Imam Bashir Ahmad Rafiq’s Biography
Chapter 12: A Memorable Journey to England
After having graduated as a ‘Shahid’ from Jamia, I presented myself at the office of Wakalat e Tabsheer. Hadhrat Sahibzada Mirza Mubarak Ahmad was the then Wakeel ut Tabsheer. Both the late Basharat Ahmad Bashir and Hasan Muhammad Khan Arif were his deputies. The Wakalat, as was normal, sought directions from Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II about my posting. Huzoor directed that I be sent to England. Preparations for the journey began to be made
I had been married for three years and had a son, Munir Ahmad. It was my father’s wish that my wife and my child should accompany me. However, in those days the families of missionaries did not accompany them. Without their families, many missionaries had been serving for a number of years in foreign lands.
The financial position of the Jamaat did not allow families to accompany missionaries posted overseas. That was then the normal practice. Therefore, there was no question of the wives and children of those who were being sent abroad for the first time accompanying them. I told my father about the situation prevailing then. He said that there was no harm in trying to seek permission and he promised to pray. He felt certain that the Almighty would accept his prayers.
He directed me to send an application to Hadhrat Ameer ul Momeneen. He also asked me to pray and remain hopeful of the success of my submission. In obedience to his wishes, I sent an application to Huzoor but the outcome was no different from what I had anticipated. Turning down my application Huzoor pointed out that the Jamaat did not have the necessary financial resources to permit me to take my family with me. I wrote to my father and in response, he said:
“Write another letter to Huzoor and say that if you are granted permission to take your family with you, you will yourself bear all the expenses involved and will not claim any support from the Jamaat.”
I sent such an application and Huzoor consented to my request. However, he pointed out that apart from the expenses involved in the journey to England, while in England, I would also be responsible for the expenses incurred by my wife and child.
By the first week of January 1959 all arrangements for my departure had been completed and the Wakalat e Tabsheer issued the relevant instructions. One day before departing from Rabwah Hadhrat Mirza Mubarak Ahmad Wakeel ut Tabsheer took me along to see Huzoor who dictated detailed instructions. He prayed and before departure, heaven embraced me.
From Karachi, we were to sail on the S.S. Caledonia that belonged to the Anchor Line. This vessel carried only one class of passengers.
The vessel was to sail in the afternoon of Friday 23rd January 1959. After attending the Friday service, along with my wife and my son Munir Ahmad I went to the Port. At the time of departure, apart from other friends, Dr. Saeed Ahmad Khan and Dr. Basharat Ahmad were also present. Mr Khaleel ur Rahman, Secretary Ziafat, led a solemn silent prayer and we boarded the ship. Cabin No. B10, which was very comfortable, had been allotted to us. Apart from two beds, there was a cot for the child. Hot and cold running water was available and through a porthole, one could see the ocean.
After leaving our baggage in the cabin we went up to the Deck. Those who had come to see us off remained on the shore until the ship had gone too far out to the sea to be seen.
Anchors were weighed at 6.30 p.m. and very slowly we started moving into the open sea. The setting was charged with affection and I was overcome with emotion. It was a touching scene to see not only those who were traveling but also those who had come to see them off shedding tears. Some sobbed openly and others were inconsolable. My own condition was strange. Turbulent thoughts occupied my mind and I said to myself:
“You have indeed dedicated your life for the service of Islam, but will you be able to carry out its demands? Will you be able to surrender totally your feelings, your life, your belongings and your honor? Will you be able to spend the rest of your life in complete subordination to the will of Allah?”
On the one side, as a Missionary of Islam I was weighed down by the assignment that was being entrusted to me, and on the other hand I was assessing the deficiency in my knowledge. Whilst thinking of my own spiritual weaknesses and insufficient good deeds my heart sank with apprehension. It was indeed a very peculiar state of affairs through which I was passing. These thoughts overwhelmed me and I began to shed tears. With great humility, I raised my hands for prayers and said:
“My Lord, unless You show Your Mercy and Your Grace and be my constant Helper, I will find the responsibility entrusted to me very hard to bear. I fear that I cannot possibly discharge it adequately. My Lord, this worthless person has been entrusted with lofty responsibilities. I am likely to fail unless through Your Grace I am helped and guided constantly. Therefore, my Lord, help me and shelter me. With Your attribute of ‘Coverer of faults’, please cover and conceal my faults and help me through the Holy Spirit.”
After such lengthy supplications when I looked around, I could see nothing but water. The shore was no longer visible. As the ambient temperature had dropped considerably, we went back to our cabin. My wife, Salima was so weighed down with emotion that she seemed below par. This was our first journey taking us across the Seven Seas. The parents of both of us were alive and they had, with tears in their eyes, bid us farewell. By remembering them both, we attempted to warm our hearts. In those days, many who traversed the Seven Seas never returned. Many adopted European customs and settled in the West. Therefore, naturally, the relatives of those who embarked on journeys to Europe became extremely apprehensive. My mother had a heart condition. I was her eldest son. At the time of my departure from Rabwah, perhaps due to the prospect of a lengthy separation she collapsed. I was consumed by her thoughts. Then I recalled what my father just before my departure at Faisalabad Railway Station had said to me. With a halting voice, full of emotion, he said:
“According to your own option you have dedicated your life. No one pressurized you into this vocation. Now you will have to abide by the Covenant that you have made with the Almighty. Drifting away from your Waqf, due to some problems or trials, apart from resulting in a spiritual death, is wholly contrary to Pakhtoons traditions. God forbid, if you ever break your Covenant with God, remember that from then on that will also be the end of my relationship with you. Do not then turn to me as, from that day, for me you will have died. Moreover, if I ever find out that influenced by the European way of life, your wife ceases to observe Purdah, then I will have nothing to do with either of you.”
After resting a while in the cabin all the passengers assembled in the Dining Room for the evening meal. I discovered that at the various tables ladies and gentlemen, all mixed together, and were being seated. Of all the women on the ship, my wife was the only one who observed Purdah. Most women were Europeans and the remaining Asian women regarded Purdah as a ludicrous ancient custom. I sat at a table and asked a steward to take my wife’s dinner into the cabin as she observed Purdah and could not join other men. The steward said that he was permitted to serve only in the Dining Room. He said he would talk to the Captain. In a short while, the steward told me that the Captain wanted to see me. The Captain sat at a separate table in the company of some friends. I sat next to him and we talked as follows:
Captain: "You’ve declined to bring your wife into the Dining Room as she observes Purdah and cannot intermix with other males. As you are going to Europe, how will you cope there?"
Bashir: "Sir, I am going to Europe to make clear to the local population that our ladies hold highly respectable and elevated position in Islam. Purdah is designed to protect the honor and chastity of women. How can I turn away from an objective, which is contrary to my mission in Europe?"
Captain: "In my view, imprisoning ladies in Purdah is tantamount to being narrow minded. If women were given free choice not one of them would volunteer to remain in this jail.”
Bashir: "Sir, my wife is an educated woman. She is intelligent and she has quite happily and of her own will, decided to remain in Purdah. There is no pressure on her from my side. I can prove it by asking you to talk to her yourself. Having full regard to the fact that she observes Purdah you can meet her."
Captain: "If you insist. Would it not be proper that without any third person you two can sit on a separate table in the Dining Room?"
Bashir: "This will be a most appropriate arrangement and I will be grateful to you."
The Captain issued orders and we had the advantage of sitting at a table by ourselves.
At 8 o clock on the morning of 27th January the shore became visible. Almost all the passengers assembled on the deck. The sight of land appeared most attractive as they saw the land for the first time in four days. Around eleven o clock the ship dropped anchor outside the Aden harbor. In Aden, the ships always anchored away from the shore and motorboats were used to take passengers ashore. The Captain announced that to look around passengers could go ashore but must return before 7.00 p.m. as the ship would then sail. The Jamaat has an outstanding historic bond with Aden.
Once when Maharajah Daleep Singh was returning to India it was from Aden that he was asked to return to England. When the British defeated the Sikh Government, they took the young prince Maharajah Daleep Singh to England so that the commotion amongst Sikhs may subside. Maharajah Daleep Singh arrived in London when he was very young. He was housed in Guildford and then he moved to London.
A beautiful Hotel named Cannizaro is situated in Wimbledon. Before the building became a Hotel, it belonged to Maharajah Daleep Singh and he stayed in it for a long while. Daleep Singh had a very cordial relationship with Queen Victoria and he was often invited into the Royal Palace. Once, while they were drinking tea on a balcony in the Buckingham Palace Daleep Singh expressed a desire to have a glimpse of the Kohinoor diamond. The Queen went into her room and brought the Kohinoor. The Maharajah put it on the palm of his hand. To look at it in a better light he walked to the end of the balcony. The Queen dreaded that the Maharajah might throw the diamond away. Daleep Singh, who was very intelligent person, guessed the Queen’s suspicion and said to her:
“Madam! The rightful owner of the diamond would like to present it to your Majesty”.
The Queen repossessed the diamond and appreciated Daleep Singh’s sense of humor. Daleep Singh had an intense desire to visit the Punjab, stay there for a while and meet his near and dear ones. On a number of occasions, he had sought permission from the British Government and finally permission was granted. However, as soon as the Maharajah boarded a ship, the Indian newspapers published the news and with great anticipation, many started waiting impatiently for the Maharajah to land on the Indian soil. There was great eagerness, particularly amongst the Sikhs. To welcome him they made programs to hold elaborate functions. In anticipation, there was merrymaking all around. The Maharajah was seeing visions of an astounding reception and a bright future.
At that point in time, on hearing from the Almighty, the Promised Messiah predicted that the Maharaja would not be able to return to India. Not only did the Promised Messiah tell his friends of this communication from the Almighty, but he also made a mention of it in a Handbill.
On the one hand, there was definite news from the Almighty and on the other; the ship carrying the Maharaja was happily proceeding towards India. In the meantime, the British Government was advised by the Indian Secret Service Agency that the Maharaja should be prevented from returning to India. It was feared that if he returned to the Punjab the movement to hold his Coronation would be revived and strengthened and then the British Government might have to face problems. By then the ship had actually reached Aden.
Accepting this advice, the British Government ordered that the Maharaja should be taken off the ship and returned to England on another ship. That was exactly what happened and that was exactly in accordance with the information from the Almighty.
Before leaving Rabwah, I had advised Mr Abdullah Shabooti, the father of my dear friend Mahmood Shabooti that I would be passing through Aden. Mr Abdullah who lived in Aden was a dedicated and devoted Ahmadi. After having accepted Ahmadiyyat, he had to face innumerable problems but he never wavered. As soon as our ship had anchored, Mr Abdullah, along with a Somalian servant, came on to the deck. He welcomed me with warmth and deep affection. To look around Aden and meet other members of the Jamaat he asked me to spend the whole day with him. He invited me to attend a Reception being arranged by members of the Aden Ahmadiyya Jamaat. By a motorboat, along with him, accompanied by my wife and Munir Ahmad we landed at the harbor. From there, in his motorcar, we went to call at Dr. Muhammad Ahmad’s surgery in Aden. The Doctor was of Indian descent and was indeed a devoted and a committed Ahmadi. Two of his sons were my class fellows in Qadian. We stayed with him until lunchtime, met many friends and exchanged views. After Zohr, along with some members of the Jamaat, we set out sightseeing. Aden had assumed a modern pattern. Tall and stylish buildings had been built on an attractive dual carriage-way. It presented a pleasing picture. In the evening, we returned to the ship. Mr Abdullah’s love and devotion, his dedicated approach to the Jamaat and his firm commitment to Khilafat, left an indelible mark on me. Mr Abdullah was probably the first Ahmadi in Aden.
The ship proceeded towards its next destination. Once again we were encircled by water. Very early on 31st January, when it was still dark, we entered the Suez Canal. Right alongside is situated the township of Suez. On either side of the canal, there were small villages and the local population were seemed engaged in agriculture. Most passengers came out on deck, as the landscape on either side of the canal was eye-catching. At 11 o’clock, the ship entered the Great Bitter Lake in which, at that time, fifteen to twenty ships were already anchored. There are three or four of such spacious lakes along the canal. To ensure smooth flow of traffic some vessels from either side are asked to wait there. Thus, there is no problem in navigation and the traffic flows unhindered. Our ship remained on anchor until 5 p.m. In the canal, ships may not exceed the speed of five miles per hour. While in the canal the ships remain under the control of Egyptian pilots. At that time, to pass through the canal, every large vessel had to pay £3,000 as canal fees. The Suez Canal is 118 feet wide and 30 feet deep. It stretches over a distance of 101 miles. At one end of the canal is Suez and at the other Port Said. It joins the Red Sea with the Mediterranean.
We reached Port Said at 1 a.m. and anchored there for the night. It was announced in the morning that those who wished to look around the town could leave the ship after breakfast. They were warned to exercise great care against pickpockets and cheats. This announcement came as a shock to me as we were to land in a Muslim country where the reputation of the locals was so appalling. We hired a taxi that took us around the town in exchange of 10 shillings. A wealthy person named Abd ur Rahman had built a most beautiful Mosque in Port Said. To decorate the Mosque, beautiful Turkish carpets and Venetian chandeliers had been provided. In the dealings in the streets of Port Said, there was no trace of decency or honesty. It is indeed regrettable and a shame that tourists were often asked ten times the acceptable price. At 4.30 in the afternoon on February 3rd, the ship started sailing towards Gibraltar.
During that part of the voyage, instructions were received from the British Government that a few British soldiers had to be picked up from Cyprus. Therefore, the ship had to make a detour and the next day we arrived at Limasol, a Cypriot port. Offering all kinds of alcoholic drinks at ridiculously low prices a number of small boats came alongside. The European passengers showed great interest and a large number of bottles were purchased. On enquiry, I was told that there were a number of breweries that were able to sell their products at highly discounted prices. So much so that some exchanged a bottle of wine for a packet of cigarettes. We were not allowed to go ashore at Limasol but we were able to view the beautiful township from the deck. Hills covered with greenery presented an attractive panorama.
We anchored in Gibraltar on 7th February. I had an emotional attachment with Gibraltar. When I was a student in the 10th Grade, I was very fond of reading novels unfolding Spanish history. As a result, I had fallen in love with Spain. The Muslim conquest of Spain sprang from Gibraltar. I had repeatedly explored Gibraltar in my imagination and now I could see it with my own eyes. I had strange emotions. In fact, Gibraltar’s original name was Jabl ut Tariq. It is only a rock from where one can survey Spain. It was from that point that General Tariq first scrutinized Spain. He burnt all his ships and announced that there was no question of a return. He declared that they would either conquer Spain or lay down their lives in the attempt. I recalled Iqbal’s verse in which he narrated Tariq having burnt his boats.
When the ship had dropped its anchor at Gibraltar, I continued to pray for General Tariq. I also prayed that once again the followers of the Messiah might be enabled to re-establish Islam in that country. As the ship had to remain in Gibraltar for a whole day passengers were allowed to go ashore and we too disembarked. We offered prayers at the exact spot where General Tariq had made his strategy to conquer Spain. In order to identify the exact spot where General Tariq stood a plaque, with commemorative inscription in English, has been fixed.
There is any number of monkeys in Gibraltar and the British Government protects them. It is said that according to a legend, the day the monkeys abandon the Rock the British Government will have to leave Gibraltar. It is indeed very strange that the British, who have made such great strides in Science, should be so superstitious.
Early in the morning on 11th February 1959, our ship dropped anchor at Liverpool and thus our voyage ended. However, because of very thick fog it was impossible to disembark immediately. Once the fog had lifted, we went ashore and boarded the train for London. We reached Euston station by 6 o’clock. It was strange that at the point of disembarkation from the ship no one checked our Passports. An official sat on a chair and from a distance the passengers showed him their Passports and proceeded. No entry was made on the Passport nor was it stamped.
Those days were strange; there was no need for an Entry Permit and nor was there a problem about Visas. Having retrieved our baggage we heard an announcement that the London train was about to depart and that the passengers should board. That was the first time that we had travelled on a British train and we were deeply impressed with the cleanliness of it. There was no comparison at all with our trains in the Indian Sub Continent. Here they were neat and clean and they ran on time. May our country learn a lesson from the British. From Liverpool, it took us 6 hours to reach London. On either side of the train, we saw nothing but snow. It appeared that nature had covered the land with a snow-white sheet. However, the train was well heated. All of us had taken off our coats and some even removed their jackets. One felt reasonably comfortable in shirtsleeves or in a jumper.
Because it is a Port town, Liverpool is always very busy. Around 1890, in Liverpool an Englishman accepted Islam and chose Abdullah as his first name. His surname was perhaps Quillim and therefore he was known as Abdullah Quillim. He had started an Islamic periodical through which 15 or 20 gentlemen and ladies had embraced Islam. The Promised Messiah has made a mention of his in his writings. This mission died with Abdullah and now no one knew him.
The train reached Euston station at 7.30 p.m. At the platform, the following gentlemen were waiting to welcome us: Imam Maulood Ahmad Khan, Dr. Sultan Mahmood Shahid, Abdul Aziz Deen, Moulvi Abd ur Rahman and Chaudhry Muhammad Ashraf. From the Euston station, we went straight to the Mission House at 63 Melrose Road. This was a three -storied building. Apart from the Imam’s residence on the first floor, it served as a Mission House on the ground floor. Alongside it was another building, 61 Melrose Road, which also belonged to the Jamaat. Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II had stayed in it when he visited Britain in 1955. On the fourth floor I was allotted a flat consisting of two rooms. Both these buildings have since been demolished. That is how our journey ended. .