Last summer, a book hit the #1 spot in The Sunday Times bestsellers list. The book: The Great Western Revival by His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), the Fifth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and the leader of millions of Ahmadi Muslims worldwide.
A compendium of speeches never before published in book form, this book tackles the most pressing and important issues of the day: immigration, terrorism, education, world peace and the supposed tension between Islam and western values, all through the lens of the true Islam.
Published by MKA UK, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s youth organisation, The Great Western Revival, befitting its subject, is one of the first books to be sold in bookstores. While the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has published dozens of books through its own publishing branch, those books are sold directly to members online or in at person events.
But given the importance of the book and its relevance to every person, MKA UK, with His Holiness’ (aba) guidance, decided to distribute the book through traditional bookstore channels. Abdul Quddus Arif, current president of MKA UK – and also an Imam and a lecturer at Jamia Ahmadiyya, the training seminary for missionaries of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – explains that unique nature of the speeches inspired the idea that the book be distributed more widely: ‘When you look at [the speeches] all together, they seem like they all stem from the same idea and thought. [His Holiness (aba)] talks about the revival of that golden period in Islam that happened centuries ago, but he also focused on how it is the task of the Ahmadi Muslims, the believers of [the Promised Messiah (as)] to take that baton now and start that revolution and start a revival again.’
But distributing the book through Waterstone’s not only serves as a way to get His Holiness’ (aba) message to the wider world, but also a way to remind members of the community of the rich heritage that Islam has given them. As Arif explains, His Holiness’ (aba) message is also relevant ‘in the sense that there is so much history of Islam and of academia. And how we have inherited so much from our forefathers, and how it’s important that we take that forward as well.’
Although this was a new publication and distribution process, His Holiness (aba) guided them every step of the way. The depth of His Holiness’ (aba) knowledge, and his unique insight, meant that even though this was the first time that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the UK had distributed a book through traditional channels, he was able to advise on all aspects of the project. Despite his many responsibilities – including managing national communities in over 200 countries, reading and responding to hundreds of letters a day from all over the world, and having in-person and virtual audiences with communities, families, and individuals about matters big and small – he was able to guide on the finer details. For example, given a list of several potential titles, His Holiness (aba) himself picked The Great Western Revival. In addition, Arif explains: ‘His Holiness (aba) was leading the project himself, even down to what type of cover it should be. Inside as well – it has a [dust] jacket and whether we should glue the jacket or not, the printing of it, the type of paper, the font, etc., and very minute details that His Holiness (aba) guided us on.’
Still, the project was not without its hurdles. Arif recalls that while they had been constantly trying to become registered as a publishing house on Amazon, they had not been successful. Months went by and they received no response. In addition, the pandemic also slowed everything down. After writing to His Holiness (aba) for prayers, Arif and his team found out that Waterstone’s was interested in listing the book, as was Foyles. ‘It was nothing from our part; it was just literally the grace of God’.
With the book available at Waterstone’s, the next step was publicity. Ibrahim Ikhlaf (the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s head of propagation and outreach department in the UK) put the word out about the book both to community members who were interested in owning a copy and to the general public.
The excitement was palpable. Arif got many calls from those who went to buy the book, saying that as soon as they walked in, ‘the shop assistants would say, “Are you here for The Great Western Revival?”’ Nauman Hadi, the publications secretary for MKA UK, whose team assisted Arif in working on the project, mentioned that ‘one member of staff at a busy London-based store said that she had never seen a book pre-ordered in such numbers before.’ The next week, word came that the book had made the bestseller list, and the week after, that it had become the number one selling book.
When Arif went to His Holiness (aba) and explained that his book had become number one, His Holiness (aba) replied by saying, ‘You should have made [the book] Life of Muhammad (sa) number one’. And that was the impetus for their current project: to publish a biography of the life of the Holy Prophet (sa) of Islam. As Arif points out, ‘for His Holiness (aba) to comment, “Why haven’t you made Life of Muhammad (sa) a bestseller?” – it just shows you that’s where everything stems from – the Holy Prophet (sa). His life, his character, and his words.’
In addition to the opportunity to disseminate His Holiness’(aba) important message, members of the publication team also got a deeper insight into the thoroughness with which His Holiness (aba) prepares everything he writes. Hadi recalls, ‘It was the responsibility of the publications department to publish the book, which naturally required us to read His Holiness’ (aba) typeset words repeatedly to check for typos or mistakes – we were inspired each time and felt that more and more solutions to world peace would arise whenever we would conclude a proofread. But one thing that struck me most of all was the level of research His Holiness (aba) conducts when delivering a speech. His Holiness (aba) regularly alludes to studies, journals, and reports in his addresses. In The Great Western Revival we wanted to include references to everything and gradually began to search and include those in the notes and references section for each address. However, there was one reference which we just could not find. We searched everywhere and spent a good month doing so but could find no trace of the study His Holiness (aba) had referenced. In the end the matter was presented to His Holiness (aba) and we were directed to enquire about this from Abid Khan (Press Secretary to the Caliph (aba)). [He] gave us the name of the author whose book contained the quote His Holiness (aba) had referenced, but when I began to search for the book it was not available. In the end the book was bought from an antiquarian bookseller and when it arrived, I found it to be from the 1940s. The references section was complete.’
In the end, Arif explains that the opportunity to work on the project was a blessing. ‘We worked on something that belongs to His Holiness (aba) and that’s the most special thing. We can’t take any credit: it was His Holiness’ (aba) words, His Holiness’ (aba) design and His Holiness’ (aba) vision, and we just assisted towards fulfilling that.’
About the Author: Nakasha Ahmad was previously an Adjunct Lecturer at Eastern Michigan University and a Graduate Assistant at Bowling Green State University. She currently serves as the Associate Editor of The Review of Religions.