Imam Bashir Ahmad Rafiq’s Biography
Chapter 30: Visit to Liberia
In June 1967 Mubarak Ahmad Saqi, who was then Ameer and Missionary in Charge in Liberia wrote to me to tell me that in the immediate future the Liberian President was visiting England. He recommended that, on his arrival, the British Ahmadiyya Jamaat should welcome him. He said that the President’s relationship with the Jamaat in Liberia was both warm and cordial.
I contacted the British Foreign Office and obtained the necessary information concerning President Tubman’s visit to Britain. The Liberian President, after completing his official business spread over three days, settled in the Royal Garden Hotel, Kensington where he had reserved a whole wing. I contacted his Private Secretary and asked for an appointment to see him. He returned my call the next day and told me that I could see the President, only for ten minutes, two days later. Accordingly, I got to the Hotel to meet the President. His staff, which had accompanied him from Liberia, had taken control of the management of that wing of the Hotel, which had been reserved for them. Even a lift was set apart for the exclusive use of the President, his staff and his guests.
I found the President, sitting by himself, in a beautiful, well decorated drawing room. He got up to receive me and after making the normal courteous enquiries, he expressed complete satisfaction and approval concerning the work of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission in Liberia. He said that he had issued standing instructions that Mr Mubarak Ahmad Saqi should be invited to all National functions. I thanked him and then very briefly I gave him an account of the British Mission. When ten minutes had elapsed, the Private Secretary opened the door and signaled to me to leave. I was about to get up when the President said that I couldn’t possibly leave, as I had not even had some coffee. He instructed his Private Secretary to send in some coffee. Therefore, the interview continued for forty-five minutes. We talked on various religious subjects. Although he was a Christian, he believed in the Unity of God and was a champion of religious tolerance. I invited him to visit the Fazl Mosque in London and he very kindly granted my request. He said that the exact date and time could be determined later. The following day his Private Secretary told me when the President would visit the Mosque. I requested that when the President visits the Mosque he should have a meal with us. Accepting our request the President told us that forty people would accompany him. Amongst them would be some Ministers, some Generals and some members of the staff Of Liberian TV and Radio and of course some journalists.
I requested Sir Zafrulla Khan, who was then in The Hague, to join us on this historic occasion..
On the day the President was to visit the Mosque a Chief of the British Police and some Senior Police Officers came to the Mosque to assess the security arrangements. Some local press reporters also turned up. Around the Mosque there was considerable hustle and bustle. At six in the evening, the President, along with his retinue, duly escorted by the British Police, arrived at the Mosque. Chaudhry Zafrulla Khan, Abdul Aziz Deen and I received him. He visited the Mosque where, in some detail, he was advised of its history and its importance. After his visit to the Mosque, he was escorted to the Hall at 61 Melrose Road where, arrangements had been made for dinner. After dinner I presented an ‘Address of Welcome’. The Liberian TV and Radio recorded the entire proceedings. In response to my Address of Welcome, the President delivered a short speech. He started by saying that for the first time in his life no alcohol was served at dinner. However, he said that he was content, as the absence of alcohol had left him in a state of good cheer. He complimented the Jamaat Ahmadiyya clearly. He particularly said that meeting Chaudhry Zafrulla Khan had given him great pleasure. He said that although Liberia was a Christian country and in a way it was the centre for the propagation of Christianity in Africa, he had issued strict instructions that every Faith should have complete freedom to propagate. He expressed satisfaction at the welfare and humanitarian work undertaken by the Jamaat Ahmadiyya in his country. Naturally, the Liberian TV and Radio recorded both the President’s speech and my address. A few days later, these were broadcast in Liberia.
The day following his visit to the Mosque, through a special courier, I received a letter from him in which he expressed his gratitude for the previous day’s function. In this letter, he invited me, as a guest of the Liberian Government, to participate in the Anniversary celebrations of Liberian Independence in July that year. I tendered my apologies for my inability to do myself the honor as Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih III was to visit England in August that year.
In the following year, in another letter the President invited me to participate in the celebrations of the 120th year of their independence. With permission from Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih III, I accepted this kind invitation.
In 1968, the Liberian Ambassador in Britain told me that he had received instructions from the President, Mr Tubman, to make the necessary arrangements for our travel to Liberia. I told him that my wife and my son Munir Ahmad would accompany me. A few days later, I received First Class tickets for all three of us. As our flight was routed through Sierra Leone, it was settled that, for a few days, we would break our journey in Sierra Leone. On 14th July 1968, we reached Monrovia by an MEA flight from Sierra Leone. When I looked through a window of the aeroplane, I could see hundreds having gathered at the Airport. I imagined that perhaps a VIP was traveling in our plane and the crowd had gathered to welcome him. A short while later, Mubarak Ahmad Saqi, the Amir and Missionary in Charge in Liberia, came on to the airplane and told me that the assembled crowd was there to welcome me. He also told me that the Liberian Foreign Minister, representing the President, had come and that representatives of the Liberian Muslim Congress were also present. Most of them had come to the Airport in buses provided by the Government in accordance with instructions from the President.
My heart was filled with sentiments of gratitude to the Almighty in that a day had dawned when a Missionary of the Jamaat Ahmadiyya was being treated as a State guest. On disembarkation, I met the Foreign Minister who told me that he had come to welcome me on behalf of the President. I met all the VIPs and others. All this took over one hour. We proceeded towards the capital Monrovia in a convoy. Escorting us, a police vehicle travelled in front of our car. The Government had arranged for us to stay in the Inter Continental Hotel. The Foreign Minister told me that at 11 a.m. the next morning I was to have coffee with the President. After the Foreign Minister had departed, Mubarak Ahmad Saqi and I talked about various matters concerning Liberia. We visited the Mission House in the evening where members of the Executive Committee were present. The Police escorted us wherever we went. It was indeed a great pleasure to meet the members of the Liberian Jamaat. I was deeply impressed by the dedication of some members of the Jamaat. Repeatedly I reflected that, in the past, there were days when the Promised Messiah (pbuh) lived in the distant and isolated township of Qadian where there were no modern facilities and where the Promised Messiah (pbuc) spent his life in obscurity. He himself said that no one even knew where Qadian was situated. Now, a day has come when in the far-away and dark African Continent there were so many adherents to Islam who, day and night, invoke blessings on the Holy Prophet SAW. Apart from that, there were Heads of Government and State who take pride in showing hospitality to the servants of the Promised Messiah (pbuh).
The following day, along with the Foreign Minister, I went to Executive House, the official residence of the President. At 11 am when we entered his room the President was waiting for us and he greeted me warmly. We were served coffee. Once again, he expressed his great satisfaction at the work of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat.
“I know very well that the aim of the members of your Jamaat is only to win the pleasure of God. Other Muslim groups in the country also approach me but they just seem to want help. They flatter me but I have little time for them. I do help them and give them money, but only reluctantly. Not in exchange for any reward but only to win the pleasure of God, your Jamaat is rendering valuable service in Liberia. They have never held out before me their ‘begging bowl’.”
Then he said to me:
“As your wife has come with you why hasn’t she come to see me.”
I explained that she observed Purdah. So he instructed his Private Secretary to arrange a meeting between his wife and Mrs Rafiq. He stipulated that during their meeting only females should attend. The next day my wife went to see the wife of the President.
On her return she said:
“The President’s instructions were being obeyed strictly. As my car entered the porch of the President’s house a lady opened the door and only ladies were operating the lift. During our meeting, which lasted over an hour, Mrs Tubman and I talked, not only about the Jamaat, but also about the conditions in which women in Pakistan spend their days.”
At the end of the meeting Mrs Tubman gave my wife some presents. At the end of my meeting with the President on 25th July he said that on the following day there was a function in the afternoon to celebrate their Independence in which I must participate. I said that I would strictly adhere to the program chalked out for me as I had come to Liberia on his invitation. At the function on 26th July, the President asked me to sit on his left. On his right sat a Guinean person who had come for the celebration of Independence. He was perhaps the Vice President of Guinea. After drinks and refreshments had been served, the President addressed the nation though Television and Radio. Towards the end of his address, he particularly mentioned me. He also made a mention of the Jamaat in favorable terms. He asked me to stand up and he shook my hand. We stood in that position for a brief period. This was an extraordinary honor bestowed on a Missionary of the Jamaat Ahmadiyya., without a doubt, this was entirely and wholly due to God’s bounty.
The next day, during the meeting at 11 a.m. the President said that the Muslim Congress of Liberia wanted to arrange a Dinner in my honor in which he (The President) himself would be present. Therefore, on the evening of the 27th, a Dinner was arranged in a Hotel. The President asked me to sit on his right. The British Ambassador sat on his left. After dinner, in his presence, I spoke on the subject of ‘Islam in Britain’. The President also delivered a short speech and declared that after dinner he would have me wear traditional clothes worn by Liberian Chiefs. At that function, the British Ambassador also delivered a short speech. He said that he was happy that the Imam of a Mosque in his country, as a representative of the Jamaat Ahmadiyya, had received the honor of being invited as State Guest by the President. At the end of the function, the President, with his own hands, made me wear an expensive and attractively embroidered robe and headgear. In a way I then became a Liberian Chief. This whole function was televised live.
The next day my interview was broadcast through Liberian TV. I took advantage of this occasion and introduced the Jamaat and its activities.
By publishing my daily activities with my photographs, the Liberian newspapers covered my entire tour. The British Ambassador in Monrovia also invited me for lunch. I was also shown hospitality by some elders of the Muslim Congress. This occasion proved most advantageous for the introduction of the Jamaat and to the good work, it was engaged in.
At the end of the Liberian tour when I was about to depart for Ghana, at the Airport, dozens had come to see me off. Amongst others, the Foreign Minister, another Minister, representatives of the Police and the Army, Governor Somomomo and some members of the Muslim Congress, saw me off.