Syed Adeel Shah, London, UK
Whenever a person decides to join the Ahmadiyya Community, they take an oath of allegiance during an initiation called the bai‘at. The person places their hand on the blessed hand of the Caliph and repeats the words of the initiation. Every year, an international bai‘at ceremony takes place during the annual gathering of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the UK. Among the tens of thousands that take part in this, a reservation is made for only a handful of new converts to place their hands on the blessed hands of the Caliph. From there a human chain is formed as those sitting behind place their hands on the shoulders of those in front. As such, it is unusual for those who are born Ahmadi Muslims, such as myself, to have the opportunity to place their hands on those of the Caliph during an initiation, and so it has always been a dream of mine to somehow have this blessed chance once in my life.
As it were, a Sunni Muslim family (which resides in South London) accepted Ahmadiyyat after an inspiring journey, wherein they saw the Holy Prophet (sa) in their dream and His Holiness, the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, pledging allegiance to our Beloved Prophet (sa). This family watched MTA (the television channel of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community) programmes, and were also given the message of Islam Ahmadiyyat by some members of the Community. The whole family – the mother, three daughters and their son, entered the fold of Ahmadiyyat, but the father did not.
While he openly embraced his family’s decision to convert, he did not feel comfortable with formally converting himself. However, in order to demonstrate his support and open-mindedness, he still attended various annual conventions and even local programmes of the Community. Whenever he was approached by Community members to attend programmes, he would happily comply and took a keen interest in them. I even remember how he attended local meetings and would respond with great feedback, expressing how the structure, brotherhood, love and friendship amongst the members of the Community was incredible and beyond expression. Regardless, he still did not feel comfortable accepting Ahmadiyyat – yet he did not hinder his family in any way. Rather, he would fully support them and would often be their driver, dropping them off to whichever programmes they had to attend.
Three years had elapsed since the family’s conversion, during which the family – including the father who had not converted – attended three annual conventions, and three years’ worth of local, regional, and even national ijtema’at [gatherings]. During this three-year tenure, the family had been constantly and fervently supplicating that their father would also accept Ahmadiyyat. Finally, one day he expressed interest to meet His Holiness (aba).
The entire family was overjoyed. The family believed with firm conviction that seeing His Holiness (aba) in person would change his mind, and that after three years of anxious waiting and prayers, he would also be blessed with the opportunity to pledge allegiance at the hands of the Caliph. However, he rejected all such proposals and comments made about this. His mind was set on only meeting His Holiness (aba) and seeing how things went.
On 17th July 2016, the day finally arrived. I remember it was the day after I had just come back for my summer holidays from Jamia Ahmadiyya [the training seminary for missionaries of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community]. The family was getting ready for their private audience in the evening, and we made our way to Fazl Mosque to meet our beloved Imam (aba).
After Asr [late afternoon] prayer, we waited anxiously for our audience and the call finally came, announcing that the family members should come forward to proceed to the waiting area. After a few minutes, the family was finally called in to His Holiness’ (aba) office. Jonathan Butterworth, the New Converts Secretary, and I were blessed with the humbling opportunity to accompany the family and sit in the back of His Holiness’ (aba) blessed office during their audience with him.
His Holiness (aba) asked about their family background and where they were from in London and was told that the family had all converted, but that the father had not. The conversation was only still progressing when suddenly, the father himself informed His Holiness (aba) that he wished to pledge allegiance at his hand. Everyone in the room was dumbfounded by the unprecedented and totally sudden turn of events – that, too, by the same man who downright rejected any proposal of taking the oath of allegiance on countless occasions.
His Holiness (aba) jokingly asked, ‘Do you want the others waiting in line to become angry, because it will reduce their mulaqat [private audience] time.’
To this he humbly smiled and looked down. Then came a sudden surprise.
His Holiness (aba) turned to me and instructed:
‘Adeel Shah, run and bring back some bai‘at [initiation] forms from the Tabshir [foreign missions] office.”
I was speechless, baffled as to what His Holiness (aba) had just said to me. I had never seen someone leave his office and then return immediately, and so was a bit perplexed. I stood up, but I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Did it mean get the forms filled afterwards? My mind was speaking another language to me! I mustered some courage and asked him, ‘Your Holiness (aba), should I go right now?’
His Holiness (aba) smiled and replied in the affirmative.
I got up, opened the office door, and told workers in the Private Secretary Office what beloved Huzur (aba) had said, and requested them that if they found the forms before I did, they should go and give them to His Holiness (aba). I quite literally ran through the offices, left the Fazl Mosque site, crossed the road, mounted the the stairs and finally reached the office of Tabshir. Respected Abdul Majid Tahir [In-Charge of the office] quickly helped me when I told him what His Holiness (aba) had instructed. My sprint back to His Holiness’ (aba) office was another Olympic session, and I made a mental note to seriously work on my fitness!
When at last I returned to His Holiness’ (aba) office with the bai’at forms, a gentleman working in the office had printed out the words of the initiation, and the light (signalling us to enter Huzur’s (aba) office) blinked on again. We walked in with the form and the words of the bai’at. His Holiness (aba) instructed the father to stretch out his hand and hold the blessed hand of the Caliph (aba), then to repeat the words of the initiation after him. The father later told us all that the spiritual glow which emanated from Huzur’s (aba) blessed countenance was like the roar of a lion, shining as brightly as the sun, and was convinced that this man was a blessing from God.
The father offered his hand forward and held His Holiness’ (aba) blessed hand. His Holiness (aba) then turned to his wife and children and instructed them to repeat the words. This made them emotional – they said that they had observed the initiation of women at annual conventions even before they joined Ahmadiyyat, and had longed to repeat the words of the bai‘at whilst they all pledged allegiance together to His Holiness (aba).
His Holiness (aba) then looked at Jonathan Butterworth and told him to stand behind him, to hold him by his shoulder and to join the proceedings of the initiation. I was now in the back of the room, on my own, wondering if I should approach His Holiness (aba) and join in too. But how could I? I truey wanted to. Every iota of my body, mind and heart relished the thought of joining in this golden moment, but the King had not instructed it. How could I tell him that performing the bai‘at while holding his hands had been a fond dream of mine for a long time? Yet I knew this dream was an impossibility, as holding beloved Huzur’s (aba) hands during the bai’at was reserved for converts only.
Then the Lion of Allah, the King, looked towards me and said, ‘Adeel Shah, you should join us as well.’
I was speechless, full of joy, full of unspeakable emotion. All praise belongs to Allah, who made this impossible dream a reality.
I approached His Holiness (aba), held onto his hand, and for the next five minutes, stood right next to him. I simply do not have the power to express the sheer magnitude of that timeless moment. Such is the might of Allah – He guides whom He pleases and fulfils the humble desires and dreams of even His lowliest servants.
About the Author: Syed Adeel Shah graduated in 2019 from Jamia Ahmadiyya UK – the Institute of Modern Languages and Theology. Ever since, he has been serving in the International Press and Media Office of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.