Ahmadiyyas Open Mosque in Illinois at the Site of Their Historic ‘Prayer Duel’

Nearly 120 years after their founder successfully challenged a Christian evangelist in Zion, Illinois, to a prayer duel of biblical proportions, the Ahmadiyya inaugurated the Fath-e-Azeem Mosque in the city in September 2022

Zion was established by Christian evangelist John Alexander Dowie in 1901 as a utopian theocracy. Dowie, who claimed to be the prophet Elijah, foretold the destruction of all those who did not believe in the divinity of his mission. The New York Times wrote a story March 29, 1903, about the challenge titled “The Rival Prophets.”

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (public domain)
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (public domain)

The Ahmadiyya believe Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the Ahmadiyya, who was born in 1835, to be the promised reformer the Prophet Muhammed predicted and that he fulfills the prophecies surrounding the second advent of the messiah Jesus.

Responding to Dowie’s claim, Ahmad challenged the priest: Both should call upon God to expose the other as a false prophet. Dowie and a thousand of his followers would pray for Ahmad’s early death, while Ahmad, with a similar number of followers, would petition for the evangelist’s speedy end. “The first of the two to die is to be proclaimed ‘a liar’ throughout the world,” wrote the Times.

Although Dowie did not accept the challenge, when he died in 1907, a year before Ahmad, the Ahmadis took this as confirmation that Ahmad was the Messiah. 

Fath-e-Azeem, the name of the new mosque means “great victory” in Urdu, a language of northern India and Pakistan, symbolizing their founder’s triumph over Dowiein.

The new mosque does not signal “the victory of any religion,” said Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the international head of the Ahmadiyya community, in a speech at the mosque’s inauguration covered by Religion News Service. Rather, the “victory” embedded in the mosque’s name was meant to convey “who is the true man of God”—Ahmad or Dowie. “We should respect all the religions,” the caliph said. “It is no exaggeration to state that it was a magnificent example of restraint in the face of immense provocation and hostility,” the caliph said. That the Ahmadiyyas prevailed over Dowie was a triumph for all of humanity, because it was a victory of “prayer over prejudice, light over darkness, love over hate.”

The Fath-e-Azeem Mosque features a permanent exhibit devoted to the Ahmad-Dowie prayer duel, which includes some 160 newspaper articles and historic photographs from across the nation about the widely reported challenge.


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Ahmadiyya Muslim Mirza Ghulam Ahmad