Sufi Muti-ur-Rahman Bengali Sahib
The Annual Report of Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya for the year 1932-33 includes a report sent by Sufi Muti-ur-Rahman Bengali Sahib, who was then a missionary in the USA. He writes:
“During the year, 115 lectures were delivered at various clubs, churches and societies with the number of audiences ranging between 500 and 3,000. Fifteen of these lectures focused on the life of the Holy Prophetsa – a topic, for obvious reasons, of great importance in this day and age and the best approach in the propagation of Islam. Such absurdities are attributed to the character of the Holy Prophetsa that the image of Islam is badly distorted; it is only through presenting to the public the true beautiful character of the Holy Prophetsa that the allegations can be addressed.”
The report goes on to mention some notable societies where he had had the chance to speak before the American public. His journeys that he undertook for the purpose of tabligh have also been listed in the report with cities like New York, Jersey City, Springfield, Jenkintown, Pendle Hill, Southmore, Huntington Valley, Philadelphia, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Cleveland and Indianapolis listed.
Sufi Sahib, alongside speech, used his pen to propagate Islam in the United States. We learn from this report that he was writing articles and letters to newspapers primarily to answer allegations against Islam. From the list of newspapers and magazines, some are listed below:
Springfield Union, The Morning Call, Friends Intelligencer, Cleveland Press, Chicago Defender, The Daily Times, The Howard Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Public Ledger, Detroit News, The Detroit Times.
He touches upon the success that was met by The Moslem Sunrise – a magazine launched by Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra. Sufi Sahib wrote in his report that the publication of The Moslem Sunrise was being funded by the local members of the community and was functioning as a vehicle to carry the message of Islam to the length and breadth of the USA. The magazine, he reported, was being sent abroad as well and was rapidly gaining popularity.
The efforts of the early missionaries of Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya in the United States is covered by many academic works on the topic of Islam in America. We quote below a part of how The Cambridge Companion to American Islam sees these humble efforts that bore magnificent fruits for Islam in America:
“The earliest missionary movement in the United States to emphasize Islamic identity was the Ahmadiyya movement, which had originated as a Muslim response to Christian missionaries in South Asia. The leading Ahmadiyya representative in America, Mufti Muhammad Sadiq, was awarded degrees from the College of Divine Metaphysics, a New-Thought-oriented institution, and the Oriental University, which was affiliated with the spiritualist Universal Theomonistic Association. His successor, Sufi M Bengalee, gave speeches with New Thought-inspired titles such as “The Supreme Success in Life” and “The Object of Life: Spiritual Progress and the Means of Accomplishing It” at Spiritualist churches in Chicago.
“The Ahmadiyya newspaper, Moslem Sunrise, presented Islam as the fulfilment of the unity of religions and the culmination of an ongoing spiritual evolution that included not only Judaism and Christianity but also Hinduism, Buddhism, and Zoroastrianism.
“The Moslem Sunrise regularly featured announcements of new conversions (listing converts by both their “American” and “Moslem” names, as well as articles and letters by converts. Several frequent themes in Moslem Sunrise would be featured in the Sunni apologetic discourse and pamphlet literature of later decades, including the status of women in Islam, Islamic contributions to science and philosophy, and presentations of Islam as the true religion of Jesus; a message of peace and equality and the solution to color prejudice, with special significance placed on the story of Bilal ibn Rabah, Muhammad’s Ethiopian companion and the first muezzin, as evidence of Islam’s inherent antiracism.”
Writing about the Jazz musicians that converted to Islam in the second and third decades of the twentieth century, The Cambridge Companion to American Islam says:
“Almost all entered the religion through the Ahmadiyya movement, a group Richard Brent Turner has called ‘unquestionably one of the most significant movements in the history of Islam in the United States in the twentieth century, providing … the first multi-racial model for American Islam’ [emphasis in original].
“Founded by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Ahmadiyya was a South Asia-based missionary movement that appealed to Black Americans because of its racially inclusive doctrines, ambitious internationalist scope, and notion of continuous prophecy. To these musicians, Ahmadiyya Islam was ‘a force which directly opposed the deterioration of the mind and body through either spiritual or physical deterrents’, a respite from racism, nights in smoke-filled clubs, and the perils of drugs and alcohol. At the same time, as trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie noted in his autobiography… ‘Man, if you join the Muslim faith, you ain’t colored no more, you’ll be white. You get a new name and you won’t be a nigger no more.’
“In the 1920s, African American Ahmadiya mosques sprang up in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Dayton, and smaller cities.”
(Passages quoted are from The Cambridge Companion to American Islam, by Juliane Hammer and Omid Safi, Cambridge University Press, 2013)