By Munavara Ghauri
How My Mother Began an Extraordinary Community in an Ordinary Town
This is the final installment in our series highlighting the life and accomplishments of respected Sajida Hameed, whose unwavering efforts contributed to the establishment of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Hartlepool. Authored by her daughter, part one told us how respected Sajida Hameed came to Hartlepool, and gave insight into her wonderful personality, hospitality and devotion to her faith. These qualities would play an important role in getting to know new people, and helped her introduce them to an entirely new world of spirituality. The Review of Religions is pleased to present part two of the account of her amazing life.
Another significant achievement of my mother, Sajida Hameed Sahiba, during the 1980s was that she wrote a comprehensive biographical book on the Holy Prophet (sa). She saw a need for such a publication and she fulfilled it. It was perhaps by witnessing such initiative in my mother that I also felt compelled to write a book on Hazrat Amman Jan (ra), the virtuous wife of the Promised Messiah (as) [i], to benefit myself, my daughters and all other Ahmadi women fluent in English. I recollect when my mother gave me a copy of her book when I was 9 or 10 years old and feeling quite overwhelmed when she said that she had written it with me in mind. I then began reading it conscientiously and completed it within 2 days. In truth, I think she had also considered the Islamic education of the growing number of ladies who had embraced Islam through her and were to make our ordinary town, Hartlepool, extraordinary.
Hartlepool Jama’at Continues to Flourish
Soon after Aunty Ronnie, Patricia Duxfield also converted. My mother had met her through our father, who had begun preaching to ‘Aunty Pat’s’ husband. I recollect Aunty Pat always relating of her conversion that it was as if Sajida was able to identify ‘the special key’ to ‘unlock her’. She said that it was her interest in Asian cooking which brought them together. Once again, it was my mother’s hospitality which initially attracted Aunty Pat to Islam. I can remember the long evenings my mother would spend with Aunty Pat discussing various Islamic points but the conversation was always interspersed with jokes and laughter. My mother did not allow the fact that Aunty Pat kept 19 Whippet dogs in her garden and she herself had an intense phobia of dogs to prevent their friendship blossoming! Again, her passion to express the beautiful teachings of Islam prevailed. I recall that my grandmother recollected that sometimes my mother felt unwell or tired in the evenings but she would never hint to such guests as Aunty Pat to leave early. When my grandmother asked why she did not, she replied that if we did not provide an outlet for such people in the evenings, then where would they go? Their only alternative would be pubs and nightclubs and my mother could not tolerate such a thought.
It would not be an exaggeration to state that our English aunts became like surrogate aunts, to whom we were more close than most of our biological aunts and uncles, because it was these people that we saw, ate and prayed with, three or four times a week. Of this period my brother Abid relates:
‘Since I can remember, until the age of around 10 when Ummi (mother) started to become very unwell, all I can remember was almost every night English guests coming to our home…There was always someone who came who would sit in my front room and talk to my father and share food, then on the ladies’ side there was Aunty Pam, Aunty Marion, Aunty Christine, Aunty Vivienne and so many others… One thing I do remember is that the meetings were hardly ever dogmatic or strict. From the women’s side I constantly heard laughing and joking and most of the time it was quite similar on the men’s side, but in between the laughing and joking there were regular moments when both my parents would talk to them about religion and Islam. But above all, I used to find that they would be good friends to these people and extremely warm-hearted.’
I also recollect the love and consideration with which my mother would buy the new Ahmadis Eid gifts at the Eid ul Fitr festival. I am ashamed to admit it, but as a child I was sometimes envious of the attention and thought my mother spent on these gifts for our English aunties and their families. Of course, my parents would give us the customary money gifts that Muslim children receive, but my mother’s time and efforts were focussed on our new Ahmadis. She was always acutely aware that they would be sacrificing a great deal in terms of their religious and cultural traditions such as Christmas. Now, I am grateful to Allah Almighty for having learnt the spirit of sacrifice from my mother. Her moral training (tarbiyyat) was not something I could have ever learnt from a book or lengthy lectures.
1987 must have been a highlight for my mother because it was a year she achieved three Bai’ats. One of these converts was Marion Hedges, a special lady. She was full of life and the wisdom that the experience of her 70 years had brought her. She was the matriarch of a wonderful family, of whom six members converted. She converted after her son Paul (Tariq) and was to be followed by her daughter Vivienne, husband Bill, daughter-in-law Rose and cousin, Lillian. They all converted through the combined efforts of my parents.
Aunty Vivienne would relate a similar story of my mother’s outstanding love and generosity which brought her to Islam. Like others, she was attracted by the warm welcome she received at our home. Of course, my mother had Divine help in her preaching and would offer many voluntary prayers for this task but she also had a rare fervour, an ongoing passion to convey Islam and convince people of its beauties. My sister Tayyaba vividly remembers our mother as she would discuss Islam:
‘Her eyes would sparkle when she began talking about Ahmadiyyat. I would wonder, is that my mother? We would be spellbound.’
My mother was affectionate and hospitable but also courageous. She had great confidence and could say things most of us would be too timid to express. Indeed, the first time she met Aunty Vivienne she happened to be wearing a long dress and my mother laughingly commented, ‘You look like an Ahmadi lady!’ Somehow, my mother’s warmth overflowed, her giggles were disarming and infectious. Speaking about this aspect of her my brother recollects:
‘…As I grew older and became an adult, I realised that there really was something quite extraordinary about it. To have the confidence in your faith, to be able to go up to anyone, whether it be at your place of work, in the supermarket or in the library, and speak to them about religion and immediately invite them to your home, is not easy. I do not remember any rejections but I am sure in her Tabligh (propagation) efforts my Ummi (mother) must have had some, but it never dampened her spirits.’
Returning to Aunty Vivienne, she recollected that my mother asked her if she wished to change her religion about a year after her mother’s conversion (Aunty Marion). They discussed the similarities of the Bible and the Holy Qur’an. Aunty Vivienne knew that her friend wished her to convert and she appreciated that my mother did not push her in this matter. When she highlighted the similarities of Islam and Christianity, she herself became convinced that her beliefs and Sajida’s were fundamentally the same but labelled differently. She was also struck by the cordial welcome she received in our home. She told me:
‘I couldn’t believe how welcoming the people were, how honest, honest with their affections.’
My mother’s kindness and compassion for others was constant and universal. Aunty Vivienne has also reminisced that one evening she heard a knock on her door and saw my mother standing there laden with bags of groceries. At the time she knew that Aunty Vivienne – a single mother with a young daughter, was struggling financially. So, one evening she had spontaneously left her evening meal to shop for her friend and deliver her the goods. It was such selfless acts that were as much the building blocks of the Hartlepool Jama’at, ‘the pool of hearts’, as the theoretical arguments my mother could deliver.
My mother’s benevolence was not only limited to those she perceived to be interested in religion. At one time, she began visiting a middle-aged lady who was agoraphobic. I think my father as a GP doctor had mentioned her to my mother. The lady had not left her home for around 11 years. My mother visited her regularly and slowly began to take her into her garden, always holding her hand for reassurance. Over time, the lady’s condition improved greatly and ultimately she was able to leave her home.
The New Converts’ Forums
Aunty Vivienne’s conversion was to occur in November 1988. My parents’ then felt a need to host a new event in Hartlepool, the Regional New Converts’ Forum. By this period, my father Dr Hameed, had also been blessed with the opportunity to bring some members into the fold of Islam: Mr Bilal Atkinson, Mr Maurice (Mahmood) Threkald and Mr Paul (Tariq) Hedges – the brother of Aunty Vivienne amongst others. My parents now felt they should provide some moral training for the new members. They wanted to give them an opportunity to learn from others and to also provide an arena for those interested to learn further about Islam. It was a weekend programme which subsequently became a regular annual event until my mother became unwell in 1992. Browsing over the past programmes as an adult, I am impressed by the dynamic programmes my parents arranged with both distinguished guests and the new Ahmadis as speakers and chairpersons. They covered a diverse range of topics and included Imam Sahib (Maulana Attaul Mujeeb Rashid) at every forum. I saw that my mother presented a speech on ‘Dreams and Revelations’ and others included ‘My Way to Ahmadiyyat’, ‘Life After Crucufixion; Historical Evidence’ and ‘My Trip to Qadian’. Such a weekend event would not be easy for any group to host, never mind a family to hold in their home. Yet, my mother’s enthusiasm for propagating Islam made it seem the most effortless and natural thing for us to do.
For this purpose, my father converted our large garage into a ‘meeting room’. Guest and speakers were welcome to stay overnight. One reason behind the two-day event was to give the new converts an opportunity to offer the predawn Islamic prayer in congregation, something they may have not done in their own homes. We were blessed with a large 6 bedroom Victorian house and it was certainly utilised to its full potential! The closeness of the community my parents had created was illustrated by the fact that everyone was willing to help. Aunty Pam was also blessed with a large house and would happily offer rooms for guests. Many of our English aunties would contribute to the cooking. Even our neighbours (with whom our semi-detached house was attached) would offer a room for such events, contrary to the reputation of reserve attributed to the English.
As previously mentioned, ‘Aunty Vivienne’ was to convert at our first forum in 1988. An atmosphere of excitement and elation rippled through our house. Later that night, Aunty Vivienne received a call from her mother, Aunty Marion. She excitedly told her that her father – Bill Hedges, had now also decided to convert. He had been waiting for his daughter to embrace Islam, so that she would not feel isolated within the family if he then converted. (As her brother and mother had already become Ahmadi Muslims). Thus, the first New Ahmadis’ Forum in Hartlepool was blessed with 2 people joining the Community.
The second New Converts’ Forum in 1989 was covered by The Sunday Telegraph. When the article was published some months later (March 1990), my mother was to appear in a striking picture on the front cover in full black hijab, alongside her younger sister and an English convert, Tahira Selby Sahiba. The headline read ‘Britain’s Daughters of Islam’. It was a fairly positive coverage of the event. The highlight of these forums however was the blessed presence of the Fourth Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh) for a Question and Answer Session in 1991. I wonder now incredulously how my mother managed to organise receiving the Fourth Caliph (rh) in her home amongst many other guests, all the cooking and cleaning that it entailed, as well as preparing and delivering a speech on ’The Existence of God, According to the Holy Quran’ on the morning of the Fourth Caliph’s (rh) arrival!
Aunty Christine’s Story
It seems that Allah Almighty began intimating the future destiny of Aunty Christine years before her decision to accept Ahmadiyyat/Islam in 1993. Aunty Christine had been raised with good Christian values. Her grandmother had taught her to pray and encouraged her to go to Sunday School. A period came in her life when she had a recurring dream that scared her. In it she would see a shiny, white female figure at the end of her bed. As time went on, the figure drew closer to her in each dream and terrified her. One day, the figure came so close to her in her dream that she realised that it was actually a man not a woman, as she had presumed. His identity remained a mystery. Meanwhile, her husband, Bill Atkinson, was introduced to my father, Dr Hameed, through a work associate. Uncle Bill (later Bilal) was an intelligent and reflective man who became firm friends with my father and converted to Ahmadiyyat in January 1988. Inevitably, he would then visit my father regularly. Aunty Christine would accompany him out of a sense of loyalty although she was clearly conflicted. As a regular churchgoer, my mother’s world must have seemed very alien to her. At times, she would look agitated, yet my mother never minded. She continued to welcome Christine with the same warmth and hospitality she did others. After some months, my parents took the couple to meet the Fourth Caliph (rh). Aunty Christine was shocked as she entered the Fourth Caliph’s (rh) office. The mystery man in white who had appeared in her dreams stood before her! Aunty Christine relates:
‘When I went into his office, I realised that he was the man that had appeared in my dream. He was dressed all in white and his face was glowing, exactly how it was in my dream. I had never seen anybody with such a serene and beautiful face.’
That day a process began whereby Aunty Christine was to relinquish her Christian traditions. Yet, it was not easy for her. My mother understood her reservations and remained patient with her. She had this rare quality whereby she could empathise with people of all temperaments. By the grace of Allah, Aunty Christine converted at the hands of the Fourth Caliph (rh) in July 1993. It was after having read the Holy Qur’an in English to fully convince herself that Islam was indeed the faith to fulfil her life. Her reaction to her first reading of this Divine scripture was one of pure joy:
‘When I first started reading it I was so happy, as the holy people I had been reading about throughout my life, Abraham, Moses, Noah, Lot, John the Baptist, Jesus and others (peace be upon them), all of them were referred to as prophets and all shown great respect.’
Furthermore, Aunty Christine had struggled to accept that concept of salvation in Christianity and so was reassured by Qur’anic verses such as:
‘Remember the time when Allah said, ‘O Jesus, I will cause thee to die a natural death and will raise thee to Myself.’ (Holy Qur’an 3:56)
‘That no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another.’ (Holy Qur’an 53:39)
Aunty Christine writes:
‘I felt in my heart that what I read was the truth. I was so relieved and felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I had no qualms then about taking Bai’at (oath of allegiance). I knew I was taking the right course of action and onto the right path. Even though you know it is the right thing to do, changing your religion is difficult. Allah in His kindness keeps reassuring you in many different ways when you are least expecting it. One of these occasions was later, when I read the Promised Messiah’s (as) book Jesus in India.’
This book was also pivotal for Aunty Christine because she learnt that according to the Ahmadiyya Muslim perspective, Prophet Jesus (as) survived the Crucifixion and then journeyed through Syria and Afghanistan in search of the Lost Tribes of Israel, before he settled and died in Srinagar, Kashmir. Aunty Christine relates:
‘This again made me happy, that Jesus (as) had lived a long life and had fulfilled his task of preaching to the Lost Sheep of Israel. Confirming that, my decision to convert had been the right one.’
By the point of Aunty Christine’s conversion, my mother was too ill to accompany her to London. Instead my elder siblings, Tayyaba and Fareed, joined her and Uncle Bilal on the momentous trip. In this manner, Aunty Christine felt that a part of my mother was still there to witness the culmination of her efforts to introduce her to Islam and what my mother sincerely believed to be a better way of living. Currently, both Aunty Christine and Uncle Bilal are blessed to be serving as local Sadrs (branch presidents) of Hartlepool Jama`at and are two of the enlightened hearts of Hartlepool.
Visits by the Worldwide Heads of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community to our Home
By the grace of Allah, in total, three Worldwide Heads of our Community (the Third Caliph (rh), the Fourth Caliph (rh) and the Fifth and current Caliph (aba)), would make trips to Hartlepool. What elevated this humble, northern town, was indeed the passion and commitment to preaching my parents developed there. For my mother, it was an instinctive, life-long mission. My father was more reserved in nature and did not find preaching easy but developed his skills with prayer and encouragement from the Fourth Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad (rh). I am sure it was because of the recognition of their dedication to the Community that the Fourth Caliph (rh), graced us with his presence so often. My sister, my older brother and I, all had the honour to have the Fourth Caliph (rh) grace our weddings in Hartlepool despite the 300 mile travel. Of course, on any such visits, my parents maximised the opportunity, so our weddings were far from normal! My sister recollects that at her wedding in January 1989, she was dressed as a bride and then left to wait upstairs in a bedroom. My mother was so involved in a Question and Answer Session that had been arranged on the auspicious visit of the Fourth Caliph (rh), that she forgot about the bride. Once the boredom became unbearable, my sister descended the stairs herself and arrived at her own wedding! I am sure the Fourth Caliph (rh) greatly appreciated the events that my mother organised for the propagation of Islam as a few days later he was to honour her with the remarkable comment:
‘Your name will be written in the history of Ahmadiyyat as Queen Victoria.’
My mother was naturally elated and overwhelmed to hear such a statement. She also had a mischievous sense of humour and would enjoy reminding our father about these incredible words of the Fourth Caliph (rh) every so often!
I also recollect that my own wedding day was combined with the 2 Ameen ceremonies (commemorating the completion of the first reading of the Holy Qur’an) of our converted aunties as well as my brother Fareed’s Walima reception. Again, my father maximised the blessings of the Fourth Caliph’s (rh) presence on that occasion. I recollect my father coming in to the room where I was preparing as a bride with various beauty products applied, asking me to help write out the ‘agenda’ for the day. I suggested that he rename the series of events as a ‘programme’ rather than an ‘agenda’, as my wedding day was not one of the usual Jama’at meetings we held in our home! I do feel that the Fourth Caliph’s (rh) presence that day was an extraordinary blessing from Allah Almighty, as it somewhat alleviated the pain of our mother’s absence, since she had passed away 6 months earlier.
In Aug 1997, I can remember a visit of the Fourth Caliph (rh) to Hartlepool, when he sat at our dining table with some other guests and my father instructed pictures to be taken. He told me that this was a very historic trip. I did not understand at the time the significance of the guests present. They were; Mirza Masroor Ahmad Sahib – Nazir Ta`lim Anjuman Ahmadiyya (currently the Fifth Caliph (aba)), who had accompanied his elderly father – Sahibzada Mirza Mansoor Ahmad (Nazir-e-Aala) and was caring for him, and Sahibzada Mirza Muzaffar Ahmad (then President of the USA Jama`at and son of Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra)). Thus, we were blessed with the company of three of the grandsons of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the Promised Messiah founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Having passed away in 1994, my mother was no longer there physically but I am sure the news of such a felicitous visit in her old home on Coniscliffe Road would have reached her. In October 1997, the Fourth Caliph (rh) brought the entire Urdu Class to Hartlepool. It was another remarkable trip and again I believe part of the ongoing blessings my mother was awarded even after her earthly life.
The legacy of my parents’ service to the Community is tangible in the bricks of the beautiful, honey-coloured mosque built in Hartlepool – the Nasir Mosque. The distinction of this small but perfectly formed mosque is that it was the first purpose-built Ahmadi Mosque outside of London. It was inaugurated on November 11, 2005, by the Fifth Caliph, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba). The mosque stands opposite a local church which is befitting; it reflects how my parents happily coexisted alongside their Christian neighbours in a town they grew to love. It was a town my mother could never leave after the establishment of a Community there. If space was not an issue, I would continue to elaborate how my mother further expanded the Ahmadi Muslim Community there which the Fourth Caliph (rh) would beautifully describe as ‘Hartlepool -The Pool of Hearts.’ What my mother achieved by the age of 47 was unique and a lesson to us all that nothing is impossible with Divine help and persistence. It is fitting I end with the greatest tribute my mother received which was by the Fourth Caliph (rh), during the Friday sermon following her passing. He said:
‘Normally, I perform funeral prayers in absentia alongside normal funeral prayers, but in this country she did such a distinct work that I wish for that reason that her funeral in absentia be performed in a distinct manner, and that in it the entire world may participate. When I came to England, then in the beginning, in the very early days, husband and wife Dr Hameed and Sajida wrote to me, ‘We wish that we may go back…So please permit us, then we may go back,’ I said to them, especially addressing Sajida, ‘What will you leave behind you? You have not made a Jama’at– I do not in my heart wish to send you back empty-handed. So you may go, but delay this decision for a little while and try and may Allah give you the opportunity, that a Jama’at may be established here…’
The Fourth Caliph (rh) continued:
‘…When they were blessed with the opportunity to establish a Jama’at, then how could they go? Of her spiritual children, she was now the spiritual mother, she did such moral training and there was so much love between them, that after her passing, our members who went there, to participate in the funeral, they tell us that there was such an apparent outpouring of love from those English people, who accepted Islam through Sajida’s favours and had been very well morally trained, and in England it was the one Jama’at, perhaps it is still the only one at present, in which English people prevailed, and in which foreigners were relatively less, and very good moral training – that is where English ways which are permissible without sacrificing Islamic values, were adopted…So, when the question arose where to bury the coffin, I said to Dr Hameed – bury her there, it is the right of that land now to keep her there.’ (9th Dec 1994)
I enjoyed the love and guidance of my parents for the first 23 years of my life and I would never change the blessing of such exceptional parents for a longer time with others. My mother’s grave lies in Stranton Cemetery, Hartlepool, alongside my father’s – Dr Hameed Ahmad Khan (1942-2000). There they continue to remain side by side as they had done in life. They rest in a special strip of land my father purchased for the use of Ahmadi Muslims. Close to them are the graves of other Ahmadis, those of the English Ahmadi family they created in Hartlepool -‘the Pool of Hearts.’ Surely to Allah we belong and to Him shall we return.’ (Holy Qur’an, 2:157)
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.
[i] Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) (1835-1908), founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.