AHMADĪYAH MOVEMENT, started in the late nineteenth century as a reforming and rejuvenating current in Islam, originated in Qādīāṅ in Gurdāspur district of the Punjab. In the 1880's, Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad, son of the chief land-owning family of Qādīāṅ, after he had received revelations and preached a renewal of Islamic faith, began to draw followers. Although he had been educated traditionally by tutors in Qur'ān and hadīth, Ahmad had been sent to Siālkoṭ by his father to serve his apprenticeship as a law clerk and to train for the legal profession. Unsuccessful in his work and while becoming increasingly religious, Ahmad came in contact with Christian missionaries and became convinced that they posed a threat to Islam. Following the advent of the Ārya Samāj in the Punjab in 1877, Ghulām Ahmad also realized the threat posed by renascent militant Hinduism.
Spurred by a commitment to Islam reinforced by revelatory experiences, and aware of the growing threat posed by Christianity and Hinduism, Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad, in 1880, at the age of 40, began to publish a four-volume work, Bārāhīn-i-Ahmadīyah, in which he attempted to refute the claims of several Hindu reform movements that they were superior to Islam. In 1889, he permitted his followers to make bay'at or confirm their allegiance to him. This bay'at was not the kind made by Sūfīs in joining a tarīqah or order but rather more of the traditional Islamic commitment made to a khalīfah.
In 1891, Ghulām Ahmad claimed to be the masīh maw'ūd (Promised Messiah) and mahdī of the Muslims. While the former claim was sufficient to bring the wrath of Muslim 'ulamā or religious scholars down on him, the latter claim was explicitly offensive to most Muslims. The mahdī usually understood by Muslims to be Jesus Christ, is the figure who will come at the end of time to establish the kingdom of God on earth. Ahmad's claim to be the mahdī stemmed from his theory that he was the successor to Jesus. This involved an elaborate explanation proving that Jesus was not in heaven, as taught by Islam, but that on being taken off the cross, Jesus had been treated with a miraculous ointment and cured of his wounds. He had then escaped, wandering eastward, coming finally to Kashmīr. There he ministered to the lost tribes of Israel, until his death at the age of 120. Ghulām Ahmad demonstrated in his book, Masīh Hindustān Meṅ, that he had located Jesus' grave on Khān Yār Street in Srīnagar.
By proving that Jesus had died a natural death, Ghulām Ahmad believed he had proved his claims to be mahdī and promised Messiah of the Muslims. Through his writings in Urdu and Arabic as well as through his preaching in the Punjabi language, Ahmad won some thousands of followers during his lifetime. In 1891, the first Ahmadīyah jalsah or annual community gathering was held at Qādīāṅ. This meeting has been held annually during the last week of December ever since, though since partition it is also held in the new international headquarters at Rabwāh near Chinioṭ, West Punjab, Pakistan.
While Ahmad's forthright stand against Hindus and Christians at first won him the admiration of certain Islamic sects, his claims to a kind of prophethood and his call for jīhād by missionary effort rather than by militant activity brought on him the wrath of both Shīāh and Sunnī religious leaders. His right to prophecy was also challenged in court. He had also prophesied that the wrath of God would fall upon his enemies. When Paṇḍit Lekh Rām, the militant Ārya Samājist, was murdered by a Lahore Muslim in 1897, two years before the awful death predicted for him by Ghulām Ahmad, communal controversy in Lahore reached an unprecedented level for those times.
Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad's first interaction with the Sikh community occurred in 1895 at the height of his controversy with the Ārya Samāj. After studying Swāmī Dayānand's Satyārth Prakāsh (The Light of Truth), in which the Swāmī had attacked every other religion including the Sikh, Ahmad, though he had not heard of any Sikh responses to these attacks, decided to take up "the cudgels against Dayanand to protect the honour of Nanak, " according to Ahmad's biographer, Abdur Rahmān Dard. It was thus that Ahmad began a work in Urdu on the life of Gurū Nānak, which not only sought to answer Dayānand's charges against Sikhism but also attempted to separate legend from known facts about Gurū Nānak. Ahmad's ultimate aim in this study was to win over the Sikhs to Islam and to convince the Sikhs that he was the promised Messiah by proving that Gurū Nānak had been a Muslim.
Sikh scholars answered the claims of Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad and refuted his arguments about Gurū Nānak. Bhārat Sudhār, an Ārya Samāj journal published at Lahore, sought a rapprochement with the Sikhs by attacking Ahmad.
Since the partition of the Punjab, the principal seat of the Ahmadīyah movement has moved to Rabwāh, Pakistan, with only a token staff remaining to care for the original shrines and buildings of Qādīāṅ, now situated a few miles on the Indian side of the border. In Pakistan the Ahmadīyahs have since been declared a heretic, non-Muslim sect.