Prayer over Prejudice: A Great Victory Commemorated in Zion, Illinois

On September 27, 2022, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, World Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and Fifth Successor of its Holy Founder, inaugurated the Fath-e-Azeem Mosque in Zion City, Illinois.

Evening shot of newly opened Fath-e-Azeem Mosque in Zion Illinois

On September 27, 2022, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, World Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and Fifth Successor of its Holy Founder, inaugurated the Fath-e-Azeem Mosque in Zion City, Illinois.

Portrait image of Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the 5th Khalfia of Ahmadiyya Islam

This historic event holds great meaning for Ahmadi Muslims and serves as a sign of the truthfulness of the Promised Messiah, His Holiness Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be on him). Exactly 120 years ago, in September 1902, Ahmad’s voice reached the young American city of Zion, Illinois, when he penned an open letter to Dr. John Alexander Dowie, founder of Zion City, in response to Dowie’s prayers for Islam’s destruction.

Dowie (1847-1907) was a Scottish faith healer who gained fame and fortune during the 1895 World’s Fair in Chicago, outside of which he had set up a tabernacle and performed healings for visitors. The following year he founded a church and quickly gained more than 100,000 followers. He announced he was sent by God to “smash every other church in existence” and pave the way for the return of Jesus Christ.

In succession, Dowie claimed to be the Messenger of the Covenant, the prophet Elijah, and the first apostle of his Christian Catholic Apostolic Church.

Along the way, Dowie abused every other denomination – Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, Catholics, all were “apostates” – as well as Judaism and Islam. His invective against Islam was particularly virulent, calling the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) a “forger” and “false prophet,” announcing that “Islam must go” and praying for its destruction repeatedly.

The Promised Messiah, ever the champion of Islam and true and ardent devotee and defender of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him), took up his pen in the defense of Islam, writing:

“As regards the Muhammadans, we hope Dr. Dowie will renounce his claim upon all if the decision can be come to by an easier method. Whether the God of Muhammadans or the God of Dowie is the true God may be settled without the loss of millions of lives which Dr. Dowie’s prediction would involve. That method is that, without threatening the Muhammadan public in general with destruction, he should choose me as his opponent and pray to God that of us two whoever is the liar may perish first.”

The Review of Religions, September 1907

At the time of this challenge, Dowie was at the peak of his life: founder and absolute ruler of a church with more than 100,000 followers; head of a new, fast-growing theocratic city wherein he held personal ownership of all residential and commercial property in his own name; and a world-renowned faith healer who was himself the picture of perfect health. Dowie’s estimated net worth exceeded $800 million in today’s dollars.

Dowie acknowledged the challenge and responded by taunting Ahmad: “There is a Muhammadan Messiah in India who has repeatedly written to me . . . and people ask me why I do not answer him. Do you imagine that I shall reply to such gnats and flies? If I were to put down my foot on them I would crush out their lives.”

Leaves of Healing, 27 December 1902

After being challenged by Ahmad to this prayer duel for God to distinguish the truthful from the liar, Dowie met with a series of magnificent failures.

In October 1903, Dowie undertook a costly campaign with 3,000 followers to convert New York. Standing before thousands in Madison Square Garden, he abruptly lost his voice. When he was able to speak, he descended into vulgarity. The trip was a costly failure.

Zion suffered a financial crisis. Dowie’s personal account became overdrawn by $600,000 – more than $20 million in today’s dollars. The following year, Dowie ordered his followers to liquidate their assets and deposit their money into his bank or face expulsion for failing to do so.

In September 1905, the world-renowned faith healer who claimed that ill health visits only the sinful, suffered a paralytic stroke.

In April 1906, his hand-picked successor, John Voliva, along with church and city leadership, suspended Dowie from office, citing his “extravagance, hypocrisy, misrepresentations, exaggerations, misuse of investment, tyranny, injustice” and “other grave charges.” Dowie suffered a second stroke in 1906. His wife Jane and son Gladstone, the only remaining members of his family, left his side due to public and private indiscretions.

On February 20, 1907, the Promised Messiah published an announcement that God promises to show a great sign of his truthfulness in the coming days.

“God has informed me: I will reveal a fresh sign which will be a great victory. This will be a sign
for the whole world. The sign will be at the Hand of God and everyone should wait for it. God will
manifest this sign shortly. It will be evidence of divine help. It will be in testimony of this humble
being who is being abused by all. Blessed is he, who hearkens this sign.”

On March 9, 1907, paralyzed on one side, unable to walk, penniless and destitute, abandoned by his wife and son, ousted by his own church and the city he founded by his hand-picked successor, John Alexander Dowie died in Zion — just as it had been foretold by His Holiness Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (peace be on him).

The city’s first built mosque is aptly named “Fath-e-Azeem” (mean “great victory”), which symbolizes and commemorates that great victory – of prayer over prejudice, of truth over falsehood – that took place in 1907.

After his death, Dowie’s church dropped “Apostolic” from its name and moved on without its founder. It would take Zion much longer to recover from Dowie’s mismanagement, but it eventually did. And today, Ahmadi Muslims, whose motto is “love for all, hatred for none,” proudly call Zion home and have been serving the city in individual and collective capacities for decades. Zion’s motto is “historic past, dynamic future,” and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is proud to be a part of that bright future.

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