The life of Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru) was unique and one that has left an indelible mark of brilliance in the annals of Ahmadiyyat.
Effectiveness of Prayer
Throughout his life, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) emphasised the importance of prayer and particularly counselled the community workers that the use of prayer was especially significant in the success of their work. He used to relate many instances in his life how effective prayers were and also enjoyed listening to other people’s experiences of the effectiveness of prayer. These kinds of faith-inspiring experiences left many people with a stronger conviction of the power and efficacy of prayer.
He was ever keen to help his fellow man. This coupled with his honesty and intelligence made him an excellent source of advice for many – including politicians. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) also read political situations very well and recognised the capacities of individual leaders. This type of in-depth understanding was evident more after he became Khalifa. For example, he visited West Africa in 1988 where he met the Presidents of each of the 5 African countries on the tour. To each, he was able to render valuable advice which in some cases was so well founded that it led The Gambian President, Mr Dauda Jawara, to exclaim in amazement ‘How do you know so much about my country?’
It is related that during the last year of his life when he was in his 70s, he instructed Maulana Feroz Alam Sahib to teach him Bengali. Maulana Alam Sahib suggested, perhaps in view of Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV’s health, that two lessons a week should be devoted to this but Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) insisted on more and decided to take four a week for this purpose. Such was his enthusiasm to learn.
In his search for knowledge, it is clear that he would never dismiss matters out-of-hand no matter how outlandish they may seem. He explored the merits of palmistry for instance and ‘thought transfer’. He rejected the first and accepted the second.
The office of Khilafat came as a shock to him and he felt inadequate, but like all new incumbents to this office the succour of God came to his aid and remained with him throughout. His apprehension at the awesome task that had been given to him was vividly illustrated in his first address to the electoral college which has been reproduced on page 16.
Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) assumed the duties of Khilafat effortlessly as if he was made for the task. However, he himself never claimed that it was easy.
Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) talked about his reaction on his election in the following terms:
‘My first reaction was one of complete confusion, and I felt as if I had lost touch with reality. It was as if you felt yourself as something you were not. Indeed, this continued to disturb me for many years, as I found it difficult to remove the parallax between myself and the status of Khilafat. I had always looked upon Khilafat from a different angle; one of deep respect. Therefore, it was very difficult to re-adjust and to begin when there was complete chaos.’ (Tariq Centenary Souvenir, p.73)
While recognising the significance of the robe of Khilafat given to him he still remained very humble. He disliked praise being lavished on him. When books were written about him, he did not read them himself not even the biography that Ian Adamson penned about him.
He was always committed to disseminate the message of the Promised Messiah(as) and to serve the community. It was through his service in the community over many years that he was able to acquire the skills that were later to shine through in such splendour during his Khilafat. For instance the quality of good leadership did not come to him automatically but it was a skill he acquired through bitter experience. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) himself relates when he talked about his working for the community:
“My first task in the Jama’at started with Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya…. My first post was as ‘Saiq’ – a leader of ten. This proved a bitter experience as I was dealing with my own brothers, most older than me and who therefore looked down on me. If I relayed my decision to them on the authority of Khuddamul Ahmadiyya, they would take it lightly. In this regard, I suppose, I was more idealistic and therefore surprised how members of the Jama’at, who prescribed to the system, would not obey someone as they regarded him as inferior. In those days, I was very hasty in reporting matters to my superiors expecting them to take my side immediately. My mistake was this impatience, which led to further suffering, in that subordinates would not cooperate and superiors would not support me. I felt that things just happened and no one really cared. It was very difficult to accept but ultimately I learned that in relationships which are reli-gious in nature, coercion plays a very small role if one at all. It is important for a person to rise to the occasion and reach a status where people will respect you, and in this way your command will be followed. It is through conviction and concerted hard labour after which you can win people over and get them to obey you. There is a basic training one needs before leading a group and this involves how to get people to obey you, as God says: ‘I built the universe in the first six days and sat on the throne on the seventh.’ This lesson I learnt, and realised that in religion you make your own universe and then apply your authority. Therefore, by the time I became Sadr, I had gone through various stages of holding various posts and knew when to obey and how to be obeyed.’ (Tariq Centenary Souvenir, pp.73-76)
Care for community members
As is the case with all Khulafa, like a shepherd, he was ever eager to tend to his flock – the members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. It is clear that he genuinely enjoyed meeting with them and tending to their problems as well as sharing in their happiness.
During these meetings, he would get to know members in-depth. He drew great satisfaction at being granted by Allah the opportunity to remove problems for others. Many a time visitors would go into their private audience laden with a heavy burden and emerge, after a few minutes with him, totally relieved.
Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) would give valuable advice on all kinds of matters ranging from the spiritual to the medical and from academic to personal.
Love for the Ordinary Worker
He had a great deal of affinity for the ordinary workers of the community. Tunisian-born Abada Barbouche relates that when he became an Ahmadi, the community had only recently bought a site at Islamabad in September 1984. Building and clearing work was held there regularly and all done by volunteers. Abada stated that once he was working on a task that made him very messy and on this occasion Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru), who was on his round of inspection, entered Abada’s place of work. As Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) advanced towards him, Abada recalls, he was reluctant to extend his hand because it was so dirty. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) instead rushed forward and grabbed it and embraced him saying if this dirt is good enough for you it is good enough for me. Knowing little English at the time, Abada says he does not know much of what else was said but the impact of this meeting reduced him to tears because of the tenderness and love that had been shown to him.
It is this type of incidents – of which there are thousands – that explain why he became so rooted into the affections of many with such consummate ease.
Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) was very conscious of members from different cultures and various backgrounds that made up the worldwide Ahmadiyya community. He was keen for members to recognise that Ahmadiyya culture was one that embraced all of these cultures with each retaining its individuality like flowers of a single bouquet.
On one occasion when the non-Ahmadis had descended into wiping the Kalima off Ahmadiyya mosques and threatened the use of law for uttering the Kalima, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) encouraged the wearing of badges that bore the wording of the Kalima. In one of these Q/A sessions, someone mentioned that a non-Ahmadi Muslim had complained that the wearing of such badges was not in keeping with the practise of the Holy Prophet(saw). Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) responded was it then the practice of the Holy Prophet(saw) to wipe off the Kalima written on mosques?
Similarly his sharpness and wit were also evident elsewhere. For instance, during the height of the Salman Rushdie affair, he was asked to give a yes or no answer in a T.V. interview in Canada on whether the book should be banned. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) argued that a simple yes or no answer cannot be given to every question but the interviewer insisted. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) then said to the interviewer ‘Tell me, yes or no – have you stopped beating your mother?’ The penny finally dropped and Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) was allowed to give a complete answer as he had wished and as the question warranted.
The Question and Answer sessions first and foremost truly displayed the vastness of his knowledge. During some of these, a person would pose a question on some obscure subject that no one had heard of. However, when it came to giving the answer, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) would speak like an expert on the subject and illuminate all with his reply. But of course no one except Allah is All-Knowing and despite the extent of his knowledge, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) was always aware of the fact that his knowledge was limited. When the answer was speculative, or he was unsure, he would often conclude with the words ‘Allah knows best.’ Moreover, on the rare occasion when someone did tell him something that was new to him, he invariably acknowledged this and thanked him/her as well for increasing his knowledge.
Transformation of the UK
In fact when we consider this issue, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV’s(ru) contribution to the Ahmadiyya community can be easily overlooked. It is a contribution that cannot be emphasised enough. He illuminated every member with his knowledge and guidance. His constant presence in the UK inspired the community to achieve far more than we would have done otherwise.
Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV’s(ru) contribution to the UK is further highlighted by the fact that prior to his arrival, the community was a mere outpost in a host of branches around the world. The main community mosque, The London Fazl Mosque, became too small. Before he came, it was difficult to fill the first two rows with worshippers let alone the entire mosque and after his arrival and guidance over nearly two decades, even the entire grounds of the mosque were not enough. And as is Allah’s way in such matters He provided the community with a beautiful solution – the Baitul Futuh Mosque that opened a few months after his demise.
Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) was a deeply sensitive man easily given to emotion. On many an occasion, he would weep openly. He said once that he could not disguise his feelings. What you can see on his face is how he feels about people. He could not smile and hug you while remaining utterly disappointed with you inside because this would be dishonest.
He was totally selfless in his conduct and always gave precedence to the feelings of others over his. It is related that once he saw one of his assistants carrying some milk from the Bazaar to his home. He enquired whether the milk he purchased was of good quality. The assistant did not give a positive response meaning that the milk was of dubious quality especially since vendors had the habit of mixing water with pure milk before selling. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) asked how much he purchased. The reply was 1 gallon a day. Nothing more was said. However, the assistant relates that the next morning, there was a knock on his door and there was Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV’s(ru) servant with a gallon of good quality milk freshly obtained from Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV’s(ru) farm. The servant said that Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) had instructed him to deliver this milk to him every day. From then on, this continued until conditions became difficult. The servant then reported that because times had become difficult there was not enough milk. Their deliveries would have to cease starting from the next day. However, the next day, the servant returned with another gallon of milk. It transpired that a discussion had arisen in Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV’s(ru) household as milk had become a little more difficult to come by. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) had insisted that the milk deliveries to his assistant should continue from his farm uninterrupted. It seems that he was prepared to go without milk for his own household rather than inconvenience his assistant. Milk is being delivered to that household even today. This was the extent of his selflessness but there is an even more heart-rending example of his selflessness.
This was when his eldest daughter who was about a month old, became ill. He began to nurse the child but she sadly passed away in his arms. This happened in the early part of the day of a Walima of a relative. So, rather than inform everyone and spoil their joy, he kept the grief to himself. He suffered quietly on his own in the room with the child. Only when the festivities were over, did he break the bad news of the child’s passing away to his wife and others. Such selflessness is rare. It is a kind of quality only to be found in saints and those utterly devoted to their Maker and His creation.
During the last months of his life, his illness was painful and extremely painful to see as well. True to form he persevered with great courage and remained vigilant in doing all he could to fulfil his obligations during this difficult period. He recognised the concern that members had for him and was not slow in expressing his gratitude in this regard.
As a father, brother, administrator, motivator, spiritual master and Khalifa, he was simply outstanding. It is true that Allah had gifted him with many natural abilities of intellect, stamina and perseverance but He had also granted him the wisdom to use these abilities for the good of mankind. The twin pillars of love of Allah and love for His creation governed his life and he acquitted himself admirably throughout.
The love he inculcated in people who came in contact with him is legendary. No words can describe, no action can fully show the depth of feelings that people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike had for him.
Men of God like the Prophets of Allah and their Khulafa are such curious personalities. They open our hearts to receive the love of God but the process is such that they invariably leave an indelible love for themselves behind as well.
Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru) was in every sense a great man – a man whose greatness was not confined to the good he was able to do during his life but the good that has continued since. It was Sir Christopher Wren who had his epitaph inscribed in the St Paul’s Cathedral which read ‘If you seek my monument look around you’. The same can be said of Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru) – only his monument does not lie in so much as bricks and mortar but in the rich legacy he has left behind in the form of his glowing achievements. These will continue to serve as a living testament to his passion for preaching, compassion for others and for the promotion of good for generations to come.
May Allah shower His choicest blessings upon him and envelop him in His mercy.
Adapted from an article from the Syedna Tahir Souvenir UK by Waleed Ahmad