CHAPTER 23: THE DEATH OF DR. JOHN ALEXANDER DOWIE, A CLAIMANT OF PROPHETHOOD

Dowie’s claim to prophethood

In 1902, Dr. John Alexander Dowie, a Christian clergyman of Chicago who had won recognition in United States for his knowledgeand scholarship, claimed that he was a prophet and messenger of God. 

He stated that just as John the Baptist had appeared in the likeness ofElias, prior to the first appearance of Jesus, similarly he (Dr. Dowie) had come as Elias prior to the second appearance of Jesus. Dr. Dowie further claimed that it had been revealed to him that Jesus would descend from the heavens within the next 25 years. He started a newspa- percalled Leaves of Healing and used it to propagate his views worldwide. Dr. Dowie was proficient in the art of hypnotism and was able tosuccessfully treat and cure certain patients with nervous disorders. 

As a result, thousands of people in the United States became his disciples,and he accumulated a great deal of wealth from them. He founded a city called Zion for his disciples and began to live there in a princelyfashion. Intoxicated by this temporary success, he made the following announcement in his newspaper on December 12, 1903:

My part is to bring out the people from the East and the West, from the North and the South, and settle them in this and other Zion cities until the time shall come when the Mohammadans are swept away…may God grant us that time.

Dr. Dowie then asserted:

Through my prayers, all Muslims shall perish, Islam will be annihilat- ed, and the Kabah will become deserted.

Dr. Dowie was a staunch polytheist who considered Jesus to be actual- ly God. Upon learning about Dr. Dowie’s claims, Hazrat Mirza started getting his newspaper. In time, Dr. Dowie became so vehement in his claim of prophethood that he challenged: “If I amnot a true prophet, then there is none on the face of this earth who is a prophet of God.” Dr. Dowie surpassed all limits in his enmity of Islam and its founder, the HolyProphet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). In summary, his arrogance exceeded all bounds.

Dr. Dowie challenged to a prayer duel (mubahalah) and the prophecy of his death

On August 8, 1902, Hazrat Mirza wrote an open letter to Dowie in which he challenged him to a prayer duel. In this letter, Hazrat Mirza first furnished manifest proof about the death of Jesus and his burial in Kashmir. Hazrat Mirza then wrote:

In short, Dr. Dowie emphatically asserts and repeats his assertion over and over again, that all must perish who do not admit his authorityalong with the Divinity of the son of Mary, and the Christians of Europe and America will do well to accept his message. They have nodifficulty, for when they accept one groundless assertion regarding the Divinity of Jesus, they may also accept a second one equally, ifnot more, groundless, and add to the rotten chain of the dogma of Jesus’ Divinity, another rotten link of the Elijahship of Dowie. The Christians may thus escape the threatened destruction.

As regards the Muhammadans, we hope Dr. Dowie will renounce hisclaim upon all if the decision can be come to by an easier method. Whether the God of Muhammadans or the God of Dowie is thetrue God may be settled without the loss of millions of lives which Dr. Dowie’s prediction would involve. 

That method is that withoutthreatening the Muhammadan public in general with destruction, he should choose me as his opponent and pray to God that of us twowhoever is the liar may perish first. I look upon the son of Mary as a weak human being although I recognize him as a prophet of God,while Dr. Dowie takes him for the Lord of the Universe. Which of us is right is the real point at issue. 

If Dr. Dowie is certain of theDivinity of the son of Mary, he should publish the proposed prayer with the signatures of at least one thousand men affixed to it. Upon receiving it, I shall address the same prayer to Almighty God and publish it with the signatures of the same number of witnesses. If Dr.Dowie has the courage to accept this challenge, he will thereby open a way for all other Christians to the acceptance of truth. In makingthis proposal, I have not taken the initiative, but the jealous God has inspired me upon Dr. Dowie’s presumptuous prediction that allMuhammadans shall perish.

Dr. Dowie should further bear in mind that this challenge does not proceed from an ordinary Muhammadan. I am the very Messiah, the promised one, for whom he is so anxiously waiting. Between

Dr. Dowie’s position and mine the difference is this that Dowie fixes the appearance of the Messiah within the next twenty-five years, while I give him the glad tidings that the Messiah has already appeared.

I am that Messiah, and Almighty God has shown numerous signs from the earth as well as from heaven in my support. My following which already claims a hundred thousand souls is making a rapid progress. The proof that Dr. Dowie furnishes in support of his extravagant claims is the very height of absurdity. He claims to have healed hundreds of sick men.

But why did his healing power fail in the case of his own beloved daughter where it should have been exercised in the highest degree? Why was he unable to restore her to health whose death hasbeen the most violent shock to him, for which he has not ceased to lament since. In the same way there are many other instances of the cases of his disciples in which he was called in time but failed to afford any relief with the result that his victims perished. It should also be borne in mind that the art of healing is one which is practiced abundant- ly even in this country without any sanctity being attached to the character of those who are skilled in it. I wonder at the simple-minded- ness of the Americans who attach any value to this absurdity. Was not the burden of deifying a man sufficient for them that they have added to it another equally heavy burden?

Now if Dr. Dowie is certain that Jesus is the Lord of the universe, it is his duty that instead of threatening the whole Muhammadanworld with destruction, he should adopt the fair method which I have proposed above, by which one man’s death in the other’slifetime will decide the truth or falsehood of either view. 

But if Dr. Dowie assumes silence and gives no response to this offer, or ifhaving decided to enter the lists he prays in his boastful manner and adopts the procedure herein recorded and then dies in mylifetime, in either case it shall be a sign to the whole of America. Upon the manner in which death should take place, it is nec- essary toimpose the restriction that it should not occur through human hands, but it may be the result of a disease, a stroke of lightning, snake- bite, etc. The time-limit within which Dowie is at liberty to respond to this call is fixed at three months from the date thatthe announcement is issued. And we pray God that He may be with the righteous. Amen.

Further on, in the same letter Hazrat Mirza writes:

I am an old man over sixty-six years of age1

Moreover, I am suffering from various diseases and my life does not depend uponmy health but upon the will of God. If the self-made Deity of Dr. Dowie has any power, he shall certainly allow him to appear against me and sparehim for many years after me.

Dr. Dowie shall attain his object easily for instead of waiting for the destruction of all theMuhammadans, he shall have only to procure my destruction in his lifetime, and then he will have in his hands a manifest sign ofhis mission from Jesus. Millions shall then bow their heads in submission to the son of Mary and recognize Dowie as his messenger. Isay it truly that if the hatred of all the Muhammadans of the world for the Christian Deity were placed in one scale of a balance, andthe hatred which I alone entertain towards him, in the other, my hatred would far outweigh that of the whole Muhammadan world.

Thus, Hazrat Mirza urged Dowie in every conceivable way to get him to agree to a prayer duel. Hazrat Mirza even told him that his age was in excess of sixty six years and he suffered from several ailments.

Dowie, on the other hand, was somewhere between the ages of fifty to fifty seven years and enjoyed excellent health. Thus, what possible hesitation can a relatively young and healthy person have in accepting a prayer duel with an old ailing man? Hazrat Mirza also pointed out to Dowie that there was no one among the Muslims who had a greater animosity towards the Christian polytheistic faith than him. Thus, if there was anyone who deserved to be killed by a malediction then it was someone like him.

In addition, Hazrat Mirza made it known in this letter that whether Dowie formally accepted the prayer duel or not, and whether he replied to the letter or not, Dowie will die during the life- time of Hazrat Mirza in accordance with Hazrat Mirza’s prophecy and that his death will not be the result of human action. Thus, this whole affair wouldprovide a clear distinction for the whole of America between the truth of Islam and the falsehood of Christianity.

Hazrat Mirza asked Maulvi Muhammad Ali to translate the letter into English, and the letter was then duly dispatched to Dr. Dowie inthe United States. The letter was also published in the September 1902 issue of the magazine The Review of Religions and the issue was sentto the editors of all the prominent American newspapers. Since Dowie’s photograph had already been published, Hazrat Mirza also had his photograph published in the United States.

Thus, Hazrat Mirza did everything in his power to publicize in America and Europe his challengeto a prayer duel and the prophecy that Dowie will die in his lifetime whether or not he accepted the prayer duel. In so doing, Hazrat Mirza hadfulfilled his duty of propagating Islam and furnishing evidence of its authenticity.

Comments of American newspapers on this challenge

Dowie himself did not respond to this challenge. However, Hazrat Mirza’s prophecy was published with very favorable remarks in all the prominent newspapers of the United States. The question repeatedly posed in the journalistic world was the following: “Will Dowieaccept the challenge?” Thirty-two newspapers that had commented on Hazrat Mirza’s letter and prophecy found their way to Qadian.

Several of those newspapers carried the photograph of Hazrat Mirza. Because of their extensive nature, it is not pos- sible to present all those reviews and editorials, but excerpts from only three such newspapers are given below as a sample:

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, of Qadian, Punjab, India, is “the promised Messiah,” according to statements made over his own signature. He has challenged Dr. Dowie, of this country, to a duel, the weapon being prayer and each side to petition the Almighty “that of us two, whoever is the liar may perish first.” The person who issues this challenge, according to The Review of Religions (Gurdaspur, India), is “the Promised Messiah” sent “for the reformation of the world exactly at the time fixed by calculations based on Biblical prophecies as the time of the advent of the Messiah,” and he has a following of over a hundred thousandmembers, “rapidly growing.” The teaching of this Messiah is that Christ was a mere mortal, a good man, without divinity.

Following these comments, the text of the letter that carried Hazrat Mirza’s challenge was also reproduced in Literary Digest.

  • Burlington Free Press published an article on June 27, 1903 with the title, Proposal for a Competition of Prayers and states:

People in different parts of the country have been seriously discussing the efficacy of prayer in connection with the breaking of therecent drought, and there have been two sides to the question;…A proposition to make a test in connection with prayer has just beenput forth, however, in which there is little chance for controversy over the final result. 

Elijah Dowie, the religious pretender of Chicago, has just been challenged by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, Punjab, India, to engage in a supplication duel to death…According to the code of honor, prophet Dowie, as the challenged party should unquestionably have the choice of weapons, but the Promised Messiah has shrewdly proposed a test which the Chicago pretender cannot well afford to decline. 

To refuse to acceptprayer as a test would be to acknowledge that he was unwilling to rest his case with the most powerful agency at his command, if hispretensions be true. On the other hand, it must be admitted that Dowie has no mean antagonist…

  • The Literary Digest, Vol. XXVI., No. 25, June 20, 1903, page 895.

Dowie has not yet indicated his decision, but if he declines to accept this novel challenge, the public may look for a rapid decline inDowie stock.

  • Chicago Inter Ocean published an article on June 28, 1903 titled: Elijah Dowie Challenged to Death Duel of Prayer.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a Muhammadan, who claims to be the Promised Messiah, wants to demonstrate who is the liar.

Elijah Dowie has been challenged to a prayer duel to the death. The challenger is Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, Punjab,India.

“Come thou, O self-styled prophet, to a duel,” says Mirza in his defi “the weapons shall be prayer. Let us kneel on our knees in the dust of the earth, you and I together, and petition the Almighty that of us two whoever is the liar shall perish first.”

Elijah has not accepted the challenge, but neither has he declined it. Perhaps, in the calm of Ben Mac Dhui, among the Michiganpeaches, he is formulating a reply. It may be that he thinks as the challenged party, he ought to have the choice of weapons, andwill demand that vituperations be employed, the one who can call the other the most bad names to be the winner. Perhaps hewill treat the challenge with scorn, and tell Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to go and get a reputation.

However that may be, Elijah cannot afford to ignore the challenge. Mirza is no feather weight when it comes to pretensions.The Review of Religions published in Gurdaspur, India, through which the challenge is issued, says, “Mirza is ‘The PromisedMessiah’ sent for the reformation of the world exactly at the time fixed by calcu- lations, based on Biblical prophecies as thetime of the advent of the Messiah,” and he has a following of over a hundred thousand mem- bers, “rapidly growing.” The teaching of this Messiah is that Christ was a mere mortal, a good man, without divinity.

Following the preceding comments, Hazrat Mirza’s challenge was repro- duced in the newspaper. The article ended with the following emphatic words: “Will Elijah accept? What are the odds he will not?” Other newspa- pers presented similar views. A year passed following that invitation to a prayer duel, but Dowie did not utter a single word — Dowie neither accept- ed, nor rejected the challenge.

Reiteration of the prayer duel invitation and prophecy of Dowie’s death

After a year had passed without any response from Dowie, Hazrat

Mirza reiterated the previous challenge of 1902 through a public announcement in English on August 23, 1903. Hazrat Mirza recapitulated that he was about seventy years old while Dowie was only between fiftyto fifty seven years of age; Dowie was hale and hearty while he was ailing; Dowie lived in the healthy environment of a city constructedin accordance with the principles of public health while he lived in a village of Punjab — a province in the grips of a devastating plague epidemic.

Nevertheless, he had ignored these factors and extended an invitation for the prayer duel because the decision of this prayer duelwould not be made through worldly means. Instead, the matter would be decided by God Who is the Best of Judges. After that, he publishedthe prophecy that Dowie will not be able to escape the punishment of God, even if he fled from this prayer duel, and that his city of Zion wasabout to be visited by a catastrophe.

Dowie gives a verbal reply

In his newspaper, Leaves of Healing, dated December 27, 1902, Dowie wrote very arrogantly:

There is one foolish man in India, a Mohammedan Messiah, who per- sists in writing to me saying that the body of the Christ is buried at Cashmir, in India, and can be found there. He never says that he has seen it, but the poor, fanatical and ignorant creaturekeeps on with the raving that the Christ died in India. The Christ reascended into the heavens at Bethany, and He is there in HisCelestial Body.

When Hazrat Mirza’s challenge was published again in the United States, Dowie wrote in the issue of his newspaper datedSeptember 26, 1903:

People sometimes say to me: “Why do you not reply to this, that and the other thing?” Can you imagine me answering to these gnats, and flies? If I were to put my foot on them, I could crush them to death.

The Death of Dowie

Dowie’s arrogance continued to grow daily till the time came when God’s punishment overtook him; he died as prophesied duringHazrat Mirza’s lifetime in March, 1907. Since Dowie claimed prophethood, and had stated that one of the objectives of his prophethoodwas the destruction of Muslims worldwide, Hazrat Mirza was extremely desirous that this false claimant be overtaken by God’s punishment during his lifetime so that his death may become a sign for the truthfulness of Islam. 

It was for this reason that Hazrat Mirzakept suppli- cating to God that truth be vindicated soon and falsehood should disappear. Accordingly Hazrat Mirza wrote in Haqiqat-ul-Wahy as follows:

I always supplicated to God in this matter and desired the death of the fab- ricator. Accordingly God informed me many times thatyou will be successful and the opponent will perish. And then about fifteen days before the death of Dowie, God informed me through His communication about my victory. I published this in the magazine called The Aryas of Qadian and Us. (The article appeared) on thesecond page of the title leaf about two weeks before the death of Dowie and is reproduced below:

Prophecy of a New Sign:

God states that: I will manifest a new sign in which there will be a great victory. It will be a heavenly sign brought about by God’shand for the whole world (that is, its manifestation will not be confined to India.) Everyone should await this sign. God willshortly manifest this sign so that He may bear witness that this humble person, who is being reviled by all nations, is from Him.Blessed is he who benefits from this.

The announcer is: Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah, Published on February 20, 1907.

It is obvious that this sign, which is the cause of the grand victory, is a sign that is for the whole world – for Asia, America,Europe and India – and such a manifest sign can be none other than the demise of Dowie. The other signs that have been manifested in accordance with my prophecies were confined to Punjab and India so that the inhabitants of America and Europe remained quite unaware of their occurrence.

But this sign originated from Punjab in the form of a prophecy, and its ful- fillment took place in America in respect of a person who is known to each and every person in America and Europe. 

The news of his demise was forthwith communicated to all the English newspapers of this country. The newspaper Pioneer, published from Allahabad, carried this news in its issue of March 11, 1907, and the Civil and Military Gazette, published from Lahore, carried the news in its issue of March 12, 1907…

In this way, this news was published in nearly the entire world. From a worldly perspective, this person was considered to be the like of a lord or a prince. When Webb, a convert to Islam in the United States, wrote a letter to me about him, he stated that Dr. Dowie lived a respectable and princely life in his country. 

Despite this respect and fame that Dowie enjoyedin America and Europe, my article invit- ing him to a prayer duel was published by the Grace of God in the leading dailynewspapers and given wide publicity throughout America and Europe. Then after this publicity, the prophesied death and destruction was fulfilled with such exactitude that a more precise fulfillment cannot be imagined.

Misfortunes overtook every aspect of his life. He was proven to be an embezzler and a drunkard although he preached against drinking in his teachings. 

He was expelled from Zion, the city that he had founded and populated at a large expense. A sum of seventy million rupees that was in his possession was confiscated and his wife and son turned against him. In a public notice, his father declared that Dowie had been born illegitimately.

His boastful claims that he could miraculously cure illnesses were shown to be false, and he was sullied with every disgrace and indignity. Finally, he was struck by paralysis and had to be carried from place to place on a stretcher. Unable to bear the stress of his misfortunes, he became a raving maniac. His claim that he had a long life ahead of him, and that he was growing younger every day, even as others grew older proved to be afabrication. Finally he died during the first week of March, in the year 1907, with onerous regrets and sorrows.

The destruction of Zion

Hazrat Mirza’s narration above of the events regarding Dowie has been taken from American newspapers. These newspapers also announced later that Zion, the city that Dowie had founded, fell to ruins. Disillusioned and disenchanted, its inhabitants migrated elsewhere and the city became deserted. Houses collapsed and grass grew in the streets. In this manner, HazratMirza’s prophecy that Dowie’s city, Zion, would soon be visited by a catastrophe was fulfilled.

Footnotes

  1. This is an estimate. In actual fact, Hazrat Mirza’s age at the time was seventy years as he stated when he again repeated the invitation to the prayer duel.
  2. Literary Digest (New York) published an article on June 20, 1903 titled: Rival Messiahs in a Proposed Prayer Duel:2

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