Formation of Peace Village
Visit of Khalifatul Masih V (aba)
Lal Khan Malik – Peace Village, Vaughan, Canada
In 1985, the Community purchased a 25-acre plot of land, with a large farmhouse on it, in the northern suburbs of Toronto. It became the central mission-house for the Canadian Ahmadiyya Community and catered for our growing administrative and other needs. It was on this plot of land that the Baitul Islam Mosque was built, inaugurated by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV, Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh, fourth worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Community, in 1992. However, the mosque and mission-house were surrounded by farmlands and most members of the Toronto-area Community lived far away and could not attend prayers at the mosque on a daily basis. Towards the end of the 1990s, the zoning of the area around the mosque changed from agricultural to residential. Thereafter, the whole neighbourhood became like a huge construction site. Adjacent to our property, was a 50-acre plot of land, where builders and developers started planning the construction of houses for sale to the general public. Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community availed of the unique opportunity of residing within walking distance of a mosque and the vast majority of houses were purchased by them. This is how “Peace Village” formed. Thus, Peace Village is situated on the northern and southern sides of our property and is not owned by the Ahmadiyya Jama’at, but most houses in this area have been bought by Ahmadis. The Community was able to have some input in the municipal planning of the area, and hence street names are related to the history of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, like Ahmadiyya Avenue, Tahir Street and Nasir Street.
Initially, when Peace Village was established, the Community had to combat some negative media propaganda from afar (in contrast to very positive reports from the local media). Some media reported that Muslims had started making ghettos in Western countries and Peace Village was cited as being one such ghetto. The main attack came in the shape of an article in Le Figaro, the Paris (France)-based newspaper. It portrayed Peace Village as a female-suppressing, closed Islamic ghetto, which weak-kneed white Canadians had allowed to implant itself in the heart of (Judaeo-Christian) North American Western society. We started receiving a series of requests for interviews about Peace Village from media outlets, from Europe and elsewhere, some of whose staff were based in Montreal. They would travel over, visit Peace Village for a couple of days; would request access to go into people’s homes and would see for themselves the comfortable houses and, at the same time, the Islam-focused yet moderate style of living. They would interview leaders of the Community; talk to people on the streets and children in playgrounds and would have discussions with groups of Ahmadi Muslim women separately, such as working professionals, housewives and university students. They also interviewed non-Muslim inhabitants of Peace Village. At some point, one of these journalists spontaneously admitted that she could not find it in herself to produce the type of report that she had been asked to make. She explained that the Figaro article had reverberated in Europe, especially in France, where the word “ghetto” had conjured up images of poor, uneducated and restless “Islamist” neighbourhoods, akin to the underprivileged and problem-ridden suburbs of many French cities. Media organisations were sending print and television journalists to visit Peace Village in order that they might bring back follow-up reports along the same lines. In short, after meeting with us, the media were astonished to observe how intimately we were integrating with, and adding value to, the local community. As a result they wrote about us in a very positive light and this became an excellent means of presenting the true teachings of Islam. Thus, what started as a hostile media attack, ended up, by God’s grace, as a series of very positive reports on Peace Village that countered the picture created by the original article. The latest of those reports was broadcast on the Swiss RTS channel on 5th December 2012.
Guiding Lights – Visits to Canada of the Khulafah (Successors to the Promised Messiahas)
Canada has been fortunate to have been blessed with visits from the last three Khulafah of the Ahmadiyya Community. Hazrat Mirza Nasir Ahmadrh, Khalifatul Masih III, the third worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, visited in August 1976 and then again in September 1980. During this period, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh made a private visit to North America and visited Canada in 1978.
After his divine appointment to Khilafat, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh Khalifatul Masih IV, fourth worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, visited Canada 7 times. He first visited in September 1986 and then in 1987, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1996 and 1997. The year 1989 was the Jubilee year of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at. Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh visited many countries around the world for the Ahmadiyya Centenary. When he visited Canada, the Ahmadiyya Community Canada held a reception in Westin Harbour Castle Hotel, a famous location in downtown Toronto, where many dignitaries were invited. It was here that Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh made the famous statement, “I pray that Canada becomes the whole world and the whole world becomes Canada,” after being so moved by the civility, kindness and outpouring of affection from Canadians. This was a significant visit and Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh was greatly moved by the warm hospitality and affection extended to him.
In 2004, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba, Khalifatul Masih V, fifth and current worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, made his first visit to Canada, a year after being divinely appointed as the Khilafah. This was an especially joyful occasion; firstly because it was the first visit of the new Khalifah and secondly, because it was the first visit of a Khalifah in 7 years. It was an emotional tour as this was the first opportunity for Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaba to meet Canadian Ahmadis in Canada. The love and affection of members of the Community towards their Khalifah was evident throughout the visit. Although His Holiness stayed in Peace Village, touching scenes were visible wherever he travelled to in Canada. Men, women, children, elders and youngsters shed tears in response to seeing His Holiness. That visit was a very moving experience for all of us; we were able to feel the outpouring of emotions after there had been a lengthy gap between the visits of the Khalifahaba.
The last time His Holiness visited Canada (before his 2012 visit) was in 2008. One incident during that visit is quite unforgettable. At our old mission house, members of the Community had gathered for an opportunity to do musafah (shake hands) with His Holiness. Although arrangements were made to accommodate the members in marquees, the response to meet His Holiness was so overwhelming that the queues stretched outside into an open space. On that particular day it was raining, but members of the community did not mind standing in the rain from 30 minutes to an hour, only to have the blessed opportunity to shake His Holiness’s hand.
When His Holiness visited Canada in 2012, it had been four years since his last visit in 2008. Many young children had thus heard about the Khalifah, but had never seen him with their own eyes or were too young to remember. I noticed that this time during the visit of His Holiness, these children were glued to him in fascination. Morning and evening, they lined the routes where His Holiness walked to and from the mosque, in order to see him passing by. The time of day was irrelevant. Whether it was the Fajr (morning), Asr (afternoon) or Maghrib (evening) prayer, these children would be waiting in eager anticipation to see their Khalifah. This left a deep impact on my heart. The children had heard about such moments, but now they were experiencing it for themselves.
After Isha’a (night) prayers, His Holiness would sometimes walk in the streets of Peace Village. In the evening the weather was a little cool. All the houses were decorated with lights and word would spread from house to house that His Holiness was walking around Peace Village. People would rush out and wait for him to pass by or would run to wherever His Holiness was. The enthusiasm of the members of the Community cannot be described in words. When His Holiness passed in front of any house, the residents would stand in the balcony or at the main door and the expression in their eyes would be inviting His Holiness to visit their homes. Some people actually requested His Holiness to visit their homes and he would often oblige and grant them the privilege of a personal visit; others wished it had been their home. From one street to the other, a procession followed His Holiness. You may have watched on TV the outpouring of love and affection of the members of the Community for Khalifatul Masihaba (His Holiness), and the love of Khalifatul Masihaba for his members, however for those of us fortunate enough to experience those scenes in person, it is difficult to describe.
One couple came to know that His Holiness was going to visit Canada and took leave for 15 days from their jobs to especially travel to Peace Village. They rented an apartment nearby and spent the entire visit of his Holiness here in Peace Village. Day and night, their only occupation was to stand out on the sidewalk before His Holiness set out for prayers and to say “salaam”. People have different expressions of love and delight and of what makes them happiest. For this couple, it was that they could watch His Holiness passing by with their own eyes.
I was also fortunate to be in the company of His Holiness when various dignitaries came to meet him. I was especially impressed by their humility when they were in his presence. Ahmadis have a different type of love and respect for Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaba, however while an Ahmadi would expect non-Ahmadis and non-Muslims to show respect, they would not assume that they would be as spiritually affected in his presence as Ahmadis. However, I noticed that being in his presence had a special effect even on the non-Muslims. They were truly humbled and appeared to be in awe. Doug White, the Mayor of Bradford, where our new Jalsa Gah site Hadiqa Ahmad is located, was so moved by the presence of His Holiness that he admitted:
“Your Holiness, in your company I do not know what has happened to me. I cannot properly express myself to you. I have never had such feelings before (in the company of) anyone else.”
I noticed that all the dignitaries, Ministers of Government, MPs and mayors would be extremely courteous and very respectful in his company. When they spoke to His Holiness, it was as if they too were members of the Ahmadiyya Community. Whenever His Holiness met any dignitary, he would speak to him or her according to his or her interests and field and impart advice accordingly. For example, one MP had been a minister of immigration. While she was discussing issues of immigration, His Holiness pointed out that an overly liberal policy towards immigration for a country such as Canada would be misused and could lead to the kind of lawlessness that had been experienced by other countries. He advised that the Department of Immigration should be vigilant that the peace of Canada was not disturbed as a result of a liberal immigration policy. Furthermore, I observed also that whatever subject His Holiness spoke on, his advice would always be with reference to the teachings of Islam. In all, His Holiness, the current worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has graced Canada with visits on four occasions: in 2004, 2005, in the Khilafat Jubilee year of 2008 and then most recently in 2012.
Integration into Canadian Society
Being servants of humanity, here in Canada we take every opportunity to serve the wider society. We hold a charity run known as “Run for Vaughan” to raise funds for a hospital in the City of Vaughan, where Peace Village and the head offices of the Canada Ahmadiyya Community are located. In the last Run more than 1000 runners and walkers participated, from various walks of life. The number of participants is increasing every year. The event has been positively acknowledged by all, as a very positive contribution to the City of Vaughan. This hospital will benefit the community at large, of which Ahmadis are only a very small fraction.
Another key contribution to the wider society is the unique platform we provide for interfaith dialogue. We hold regular interfaith events in which scholars of different religions are invited to speak on a topic of common interest. They present the beauties of their respective faiths. We believe this is a significant contribution towards bringing peace between the various communities, living in Canada. We have been holding the World Religions Conference for the past 32 years and it has now become the largest and longest running multi-faith conference of its kind in Canada.
Furthermore, every year, July 1st marks Canada Day. No other religious community celebrates it with as much fervour as the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. In Calgary, the 3rd largest city in Canada, more than 3000 people attended the Canada Day event, organised by the Ahmadiyya Jama‘at on July 1st. If you were to mention the “Canada Day event” in Calgary, many people would understand it to mean the event organised by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, as it is now the largest Canada Day celebration in the city of Calgary. We also hold similar celebrations in other places. We believe that our celebrations are either the most colourful or the largest, because for us it is important to show our love for our land. The Holy Prophetsa said that love of one’s country is part of the faith. Therefore, as Canadians, we, Ahmadi Muslims, know that this is our beloved country. We show our devotion on that day in particular, by having our children sing the national anthem, distributing sweets and by giving speeches about the beauties of Canada and its freedoms. Arrangements include entertainment for children. Guests are served with refreshments. Many non-Muslims look forward to attending our events. Similarly, we have been contributing towards Canadian society by adopting streets in various parts of the country, cleaning the streets on New Year’s Day, supporting Veteran’s Day across the country, just to name a few programmes.
Background to Reception Held by the Premier of Ontario
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Canada has excellent relations with all levels of government, especially with the Government of Ontario. Ontario is where the headquarters of the Ahmadiyya Community Canada is based. The current Premier of Ontario was elected Premier of the province for three consecutive terms. When His Holiness visited Canada in 2008 during the Khilafat centenary celebrations, the Premier was also invited to a reception hosted by the Community. There, he said that when his Holiness next visited Canada, he would like to organise a function in his honour.
Hence, during the last visit of His Holiness in 2012, the Premier held a reception in his honour. This reception reflected the cordial relations the Government enjoys with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The Premier and other dignitaries in Canada have the greatest respect for His Holiness due to his pursuit of international peace. The reception was a demonstration of their respect and appreciation for an international leader, who is championing the cause for world peace.
The Tahir Hall
Last year all our administrative operations moved to the Tahir Hall, a new, multi-use complex, built on the same property as mentioned earlier in this article, and was inaugurated by Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaba, Khalifatul Masih V, during his last visit to Canada. The Tahir Hall consists of 3 floors. The ground floor is a community centre and has a large gymnasium, where the event attended by His Holiness was held. There is also a multi-purpose hall, library and counselling centre. The second floor contains offices and conference rooms and the third floor consists of Jamia classrooms and other offices. Although the Tahir Hall is used mainly by members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, we are open to everyone. We receive many requests from other communities to use our facilities and we try our best to accommodate them whenever possible.
Lal Khan Malik is the National Amir (President) of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Canada