Sohail argues that there is a lack of evidence for the truth of Ahmadiyyat, and that the only way forward would be a clear, unambiguous, randomized, double-blind controlled experiment. He writes that studying intercessory prayer is the way to go. It doesn’t require that we wait for messiahs, prophets or prophecies.
He makes three criticisms in this regard:
- Ahmadis seem to accept such a prayer study (referring to Respected Imam Ayyaz Mahmood Khan’s statement in his Real Dialogue debate) however, they don’t seem to be aware that such prayer studies by the Templeton Foundation in 2006 were already done (with Christians) and that they proved negative:
Here, the Ahmadi Muslim representative welcomed prayer studies, confident that they would demonstrate the power of prayer. Was he not familiar with the Templeton Foundation funded Intercessory Prayer Study from 2006? I suspect that at the time of his dialog with Dr. Ahmed, he may not have been.
- The Ahmadiyya leadership are not brave enough, according to Sohail, to agree to such a study:
While I would really love to see a double-blind independently run prayer study conducted again, my gut tells me that this is unlikely to happen. My gut also tells me that Ahmadiyya Muslim leadership will have since vetoed the brave and sincere offer from Ayyaz Mahmood Khan on behalf of the Community.
- It is a strange thing that Ahmadiyyat would not agree to such a study, given the emphasis in Ahmadiyya Islam on the power of prayer:
Since Ahmadiyyat places a lot of emphasis on missionary work, on prayer being the way that we attain certainty with respect to God, etc., it would be an odd thing if a scientifically sound and independent prayer study was not pursued by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
The answer to Sohail is two-fold:
Firstly, no Ahmadi would recognise a prayer study involving Christians. While we accept that the prayers of people of any religion may be heard by God, we would utterly reject the notion of God supporting the Christian faith by demonstrating His existence through their prayers. The Promised Messiah (as) repeatedly stated that their faith is, in his eyes, a dead faith, unable to yield spiritual blessings as Islam is. Therefore the existence of an intercessory prayer study utilising Christians is entirely irrelevant for an Ahmadi Muslim.
Secondly, the concept of a double blind, randomised intercessory prayer study was not an invention of Sohail or the Templeton Foundation. It was first proposed (and detailed) long before Sohail or the Templeton Foundation, or even before randomised, blinded studies were a “thing”. It was first proposed, and formulated, by the Promised Messiah (as) himself:
The method for testing the third sign—that of the acceptance of prayer—shall be that the same Board will publish a general announcement for the purpose of procuring people suffering from various afflictions, and these may include people from any religion. The adherent of every faith—whether he is a Muslim, a Christian, a Hindu, a Jew or of any other faith or thinking—if he is in the grip of a grave affliction and offers himself as one of the afflicted ones—shall be accepted without discrimination, since Allah does not differentiate between people of different faiths when it comes to granting corporeal benefits. The Board shall collect in a box the particulars of all such persons, including their names, parentage and addresses for a month, or as the Board deems fit. Then two balanced and name-wise lists of these persons shall be presented to the two parties—giving details of parentage, ethnic group, residence, faith, profession, and particulars of their afflictions. The two parties shall inspect these afflicted persons and divide the two lists between them by drawing lots. Should an afflicted person be from a far off country and unable to present himself before the two parties by reason of distance and lack of wherewithal, a subsidiary of the Board shall be set up in his town for dispatching the particulars of his affliction to the main Board. All the afflicted persons named in the list allocated to a party by the drawing of lots will be taken to belong to that party as if, through the drawing of lots, the list was allocated by God Almighty Himself. It shall be incumbent upon the Board to publish notices a few weeks earlier for making available the afflicted persons and for ensuring their appearance before the Board on a fixed date. I shall myself bear all expenses for these announcements. A copy of the two lists so prepared and bearing the names of the afflicted persons shall be kept at the Board’s office as well, and that very day will count as the first day of the appointed time of one year. Each party shall continue to pray for the afflicted ones who have fallen to its share and, as per the stated procedure, all the proceedings will be recorded in the Board’s register. If a party should die within the period of one year, before an estimate can be made of the plentiful acceptance of prayers and of clear victory, and should leave the entire matter of its contest unfinished, even then such a party shall be considered vanquished for the reason that Allah—through a particular intent— kept its work unfinished so as to prove its falsehood. Evaluation of a large number of afflicted ones has been made a condition, for it is only with such numbers that the acceptance of prayer can be tested.“Asmani Faislah” or “Heavenly Decree”, p. 29 – 34
Conversely, as aforementioned, it is possible that there are only a small number—two or three—in need of prayers and they may have been destined irrevocably to fail, i.e., it may be the irrevocable Divine will that they should never be delivered of their misfortunes. Many a time it has so happened that the prayers of great saints and even Prophets (as) have not been heard in favour of certain people because they had been irrevocably decreed to fail. Therefore, holding up one or two people suffering from calamities and misfortunes as the standard for a test would be misleading. If they turn to one whose prayers usually find acceptance, but remain unsuccessful due to their irrevocable destiny, then the power of acceptance of prayer of such a godly person shall remain undisclosed to them. Rather, by leading their imagination towards distrust, they may altogether lose faith in that godly person and thus ruin their hereafter along with their worldly life. This form of trial has caused some people to stumble even in the times of Prophets (as) and have led them to apostasy. It is a delicate question of deep knowledge that the station of those near to God is recognized through the acceptance of the majority of their prayers, which means that most of their prayers—but not all—find acceptance. Therefore, unless there is a large number of people seeking prayers, the power of their acceptance cannot be assessed. The full worth and grandeur of [the acceptance of] the majority [of prayers] only becomes manifest when a perfect believer, whose prayers find acceptance, is compared with his opponent. Otherwise, it is possible that even the many [i.e., accepted prayers] may seem few in the eyes of a foul-natured critic. Therefore, the number of accepted prayers is a relative matter whose correct, certain and final evaluation that shuts the mouth of a sceptic is demonstrated only through comparison.
For instance, if a thousand sufferers were allocated to each of two such men as claim to be the perfect believers whose prayers are answered, and if the prayers of one of them have the effect that fifty or twenty-five out of a thousand are such that they continue to suffer, while all the rest are cured, while out of the other group only twenty-five or fifty are spared and all the rest land into the abyss of failure, a clear distinction shall be established between the accepted one and the rejected one. The Naturalists of this age appear to suffer from doubts and misgivings that there is no such thing as acceptance of prayer, since nature has from the outset divided things between the possible and the impossible. Such apprehensions are totally baseless. The truth is that just as the All-Wise has imbued medicines with efficacy, in spite of the regulations of the laws of nature, so has He invested prayers with their effects that are always proven by actual experiences. The Holy Being and the Cause of all causes, Who has for ages set the acceptance of prayer as His wont, has also established the rule that sufferers who are destined to find relief shall do so by virtue of the holy breath, prayer, attention and the blessings of the bodily existence on earth of those who enjoy His nearness and are granted the honour of the acceptance of prayer.
Since this is the statement of the Promised Messiah (as) himself, to allege that the Jama’at has been reticent to carry out such an experiment is not fair; the Promised Messiah (as) himself first proposed it, and, interestingly, detailed a randomised, double blinded, well-powered study, even before these concepts were known among scientists.
That he should even make such a case for such an experiment, and call the followers of other faiths to battle him in this arena, is a proof of his truth. What false man, who knows he is false in his heart, would ever dare to subject himself to such empirical scrutiny?
As to whether the Jama’at would be willing to undertake such an experiment in the modern day, it should be noted that Murabbi Silsila Ayyaz Mahmood Khan would never make such a declaration of readiness without the say so and permission of his august Imam. That he did so indicates the source of that challenge.