by Professor Ron Geaves, Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, Cardiff University
I visited both Qadian and Rabwah in order to research a book that I am writing on the influence of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community upon the establishment of Islam in Britain in the Edwardian period. Both visits were at the hospitality of the Caliph (Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaba) and I thank him for his generosity. My trip to Qadian in 2013 was taken solely to soak up the atmosphere of the place where the Founder had lived his life, and to explore the resources available in the library there. My trip to Rabwah, in January 2014, was a working trip to explore the archives maintained by the History Department within the town.
I arrived in Qadian during the Jalsa Salana, the annual international gathering of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, initiated by the Founder Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas. Although it was exciting to see the gathered crowds attending the various lectures throughout the day, my experiences were largely gleaned from walking in the town during the day, seeing the places where the Founder and his early companions must have sat together, walked, made purchases, prayed; the everyday life of that unique place which belongs to the Community. In the early mornings, I joined in prayer in the Founder’s mosque and was stunned to hear the gathering weep alongside the Imam during the course of the salat (the obligatory Muslim prayer). I have attended hundreds of mosques but never before had I heard weeping during the prayer ritual. It made me realise the love that everyone held for the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Community and the commitment to Islam which he inspired.
“Prayerful men weep ‘Allah’,
In the rising heat of the morning.”
During the nights we talked. There were so many of the Movement’s devout scholars there and I took advantage to grill them on the teachings and the history of Ahmadiyyat.
Sometimes these conversations lasted late into the night and everyone was so eager to speak on what was clearly their passion. Between discussions we ate. However, my favourite conversations were with the night watchmen who had been assigned to guard over the foreign guests. Qadian in December was very cold at night. My two watchmen would stand huddled in blankets, as near to the brazier as it was possible to be. One was from Peshawar in Pakistan, a young married man with small children. I understood how insecure his life was in that part of Pakistan and I admired his courage to remain there. I hope that Allah preserves him and his family. I also visited two of the remaining old men who had remained in Qadian to safeguard the sacred places of significance in the town, when the Community moved to Pakistan in 1948. With humour in their eyes and enthusiasm in their speech, they revisited their youth, alive again in the moments of memory, recounting to me how they had used various stratagems to convince anyone that was hostile that the town was well-guarded. As said by Jesusas to his disciples, “Be as cunning as serpents, but as harmless as doves.” I loved Qadian. I hope to return one day, if only to add to my couplet.
Rabwah was a very different experience. I have visited India on many occasions but it was only my third visit to Pakistan. The first was in 1968 en route to India, the second in 1993 when I was researching for my PhD thesis. I was shocked by the changes. My hosts were very keen to keep me safe and I realised that even an experienced traveller like me could no longer travel the country alone and feel secure. I stayed in the guest house for foreign visitors, along with a group of Canadian students training to be missionaries and a Japanese Muslim who was working on updating his Japanese translation of the Qur’an. Twice a day we would walk around the compound for exercise, even though I longed to wander alone in the mountains that surrounded the city. However, I did see the city. I would walk with the grandson of the Caliph through the markets; visiting the hospital, the college, the mosques and the historic places pertinent to the history of the Ahmadiyya Community and its establishment in Rabwah after the partition.
I loved the visit to the hospital, the facilities were excellent. I sent my wife a text saying, “Do not worry if I have a heart attack here! I will be better treated than at home!”
On arrival in the hospital grounds we were met by the security men who were a little alarmed at our impromptu visit. We were quickly granted entry when they realised I was a western visitor with the Caliph’s blessing. Soon I was surrounded by security guards who pleaded with me to take their greetings back to the Caliph in London. I felt the weight of their love and duly complied on my return. The hospital treats everyone, regardless of income, religion or even opposition to the Movement.
We worked hard during my stay. Each morning I would visit the library, reading through the early editions of The Review of Religions, seeking articles that would provide information on the Movement’s Islamic da’wa to the West during the Edwardian period. In the afternoons, I would sit with the historians of the Movement, asking questions and seeking their help to provide the primary sources or extra information to support my morning’s readings in the library. In the evenings, I would visit the city’s key sites, soaking up the atmosphere of the place and meeting students, teachers and the elders of the Community.
I was struck by the real sense of community in Rabwah and the way in which the town had been built from the faith-based conviction of the Ahmadis who had left India with very little but their trust in Allah, love for the Prophetsa and the Founder and a hope that a new Muslim land would let them thrive. A desert had been transformed into a realisation of an Islam in harmonious community living, but I was deeply aware of the ghettoised existence that the inhabitants of Rabwah live in today. I feared for them.
I wish everyone in Rabwah God’s Safekeeping. My thoughts and feelings are best communicated through the poem that I wrote whilst there.
The Town with Two Names
“I walk among cows
black and raucous
in Eucalyptus trees.
They stand where nothing grew
but rocks ancient
marked by human design to know
now blasted and gone
like the jagged teeth of an old man
impotent and waiting his demise.
Marks of a previous epoch, fertitlity and signs of their gods
long gone buried beneath tarmac.
Foundations for roads
upon which hard men trample to deny peace or consolation.
The remnant came with hope
to create from baked clay and heat
where only one tree stood
symbol of life to come and red roses.
They made paradise and hell.
Town with two names
shelter but never secure.
There are always vultures in their skies.”