Munavara Ghauri , UK
How my Mother Began an Extraordinary Community in an Ordinary Town – Part I
It has now been 25 years since Sajida Hameed, my mother, passed away. Yet even to this day, I am still surprised when a lady approaches me in the mosque and enquires, ‘Are you Sajida’s daughter?’, and when I reply in the affirmative, she hugs me affectionately or recollects, ‘Of course, she was from Hartlepool.’
Sajida Hameed remains in the hearts of many and as the Fourth Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh) would once tell her, ‘Your name will be written in the history of Ahmadiyyat as Queen Victoria,’ she will continue to be a recurring name in the history of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Why? Because she was the first Ahmadi Muslim in England to start a local Community (Jama`at) where the majority of its members were indigenous. Sajida’s friends fell in love with the beautiful teachings of Islam that she personified in her warm and selfless ways. In total, she converted 18 ladies to Islam. What is further surprising is that she accomplished this in a 20-year period, whilst raising a family of 4 children, caring for her extended family, running a business, writing a book, publishing a religious magazine (Kaukab) and battling cancer. It was then Allah’s Decree that He took her from this world at the age of 47. However, she achieved more in that momentary existence than many people twice her age. This is a brief account of how my mother created an extraordinary Community in an ordinary town, ‘a pool of hearts’ in Hartlepool.
Early Years in Hartlepool and the First Bai’at
My mother was born Sajida Mubashira Khan on April 13th, 1947, in Amritsar, India. She was the daughter of Brigadier Muhammad WaqiuZamman Khan and Qanita Khan, the daughter of Mughni Khan Sahib. Her parents were righteous and kind-hearted. Brig. WaqiuZamman Khan also had the unique honour to plan and execute the emigration of the Fourth Caliph (rh) from Pakistan to London in 1984. He was to reminisce that he felt that the very purpose of his extensive army training and very existence had been to serve the Community in this capacity. Sadly, my mother’s biological mother – Qanita Sahiba, died at a young age when my mother was an infant. Thereafter, my grandfather affectionately cared for his young daughter and did not remarry until she was around seven years old. He then married Amatul Majeed Mojan Sahiba, the daughter of Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra). My mother then had the good fortune to grow up in the household of this pious elder and also interacted with other members of the Promised Messiah’s (as) family of that era. It embedded a firm faith in her and what was to later become a passion to convey the message of the Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), which was the revival of the true Islam.
My mother married Dr Hameed Ahmad Khan, the son of Abdul Majeed Khan Sahib and Malka Khanum Sahiba, in February 1969. The young couple migrated from Pakistan and settled in Hartlepool, North East England, in 1971. By this point, they had been blessed with a daughter, Amtushakoor Tayyaba Khan, and a son, Fareed Ahmad Khan. The couple instantly fell in love with the modest town of Hartlepool. With its friendly, working-class people it was a typical northern town with a significant shipyard, making it prey to vigorous bombings during both World Wars. It is recorded that ‘Hartlepudlians’, as the residents are called, were to make the greatest voluntary contributions per head to the war effort during World War I of all towns in Britain – perhaps a reflection of the generous spirit of the people who were later so beautifully described as a ‘Pool of Hearts’ by the Fourth Caliph (rh). Today, it boasts a beautiful mosque of our Community. Its honey-coloured walls and rising dome are a testimony to the lasting impression my parents made upon the town.
The first mutual friend Sajida and Dr Hameed made in Hartlepool was whilst my father was training at Hartlepool General Hospital as a medical registrar. Their flat overlooked the medical ward where Pamela Elder worked as a nurse. Pam or ‘Aunty Pam’ as we regard her, would see the young couple walking in the drive with a pretty toddler and a baby in a pushchair. Aunty Pam relates that it was customary for the staff to exchange gifts at Christmas, so she took some gifts to my parents’ flat. It was this initial act of kindness that was to determine her future path and began my mother’s life as a passionate Dai’ilAllah (caller to Allah). The couple invited Aunty Pam into their flat; it was the beginning of a lifetime’s friendship. Actually, Aunty Pam became like a sister to my mother. In many ways, she was an aunt we knew more familiarly than many of our biological aunts who still lived in Pakistan. My mother began teaching Aunty Pam Asian recipes. Aunty Pam recollects they were friends for several years before Sajida actually began preaching. Religion had not played a major role in Aunty Pam’s life prior to their meeting. However, on the basis of their close friendship, Aunty Pam was aware of the sincerity of her dear friend. My mother gave her a Holy Qur’an and Aunty Pam gave my mother a Bible. The 2 young women would spend many evenings together making a comparative study of Islam and Christianity and cross-referencing these holy books. The discussions provoked them both to further research their respective religions. Aunty Pam relates she then bought some commentaries of the Bible to aid their discussions. During this period, Aunty Pam shared the joys and sorrows of our family. My mother endured the loss of a third child soon after birth but was then blessed with another daughter in 1976 (Munavara Durdana – the author).
In October 1982, it was the auspicious visit of Hazrat Chaudhry Zafrullah Khan Sahib (ra) to our home in Hartlepool, which was to be a turning point for both my mother and Aunty Pam. My mother, who was very hospitable, had begun inviting her acquaintances to gatherings. Her contacts would include neighbours, teachers of her children, parents of her children’s friends, the secretaries of her husband and any other acquaintances she happened to make. She was confident and extrovert and thus defied the stereotypes of her black burqa. It was a mix of such ladies that often numbered 20-30 for whom Sajida would cook a delicious meal, that the venerable Chaudhry Sahib (ra) was invited to address in a Question & Answer Session. Aunty Pam listened to him attentively and recollected the profound influence his words had upon her:
‘When he spoke, he was very inspiring. When you looked at him, you knew he spoke the truth. You knew what he said and did was the same.’
At this point of epiphany, Aunty Pam realised that there was no reason for her not to be an Ahmadi Muslim, as there was nothing that this pious companion of the Promised Messiah (as) had said with which she disagreed. She had already read his book, Deliverance from the Cross and was convinced by the arguments in it. Thus, she took the Bai’at (taking the Oath of Allegiance and joining the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam) in his presence. It was the fruit of eight long years of prayer, passion and friendship for my mother. At the age of 34, she had achieved her first Bai’at or convert to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. My mother had certain distinctive qualities which were to make her so successful in her manner of conveying the beautiful teachings of Islam. When asked what made Sajida successful in her preaching, Aunty Pam replied:
‘She was generous; she would share her last bite of food with anybody. She was kind, honest, generous, trustworthy, a wonderful friend…She lived her faith… She gave people a lot of time…She was happy to listen to their views as well.’
Aunty Pam was initially worried about how her Christian mother, Mrs Elder, would react to her conversion. However, it seems that Divine support was to help a potentially difficult conversation as one day Mrs Elder herself brought up the subject and simply said ‘You’ve changed your religion, haven’t you?’ without any further reproach. Thereafter, Aunty Pam’s mother took care to keep pig meat and alcohol away from her daughter’s food. Partly, this was due to her own fondness and respect for my parents. Mrs Elder often accompanied her daughter to our home and later attended many Jama’at events. Aunty Pam has reflected that her mother thought little of men generally and had only respected two men in her life, Aunty Pam’s father and my father, Dr Khan.
Aunty Pam was the first Ahmadi Muslim in Hartlepool and that made her extraordinary. It seems that Allah Almighty was to manifest His Closeness to Aunty Pam intermittently throughout her life when He disclosed to her future events of personal significance. Around the time that my mother first suffered from breast cancer, Aunty Pam saw in a dream that my mother had been run over by a double-decker bus. She related the dream to Sajida, now her best friend and herself interpreted that it meant that my mother would be overcome by illnesses twice as she had been hit by a double-decker. Indeed, this proved true, as 13 years later my mother had a recurrence of the illness which ended her earthly life.
On another occasion, Aunty Pam dreamt that she had been given a promotion in the Hartlepool Hospital where she now worked as a Coronary Care Sister. She told my mother and soon a senior post was advertised in the hospital as a Clinical Coordinator. My mother told Aunty Pam to apply for the job as she had recently dreamt of a promotion. Aunty Pam observed that in her dream she had been promoted without applying for anything and hence she did not see the need to do so. Aunty Pam’s dream was fulfilled in due course when she was personally approached to take on the job and agreed to do so on her own terms.
By the Grace of Allah, Aunty Pam has remained an active member of the local Hartlepool Jama`at (community) to date. She has served as the local Finance Secretary for several decades and has had the opportunity of Waqfe-Arzi (temporary period of devoted service), providing voluntary coronary care training at the Fazle-Omar Hospital in Pakistan. Her daughter, Tara, has also enjoyed the blessings of Khilafat (the Caliphate). In 1979, Aunty Pam accompanied my mother to her brother’s wedding in Pakistan. There they had the opportunity to meet the Third Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad (rh). My mother requested prayers for the 4-year-old Tara. It is interesting that after a pause the Third Caliph (rh) said that he had prayed for Tara to be intelligent and a bright light. The prayer was quite specific and indeed was fulfilled quite spectacularly. By the Grace of Allah, Tara achieved a First-Class degree from Cambridge University, where she studied medicine.
An Extraordinary ‘Out of Body’ Experience
1981 was eventful in another way for my mother. It was the year she had to undergo a mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer. My mother was extremely positive by nature and her intrinsic faith would never allow her to sink into any form of depression. It was perhaps because of this deep faith that she was blessed with an extraordinary ‘out of body’ experience during her operation, which seemed to determine her future. As she lay on the operating table, she felt that she had died. She saw relatives crying in the corners of her house. She saw her own body lying there and then it was as if she was with her Creator. She felt upset at her death and expressed this to Allah Almighty. She explained that her children were still young (I was only 5 at the time and my older siblings were 10 and 11), and that she did not wish to die. She requested Allah Almighty to return her to the world. Allah Almighty responded that the timescales between the two worlds were different and that thousands of years had elapsed since her death. So, her return would be pointless if her object was to be reunited with her family. My mother responded that surely Allah Almighty was the Lord of time and so could also reverse time? There was a pause, as if God was considering her argument and then Allah – The Merciful, agreed. However, He declared that two signs would prove to my mother that Allah Almighty had decreed this. Firstly, she would not require the blood transfusion given to her and secondly, she would suffer intense pain after the operation.
When my mother regained consciousness, she saw the blood being transfused into her. She began to frantically point to the blood bag as if imploring the doctors to remove it. The words of Allah Almighty still echoed in her mind. My father thought my mother to be delirious; a natural condition, post-operation. Then, my mother’s body began reacting to the blood much to the surprise of the medical staff. She was now on her third pint and usually, if a patient rejected blood it was during the first. The staff were then compelled to stop the transfusion. Thereafter, my mother also suffered acute pain in the area of her operation for 2 or 3 days. When the pain became intolerable, she passionately prayed to Allah Almighty, expressing that she was fully aware that the pain was proof that He had manifested His Decree. Thus, she beseeched Allah to relieve her of the pain now. Allah -the Merciful, accepted her prayer and she recovered. Indeed, the experience was a unique and profound one that I think shaped the rest of my mother’s life. I doubt that after that she ever took life for granted or doubted the existence of God. What amazes me is that this intense experience, this dialogue with Allah Almighty, was experienced at the relatively young age of 34. The following year, my mother enjoyed the unexpected delight of a second son – Abid Waheed Ahmad Khan, (currently serving as the Press Secretary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.) Another son was something she had desired and had even asked the doctors if it would be possible, post-operation. They had dismissed her question as if she was fantasising. Yet Allah – the Compassionate, blessed her with her heart’s desire. Her son was to be an intelligent and pious boy, who would grow up to dedicate his life to the community, something which I am sure would have pleased my mother immensely.
A Life-changing Decision and Obedience to Khilafat
This year was significant for another reason also. It was the year the Fourth Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh), visited England for the first time after being Divinely appointed. My parents now planned to return to Pakistan. My father worried about the moral upbringing of his children in England. My elder sister, Tayyaba, had already spent four years in Pakistan, living with our grandparents and being schooled there. It was time to reunite the family. My mother met the Fourth Calipht (rh) in London and expressed their intentions. The Fourth Caliph’s (rh) response astonished my mother. He said that he did not like the thought of them departing without leaving anything in this country and that they should not go until they had established 10 Ahmadi families in Hartlepool. This must have seemed close to impossible when my mother had only converted one lady at the time (Aunty Pam) and this only after the perseverance of 8 years! Yet, the couple immediately changed their plans and destiny, and indeed that of us, their 4 children. Their obedience to the Caliph meant that there was no other decision to be made. This obedience was quickly rewarded by the fact that the Fourth Caliph (rh) soon migrated to England (April 1984) due to the political situation in Pakistan. Both my parents would have been completely devastated had they returned to a country in which their beloved Khalifa could no longer reside.
During the year of the Fourth Caliph’s (rh) visit to England (1982), my mother organised a Question and Answer Session in her home with the newly elected Fourth Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh). Whenever she held such events, she would invite all possible contacts and would encourage her children to do so. My sister, Tayyaba, invited two school friends who would have been 13/14 years old at the time. Even at that young age, they were impressed by the Fourth Caliph (rh) and later commented to my sister; ‘We were mesmerised by his voice and his turban.’
One significant dream my mother experienced was when she saw the Second Caliph (ra) of the Community in a dream. In it, he said to her; ‘When you are 35, I will do some magic upon you.’ This dream seemed to foretell of a most significant period in her life. At around that age, my mother achieved her first Bai’at (convert) in the form of Aunty Pam. She also launched the first Lajna magazine in England – ‘Kaukab’ and bore her final child – Abid, despite the scepticism of doctors. Thereafter, she did not have to wait quite so long for her next Bai’at (which occurred three and a half years later) and then the rate of her successful preaching accelerated.
In 1985, my mother was blessed with 2 more converts. The first was Beryl Taylor, whom she had known for 10 years. My father had been Aunty Beryl’s family GP and was well respected by her family as their doctor who went beyond the call of duty. Aunty Beryl’s husband was a joiner, who was to help my parents in their first home in Hartlepool. Aunty Beryl relates being impressed by my mother’s kindness, generosity and hospitality. My mother would invite the Taylors for dinner two or three times a week. Such was the extent of her hospitality, despite having three young children. Aunty Beryl relates that she loved the close-knit feel of our family. My mother always cared for many relatives of her extended family who would stay with us. Aunty Beryl recollects that she was impressed how Islam taught caring for all kin and laid strict guidelines for the upbringing of children. She admired the fact that children were restricted and could not go out freely as English families permitted. She said:
‘I loved your religion and everything about it. I loved the fact that you children were so close to your mother. You cared about the elder relations in your family.’
My mother prayed for Aunty Beryl for many years. She asked her if she would like to ‘change’. Aunty Beryl, who had now drifted away from the Methodist Church she had regularly attended whilst young, said she would think about it. There was nothing in Islam which she disliked, but she perhaps lacked the courage to be different. My mother’s prayers were answered. She had prayed that Beryl may receive a divine sign and she told her that. That ‘sign’ duly came. Aunty Beryl dreamt that she saw an Asian man dressed in a white suit by the side of her bed. She relates that she saw the dream again but that the next time the man put his hands out towards her. Allah alone knows who or what the individual in the dream was. When Aunty Beryl related the dream to my mother, she told her that it was a sign and that she must tell her if it recurred. Indeed, a few weeks later, Aunty Beryl experienced the same dream again and now felt the full conviction to convert. She told my mother at the next Friday Prayers (my parents now regularly held a Friday Prayer service in their home). My mother was elated and admitted to her friend that she had prayed for her to receive such a sign. It had been six years of perseverance and prayer which now bore fruit.
The Kaukab Magazine
4 months later, Ronnie Rowsell (her Muslim name was to aptly be Rani Rasul) also accepted Ahmadiyyat. She was undoubtedly the fruit of another noble pursuit of my mother’s, which was establishing an Islamic magazine designed for Ahmadi children. At the time, The Muslim Herald was the only magazine in regular circulation in the U.K. Indeed, my mother was a pioneer, identifying the need for some easy and accessible Islamic literature for Ahmadi children at a time when the Internet was the stuff of sci-fi novels. She was courageous and dedicated enough to herself create, publish and circulate this magazine which she named Kaukab. Within one of the issues of the 1980s which I have kept, she was to write The Story of Kaukab herself. It is a poignant account of what she described as ‘a long story full of setbacks’. She wrote:
‘I thought it was such a tragedy that I could go to the supermarket and buy as many storybooks and comics for her (her daughter) as I like but it was impossible to buy a magazine such as Tashhizul-Azhan…My mind started wondering and I finally thought that we must have a magazine of our own.’
My mother initially struggled to think about how she would finance the endeavour. She had no personal income so she decided to write to the Fourth Caliph (rh) in Pakistan for prayers. She related:
‘I had no money of my own and I was too proud to ask for money, even from my husband. A few days later, Mr Anwar Kahlon, President of the U.K. Jama’at, told me on the telephone that he wanted to print the magazine for me, free of charge. When I asked him the reason for this offer, he offered me the reply, ’Dear child, let’s say that you are doing it to please God, and I want to do the same’.
I reluctantly accepted his offer. In my mind, I had no doubt that it was the result of the prayers of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (the Fourth Caliph).’
The first two issues of the magazine sold but without profit and by the third edition my mother was again struggling to finance it. Her close relationship with Allah Almighty again manifested itself when the Fourth Caliph (rh) himself endorsed the initiative, spurring my father to then offer his financial support. My mother herself related the incident:
‘I wanted a beautiful title page with a mosque, flowers and children on it. However, the cost of such a cover would be astronomical. When I had finished my late evening Prayer, I sat down and had a long conversation with God:
‘This magazine will benefit children, children who do not know anything about You. But the magazine should be more attractive for them so that they read it. Help me if you think that it is going to help them and withdraw Your help if You think that it is going to be a useless venture, a waste of money.’
…It was December 1983 when my husband had gone to attend an Annual Gathering (Jalsa Salana) of the Ahmadiyya Community in Rabwah and I was feeling rather lonely. I telephoned my husband and he told me that Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV had kindly mentioned my name and my magazine in his second-day speech at the Annual Gathering in Rabwah. He had said, ‘Our little girl, Sajida Hameed, has started an excellent magazine for children called ‘Kaukab’ from Hartlepool.’
I was overwhelmed with emotions of joy, gratefulness to God and thankfulness to Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (the Fourth Caliph). Suddenly, it seemed as if the moon was shining and showing me the way in the dark night, when I had lost the way. Now, I knew what to do. I could not shut the magazine down after the appreciation shown by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV. Suddenly, it seemed as though people had started to show an interest. My husband returned from Rabwah and offered to pay the cost of the covers for the next issue.’
The magazine was soon in popular demand by Lajna (ladies of the Community) during its years of publication from 1983-1988. As mentioned previously, my mother enlisted the help of her new acquaintance Ronnie Rowsell, who she met whilst teaching Urdu in a Teaching Centre in Hartlepool. My mother’s motivation for this small job had also been to make contacts. Aunty Ronnie, a bright and inquisitive lady, wished to learn Urdu to better communicate with the few Pakistanis in her neighbourhood. She had also done some freelance writing. My mother approached her to help create the magazine. Likewise, she asked Aunty Pam to be a proof-reader and editor of Kaukab and encouraged my siblings and I to contribute. I recall that I was once thrilled to see a poem I had written about the Holy Prophet (sa) in the magazine, although a little indignant that the final lines had been edited! My brother Abid commented about the project:
‘My Ummi (mother) used her talents. Many of us are guilty of lacking initiative or being fearful and for these reasons, we don’t utilise our skills to the best of our abilities. But a great lesson we can learn from her is that you must take the initiative. The Kaukab magazine was a great illustration of that. I am sure that she did not know how to first publish a magazine, but she had a desire and built a team, many of whom were English…’
Through this work, Aunty Ronnie found herself drawn to Islam. She was also struck by the kindness of my mother and instinctively felt that our home was a good environment for her two daughters. My mother was to take Aunty Ronnie to London, where she did Bai’at in the presence of the Fourth Caliph (rh) in April 1985. Naturally, he was delighted with both my mother and Aunty Ronnie.
Aunty Ronnie would be an active participant in Lajna meetings; she recited poems in Urdu and wrote speeches. To involve Ronnie’s two daughters in the Community, my mother began a weekly Islamic Studies class for them in which she also taught them Arabic. I can recollect that my mother made a lot of effort with them and children of her other contacts. She would give them small gifts and sweets and would provide dinner for any guests she invited in the evening, which was actually most evenings. As children, my siblings and I knew that it was our duty to be on our best behaviour in front of such contacts. My brother, Abid, has recollected how our mother explained to him the importance of behaving well in front of her English friends and new Ahmadis:
‘My Ummi (mother) used to say to me that I had to respect all of the English people as they had given up their lives and sometimes their families for Ahmadiyyat. She used to say to me you have been born Ahmadi so you do not have to make a sacrifice, but they have made huge sacrifices and you must always remember that and value it. This was something both my father and Ummi manifested faithfully, and because of it, they were very patient. If one of the English converts had become distant or perhaps done something that was not correct, then they would counsel them with love and kindness, rather than to walk away or show harshness.’
Indeed, I can remember some of our English aunts often complimenting us, especially my younger six-year-old brother, for sitting quietly throughout my mother’s meetings.
When I asked Aunty Ronnie to describe my mother she said:
‘An inspiration to everybody, in her words, deeds, her looks even…she had a special gift of communicating with people…A beautiful person.’
One of the proofs that my mother had a profound impact on the lives of others was the fact that after her early demise in 1994, Aunty Ronnie felt she owed it to her to learn to read the Holy Qur’an in Arabic. It was something she regretted not doing in my mother’s lifetime. This she then did with our grandmother, Malka Khanum Begum, who lived with us in Hartlepool for many years. Aunty Ronnie had daily Arabic lessons with my grandmother and in an astonishingly short period of nine months, she had learnt Arabic and completed her first reading of the Holy Qur’an. In fact, she was to do this alongside another lady, Christine, who was our final aunty to accept Islam through our mother. The ‘Ameen Ceremony’ (commemorating the completion of the first reading of the Holy Qur’an) of both these ladies was celebrated alongside my wedding in July 1995 in Hartlepool in the presence of the Fourth Caliph (rh), making it a memorable day in multiple ways.
The story of how an extraordinary Community – a ‘Pool of Hearts’ flourished in Hartlepool will continue in Part II of this account.
About the Author: Munavara Ghauri BA (Hons) Eng Lit, is married with 3 children and works as a School Librarian. She is currently serving as the Branch Leader for Bournemouth of Lajna Imaillah – the Women’s Auxiliary Assoc of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and is an Editor for the Women’s Section of The Review of Religions.
 Pledge of Allegiance in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, began in 1889 by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas
 Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas (1835-1908), founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, claimed to be the mahdi and messiah awaited by many major religions.
 A magazine began by the Second Worldwide Head of the Community- Hazrat Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmadra in his youth (1906) for the religious education of youngsters.