Imam Bashir Ahmad Rafiq’s Biography
Chapter 5: Students Days at Qadian
In December 1944, my father made up his mind to participate in the Annual Jalsa at Qadian. My brother Nazir Ahmad and I accompanied him. From Peshawar, we travelled by train in a railway compartment reserved for Ahmadis. As soon as the train began to move, we offered a long collective prayer. This was my first experience of joining in a collective prayer. All of us were sobbing and wailing and I was deeply affected. Then some young men raised slogans of ‘Allah o Akbar’. Mian Muhammad Yusuf, a jeweler, was traveling in the same compartment. He could not claim that he had a melodious voice, but throughout our journey, in a loud voice, he kept on reciting verses from ‘Durr e Sameen’. At Lahore, we changed to a train for Amritsar, which was not situated far from Lahore. The new train from Amritsar was full of Ahmadi brethren. Only a few Sikh passengers were to be seen. As soon as the train moved out of the Amritsar Station, the whole environment resounded with slogans of ‘Allah o Akbar’. Then there was a collective prayer and I was deeply affected by the wailing. Almost throughout the whole journey, slogans raised by Ahmadis were to be heard. We reached Qadian in the evening and Khuddam, by the dozen, were there to help us. They escorted us to the places where we were to stay.
The next day, after having offered our Fajr prayer we went to a teashop in which a long table had been laid. On the table lay cakes, pastries, samosas and various other articles of food. A servant kept on filling and refilling cups with tea from an urn. We had a good breakfast and at the point of exit we told the owner of the teashop, what we had consumed and we paid him the amount he asked for. I was extremely surprised that the owner of the teashop trusted his customers sufficiently to leave it to them to tell him what they had consumed. This was the first occasion when I experienced this measure of trust. Even now, the impression of honesty and trust then prevailing in Qadian is firmly imprinted on my mind. To me, this was proof enough of the revolution brought about by Ahmadiyyat.
The surroundings and the environment in Qadian were very different from any other place in the World. Everywhere, everyone was greeting and being greeted with the salutation; ‘Assalam o Alaikum’. Apart from that, there was complete calm, amity and silence. At that time many dozens of the Companions of the Promised Messiah were still living whom one met at every step. Close proximity and companionship of the Promised Messiah (pbuh) had brought about a great spiritual revolution in them. These Companions had been transformed into spiritual jewels and gems. Each one of them was a minaret of light. I will name only a few of those who then sanctified the lanes of Qadian:
• Hadhrat Moulvi Sher Ali
• Hadhrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiq
• Hadhrat Sahibzada Mirza Bashir Ahmad
• Hadhrat Syed Sarwar Shah
• Hadhrat Mir Muhammad Ismaeel
• and Hadhrat Mirza Sharif Ahmad.
Overall, because of these Companions Qadian had become a gorgeous, dazzling spiritual park.
Reverting to the subject of the 1944 Jalsa I can say that, in the dwelling allotted to us, along with other Pathan Ahmadis, we spread our bedding on the floor, which was covered with a thick layer of chaff (the outer covering of grains). The straw was not only a poor conductor of heat but it also made us very comfortable. We roamed around Qadian for the whole of the next day. In the evening Pathans from the Frontier Province were scheduled to meet Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II. That was to be my very first meeting with Huzoor. In accordance with our father’s wishes, my brother and I changed into clean and neat clothes. Along with our father, we went for the audience. Outside the room where we were to meet Huzoor, we saw the husband of my mother’s sister Hadhrat Qazi Muhammad Yusuf Sahib, Amir of the Ahmadiyya Jamaats in the Frontier Province. He was to present us formally to Huzoor. The whole atmosphere was solemn. Every one was engaged in invoking blessings upon the Holy Prophet (saw). After a while, the door opened and we filed in. Hadhrat Qazi Muhammad Yusuf Sahib was the first to greet Huzoor and then he sat down on his right. After that, one by one, all of us shook hands with Huzoor. Hadhrat Qazi Sahib introduced each member individually as we shook hands with Huzoor.
I became dumbfounded as soon as I saw Huzoor’s enlightened face. His countenance was so illuminated and becoming that I wanted to continue looking at him. The whole atmosphere was enlightening and fascinating. Huzoor sat on a chair and the lower part of his body was covered with a blanket. The devotees approached him one by one and saluted him by saying; ‘Assalam o Alaikum’. In perfect order, each Ahmadi shook and kissed his hand and then moved on. When it was my turn Huzoor put out his hand as I got close to him. I shook it and kissed it. The mere physical contact with his hand created in me an electric surge and the whole of my body shivered. I was barely thirteen years old then and was a fresh entrant into the spiritual trail. Since that day tremendous love and dedication for Huzoor has been embedded in my heart. Ever since that day, I have been prepared to sacrifice my heart and soul for him.
After our audience with Huzoor, we returned to our dwelling. All of us talked about of our audience with Huzoor. All of us were proud and pleased that we had been afforded an opportunity to kiss the hand of our master.
I have no clear recollection of the speeches that were delivered in the Jalsa. I cannot even remember who spoke or on which subject. However, I carefully listened to every word that Huzoor spoke but I will confess that I did not comprehend much. As far as Urdu was concerned, I was a complete novice. I knew no language other than Pushto.
The hustle and bustle in Qadian during the Jalsa days was worth seeing. The streets had been decorated and were full of people. At prayer times, in the Mosques, every square inch of space was taken. During prayer times the depth and warmth of feelings was noticeable. Sobbing and wails from the worshippers created a unique spectacle. I could not understand why so many people were shedding tears. Nevertheless, these pictures left a deep impression on my mind. After all, I was then passing through a formative age.
On conclusion of the Jalsa, when we boarded the train for our return journey, my father asked me how I had found Qadian. I said I liked it very much and it was indeed a very attractive place. He said to me:
“If I were to get you admitted to a School in Qadian how would you like it?”
“It would be a great pleasure for me. Do please get me enrolled into the School in Qadian.”
To be admitted into the school, the next year, at the request of my father, my mother’s brother, Abd us Salaam Khan took me to Qadian. The Qadian that I arrived at that time looked very different. There was no Jalsa and no crowds. There were hardly any people in the streets. Then I realised that the Jalsa days were over and hence there were not so many people around. However, I was perfectly at ease. The next day my mother’s brother took me to see Hadhrat Syed Mahmood Ullah Shah, the Headmaster of the Taleem ul Islam School. He was very good-looking, had meticulous manners and was soft spoken. His sister had married Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II. He hailed from a highly respected Syed family. Even in later life, I have not seen another so cultured, pious person with superb manners. He admitted me into the eighth grade and gave me a letter addressed to Sufi Ghulam Muhammad Sahib, the Superintendent of the Boarding House. Sufi Sahib was a Companion of the Promised Messiah (pbuh). He taught Mathematics in the School. His son, Mubarak Musleh ud Deen Ahmad and I became friends and our friendship continues to this day. Both of us had the privilege of dedicating our lives in the same year and we have been fellow travellers.
I was settled in the Boarding House and then my mother’s brother who had escorted me left Qadian. This was the very first occasion I had been away from my parents and my relatives. For the first few days, I cried as I recalled my parents and my village. I regarded the separation as a great setback. I hardly knew a word either of Urdu or of Punjabi. I had to communicate with my teachers and other students through sign language. I remained somewhat anxious and perturbed in those first few days. Fortunately, there were another three or four Pathan boys in the Boarding House and I spent most of my time in their company. At the same time, I was learning Urdu. Finally, with great effort, after four or five months, I was able to express myself in Urdu. I was then, to a large degree, able to follow my teachers. The Boarding House was situated in a vast and expansive building. It housed not only boys from India but also from East African and many other countries. As a rule, for our Fajr prayer, we were woken up while it was still dark. After we had performed ablution, we were marched, single file, to the Mosque. There, after the Fajr prayer, lessons on Hadeeth were held regularly and we had to participate in those as well. After breakfast, we would go to the School. Again, from there, we were taken in single file to the Mosque for our Zohr prayer. Similarly, for Asr, Maghrib and Isha, again in single file, we were taken to the Mosque so that there we may offer all our prayers in congregation. The curriculum set by the Government was strictly followed in our School but the subject of ‘Religious Education’ was compulsory. A student’s application for an examination was only sent to the University if he had successfully passed in the subject of ‘Religious Education’. During my time at the T.I. High School and at the Tahrik e Jadeed Boarding House, religious outlines began to erupt in my mind. Mainly due to listening to the sermons delivered by Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II, interaction with the Companions of the Promised Messiah and my teachers I began to adore Islam and Ahmadiyyat. The objective with which the teachers of the school taught us was indeed strange. At that time there was no concept of ‘Private Tuition’. Our teachers would hold special classes, completely free of charge to the students, only for the benefit of those students who needed coaching. In addition, the students were helped with the sincere prayers of the teachers.
Chaudhry Abd ur Rahman used to teach us Mathematics. He was appointed when the school was moved to Chiniot. He attached such great importance to prayers that before the beginning of every lesson in his class he would recite, in a loud clear voice, the Mosaic Prayer.
When the school was shifted to Chiniot, there was absolute helplessness all around. Hadhrat Syed Mahmood Ullah Shah continued to be the Headmaster. I was then in the tenth grade. After the partition of the Sub-Continent, for the first time, students from the T.I. High School were to appear for the Matriculation examination then conducted by the Punjab University. Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II, in a message sent to the Headmaster Hadhrat Mahmood Ullah Shah, said that he had a keen longing to see all candidates appearing for the Matriculation examination passing in the First Division. He said he would pray for the realisation of this wish. He asked Shah Sahib to get the students to work hard so that, at the very first attempt, all the students would pass their Matriculation examination with distinction. In order to implement these instructions from Huzoor, day and night, our teachers made us work very hard. In the evenings, for weaker students, completely free of any tuition fees, almost ceremoniously, special classes were held. Great emphasis was laid on supplications. We were regularly woken up for (tahajjud) pre-dawn prayer when we all prayed with utter humility. Chaudhry Abd ur Rahman continued to teach us Mathematics with great diligence. However, he became prayer personified. All the time he focussed our attention on prayers. Every morning, before the commencement of our lessons, he would lead us in a collective prayer. The days of the examinations were nearby and apparently, we were ready. However, I was very weak in Mathematics and obviously, my teacher, Chaudhry Abd ur Rahman, was also deeply concerned. He paid special attention to me. On the day of the Mathematics examination, he woke up the students very early. In the classroom, after silent prayers, he wrote a few Mathematical questions on the blackboard and asked us to solve them. He said that in this way our minds would be prepared for the test. We tried to solve the questions but found them very difficult. Our teacher solved all the questions on the blackboard for all the students to see. Apparently, he had chosen these questions at random.
When we entered the Examination Hall, in accordance with our normal practice, before looking at the question paper, each one of us raised his hands in silent prayers. When I looked at the Question Paper, I was surprised tremendously. The Question Paper contained the same questions as our teacher had solved for us in the morning. As I had memorised the answers to the questions I solved them quickly and was the first to exit from the Examination Hall. I found Chaudhry Abd ur Rahman, obviously very anxious, pacing up and down the corridor. When he saw me, presuming that I had not answered all the questions and had come out of the Examination Hall in a hurry he rushed towards me. He asked me to let him see the Question Paper. When he discovered that the questions in it were exactly those that he had solved in the morning, there and then he prostrated on the ground to thank God. His neat and clean clothes became soiled. In any case, he was not the sort who would bother much about soiled clothes. He remained in prostration for a long while. When he got up, he embraced me and asked me if I had answered the questions correctly. I said that in my own view I had solved all the questions correctly. He pointed his finger at one of the questions and asked me to solve it in his presence – I did that correctly. I repeated ‘Alhamdolillah!
When the University declared the results of the examination we discovered that every single student from the T.I. School who had appeared for the Matriculation examination had passed in the First Division. This news was published on the front page of the Daily ‘Al Fazl’. A few days later, we were presented before Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II, who greeted us with some Urdu words equivalent to ‘Bravo, Well done’ etc. He blessed us with his prayers and entertained us with some sweetmeats.
Such were the Ahmadi teachers who taught us; they were not engaged in this profession to earn money as their mission had a different objective. The salaries they received were inconsequential. Had they so wished they could get much better pay and other fringe benefits in other schools. However, they did not care. May Allah reward them abundantly and may He shower His blessings upon them.
I continued my studies in the Taleem ul Islam School at Qadian until July 1947. This, indeed, was a golden period of my life. Apart from the education imparted, the spiritual environment brought about a complete change in me. I had opportunities to interact with some of the very senior Companions of the Promised Messiah (pbuh) and I greatly benefited from their prayers. Above all, almost every day, after Mahgrib, I was enabled to participate in and benefit from ‘Majlis e Irfan’ of Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II. Normally these sittings were held in Masjid Mubarak between Maghrib and Isha prayers. During the summer months, the sittings were held on the top of the roof of Masjid Mubarak and in the winter, they were held within the Mosque. By the Grace of Allah, I was enabled to attend these sittings with great regularity. Apart from gaining additional knowledge, I benefited from proximity to Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II. Such sittings strengthened my heart and soul. These sittings enabled me to obey the Quranic injunctions to ‘Seek the Company of the Righteous’.
One single incident that occurred during my school days at Qadian determined the direction of my future life. As a result, I was enabled to devote my life to the service of the Faith.
An announcement was made in our school and in all the Mosques that, after an absence of nine years, Hadhrat Moulvi Jalal ud Deen Shams, Imam of the London Mosque, was returning from England. To welcome the Maulana all residents of Qadian were asked to proceed to the Qadian Railway Station. That day was being observed as a holiday. All the shops, schools and the college were closed. In single file, we were taken from the Boarding House to the Railway Station. Shortly before the arrival of the train Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II came to the Station. The platform was overflowing with the crowds and hundreds waited outside the Station. Fortunately, I was able to squeeze into a gap close to Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II. As the train approached the whole surroundings resounded with slogans of ‘Allah o Akbar’. When the train came to a stop Hadhrat Maulana Shams and Munir ul Husni, who was one of the first Syrians to join Ahmadiyyat, alighted from the train. They walked straight towards Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II who embraced Hadhrat Moulvi Jalal ud Deen Shams. He held him in his arms for quite a while. There were tears flowing from the eyes of both. I was greatly moved by this scene. Judging from the welcome accorded to him I felt convinced that the Maulana had been responsible for extraordinary accomplishments. Particularly, when I saw the Khalifa of the time hold him in his loving embrace for such a long while. I had an ambition that I may also be enabled to serve the Faith so that I too would be blessed with proximity to the Khalifa. On that day, the seed to devote my life for the Cause was firmly planted in my mind.
Until I was admitted to the College, I was enabled to meet Hadhrat Maulana Shams on several occasions. After every encounter, I could detect spiritual progress in myself. While in college, after I had dedicated my life, I had a dream. I saw Hadhrat Muhammad Mustafa (saw) on his feet. His face was illuminated like an alluring moon. He had long hair that covered his ears. On his right stood Hadhrat Maulana Jalal ud Deen Shams and some other Companions whom I did not recognize. Having seen Maulana Shams so close to the Holy Prophet (saw) my great esteem and devotion for the Maulana was further enhanced. A few days later, quite by chance, I learnt that the Maulana was on a visit to Lahore. I went to see him and asked him to have a cup of tea with me. Graciously he accepted my invitation. At tea, I related my dream to him and he said that he would interpret the dream to mean that I would be enabled to serve the Faith.
Before my departure for England in January 1959, I went to see the Maulana and asked him to tender some advice as guidance to me. One of them, from which I benefited a great deal, was as follows. He said:
“When I was engaged in Missionary work in Syria, through me, Munir ul Husni, a member of a well to do family, accepted Ahmadiyyat. Both day and night, with great zeal and vigor, he remained engaged in the service to the Faith. He was thus enabled to make considerable progress. Every day, after Asr, he would visit the Mission House and lovingly he would cook dinner for me. He insisted that we should have our evening meal together. One day, as we sat down for our dinner, I told Munir Husni that there was too much salt in the dish that he had cooked. I asked him to exercise greater care in the future. For a short time, Munir remained completely silent. Then he said; ‘Maulana, you know very well that at home I have many servants who serve me, so much so that when I get home at night a servant unlaces my shoes. At home, I have never even made a cup of tea for myself. When I come here, I cook for you merely to gain the pleasure of Allah. Otherwise, I am not even remotely interested in or trained for cooking. Therefore, if the spices in the dishes that I cook are more or less, since it is not my job to cook, please do overlook my imperfection.”
After relating this incident, the Maulana said that he had learnt a wonderful lesson from this occurrence. He continued and said, “I then realized that those friends who cheerfully serve us do so because of their love for Ahmadiyyat and to gain Allah’s blessings. They do not serve us because of our individual merit. We must, under all circumstances, bear this truth in mind. We should always remember that he who serves us bestows on us a favor and if there is any deficiency in his help, we certainly have no right to criticize him. When you get to England you will find that many older and persons of a senior standing will willingly serve you. Be sure that you do not become arrogant as in fact they serve you for the sake of prestige and honor of Ahmadiyyat and for gaining the pleasure of Allah. In fact, they are not under any obligation to serve you.” I have greatly benefited from this advice of the Maulana. May his status in Heaven be further elevated. I always remain engaged in such supplications for him.
In July 1947 when our school closed for the summer vacation, I went back to my village. In August, because of the Partition of the Sub-Continent, killings and destruction of every kind became the order of the day. Tens of thousands of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians were slaughtered. Hundreds of thousands became homeless. Many rich and those belonging to the upper classes became paupers. I have seen such scenes myself. With my own eyes, I have seen dead bodies lying on the streets. I could not figure out how and why human beings had become each other’s bloodthirsty enemies. Once I went to Peshawar from my village and there I saw a state of affairs that completely shattered me. In the lane through which I was passing, I saw dogs and vultures devouring stinking human dead bodies. There was no one to bury them. I discovered later that these were bodies of Hindus bound for India who had been slaughtered as they were about to board their trucks. All their possessions were looted. The same happened to Muslims in India, particularly in the Punjab.
The Almighty showed a special favor to the residents of Qadian and its neighborhood. Under the leadership and directions of Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II all residents of Qadian safely migrated to Pakistan. Some Ahmadis were indeed martyred but compared to the others the Ahmadis were recipient of Allah’s protection.
In Qadian, during the summer months the mango and rennet (jaman) trees alongside the streets were weighed down with fruit. The produce of some of the trees were purchased by the Boarding House, which, when ripe, was made available to the students. In any case, the Qadian mangoes were famous throughout the Punjab. They were delicious, sweet, fragrant and juicy. Compared with the market rate we could buy these fruits at much lower rates. Jaman was available in plenty but I did not care for it much. During the summer months, a group picnic was always arranged at the canal that flowed at a distance of about two miles from Qadian. Almost all residents of Qadian participated. Food was cooked in many cauldrons (daigs) and each neighbourhood had its own arrangement for cooking. For the students who lived in the Boarding House many cauldrons of good quality pulau and zarda were cooked. Swimming competitions were held throughout the day. The greatest attraction of these picnics was the presence of Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II and other members of the family of the Promised Messiah (pbuh). Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II took part in water polo and swimming competitions. It was indeed a very enjoyable setting. Since then I have never been so lucky.
The fact that after Fajr prayers all the students were taken to the Bihishti Maqbara, significantly contributed to their spiritual well-being. There we were enabled to pray over the graves of the Promised Messiah (pbuh) and some other saintly persons. It appeared that after Fajr the students and all other residents of Qadian marched to the Bihishti Maqbara. At the grave of the Promised Messiah (pbuh), one could often hear the sobbing and wailing.
On 20th December 1905, to serve as a graveyard, the Promised Messiah (pbuh) set apart a portion of his fruit garden situated in the southern part of Qadian; the first person to be buried in the Bihishti Maqbara (Heavenly graveyard) was Hadhrat Moulvi Abdul Kareem. When the Promised Messiah (pbuh) died in Lahore on 26th May 1908, his body was brought to Qadian and he too was buried in the Bihishti Maqbara.