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 Alexander Russell Webb 

Supplementary Information

on the speech by Nadirah Florence Ives Osman

Compiler’s Note:
On the accompanying page, the text of the speech on Alexander Russell Webb by Nadirah Florence Ives Osman has been reproduced. Relating to two places in the speech, we have provided supplementary information below. Both notes are linked from the corresponding point in the text of the speech, and vice-versa.

Supplementary Information 1

Relating to Webb’s acceptance of Islam mentioned in the speech (see link), we give here fuller and more accurate details about the circumstances. Before he went to the Philippines, Webb had been corresponding with Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in Qadian, asking for guidance on the teachings of Islam. Some of this correspondence was reproduced by Hazrat Mirza in his book Shahna-i Haq, published in 1888.

His first correspondence to Hazrat Mirza, written sometime during 1886, is summarised by the latter in Urdu translation in a footnote: “I have just received a letter addressed to me from America, the summary of the contents of which is given below.” Webb says that he has read a letter by him (i.e. by Hazrat Mirza) in a newspaper offering guidance to the true religion, and this has aroused his interest. He adds that while he has studied much about Buddhism and Brahmanism, and to some extent about the teachings of Zoroaster and Confucius, he knows little of the Prophet Muhammad. He says that he is wavering with regard to what is the right path, and while being a priest in a Christian church he can preach no more than general moral teachings. At the end he says that he is in search of the truth. His address is given as: 3021 Easton Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri. (Shahna-i Haq, p. 36 footnote; in the Ruhani Khaza’in collection, this is v. 2, p. 372–373.)

Hazrat Mirza does not give the text of his own reply, but he does reproduce the full English text of Webb’s second letter, dated 24th February 1887, and his reply to it. Despite the length of Webb’s letter, we may reproduce it here for our readers’ interest. Webb begins:

“I cannot adequately express to you my gratitude for the letter received from you under date of December 17. I had almost given up all hope of receiving a reply but the contents of the letter and circulars fully repaid me for the delay. … After reading your circulars an idea occurred to me which I will present to you for your consideration…”
He then speaks of his desire to visit India, but regrets that it is not possible due to his circumstances. He continues:
“Therefore a visit to India being out of the question it occurred to me that I might, through your aid assist in spreading the truth here. If, as you say, the Muhammadan is the only true religion why could I not act as its apostle or promulgator in America? My opportunities for doing so seem to me very good if I had someone to lead me aright at first. I have been led to believe that not only Muhammad but also Jesus, Gautam Buddha, Zoroaster and many others taught the truth, that we should, however, worship God and not men. If I could know what Muhammad really taught that was superior to the teachings of others, I could then be in a position to defend and promulgate the Muhammadan religion above all others. But the little I do know of his teachings is not sufficient for me to do effective work with. The attention of the American people is being quite generally attracted to the oriental religions but Buddhism seems to be the foremost in their investigations. The public mind, I think, is now more than ever fitted to receive Muhammadanism as well as Buddhism and it may be that through you it is to be introduced in my country. I am convinced that you are very much in earnest. I have no reason to doubt that you are inspired by God to spread the light of truth, therefore I would be happy to know more of your teachings and to hear further from you. God, who can read all hearts, knows that I am seeking for the truth, that I am ready and eager to embrace it wherever I can find it. If you can lead me into its blessed light you will find me not only a willing pupil but an anxious one. I have been seeking now for three years and have found a great deal.…

If you can help me I hope that you will do so. I shall keep your letter and prize it highly. The circulars I will have printed in one of the leading American newspapers so that they will have a widespread circulation. … I shall be happy to receive from you at any time matter which you may have for general circulation and if you should see fit to use my services to further the aims of truth in the country they will be freely at your disposal provided, of course, that I am capable of receiving your ideas and that they convince me of their truth.

I am already well satisfied that Muhammad taught the truth, that he pointed out the way to salvation and that those who follow his teachings will attain to a condition of eternal bliss. But did not Jesus Christ also teach the way? Now suppose I should follow the way pointed out by Jesus, would not my salvation be as perfectly assured as if I followed Islam? I ask with a desire to know the truth and not to dispute or argue. I am seeking the truth, not to defend my theory.

I think I understand you to be a follower of the esoteric teachings of Muhammad, and not what is known to the masses of the people as Muhammadanism; that you recognise the truths that underlie all religions and not their exoteric features which have been added by men. I too regret very much that I cannot understand your language, nor you mine; for I feel quite assured that you could tell me many things which I much desire to know.”

In his reply, dated 4th April 1887, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad expresses his delight and satisfaction upon receiving Webb’s letter, and writes that:
“The contents of the letter not only increased my love towards you but led me to the hope of a partial realization of the the object which I have in view, for which I have dedicated the whole of my life, viz., not to confine the spread of the light of truth to the oriental world but, as far as it lies in my power, to further it in Europe, America &c. where the attention of the people has not been sufficiently attracted towards a proper understanding of the teachings of Islam. Therefore I consider it an honour to comply with your request. …

Your friendly words permit me to entertain the happy idea that I may soon receive the good news that the natural moral sense has attracted not only you but many other virtuous people of America to the right way of salvation pointed out by Islam.”

((Shahna-i Haq, p. 81–88; in the Ruhani Khaza’in collection, this is v. 2, p. 439–444.)

It is clear, therefore, that Webb had been studying Islam before he went to the Philippines, wishing even to become a missionary of Islam. His correspondence with Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, while still in the U.S.A., was not merely one of the factors which influenced him to accept Islam shortly afterwards in the Philippines, but, we show below under Supplementary Information 2, Webb actually stated that he became a Muslim because of Hazrat Mirza.

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Supplementary Information 2

Relating to the visit of Webb to India mentioned in the speech (see link), further details are as below.

Maulvi Hasan Ali was himself a famous missionary of Islam, and toured throughout India delivering speeches on Islam in English. Shortly after Webb’s visit to India, Maulvi Hasan Ali joined the Ahmadiyya Movement in January 1894. He died soon afterwards in 1897.

We give below fuller details of Webb’s visit to India taken from Dr. Basharat Ahmad’s work Mujaddid-i A‘zam, the biography of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, where the author has quoted from Maulvi Hasan Ali’s book Ta’id-i Haq. (See Mujaddid-i A‘zam, v. 1, p. 171– 178.)

Haji Abdullah returned to India and started collecting funds for Webb to start an Islamic mission in the U.S.A. He then telegraphed Webb to resign his post in Manilla and tour India to complete the collection of funds. During their tour of various cities of India, they were accompanied by Maulvi Hasan Ali, who writes:

“In Hyderabad Mr. Webb said to me: ‘Mirza Ghulam Ahmad did me a great favour. It is because of him that I embraced Islam. I want to meet him.’ I told him what I had heard about Mirza sahib’s disrepute [for claiming to be the Promised Messiah]. Mr. Webb got a letter written to Mirza sahib, to which the Mirza sahib sent a reply consisting of eight pages, directing me to translate it word for word for Mr. Webb. Thus I did. Mr. Webb listened to the letter with great enthusiasm and reverence. In the letter, Hazrat had explained his claims with arguments, mentioned the opposition to him by the Ulama of the Punjab and the uproar among the public, and written that ‘I too have a great desire to meet you’. Mr. Webb, Haji Abdullah and myself held a meeting to decide what to do. The view was that it was not opportune at a time when funds were to be collected in India to go to meet such a reviled man, which would result in damage to the work of the propagation of Islam. We now regret that decision. Mr. Webb visited Lahore, but did not go to Qadian for this very reason.”
Long after leaving India, Webb remained in correspondence with Hazrat Mirza, and expressed his bitter regret at having lost the opportunity to meet the Promised Messiah.

Maulvi Hasan Ali further writes in his above account:

“In short, having toured the famous cities of India, Mr. Webb returned to America to engage in the propagation of Islam. I was with him for two months. Mr. Webb is in reality a good man who entertains true love for Islam in his heart. I tried to increase his knowledge, correct his wrong ideas, and instruct him in the necessary principles as far as I could. His name, Shaikh Muhammad, was also given by me.

What happened was exactly what I had foreseen. The Muslims of India promised to give funds, but nothing could actually be seen coming. Haji Abdullah did all he could. Only about Rs. 30,000 were collected, out of which Rs. 16,000 were donated by Haji Abdullah himself.”

After returning to the U.S.A. in 1893, Webb began some work of the propagation of Islam, but as the Muslims of India did not provide the promised funds his work had to be discontinued very soon.

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