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From India to America and Back Again

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Exactly one hundred years ago this spring, Mufti Muhammad Sadiq arrived by boat in Philadelphia. Despite the fact that he stayed in America for only a few short years, he was to have a long-lasting impact on religious life in the States. Sadiq was the first missionary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to reach the New World, and his teachings opened up novel spiritual possibilities for many, in particular African Americans seeking an alternative to Christianity. Decades later, his influence would reverberate among Jazz musicians as diverse as Art Blakey, Yusef Latif, Miles Davis, and even John Coltrane.

Sadiq was the first missionary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to reach the New World, and his teachings opened up novel spiritual possibilities for many.

Mufti Sadiq’s story is particularly unusual because he and his fellow Ahmadi Muslims explicitly described themselves as “pioneers in the spiritual Colonization of the Western world.”* They were Indians—subjects at the time of the British Empire—and yet they understood that ideas didn’t have to travel only in a single direction from West to East. Moreover, they understood that when ideas did travel from colony to metropole, it wasn’t only white Europeans who had the right to be their carriers. After all, Sadiq felt himself to be the possessor of a world-conquering truth that his fellow missionaries had already introduced to London, and which he now had the duty of presenting to America. Remarkably, Sadiq’s mission was being directed and financed not from one of India’s major cities, but from a small rural town in Punjab. In the first decades of the twentieth century, the town of Qadian was transformed into a bustling center of counter-Imperial flow, whence missionaries were dispatched to Europe, the USSR, West Africa, and other parts of Asia.

Mufti Sadiq’s story is particularly unusual because he and his fellow Ahmadi Muslims explicitly described themselves as “pioneers in the spiritual Colonization of the Western world.”*

Far From the Caliph’s Gaze tells the story of this town 100 years after Mufti Sadiq first landed in America. Nowadays, Qadian is infamous across South Asia as the origin point of what is often seen as modern Islam’s most persistent heresy. The noun ‘Qadiani’ is a derogatory phrase used to label Ahmadi Muslims everywhere. And yet the town has not been the center of the Ahmadiyya Movement since 1947 when the great caliph who sent Sadiq to America left for Pakistan. Far From the Caliph’s Gaze is the story of a town that once saw itself as the very center of the world, and now finds itself bereft of its beloved spiritual leader. It is a book about what it means to become the endangered minority of an endangered minority. It is about what the present-day inhabitants of Qadian feel that they owe to their founder and to their caliph. It is about what it means to be a witness to a universal truth when you find yourself at the margins of a global religious organization.


*Moustafa Bayoumi, “East of the Sun (West of the Moon): Islam, the Ahmadis, and African America,” Journal of Asian American Studies 4, no. 3 (October 1, 2001): 253, https://doi.org/10.1353/jaas.2001.0024.


Nicholas H. A. Evans is a Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the author of Far From the Caliph’s Gaze and is now writing a new book about political exile in London.

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