A Divine Sign for Germany
Syed Amer Safir, reporting from Karlsruhe, Germany
A historic moment for The Review of Religions, the oldest comparative religious magazine in the world, which focuses on the Islamic viewpoint based on the perspective of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Here we explore the background to the German Edition, and a sign of God that manifested.
Today the new website of the German Edition of The Review of Religions was launched by His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, from the city of Karlsruhe in Germany on the first day of the annual convention (Jalsa Salana) of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Germany.
The German edition of The Review of Religions officially started three years ago. A quarterly print edition has been running since then, distributed to all parts of Germany. However only a thousand or so editions were printed every 3 months and therefore the audience reach was limited. Now, an exciting phase for the German Edition has commenced. With the launch of the new website, The Review of Religions German edition will be able to reach to a vast audience of German-speaking people through its online presence.
The Manager of the German Edition, Hasanat Ahmad, told me:
‘All praise belongs to Allah, the launch of the new German Edition website by His Holiness is a historical moment for us. It opens new doors to spread the message of Islam to the German audience.’
I spoke to Ansar Bilal, Chief Editor of the German Edition who expressed:
‘I am very grateful to Allah the Almighty that His Holiness has launched this website and that too on the blessed Friday. I hope that the guidance and prayers of His Holiness will allow us to reach new heights.’
Three years ago, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, outlined his vision for a new German Edition of The Review of Religions. This was the first foreign language edition of The Review of Religions to officially and centrally be established. Since then French and Spanish editions have also been launched.
His Holiness thus had directed me to begin the groundwork for its establishment and said the German Edition should run on the same lines as the English edition. Most importantly, he said it should mirror the original aims of the Founder of this magazine, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as).
Ahmadi Muslims believe Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) to be the Promised Messiah & Imam Mahdi whose advent was prophesied by all major religions. His mission was to revive the true teachings of Islam in an era when the teachings of Islam have been distorted beyond recognition. He also wanted to unite all religions under the banner of the final divine law, the Holy Qur’an.
Hazrat Ahmad (as) said that religious warfare, or ‘Jihad’ as is practised today was now abolished and instead the only Jihad (which literally means self-struggle) needed today is one of self-reformation. Through divine revelation, Hazrat Ahmad (as) expounded on new meanings of the Holy Qur’an. He also sought to rectify erroneous practices currently in vogue in the Muslim world.
The Review of Religions was one of numerous means Hazrat Ahmad (as) established to help propagate these true teachings of Islam. The magazine was established to convey these teachings to the people of the West and the Non-Muslim world.
Three years ago then, under the guidance of His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, I was sent to Germany to establish the framework, team, operations and management of the new German Edition. His Holiness was particularly interested to reach out to the German speaking community.
Initially, some were very worried as to how popular The Review of Religions German edition would be and thought ‘will we be able to make it a success in Germany? Will Germans be interested in this magazine?’ Some even considered whether a German edition was needed at all.
However, His Holiness was unwavering in his commitment for the progress of the German edition and provided guidance on many aspects. There was a crystal-clear vision in the mind of His Holiness that the German edition would prove to be successful, and I witnessed this clarity of thought on many occasions.
A faith inspiring incident
A faith-inspiring incident occurred before the launch of the German edition which demonstrated that God was supporting the vision of the Caliph.
As a direct result of the involvement of His Holiness and through his prayers, before the start of the German edition, I was one day approached at a media conference in Toronto, Canada by the German COO/Managing Director of one of the largest media organisations in Germany, if not all of Europe, who oversee a massive array of magazines, TV Stations and other media outlets.
His Holiness had sent me to this conference as a representative of The Review of Religions. Over 500 senior magazine representatives, editors-in-chief, CEO’s and the like had gathered from around the world. The esteemed company included Time, National Geographic, Economist and so on. It was my first experience at such a conference and I felt like fish out of water. I could not get the attention of the most senior media professionals or able to connect with them properly. It seemed like most already knew one another, whereas I was completely new to them.
My failure to build any meaningful rapport with the magazine industry elite, makes what happen next even more fascinating. And it leads me to believe that it was no coincidence that the one person who I was able to connect with in this entire conference a) came to me out of the blue himself b) was German and c) not only came to me himself but would later play an important role in helping advise towards the German edition establishment.
He was fascinated by the concept of The Review of Religions and I mentioned to him that we were planning on starting a German Edition. Surprisingly, he invited me to breakfast the next day after the conference as he said he wanted to speak to me further.
‘Surprising’, because my experience has been that at the highest levels of the magazine industry people are very materialistic and are primarily in the pursuit of business deals and profit. They are extremely busy and have little time to impart free advice over lunch or to meet to have general discussions, unless they are getting paid for it handsomely.
However there was something sincere about this person that made him stand apart from others in the industry I have spoken to. Without a doubt, the prayers of His Holiness had brought him to me, as I had never even asked him for a follow-up meeting after our initial meeting at the conference. In fact, he was insistent that we had to meet once again and he said we should do so the very next morning, before he returned to Germany. He could barely wait; even at the conference he started discussing with me his ideas.
And so the next day over breakfast in Tim Hortons coffee shop, downtown Toronto, we met. This person, who is very highly placed and influential in the magazine industry in Germany, and has worked at very senior positions for some of the biggest magazines and media conglomerates in Europe, told me:
‘I have never seen anything like The Review of Religions before. It is a concept that is very unique. There is something about it which just fascinates me. In terms of why I am interested in speaking to you, it’s nothing to do with business. I have already achieved much in my life, there isn’t much to gain from you in this regard. However there is something about The Review of Religions which intrigues me and I want to, purely on a personal basis, see how much I can help you with the German edition.’
When I returned to London and informed His Holiness of his offer of helping with the German edition, he was pleased and told me to set up a meeting with this person and our German edition team as well with the National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Germany, Abdullah Wagishauser.
I emailed the German highly-placed contact and I was shocked when he told me that he had cleared his entire schedule for one whole day to make time for us to discuss with him whatever he pleased (again I will stress this is unprecedented, at least in my experience, in this field. Consultation for even short time periods are normally charged at a premium).
I therefore took the Manager and Editor of the German edition and the National President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community German. We travelled four hours from Frankfurt to Munich and in a restaurant, my contact imparted many hours of detailed, insightful and practical advice and answered questions in terms of how he felt The Review of Religions could be successful in Germany.
Over time we would often communicate and he would always be readily available to give his in-depth feedback about different aspects relating to the German edition. He was so passionate about helping us, that once when I met him he told me ‘I took your magazine to such and such person (his friend who was a very experienced person in the magazine industry) to get expert feedback for you.’ He then proceeded to outline all the feedback that had been given.
This draws me towards my conclusion. One one occasion, this highly placed individual was advising me about the German edition and said, ‘I feel people in Germany don’t want to only hear about theology, but in additional also about cultural aspects of Muslims; how do they eat, sleep, walk and live. These things will be of interest to German people.’
Interestingly, this was very nearly the same advice given to me by His Holiness some time before this. When I mentioned the above advice to His Holiness he said ‘this is exactly what I have been telling you for some time!’
In many aspects, I have found His Holiness, worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to be exceptionally innovative, creative, insightful and visionary. Much of the advice I had heard from my German contact or by others at the highest level of the industry, is advice that I had already been given by His Holiness. For example I once met the CEO of Time. Time at the time was suffering greatly and were in all sorts of difficulties and at a downward spiral. The CEO helped turn around their fortunes. When I asked him what advice he had for me and about how he transformed the fortunes of Time, he said ‘I only have one advice for you, employ young people’. That was in 2016. One of the most influential people in the magazine industry had developed a new strategy of using young people to a far greater degree, to help them through the rapid developments in technology. After hearing this advice, my respect for the Caliph grew manifold. For the Caliph since becoming the Caliph 2003, has been immensely focusing on a particular aspect; which is bringing in the youth in all aspects of his community. For over a decade the Caliph has been introducing youth to key positions and guiding them, because he surely felt that the youth would be able to keep up with the pace of the modern world. I was also encouraged by the Caliph to bring in youth. The use of the youth in The Review of Religions was something even FIPP, the global media organisaiton recognised in an article they wrote about this magazine where they said:
‘Visit the head office of The Review of Religions in South Wimbledon, London, and your first impression is likely to be that one of the oldest religious magazines in the world is run by one of the youngest editorial teams out there.’
The vision and direct guidance of His Holiness
This humble writer was 27 when he was appointed Editor-in -Chief of this esteemed magazine. The Caliph’s International Press Secretary was a similar age when he was appointed into this key position. There are numerous other examples where the Caliph invested his trust in youth. My point is that one of the most senior people in the magazine industry was starting to realise the importance of youth many, many years after I was given the same advice by His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba). His Holiness had foresaw the need of using youth far more effectively well before many other experts did. This is just one of many examples I have witnessed.
Further, His Holiness’s understanding of modern trends and magazine strategies has often left me astounded. I have seen His Holiness in his office with Time, National Geographic, Foreign Affairs, Scientific American and so on. Often His Holiness has gone through specific magazine concepts with me referring to various magazines. Whilst we refer to other magazines, His Holiness always has said we have our own values for The Review of Religions which we will always maintain.
Our brand new design for our print edition, when full-colour was introduced for the first time in the magazine’s over 100-year history, was launched in 2011. This re-design was based on His Holiness guiding and providing his vision. One one occasion I remember the Caliph laying out an array of magazines on his desk and guiding me about specific aspects, such as font size, column type and even justification of text.
His Holiness guided me on all aspects of the magazine. He guided me to establish a now wide-reaching peer reviewing system within our magazine. Often His Holiness would write down names of reviewers for me himself who are experts in fields we needed who we would then send articles to review.
His Holiness has guided on concepts, themes and approach. He has drawn sketches in front of me for how to design front covers. The aforementioned are just a few of countless examples. Suffice to say I have been blessed to receive countless ‘masterclasses’ directly from His Holiness relating to how to run a magazine, which have enabled this magazine to continue to reach new heights.
Now this guidance which started with one language, English, is expanding to other language editions. The German Edition team have had the blessed fortune to also meet His Holiness and receive direct guidance. I have been honoured to witness these meetings where His Holiness has also outlined his vision for The Review of Religions in Germany and how to gear content accordingly.
One occasion when the German team asked His Holiness a question about magazine strategies in Germany, His Holiness advised them the following: Research, strategise and plan thoroughly as currently this is lacking in your approach. His Holiness said that there is a biscuit company in Germany who spent 6 months planning, forming the groundwork and analysing trends. Only after this period of considerable planning where they then understood clearly the road map ahead, did this biscuit company launch their product. His Holiness said that instead of rushed last-minute planning which you normally do, prepare the foundation properly. The moral of this advice from His Holiness? If even something so trivial as a biscuit producer spends half a year forming a massive strategy for their progress, surely it requires this magazine to plan to an even greater degree.
My conclusion? I personally never needed the advice of the German friend I have mentioned above who is very highly placed in the European media and magazine industry. Much of the advice he gave me about how to run magazines I had already been taught directly by His Holiness.
I strongly believe, therefore, the only reason this entire meeting took place and subsequent help received from my German magazine industry friend was because of the following. I mentioned in the beginning there were some strong worries expressed by some, that would the German edition be successful? Would the German edition be able to connect with the German public? To the extent that some were not sure if a German edition was even needed. Well, the answer to this was received even before the launch of the German edition.
For such an influential magazine figure to himself approach me out of the blue, offering free and selfless help, who would go on to constantly help and advise in the build up to the launch of the German edition, for me was a clear sign of divine intervention in support of the Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad.
It was a message that the Non-Muslim German population at the highest levels, are ready to receive the message of the Promised Messiah (as) through The Review of Religions German Edition. His Holiness had outlined his vision for the German Edition. That vision was divinely inspired. There were some worries and concerns. But even before those worries could manifest, help arrived from the heavens.
I also would like to mention that after His Holiness pressed the ‘launch button’ on the iPad to launch the new German website, he took time to look through the site and ask various questions about the content. His Holiness lead a silent prayer before leaving. This was an emotional moment.
No doubt His Holiness prayed for the success of the German Edition. And no doubt, as we have seen with the examples above, God is already providing His help and support for His Caliph and will continue to do so, God Willing.
The newly launched website of The Review of Religions German edition can be accessed here: https://www.revuederreligionen.de/
About the Author: Syed Amer Safir is the Chief Editor & Manager of The Review of Religions English Edition and Secretary of the Management Committee which oversees all The Review of Religions activities worldwide.