Imam Bashir Ahmad Rafiq’s Biography
Chapter 2: Village
I recall watching peasants of the village, after a day’s hard toil, singing songs in their melodious voices, driving flocks of their animal home, as treasures of my earliest recollections. They would be singing aloud.
My village Mohib Banda is situated right in the midst of the agricultural fields. A few miles from my village, impatiently, in turbulent rapid waves, the water of the river Kabul joins the river Sindh at Attok. At sunset, every day, standing on the bank of the river, I would survey the beautiful panorama. On occasion, during moonlit nights, humming a tune, I would watch the reflection of the moon in the waves. Even now, like a movie, these scenes are embedded in my memory. Recollecting those moments, even now, I amuse myself. That was the village where I was born. Although, for education and other pursuits, I had to stay away for long periods, I would invariably spend my summer vacation in the village. I used to enjoy the pure, clean and fragrant environment.
My village is neither big nor small; it only has a population of a few hundred. Various Pathan tribes live in it and they freely intermingle with each other. I belong to the Jamaryani tribe of the Israelites. This is one of those tribes who were taken into custody by King Nabukad Nazr and then exiled from Palestine. Some of them were settled in Afghanistan, the Frontier Province and Kashmir. Along with other Israelite tribes, in his book ‘Jesus in India’, the Promised Messiah has referred to the Jamaryani tribe.
Hujra is quite an institution amongst the Pukhtoons, without which no village or a group of dwellings can be considered complete. Mostly young boys spend many hours of a day and sometimes-even nights in the Hujras. However, in the afternoon, until the sunset the seniors and the aged of the village gather there. Normally a Hujra consisted of one or more rooms and a courtyard. It served as a rural club. During the winter, people got together in the room/s and in the summer, they assembled out in the open courtyard. At night, after the seniors and the aged had returned to their houses the Hujra was monopolised by youngsters. They took turns at the hubble-bubble. Instead of Tabla, stringed musical instruments and indigenous guitars, a Ghara, an earthenware vessel, would suffice. Along with others, Pushto songs Tappays and Badalahs were sung. A Tappa can be described as an amatory verse. With the help of a musical instrument, recalling events of romance or armed conflicts, Badalahs were often sung in a melodious voice. During my childhood, I can recall, romantic tales of Adam Khan Durkhanay were sung with the help of some musical instruments. In a similar fashion tales of the famous Dacoits like Chamnay Khan, were also sung with great gusto. Such sittings would often last until late at night.
However, a Hujra would be the property of one individual; all residents of the village had free access to it. At the same time, it served as a guesthouse and a club for the youth. The old and the aged also assembled there for consultations. Some youngsters, before they got married, would even sleep there. The owner of a Hujra would provide water and tobacco. The owner would also be responsible for keeping the guests well provided.
There were many Hujras in our village. One of them belonged to my father, which consisted of three large rooms. It was constructed with a mixture of burnt and sunburnt bricks. The adjoining courtyard measured four kanals. In it was a Chopal, which could, at a time, accommodate fifteen cots. In one of the rooms, there were cupboards, in which were kept books of my father’s library. Pictures of the Promised Messiah, Jesus Christ and Guru Baba Nanak were hung on the walls. The other two rooms were for miscellaneous purposes. The land between the Hujra and the river was kept vacant. During the summer months, in the afternoons, a cool breeze from the river reached the Hujra directly. In the intense heat of the summer, those who took refuge in the Hujra found it serene. Our house was only a short distance from the Hujra. On Sundays, Ahmadi friends from Peshawar and Nowshera would also stay in the Hujra. Some would shoot wild ducks. During my childhood, my father had a boat, which was used for shooting. Meals for guests were prepared in the house and it was quite a job to carry the food to the Hujra.
My mother was a cook of a very high order. She was particularly good at cooking Pulao and for early morning breakfast some Parathas. Occasionally, visitors from Peshawar and Nowshera would particularly ask for the Parathas. Those days were strange indeed. When two Ahmadis met, it seemed like a reunion of two real brothers. As introduction, just a mention that you were an Ahmadi was more than enough.
When during the Second World War soldiers were to be recruited in our village, I can recall the incident. Many young men of the village, suitably adorned in clean clothes turned up to wait for the Major who was to visit the village for recruitment. They had all assembled in a Hujra situated at a short distance from ours. On his arrival, the Major was seated on a special chair and the process of recruitment began. Every young man seemed keenly desirous of joining the Army. The Major suspended recruitment when it was time for the midday meal. A special meal had been cooked for the Major. He said to the owner of the Hujra that he had heard that an Ahmadi person lived in the village and said he wanted to meet him. The owner of the Hujra sent an errand boy to our house. I was present in the village but my father was not. I walked across to the Hujra where the Major took me indoors and said: “My name is Dr Shahnawaz. By profession, I am a Physician and I hold the rank of a Major. By the Grace of Allah, I am an Ahmadi. Are you also an Ahmadi?” I told him that by the Grace of Allah I too was an Ahmadi. I told him that my father was not in the village that day. The Major embraced me and asked me to take him to my mother. I took him home and behind the panel of a door, he said to my mother: “Dear sister, I am an Ahmadi brother of yours and am in the village for the purpose of recruitment. Do you wish someone to be recruited?” My mother replied that she did not wish anyone to be recruited. However, my mother said: “Now that you have become my brother please come and join my son Bashir Ahmad for tea.” After finishing recruitment, the Doctor came to our Hujra. My mother had made more than adequate arrangements for tea.
My father’s Hujra had an advantage over others. Whenever he happened to be in the village, he would sit there in the afternoons and tea continued to be served to all those present repeatedly. My father had an extreme passion for Tableegh (preaching) of Ahmadiyyat. Regardless of what subject happened to be under discussion he would mould it towards Ahmadiyyat and would adequately discharge his duty for Tableegh. In fact, our Hujra became Dar ut Tableegh. With great fervor, I would join him in such sittings. When I had to absent myself to fetch tea from our house I felt greatly aggrieved and felt that I was, contrary to expectations, being deprived of blessings. At home, I would complain to my mother. I would say that according to my father’s instructions I had to absent myself from the Tableegh sessions for a while. My mother would say: “Hospitality is a special attribute of the Pathans and this feature is in exact accord with Islamic injunctions. Therefore, you should not be distressed by a short absence. In fact you should be grateful to the Almighty.”
I will give one example to show how my father would turn all subjects towards Ahmadiyyat. Once, when a sitting was in full swing in the Hujra and various matters were under discussion, a farmer said: “Khan Sahib! It has not rained for sometime and due to the drought crops are being cleaned out. Please pray that God may have mercy on us.” In response, my father said: “Brother, if there has been no rain there surely is water in the wells and in the canals.” Greatly surprised the farmer said: “Khan Sahib, you know very well that when water does not descend from heaven the water level in the wells gets lower and lower and even water in the canals gets reduced.
At that point, my father said: “If this is so why are you hesitant in accepting the thought that when Divine revelation ceases then the number of saints and Sufis also declines? Had the Mahdi, who claims that he holds a discourse with the Almighty, not appeared because of the spiritual drought the saints, holy men, Sufis would cease to exist, and the spiritual soil would become barren. However, at the appropriate time i.e. at the end of a Century, God has sent the Mahdi and thus the spiritual drought has ended. So do accept him and believe in him so that your own spiritual state may undergo a change and that you may become a recipient of God’s blessings.”
In the villages, functions on the occasions of happiness and sorrow were also held in the Hujras. On happy occasions such as a weddings or circumcisions, the local population in a village would assemble there. Because of the Radio and Television, this has now changed completely. During my childhood, on some such occasions, singing and dancing girls were brought from Peshawar and the music would continue throughout the night. Some people from neighboring villages would join in and thus the Hujra would be filled to capacity. Rounds of hubble-bubble would continue throughout. During the summer months, a sweet drink made with indigenous brown sugar would be prepared in large earthenware vessels. The whole village would keep awake throughout the night. Our father did not participate in such gatherings, nor did he allow us to go there. However, on occasion, unintentionally, I did participate. On such occasions, scenes of disgusting ignorance would become apparent. Sometimes some poor people would squander their hard-earned savings accumulated over the years on singing and dancing girls. Thus, before they returned to their houses, their reserves would have vanished overnight.
Instead of inviting dancing and singing girls, those who were somewhat religiously inclined, held a Meelaad at night and would invite a celebrated Maulvi from Peshawar. I participated in a number of such assemblies. In order to entertain and excite the audience, the Moulvis, who were normally good speakers, but were utterly ignorant, would often narrate stories in the name of religion, which had no basis whatsoever. The story of ‘Yusuf and Zulaikha’ was narrated repeatedly. They would also narrate imaginary happenings concerning Ameer Hamza. In a most comical manner, they would say that those who do not pay Zakat would be burnt in Hell. As Zakat was paid to or through the Moulvis, a great deal of stress was laid on its payment. Influenced by the picture of Hell painted by the Moulvis, the next day, some would pay them Zakat. Most Meelad functions were held in the Mosque, though occasionally even in the Hujras. Therefore, in the villages around Peshawar, the Hujras were quite an institution without which any Pukhtoon village would be beyond imagination.
Whenever he happened to be in the village, my father would normally offer all five prayers in a nearby Mosque. He would take my brother Nazir Ahmad and me along and would lead congregational prayers. From the Pakistani Mullahs, in those days, opposition and prejudice against Ahmadiyyat was not nearly as strong as it is today. In the public the venomous atmosphere created to day by the Mullahs was not to be seen. Instead, normal courtesy and religious forbearance prevailed. In our part of the village, equally for Ahmadis and non-Ahmadis, the doors of all Mosques remained open. There was no hindrance. The Imam of a Mosque would converse with Ahmadis without hesitation. Debates were held but the arguments never got to a point where the sentiments of others could be injured. All of us would freely mingle with each other. When, in 1953, to create hostility towards the Ahmadis in the Punjab, the lava produced by the Moulvis erupted, inevitably, it also affected the lives and assets of Ahmadis in the Frontier Province. In our village there was only one Ahmadi household; i.e. ours. All our relatives were non-Ahmadis. Once a Mullah came to our village from Peshawar. He assembled some people and with a nonsensical speech, he tried to incite the audience. He ended by saying: “In your village there is only one Ahmadi family. It is your duty to terminate them. Assassinating them is a sure way of entering Heaven. Those who perform this noble task will be rewarded by the Almighty by admitting them to the Paradise.”
When the Mullah was busy inciting the audience to kill us, suddenly a few armed men stood up. They asked the Mullah to leave the village immediately otherwise, they said, he himself would be despatched. Mullahs are invariably cowards. As soon as he saw the feelings of the residents of the village, he absconded post haste. Then those who had confronted the mullah came to our house and assured our father that he needs not to worry in the least. They said: “We will protect you. No one dare inflict the slightest injury on you.”
Not only in 1953 but also again during the 1974 disturbances, had my father not left the village. To protect us, in those days, the villagers remained most vigilant. One must not conclude that there was no opposition to Ahmadiyyat in the village. It did exist and in certain circles, it reached extreme proportions. However, the opposition did not result in any disorder. Debates always continued during which both sides put forward their arguments. To check references being quoted, books would be unwrapped but all this happened in a tolerant atmosphere.
The land in our village was very fertile. As the water from the canals was available in abundance, all kinds of crops could be grown. My father would grow wheat, maize, sugarcane, red chillies and barsaim. Barsaim, red chillies and sugar cane were three commodities that brought in a healthy income. Barsaim and chillies were sold within Pakistan at attractive prices, particularly in the province of Sindh. During my childhood, under the name of ‘Danishmand & Sons’, my father remained engaged in sizable business in barsaim. Not only did he sell the barsaim seed in the provinces of Sindh and the Punjab, but he also exported it as far as Egypt. In that region, because of his business in barsaim, he became famous. This trade flourished right until the creation of Pakistan. From then on his interest declined and towards the end, he paid no attention to this trade whatsoever.
In 1948, we had electricity in our village for the first time and our house was the first to be connected. In those days, my mother’s brother, the late Abdus Salaam Khan served in the Electricity Department of the Frontier Province. Once it was decided to bring electricity to our village, he made a start by connecting our house. For the first two months, only our house had electricity and then, slowly, all residences were connected. After the supply of electricity, the entire environment underwent a rapid change. The worms of the earth disappeared from all houses. Because of electric fans, the extreme heat during the summer months became easier to bear.
As our house was the first to be connected, I promptly purchased a Radio, placed it on a table in the courtyard of our house and switched it on. Ladies from all around assembled. From then on between the Asr and Maghrib prayers, to listen to the Pushto programs from Peshawar, every day, the Radio would be switched on and the women would assemble. At the request of some friends, after Maghrib, I would take the Radio to the Hujra so they too could enjoy listening to the programs. Because of the Radio, slowly and gradually, the musical functions normally held in the Hujras began to fade away. Currently, they listen to the Pushto programmes from Peshawar. Hardly any youngsters now hold musical functions in the Hujras with stringed guitars, and a ghara for a tabla. The introduction of Radio and TV has brought about a complete revolution in village life. Therefore the villagers are not quite as simple minded as they used to be during my childhood.
During World War II, before the creation of Pakistan, for the first time I saw a movie. An Army Recruitment Truck came to our village and projected a film. Throughout the day, announcements were made that at night there would be a Cinema show. Until then no one had ever seen moving figures on a screen. There was great eagerness in the whole village. In the evening, a large number gathered in the open ground. Ladies settled on the roofs of surrounding houses. The screen was installed at a height from the ground so that not only the spectators on the ground, but women on the roofs of the surrounding houses could also view it. The show started. It was a story of a family from which some youngsters had joined the Army. As a result, their families became financially comfortable. From poverty, they moved to prosperity. At the end, young men were invited to join the Army.
Because of such shows, in their eagerness to be recruited, very many illiterate young men went to Peshawar. There they were recruited and despatched to the battlefield.
On occasion, it so happened that carrying a plough on his shoulder, driving his two bullocks, a young man went to the fields and in the afternoon when his family sent his midday meal, they only saw an empty Qulba i.e. the two bulls. They wondered what had happened to the young man. The next day or a few days later they would hear that, straight from the fields, he went to Peshawar and had been recruited into the army. Seeing this trend amongst the young some poets composed verses. I can still recall one of them.
We must receive a money order from you. You may or may not visit us. Our final meeting will be on the Doomsday.
The Second World War brought about a significant change. Those who had spent their lives in extreme poverty began to breathe comfortably. Instead of mud huts, houses built with some baked bricks became visible. One could hear Radios from most houses. In short, the whole environment underwent a rapid change.
In 1960 residents of the village decided that there should be a Middle School in the village. Until then there was only a Primary school. For further education, the children had to go to Pabbi, a township at a distance of three miles from our village. Provided the villagers donated a suitable plot of land, the government offered to construct a School. The question arose as to who should donate land without any compensation. Pathans are known for their love of their land. In the absence of a donation, the whole scheme collapsed. A little later, in our Hujra, in the presence of my father, this matter was raised again. The need for a School was being keenly felt but a plot of land, free of cost, was not forthcoming. As a result, the children of the village were being deprived of the benefit of further education. My father enquired how much land was needed. Some said that one kanal should be enough. Opposite the road to our village, our father owned a plot of land measuring seven acres. As it was adjacent to the village, it could fetch a very good price. Addressing the villagers my father said: “Without any compensation I will donate as much land as is needed for a School. My offer is not limited to one kanal; I will donate as much as is needed.”
People were very surprised at this statement. The next day they brought the Tahseeldar to the village and a plot measuring six kanals was transferred to the School. The Deputy Commissioner came to the village for the inauguration of the School. He asked about the generous person who had made available the plot of land free of cost. The Deputy Commissioner said that he would like to meet him. Someone from amongst the crowd said that although the donor had been asked to participate in the inauguration ceremony he had not come. At this, the Deputy Commissioner stood up and announced that he would himself go to meet the person who, without any reward, was prepared to serve the village. Accordingly, he came to our Hujra. He met my father and thanked him. He said: “By donating the piece of land you have created an occasion and yet you did not come. We would have honored you.”
In response, my father said: “Dear Deputy Commissioner, I have done this merely to seek the pleasure of Allah, His pleasure is more than enough for me. As I do not need any expression of gratitude from others, I refrained from going to the function. Now that the School has been established, not only for children from our village but also children from the neighboring villages, it has become a Minaret of Light.”
The villagers in appreciation of my father’s generous donation named the school area as ‘Danish Gharry’ after my father.
Before the establishment of this School, there was only a Primary School in the village. Syed Saleh Shah, about forty-five years old, was the only teacher. It would thus be appropriate to describe him as ‘The Headmaster’. He alone discharged all responsibilities concerning the School. He knew every single resident of the village. Over the years, 90 % of the villagers had been his pupils. Therefore, he was treated with great admiration and respect in the village. Every morning, after he had called the register, Shah Sahib would go to the houses of the students who were absent and would drag them to the school. On occasion, leaving a monitor in charge, he would seek boys hidden in the crops and would haul them along. After the morning roll call, to inspect their fingernails and their teeth, he would ask them to fall in. Those who had not clipped their fingernails or had not cleaned their teeth were disciplined. For a few years, I too was his pupil. Even now, his accomplishments, his kindness and his guidance fill my heart with a sense of gratitude. Shah Sahib’s own house was situated at a distance of three miles. Therefore, for the round trip, he walked six miles every day. As he lived so far, the students took turns to bring him his midday meal. It is said that he lived to be a 100 years. I do not know where his children are at present. Anyway, he was a benefactor of our village. He paid great attention to the education and upbringing of the children, perhaps even more than their parents’ did. May Allah reward him abundantly in the Hereafter.