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Life Sketch – Bashir Ahmad Orchard

Torquay is a delightful holiday resort on the south coast of Devon; and it was there that I first saw the fight of day on 26th April, 1920. My father was a doctor and my mother had been a nurse prior to her marriage. Class distinction existed more than it does today. My parents belonged to the upper middle class. My paternal grandfather had also been a doctor while my mother’s father was an admiral. The only grandparent I knew was my maternal grandmother and she died while I was still a young boy. I had two elder brothers but no sister. The eldest who was three years older than me met an untimely death during the Second World War when the battleship on which he served was sunk in the Mediterranean by enemy action. My other brother, who was inclined towards religion from a young age (and is now a Roman Catholic priest), was at middle age a Protestant priest in the Church of England but subse- quently had to quit his vocation. He took up teaching as a profession in a school. He again had the urge to become a priest and eventually went to Rome to study and train for priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. My mother also became a Ro m a n 46 Review of Religions – July 2002 LIFE SKETCH – Bashir Orchard – UK Bashir Orchard It is with great sadness that we report the passing away of a former editor of the Review of Religions, Bashir Orchard Sahib, in July 2002. Here we reproduce his autobiography of his early life and how he adopted Islam while serving with the Army in India during the Second World War. This article was first published in the Muslim Herald in April 1982. Catholic soon after my brother’s conversion. She was a very religious lady all her life and regularly attended church. My f a t h e r, however, was little interested in religion. One of my maternal aunts had been a missionary in China for forty years and had much to do in helping my brother first become a priest in the Church of England. When I was three years old my father bought a house situated on a hill overlooking Torbay. It was on the fringe of the countryside at a point called Barton Cross. I used to love to roam the fields and woods and also to find my way to the many beaches which were not so very far away. I enjoyed gathering wild fruits and nuts. When in season I used to get up in the early hours of the morning and search the fields for mushrooms before other people appeared on the scene for the same purpose. Those days remain with me as living memories. My brothers and I went to Winchester Lodge Pr e p a r a t o r y School. The headmaster was a keen cricketer who played for Wiltshire. I was in both the cricket and football teams. One by one we left the school as we grew older and moved on to Monkton Combe which is the name of a well-known public school on the outskirts of Bath. I never enjoyed school nor was I a bright pupil. I left school at sixteen without any kind of educational certificate. Once I expressed my desire to become a doctor and I thought my father would be pleased that I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He promptly rebuffed me and told me I could never become a doctor because I lacked the aptitude for diligent study. I left school at the end of the summer term in 1936. During that last term my mother had been granted legal separation from my father and had taken up temporary residence in Bath. Later she settled in Bristol. I was at a loose end and for nothing better to do I joined the army although I was far below eighteen which was the required minimum age. My regiment was the Somerset Light Infantry and my pay was two shillings (ten pence) a day. Life was tough and I did not find congenial companionship as I had been brought up in a more cultured society. I had signed up for seven years but at the end of my second year I wrote to my 47 Life Sketch – Bashir Orchard Review of Religions – July 2002 father requesting him to purchase my discharge which was the only way of terminating my service. He promptly sent me a cheque for thirty-five pounds and within a few days I was home with my mother. It appears that I still had some attachment for army life. I soon joined a Territorial Unit of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Territorials were part-time soldiers who normally did not have to train for more than one evening a week. War clouds were looming on the horizon and on 3rd September, 1939, Britain declared war on G e r m a n y. My unit was imme- diately mobilised and once again I was a full-time soldier. We were sent to France and later moved up into Belgium. The German offensive pushed us back to the beaches of Dunkirk from where the battered remnants of the British Expeditionary Force were evacuated back across the English Channel to their homeland. I remember boarding a boat crowded to capacity with dishevelled and weary troops. Almost immediately I fell asleep and when I awoke the boat was entering Dover harbour. Re l i e f organisations were awaiting to distribute tea and refreshments after which we were dispatched by train to a destination in Wales where, as heroes and not as prisoners, we were billeted in the cells of a local prison. In 1941, I applied for a commission in the Indian Army. I had to present myself before several interviewing boards and finally I was accepted as an officer cadet and sailed for India in 1942 with a contingent of other cadets. The ship was one in a large convoy 48 Life Sketch – Bashir Orchard Review of Religions – July 2002 Bashir Orchard in Army uniform which took two months to reach B o m b a y. Our final destination was Bangalore where we underwent a six months’ course of training before being posted to our regiments as second lieutenants. I joined the 17th Dogra Re g i m e n t which was stationed at Jullunder. Later I was transferred to the Indian Army Ordnance Corps. I spent considerable time on active service in Assam and Burma. Perhaps one of my most memorable experiences was the siege of Kohima in the Manipur hills close to the Assam-Burma b o r d e r. I was one of a motley force congregated on a wooded hill and completely surrounded by the invading Japanese. We were subjected to bombardment and attack for two weeks until reinforcements eventually broke through and relieved us. Supplies were dropped to us by parachute. On one occasion, in particular, I was very fortunate not to lose my life. We were in trenches. I was called away from my position for a few minutes by a senior officer. During that brief period a shell landed in the trench on the spot which I had just vacated. Tw o sepoys who had been near to me were killed. The forementioned event took place in 1944 in which year deeper spiritual inclinations seemed to awaken within me. I was never much influenced by Christianity. I had become quite enchanted with Hindu literature and a close friend of mine was a Brahmin. As yet I had not been attracted in any way towards Islam although I did enjoy reading about the lives of the Moghul emperors in Glimpses of World History by Pandit Nehru. Right up to that time my enjoyment in life were more or less the same as most young men. At sixteen I had become a regular drinker and smoker. Gambling was in my blood. When I was eighteen I had a temporary craze for dancing and, of course, I enjoyed going to the cinema and theatre. Although smoking is not specifically forbidden in Islam and may be considered a lesser vice, it was the hardest of them all for me to overcome. Nevertheless the physical and spiritual benefits gained from discarding that obnoxious habit have been immense. Enlightenment My unit was camped near Imphal which was a frontier outpost 49 Life Sketch – Bashir Orchard Review of Religions – July 2002 close to the Burma border. An Ahmadi havildar clerk (sergeant) who was also serving in my unit concluded for reasons best known to himself that I might be a person to whom he could introduce the message of Islam. His name was Abdul Rahman DehIvi. There were also a number of other Britishers attached to the same unit but as far as I know he never approached any of them. Naturally he had to exercise diplomacy in view of the fact that I was a commissioned officer with whom it would not be normal to discuss or propagate freely his religion. He arranged for a copy of the Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam by Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad( a s ) to be sent to me from Qadian. My spiritual senses were exceedingly dull in those days and for this reason I found much of its contents hard to comprehend. Nevertheless parts of it inspired me and uplifted my spirits. Later on I deliberately left it on the reading table in the officers’ mess but I do not think anybody paid much attention to it. That was more than thirty- five years ago during which time I have read it thirty to forty times and, like the hopeful batsman, I may score my fifty sooner or later. Two weeks leave were due to me and I was undecided where to go. Havildar Abdul Rahman Dehlvi urged me to go and stay with one of his friends in Qadian which was quite an unknown place to me and involved a long journey of approximately a thousand miles. A couple of days later I told him that I had decided not to go. My pronouncement brought such a look of disappointment on his face that merely out of sympathy for him I immediately reversed my decision and promised to go for a few days. Imphal lay about eighty miles from the nearest railway link at a jungle base called Manipur. The two places were connected by a long winding road that snaked up and down and round about a succession of jungle clad hills. This was the first stage of my journey. It took me at least a week to reach Qadian which I then came to know was a small isolated town. Nobody was on the station to receive me as no one had been intimated the time of my arrival. I hired a tanga (horse vehicle) and asked the driver to take me to the home of Mufti 50 Life Sketch – Bashir Orchard Review of Religions – July 2002 Muhammad Sadiq which was the name of the person with whom I was supposed to stay. I was jogged along a bumpy road and then through some narrow streets until the driver stopped by a door in a wall inside of which some steps led up to another door on the level of a roof courtyard. I knocked on the upper door. A chain jangled inside and the door was opened by a white bearded elderly gentleman stripped bare to the waist, no doubt on account of the hot weather. He was Mufti Sadiq. Both of us were surprised to see one another. I introduced myself and forthwith Mufti Sadiq instructed the tanga driver to take me to the guest house where I was accommodated in a sparsely furnished white-washed room. Shortly afterwards Mufti Sadiq came around to meet me. This time he was dressed in flowing robes and wore a magnificent headdress. Later I came to know that he was a companion of the Promised Messiah, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) – and also the first Ahmadi missionary to the United States of America. Next day Mufti Sadiq escorted me around Qadian drawing my attention to various places of interest. I remember asking him on that occasion what was the attitude of the Jama’at towards smoking. He replied that while it was not specifically forbidden it was discouraged. 51 Life Sketch – Bashir Orchard Review of Religions – July 2002 Bashir Orchard with the 2nd Khalifa at the time of his wedding The highlight of my two day visit was an audience with Hadhrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad – the Khalifa and Supreme Head of the Ahmadiyya Movement. This was a memorable event although at that time I did not fully appreciate the significance of his spiritual status. He was seated on a chair on the verandah of his house. I do not remember the details of our conversation though I do remember expressing my view that it was sufficient to follow the Ten commandments in order to live a good life. His answer was to the effect that they were only some general principles which needed further clarification such as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’. I was impressed most of all by his luminous countenance which radiated an intangible spiritual light which seemed to shine from the windows of another world. He scintillated heavenly fight and, as he spoke, a charming smile animated his face. He was an embodiment of energetic repose radiating physical, intellectual and spiritual magnetism which captivated all within his presence. I realised that I was in the company of no ordinary person. Generally I was much impressed by everyone I met. This is what attracted me towards Islam more than anything else. My knowledge of Islam at that time was negligible but I reasoned that if these persons were fruits of the faith then it certainly had something to offer. I was in search of truth and later I was to realise that I had found it in Qadian. A notable event took place in my life in the evening after my departure. I was waiting on the station at Amritsar which is a town about thirty miles from 52 Life Sketch – Bashir Orchard Review of Religions – July 2002 ‘THE JAPANESE WERE IN RETREAT AND WE HAD REACHED A SMALL TOWN CALLED MEIKTILLA. IT WAS THERE THAT I MADE MY DECISION TO ACCEPT AHMADIYYAT. I SIGNED THE BAI’AT (INITIATION) FORM AND POSTED IT TO QADIAN. THAT WAS, NO DOUBT, THE GREATEST STEP I HAD EVER TAKEN IN MY LIFE.’ Qadian. While waiting for my connection I joined some other officers for drinks in the refreshment room. I was suddenly overcome with a feeling of aversion. The atmosphere seemed repulsive compared with the holy atmosphere of Qadian. There and then I resolved to forsake drinking once and for all. One of the first things I did when I rejoined my unit on the Burma front was to throw away all the bottles of alcohol I had in my possession. The army was now on the offensive pushing deeper and deeper into Burma. The Japanese were in retreat and we had reached a small town called Meiktilla. It was there that I made my decision to accept Ahmadiyyat. I signed the bai’at (initiation) form and posted it to Qadian. That was, no doubt, the greatest step I had ever taken in my life. Blessed fruits More than thirty-five years have passed since I accepted Ahmadiyyat during which time I have been beneficially nourished by the sweet fruits of the faith in multifarious ways. Drinking and gambling I have already mentioned that I was shackled to both these vices. Even on my historical visit to Qadian, I carried a bottle of whisky and a bottle of rum in my luggage. Fortunately some higher power or my better judgment prevented me from taking drinks while I was there although at that time I did not consider drinking to be wrong in any way. I used to gamble on horses, greyhounds, dice and card games. Once when stationed at Imphal, I lost a month’s pay gambling on cards with other officers. These were the first two evils from which I was rescued by Islam. Giving in the way of Allah Prior to my acceptance of Ahmadiyyat. I used to contribute nothing in the way of God or towards charity. Islam taught me the philosophy of giving in the way of Allah. Sacrificing what one loves for the sake of Allah wins the pleasure of Allah and earns one abundant reward. I com- menced by paying one-sixteenth of my income and later increased it to one-tenth. Finally in 1967, I commenced paying one-third and have been doing so ever since. Despite the fact that I enjoy only a meagre income, life is good to 53 Life Sketch – Bashir Orchard Review of Religions – July 2002 me in every respect. In addition to Z a k a t I also regularly give Te h r i k – e – J a d i d and Ansar contributions plus payments towards my Jubilee Fund promise and various other appeals. Islam teaches that generally it is better to give in secret but one may also give openly on some occasions. It is because I have been asked to state some of the gains I have acquired through the acceptance of Ahmadiyyat that I have revealed the forementioned facts to show the extent to which I am bound to the Jama’at. I have learned and experienced that money alone does not provide happiness and contentment in this world. Peace of mind lies in the hands of Allah and not in one’s wealth or material resources. Thanks to Ahmadiyyat through which the blessings of Allah flow, I can truly affirm that today I enjoy peace of mind to a degree that at one time I could never have dreamed possible for me to experience. Prayer Ahmadiyyat introduced into my life the regular observance of daily prayers which have proved a source of great blessing and comfort to me testifying to the truth of the verse in the Holy Qur’an: It is only in the remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort (13:29). I am still a novice in the art of prayer. Prayer is more than a routine habit. I have gained much on the subject from the writings and discourses of the Promised M e s s i a h( a s ). They have been a source of inspiration to me. Sometimes it is a matter of wonder to me how any Muslim 54 Life Sketch – Bashir Orchard Review of Religions – July 2002 SOMETIMES IT IS A MATTER OF WONDER TO ME HOW ANY MUSLIM WHO IS ATTACHED TO ISLAM WITH A SINCERE HEART CAN INTENTIONALLY FAIL TO OFFER THE PRESCRIBED PRAYERS AS COMMANDED BY ALLAH…. AN ANNOUNCEMENT BY HADHRAT KHALIFATUL MASIH II APPEARED ON A BOARD OUTSIDE MASJID MUBARAK STATING THAT IF A N Y O N E D U R I N G A P E R I O D O F T E N Y E A R S K N O W I N G LY A N D DELIBERATELY FORSOOK EVEN ONE PRAYER OF THE DAY THEN HE COULD NOT COUNT HIMSELF AS A TRUE AHMADI. who is attached to Islam with a sincere heart can intentionally fail to offer the prescribed prayers as commanded by Allah. Once when I was in Qadian shortly after my acceptance of Islam an announcement by Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II appeared on a board outside Masjid Mubarak stating that if anyone during a period of ten years knowingly and deliberately forsook even one prayer of the day then he could not count himself as a true Ahmadi. Dreams Everybody dreams. It is a normal function of the body. Investigators have ascertained that even animals dream. Since time immemorial God has revealed Himself through the medium of dreams. The Holy Qur’’an and earlier scriptures abound with incidents of persons to whom God communicated knowledge, messages and future events through dreams. I do not recall the details of any dream before the time I accepted Ahmadiyyat. Since then, however, I have had many dreams which I have never forgotten. Throughout the years they have remained with me as fresh and clear as at the time I received them. I will briefly relate three of them which to me are of special spiritual significance. I accepted Ahmadiyyat in 1945. Round about that time I had a dream in which I saw myself meeting Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II in Masjid Mubarak, Qadian. He said to me: ‘In order to live a successful life you must not let sorrows affect you.’ He then raised his right hand in which he held a stick and said with great emphasis: ‘And there is no doubt about it.’ In 1958, I was in Qadian for a short visit. While sleeping in the guest house I saw in a dream that somebody brought me a dish of thick cream and I was told that it had been prepared for Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II but for one reason or another it was being offered to me. I served as a missionary in the West Indies from 1952 – 1966, I saw in a dream that Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II was making me drink from a cup which he was holding to my lips with his two hands. Looking down into the cup I saw it contained milk and a little soaked bread. 55 Life Sketch – Bashir Orchard Review of Religions – July 2002 Whereas I am able to appreciate the significance of these dreams I will not comment on them. Ambition I had no goals or ambition in life before I accepted Ahmadiyyat. I had no plans for the future. During the war, I was a soldier due to compulsory service. I was more or less drifting through life like a capsized boat in the open sea; yet when I was a very young child I was once gripped by a powerful yearning which occurred one night when I was in bed. I wanted to become and do something e x t r a o r d i n a r y. I did not want to pass through life being just one of a crowd. I wanted to be unique in one way or another. At that time I am sure I was not more than ten years of age at the most. I do not recall ever thinking or dwelling on the matter again. It was just a flash of the moment which never re-occurred but must have taken root in my subconscious mind from where later it was to emerge into reality. It would appear that this was brought about through my acceptance of Ahmadiyyat as the following events may suggest. When the war ended in 1945, I returned to England and was immediately demobilised. I went straight to my mother in Bristol where I stayed for a couple of days. I then travelled to London in search of the London Mosque where I introduced myself to the Imam – Maulana J. D. Shams. I expressed my desire to work with the mission and also to dedicate my life completely to the service of Islam. This event has been described by Maulana Shams: ‘After his release from the a r m y, when he arrived in England he stayed for two days only at Bristol with his relatives and so on the third day he was at the mosque in 56 Life Sketch – Bashir Orchard Review of Religions – July 2002 War Medals! London. During his conver- sation with me he expressed his willingness to live at the mosque and become a Muslim missionary. I explained to him the responsibilities of a mission-ary and the required qualifications for missionary work. Eventually I promised him to see to his case sympathetically and would write to him on this matter. He was a little bit upset from my reluctance in accepting his offer readily. After a few days he, however, dedicated his life for the service of Islam unconditionally like other waqifeen. I sent his appli- cation to Hadhrat Amirul Momineen with my opinion that he might be a useful m i s s i o n a r y. I asked him to come and stay with us and to begin the study of Islam. Hadhrat Ameerul Momineen graciously accepted his waqf and Mr. Orchard began to work with other missionaries.’ (Review of Religions, June 1947) Allah works in mysterious ways. He willed that this insignificant individual should become the first European Ahmadi Muslim m i s s i o n a r y. This was indeed a singular favour which Allah bestowed me. The following words of counsel were delivered to me by Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II: ‘At this time you are unknown, no doubt, and unheard of, but soon the time is coming when nations will feel proud of you and sing your praises. So mind, you do not take lightly what you say and what you do. Do not think that your movements are only personal, no, but they pertain to the whole British nation. The posterity will imitate your movements and follow them to the letter … If your movements and activities will be in accordance with Islam, and noble and grand, then they will be instrumental in raising the moral tone of your nation, but if they are below the mark and not in strict accordance with Islam, your nation will be the loser thereby; try, therefore, to set a noble example for posterity otherwise God will have another man to fulfil this task. When Ahmadiyyat will have spread all over the world, and spread it must, no power on earth can impede its 57 Life Sketch – Bashir Orchard Review of Religions – July 2002 destined progress, then there will be reverence for you in the hearts of the people, greater than the one which they have for the greatest of the Prime Ministers.’ (Review of Religions, June 1947) I close this short review of my life with gratitude to Allah for His blessings and favours and with the declaration that all praise is due to Allah the Lord of all the worlds. ____________________________ Maulana Bashir Orchard went on to serve the Jama’at with distinction, first as a missionary in the Caribbean Islands, then Scotland and finally in his native England. He wrote many articles, and served as the editor of this magazine from 1984 – 1993. Among the many features that he introduced, the G u i d e Posts feature was later compiled and published as a book, and the collections of quotations from various prophets and religious texts was published as Gems of I n s p i r a t i o n. It was those quotes which provided the i n s p i ration for the back covers of the current design of this magazine. He also wrote the book ‘L i f e Supreme’. Orchard Sahib was fortunate to be able to perform Hajj in 1993, one of the highlights of his life, accompanied by a young khadim from Oxford. He provided a role model to European Muslims and also to those elsewhere in the world. His manner was such that he appealed to people of all ages and generations who turned to him for guidance and inspiration. He passed away peacefully on July 8th 2002. He leaves behind his wife, three sons, three daughters and fifteen g rand-children and even 1 great grandchild. May Allah grant him a lofty station in heaven, and enable us all to follow his great example, Ameen. 58 Life Sketch – Bashir Orchard Review of Religions – July 2002