Imam Bashir Ahmad Rafiq’s Biography
Chapter 10: Early Life in England
On 18th February 1959, we left Liverpool, where our ship had docked and reached London Euston Station. At the station we were received by Imam of the London Mosque Maulood Ahmad Khan, Abdul Azeez Deen, Chaudhry Muhammad Ashraf, Moulvi Abd ur Rahman and Professor Sultan Mahmood Shahid. We proceeded towards the Mission House in Moulvi Abd ur Rahman’s car.
The whole of London was brightly lit; the Christmas decorations in the streets and in the shops were still there. Up until then I had never seen such a big city. On our way Moulvi Abd ur Rahman gave us a running commentary on the various historical buildings. Finally, we arrived at 63 Melrose Road (the Mission House) where the Imam had arranged for a sumptuous meal. For the first time in three weeks, we ate spinach with meat and we loved it. During the voyage, for fear that, the meat may not be Halal, we did not touch it.
After dinner, the Imam took us to 61 Melrose Road and showed us into a two room flat on the fourth floor. That was to be our residence.
It was very cold that night and at that time there was hardly any central heating in the houses. Normally coal fires or kerosene heaters were used for heating the houses but in our flat, we did not have either of these. We wrapped ourselves in the quilts that we had brought from Pakistan and even then, we hardly slept due to severe cold. In the morning, we went across to the Imam’s residence for breakfast and he asked if we had spent our night in comfort. I told him that throughout my life, I had never been so cold during the night; even in Rabwah we used an electric heater. The Imam said:
“There is no provision for these items in our budget.”
In the afternoon when Moulvi Abd ur Rahman came he heard our story of the bitter cold through the previous night. Since he was Secretary of the Finance Committee he confirmed that there was no room in the budget but he promised that he would take it upon himself to arrange a kerosene heater. He said that if there was any room in the future he would reimburse himself. In a short while, he brought an Aladdin kerosene heater and he taught us how to light it. Soon the room became cosy and we breathed a sigh of relief. May Allah grant him an exalted station in Heaven. I cannot ever forget this favour.
A few days later, the Imam gave me a list of the members of the Jamaat. He said that there were about two hundred names in the list of which most were students, some of who may have returned to their respective courtiers. He asked me to contact all members and note down their correct addresses so that we may establish contact with them and this may help with receipt of their financial contributions.
After several days hard work I was only able to identify a hundred and forty nine members. That was the total membership of the British Jamaat in 1959. The vast majority of the members were young and only a very few lived with their families. Apart from Moulvi Abd ur Rahman, Chaudhry Muhammad Ashraf and Moulvi Abdul Kareem no other member in the entire Jamaat had a car. All three cars were in regular use by the Jamaat. Whenever the Jamaat called them, they would come to the mission house with their cars. They even paid for petrol themselves. In all probability Moulvi Abd ur Rahman was sent to England as a Commerce Missionary. Later on, having obtained leave from Waqf, he got settled in England and he was a devoted servant of the Jamaat. He had business in various places over the years.
At one time, he had a contract for a canteen attached to the students’ hostel run by Pakistani `. Through him, many members were able to approach and seek help from the Pakistan Embassy. I cannot recall a single incident when Moulvi Sahib declined to assist. He would rush to the Mission House whenever he was called for an errand.
At that time Chaudhry Muhammad Ashraf also lived in England; he was a sincere, devoted servant of the Faith and he was very hospitable. On occasion, he would take friends to his house forcefully and entertain them with good food. His wife, Mrs Ashraf, later on became President of the British Lajna Ima Ullah. She was incredibly hospitable. She entertained those who visited her home but she also brought all kinds of delicacies to the meetings. Many Ahmadis used Ashraf Sahib’s car for their own personal purposes and it was often referred to as the ‘free taxi’ of the Mission House. He always refused even the cost of petrol. I travelled with him many times to places approximately hundred miles from London; he would drive me happily and with a great measure of pride and in spite of my repeated requests would not even let me pay for the cost of the petrol. May Allah be pleased with him and grant him an elevated station in Heaven.
Moulvi Abdul Kareem had devoted his life for service to the Faith and he was enabled to serve in Africa for a long time. For personal reasons he took leave from Waqf and settled in London. Apart from engaging in earning his livelihood, he spent his years like a member of the staff of the Mission and presented himself happily whenever he was called. His car was always available to the Mission and he served in various capacities in the Jamaat. May Allah forgive him and grant him an elevated station in Heaven.
If a list were to be compiled of those who served the Jamaat it would become very lengthy. In any case, this is not the right place for it. Elsewhere I have made a mention of my dear benefactor Abd ul Aziz Deen.
Syed Iqbal Shah who had migrated from East Africa and had settled in London was a person who was indeed gifted with the traits of an angel. Every day, without fail, he would come to the mosque and very happily attend to the work of the Finance Department. In the matter of Taqwa, high morals and good dealings he was outstanding. He was humble, sympathetic and God fearing. Right up until the time of his death he served the Jamaat with great sincerity. May Allah reward him abundantly. Two of his sons, Dr. Wali Ahmad Shah and Mansoor Ahmad Shah are following in the foot steps of their father. Watching them progress in the spiritual field not only gives me great pleasure but the remembrance of their father is also revived.
Another friend, Chaudhry Abd ur Rahman, commonly known as A.R. Chaudhry also migrated from East Africa. He was Headmaster of a school in Uganda. On arrival in England, he bought a house near the Mission House. He took up employment in a school but he spent many hours of the day and night serving the Jamaat.
In 1960, I started a periodical called “The Muslim Herald’. Chaudhry Sahib was appointed Joint Editor with me. He became General Secretary of the Jamaat and until his last day, he remained devoted to the work of the Jamaat. He remained deeply involved in the Jamaat work day and night. His heart and soul were in his desire to serve the Jamaat. To me he was as dear as my own real brother was. His wife, Tahira Chaudhry, taught for many years in English schools but at the same time, she gained distinction in the performance of work for the Jamaat, especially for the British Lajna Ima Ullah. May Allah accept and acknowledge the services of these two.
Another person, Muhammad Akram Khan Ghauri also migrated from East Africa.He settled in a house that he bought near the mosque and remained engaged in service to the Jamaat. He would visit the Mission House every morning and served very happily. May Allah grant him an elevated station in Heaven.
Some sincere friends who were intimately related to me for Jamaat work are still in the land of the living but I am not mentioning their names here. May Allah grant them long lives and shower them with His blessings. Abd ur Raheem of Mauritius had a very quiet temperament but he was exceedingly courteous. He was hospitable and took great pleasure in serving others. He took a great interest in the work of the Mission. He was a bachelor for a long time and had become an expert cook and on Eid and other functions, he would cook for all the guests. He got married rather late in life. Both Bashir Ahmad Bajwa and Daud Ahmad Gulzar were devoted friends; may Allah exalt their stations in Heaven.
In 1959, the British Mission House was spread over two adjacent houses. In 63 Melrose Road was the main office of the Mission. Apart from a basement, it had three Chaudhri Mushtaq Ahmad Bajwa (Imam)
1946 to 1950
. The kitchen was situated in the basement and there were two other adjoining rooms normally used for cooking. There were two rooms on the ground floor, the dividing wall was demolished and instead a sliding door was provided. The sliding door remained open for meetings. Apart from that, there were two other office rooms. There was a balcony on one side. The two upper stories served as the residence of the Imam.
The house at 61 Melrose Road was large and spacious and apart from a basement, there was the ground floor and two other upper stories. When the initial purchase was made, along with the building at 63 Melrose Road, a plot of land measuring one acre was acquired. The house at 61 Melrose Road belonged to an Englishman who became a bitter opponent after the construction of the mosque.
He objected to the call for prayers (Adhan) from the mosque and he even took the matter to court where it was decided in the favor of the Jamaat. During the Second World War when a few bombs fell around the mosque, he put up a ‘For Sale’ notice. However, he instructed the Estate Agent not to sell the house to anyone connected with the Jamaat. Hadhrat Maulana Jalal ud Deen Shams was then Imam of the London Mosque. He sent a British convert to Islam to the Estate Agent and he made an offer, which the owner accepted. Therefore, the house was registered initially in the name of the British convert and then it was transferred to the name of the Jamaat. This house had the great privilege and honor of housing Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II when he visited England in 1955. He lived on the ground floor. When I first came to England, apart from the flat on the top floor, the rest had been let out. Then in 1964 when I was appointed Imam I shifted to 63 Melrose Road.
The house at 63 Melrose Road is indeed historic. During his tour of England in 1967 Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih III stayed in it. Some well-known and famous scholars, leaders and other notables from the Muslim world came to this house. Some are listed below.
President Tubman of Liberia, Crown Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia, King Idris of Libya, Sir Muhammad Iqbal the famous poet, Sir Feroze Khan Noon who later became Prime Minister of Pakistan, Qaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Sir Singhate, The Governor General of Gambia.
Both these houses, i.e. 61 and 63 Melrose Road were demolished after the Mahmood Hall Complex was built.
Majlis Khuddam ul Ahmadiyya existed even in 1959. Malik Khaleel ur Rahman was then the Qaid Khuddam ul Ahmadiyya and he was indeed an active and sincere member. In 1962 the centre appointed me as Deputy Sadar (President) of all the Majalis Khuddam ul Ahmadiyya in Britain. In those days, the Sadar (President) of the worldwide Majlis Khuddam ul Ahmadiyya was based at Rabwah. At that time, in other countries of the world, Qaids were appointed and the name of every Qaid needed approval from Rabwah. In 1964, this arrangement was changed and the Missionary in Charge of every country was appointed Deputy Sadar Khuddam ul Ahmadiyya. As the then Imam, Chaudhry Rahmat Khan, was sixty-five years old, although I was a Deputy Imam in 1962 I was chosen to be the Deputy Sadar (President) of Khuddamul Ahmadiyya U.K.
Lajna Ima Ullah was also in existence and Mrs Naseem was its Sadar (President). Dr. Naseem was a retired judge of the Alahabad High Court. In 1959, he served as General Secretary of the Executive Committee. After Mrs Naseem, Mrs Ashraf served for a while as the Sadar. For many years after that Amat ul Hafeez, the wife of Dr. Abd us Salaam, served as Sadar Lajna in Britain. During the period of her Sadarat, the Lajna made considerable progress; new Lajnaat were established up and down the country and Annual Conventions began to be held. Her close co-operation with me as Imam and Missionary in Charge was inspiring. May Allah reward her abundantly.
In those days the arrangements for heating the Fazl Mosque was substandard. During the winter there were very few who offered Nimaz (Salat) in the mosque and as heating was expensive, from November to Easter the mosque normally remained locked. Prayers, including the Friday Service, were held in the Mission House. In those days it was bitterly cold in England and in December, January and February and sometimes right up until May, there was snow. The most bothersome problem during the winter was fog and smog. Often if lasted for three or four days and visibility was reduced to only a few feet.
Those days were dangerous for those who suffered from Asthma. I can clearly recall that in 1960 as I was walking towards the Mission House from the neighboring shops when a thick fog descended and visibility was reduced to nothing. I became extremely worried, as apart from the bitter cold I could also see nothing. I stood on a footpath and prayed to God so that He may guide me to my residence.
Suddenly, when I heard someone’s footsteps I cried out for help. Someone held my hand and told me that he was going in the same direction. He said he had some idea of the route and still holding my hand, he took me to my house. I thanked the Englishman most profusely. When she opened the door for me my wife was in a near panic, we both thanked the Almighty. In 1965, all coal burning industrial establishments were taken out of London and thankfully, that resulted in freedom from frequent fog or smog. The exterior of all buildings in London were black due to coal fires. Later on, the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral and other historic buildings were sandblasted and cleaned at the expense of millions of pounds.
In those days, on the two Eids all those present were served lunch on behalf of the mosque. As the Mission was unable to bear the expense of feeding all those present, members of the Jamaat were asked to make special contributions. Throughout the night, in the basement of the Mission House, many members remained engaged in cooking. Until I was appointed Imam, I used to remain engaged in cooking along with other members. In those days, a large number of non-Ahmadis came to the mosque for the two Eids. Some Turk and Cypriot Muslims and Muslims from India and Pakistan also came.
On such occasions, neighbors and some dignitaries were also invited for lunch. In this manner, most of the days of Eid were passed in the mosque or in the garden adjoining the mosque. Most left in the afternoon. On one such occasion in 1931, for Eid ul Azhia, the Qaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah also came. After the meal, he delivered an extraordinary speech on the subject of “Freedom of India.”