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Home LATEST NEWS Two prophets, a centuries-old prayer duel inspire the Zion Mosque

Two prophets, a centuries-old prayer duel inspire the Zion Mosque

A holy miracle occurred in Zion 115 years ago. Or so millions of Ahmadi Muslims around the world believe.

Ahmadis see this small town, 40 miles north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan, as a place of special religious importance to their global messianic faith. His reverence for the community began more than a century ago, with words of struggle, a duel of prayer, and a prophecy.

Zion was founded in 1900 as a Christian theocracy by John Alexander Dowie, an early Pentecostal and evangelical preacher who drew thousands to the city with his faith-healing ministry. Ahmadis believe that their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, defended the faith from Dowie’s verbal attacks on Islam and defeated him in a sensational showdown armed with prayers alone.

Most of today’s residents may not have a clue about that high-stakes holy fight of a bygone era. But, for the Ahmadis, it is one that has created an everlasting bond with the city of Zion.

This weekend, thousands of Ahmadi Muslims from around the world have gathered in the city to celebrate that centenary miracle and a significant milestone in the life of Sion and his faith: the construction of the city’s first mosque.

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Dowie was born in Scotland in 1847. His family emigrated in 1860 to Australia, where he was ordained and became pastor of a Congregational church.

Dowie left Australia in 1888 for the United States, where he grew in popularity with his healing ministry. Stories of Dowie’s miracles abound, including one about Sadie Cody, niece of Buffalo Bill Cody, a celebrity known from her Wild West Show, who said her spinal tumor was cured by Dowie’s prayers.

With money accumulated from the faithful, Dowie purchased 6,000 acres of land in Lake County, Illinois, hoping to establish a Christian utopia. The Dowie Laws prohibited gambling, theaters, circuses, alcohol, and tobacco. He also forbade swearing, spitting, dancing, pork, oysters, and tan shoes. Whistling on Sunday he was punished with jail time.

The massive 8,000-seat Shiloh Tabernacle, built in 1900, became the religious center of Zion. It was there that Dowie appeared with his long white beard, clad in the brilliantly embroidered robes of an Old Testament high priest, and declared himself “Elijah the Restorer.”

While welcoming blacks and immigrants to Zion, Dowie had harsh words for politicians, doctors and Muslims, which he expressed in his diary.

In 1902, Dowie wrote: “This is my job to gather people from East and West, North and South and to dwell Christians in this city of Zion and in other cities until the day comes when the Mohammedan religion is fully established. eliminated from this world. . Oh God, show us the day.”

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In his hands on a recent September day, Tahir Ahmed Soofi cradled a crumbling yellow newspaper from the 1900s bearing Dowie’s image.

“Dowie is also part of our history,” said Soofi, president of the Zion chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, as he placed these relics in glass displays that will become part of the new mosque’s museum. The community has named this mosque Fath-e-Azeem, which means “a great victory” in Arabic.

The $4 million building, with a large prayer room and plush carpeting, will replace its old center less than two miles away, which has been home to the community since 1983.

As he prepared the new space for the opening on Saturday, Soofi told the story passed down to generations of Ahmadis. When Ahmad, the religion’s founder who lived in Qadian, India, learned of Dowie’s angry proclamations against Muslims, he urged him to stop, Soofi said.

Ahmadis believe that their founder, who was born in 1835, foretold the promised reformer, the Prophet Muhammad, and the metaphorical second coming of Jesus Christ.

Soofi said that when Dowie ignored Ahmad’s pleas in 1902, he challenged Zion’s founder to a “prayer duel.”

In The New York Times and other American publications at the time, this challenge was construed as a battle between two messiahs: to determine who was the true prophet and which was the true religion. Ahmad stated in writing that “whoever is the liar may perish first.”

Dowie refused to acknowledge Ahmad’s challenge and mocked his claims that Jesus was human, survived crucifixion, and lived the rest of his life in Kashmir. He responded by writing, “Do you think I should respond to those mosquitoes and flies?”

In the years that followed, Dowie’s fortune began to fade. In 1905, one of his top lieutenants, Wilbur Voliva, assumed leadership of the church after Dowie was accused of extravagance and embezzlement. Dowie’s health suffered thereafter. He died in 1907 after a paralytic stroke, aged 60.

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Although Ahmad died a year after Dowie’s passing, at the age of 73, his followers saw Dowie’s downfall and death as a great victory for their founder and their faith.

In Zion, Shiloh House, the 25-room mansion that Dowie built in the 1900s, still stands in his memory, cared for by the Zion Historical Society. Residents whose ancestors followed Dowie to this town, which they believed to be a place of healing, would like to see the founder and his great vision memorialized by him.

For Ahmadis around the world, the outcome of this dueling prayer reaffirmed the truth of their messiah’s claims, said Amjad Mahmood Khan, an American spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. It is a story of Ahmadi children who grew up listening to it at home and in their mosques around the world.

“Whether you talk to an Ahmadi in Miami, Maine, South Dakota or Seattle, they will know this story and what a great victory it was,” Khan said, adding that that doesn’t mean they rejoice over Dowie’s death. “It is the triumph of what Islam stands for in the face of false accusations, and it is the victory of prayer over prejudice.”

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Ahmadis have struggled to gain acceptance even among mainstream Muslims, adding to the importance of establishing the mosque in Zion, Khan said. Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974.

Khan said that the current leader and caliph of the global Ahmadiyya community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, is in Zion to inaugurate the new mosque this weekend, a momentous occasion for American Ahmadis. Ahmad was forced into exile from Pakistan after his election in 2003 and lives in London.

Zion Mayor Billy McKinney will present Ahmad, the fifth successor to the sect’s founder who defied Dowie, with a key to the city as a token of friendship.

The Ahmadis are moving forward with the construction of their minarets, which will be completed next year. The minaret is a global symbol of Islam. It would be a stark contrast to Dowie’s vision of a Christian utopia.

“The founding fathers of Zion are probably rolling in their graves,” said David Padfield, a minister at Christ Church, a nondenominational congregation near the mosque. “They didn’t even want our church here.”

Padfield, who supports the Ahmadiyya community, says it was the founders’ intolerance and exclusion of other religions that “made it difficult to function.”

Soon, standing 70 feet above the ground, the mosque’s minaret will be the tallest structure in the city that Dowie built.

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Associated Press religious coverage is supported through AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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