps even to resist Islam.
But he showed this not by retiring into silence only. He suffered great mental anguish, a sort of hell. Feelings of guilt over his unjust hostility towards Islam mounted. He began to have strange hallucinations and admitted this to his relations and friends. He day-dreamt about snakes, rabid dogs, and armed men ready to attack him. These experiences cannot be produced through human agency. Snakes and dogs cannot be exploited for the purpose, and in India, because of the ban on the free use of weapons, armed men could not be found and paraded. These hallucinations constituted the mental hell into which Atham had fallen.
It was the result of remorse, of feelings of guilt over his hostility to Islam. This mental hell was a substitute for the physical Hell to which he would have had to go had he stuck to his antipathy to Islam. If his faith and trust in Christianity had remained as before, if he had continued to regard Islam as false as he had done before, he would not have suffered the delusions and hallucinations which he did.
In short, God chose to fulfil the second part of the prophecy, the part which predicted Atham’s retreat from his excessive attachment to Christianity and excessive hostility to Islam. This part of the prophecy was less likely to be true. Atham began to have doubts about Jesus’s divinity. The truth of Islam began to dawn upon his mind. On his retreat God completed the second step of this part of the prophecy. Atham was saved from death even though fear and guilt had driven him very near it. The promise of God came true. He was saved because he had retreated.
This was a grand prophecy fit to open everybody’s eyes. But if nothing had been said or done about it after the appointed time was over, critics of Ahmad (as) would after a time have gone on to say that Atham had made no retreat whatever, that it was a concoction on the part of Ahmad (as) and his followers. To make the truth of the prophecy even more clear, God roused a group of Christians and Muslims to say that the prophecy had proved untrue and that Atham had not died within the appointed time.
They were told that the prophecy could be fulfilled in two alternative ways, and it had been fulfilled in the second way. But the critics did not agree and went on to say that Atham had not retreated. At this, Ahmad (as) invited Atham to declare on oath that his Christian and Muslim supporters were right and that during this time he had not entertained the least thought of the truth of Islam and the falsehood of Christianity.
Atham refuses to take oath
Atham, however, refused to make any declaration on oath. He made a statement without oath that he still thought Christianity to be true. But thanks to God and His Power over the minds and thoughts of men, in the same statement he declared that his conception of the divinity of Christ was different from the conception of other Christians. This declaration only fulfilled the prophecy. The prophecy had said that the party which sought to make God of mere man would go to Hell. Atham admitted that he did not think Jesus Christ was God. Notwithstanding this declaration, Atham was asked if he would make a declaration on solemn oath that he had entertained no doubts whatever about the truth of his religious beliefs, that the truth of Islam had not made the least impression upon him, and that during all this time he had continued to hold the thoughts and beliefs which he had held before.
While inviting Atham to make this declaration on solemn oath, Ahmad (as) himself declared that if, in the event of such a declaration on oath, Atham did not meet with divine punishment, he would admit his falsehood. He also promised to offer a cash reward of Rs 1,000 if Atham was able to take the oath. Atham wrote in reply that oath-taking was not permitted by his religion. This was strange because in the New Testament the disciples are said to have taken different kinds of oaths. In Christian states nobody is appointed to high office unless he takes the oath of allegiance. Even the king has to take such an oath. Judges, members of parliament, high civil and military officers have to take an oath. Witnesses in court have to take an oath. Christian courts, in fact, restrict oath-taking to Christian witnesses. Non-Christian witnesses only say, ‘I declare before the ever-present and ever-seeing God,’ etc. Therefore, if oath-taking, according to Christians, is the special privilege of Christians, Atham could not plead disability because of his religion. His plea was not honest. It was a device to escape the oath and its penalties. Atham had seen fearful scenes and had become convinced that if he took the oath he must die.
That Atham refused to take the oath using false excuses becomes clear also from the fact that among Christians no important religious office is given to anybody unless he takes the oath of loyalty. Protestant Christians, and Atham was a Protestant, have to take two oaths, one of loyalty to the Church, the other of loyalty to the State. When these things were explained to Atham, he was completely silenced.
The value of the cash reward offered to Atham if he was able to take the oath was raised gradually from Rs 1000 to Rs 4000. The condition of a year of waiting was dropped. Atham could claim the cash reward as soon as he had taken the oath. But Atham knew that out of fear of his community he was trying to conceal the state of mind from which he had suffered for fifteen months. Knowing all this he dared not take the oath. He spent the rest of his days in silence. All his writing and speaking against Islam was over. The preaching of Christianity was also over. The truth of Ahmad (as)’s prophecy became more plain than ever. The retreat of Atham from his belief in the godhead of Christ had, in a way, been admitted by Atham himself. That his earlier thoughts about Islam underwent a change was proved by his refusal to affirm the contrary on solemn oath and by his reply on being challenged to take such an oath. (And yet in one of his papers for the debate at the end of which this prophecy was made, Atham had tried to prove that Christ was God and that he possessed all the attributes of God in his person.)
The greatness and grandeur of this prophecy quickens the faith of every honest person. In it one can see the working of the Hand of God. Here was a sworn enemy of Islam, the leader of an important community and its advocate in controversy with another. He had spent all his life preaching and propagating one religion and propagating against another. This man came to entertain thoughts against his own religion and in favour of the other. This hardened antagonist also had terrifying day-dreams. In consideration of this change of attitude he was saved from the threatened death for full fifteen months. These things are beyond human power and human planning.
A discourse on the prophecy of Atham [Urdu]
An intersting Incident During the Debate with Atham
Atham had a plan in mind to humiliate the Promised Messiah (as). Thus, during the debate, he presented a number of leprous and blind men and asked Ahmad (as) to treat them if he was a true Messiah like Jesus (as). He thought this would be a decisive point in the debate and there would be no chance of escape. However, he had badly underestimated the knowledge of God’s sent one. Ahmad (as) never believed in a Jesus (as) that gave life to the physically dead. He never believed Jesus (as) healed the blind and leprous by the power of touch. In fact, he believed that Jesus (as) was far superior and powerful than all this. He gave life to the spiritual dead and healed the spiritually diseased, the spiritually blind and leprous. He also healed the sick in the literal sense but not by the power of touch but by applying his knowledge of medicine and by prayer. God accepted his prayers for he was God’s dear one.
Ahmad (as) told Atham that he did not hold the belief that Jesus (as) held such powers of touch. On the contrary it was written in the Bible that anyone having even an iota of faith in Jesus (as) would be able to perform all the miracles he could perform. Ahmad (as) asked Atham to prove that he had at least an atom of faith in Jesus (as) by himself healing the men he had brought along. Atham was stunned and speechless.
*(as) = alaih-e-ssalam = on whom be peace