The Pentecost at Jalsa Salana – A brief history of simultaneous translations

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The information given below has been extracted from the accounts of Munir Ahmad Farrukh Sahib, Ayub Zaheer Sahib, Mahmud Mujib Asghar Sahib and Malik Lal Khan Sahib, all of whom were instrumental in setting up the simultaneous translation system at Jalsa Salana Rabwah:

A historic and rare group photo of devout Ahmadis who spoke in 47 different languages at the Jalsa Salana Qadian, 1926

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues [or languages] as the Spirit enabled them.

“Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? … Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?’” (Acts 2:1-12)

This biblical passage, in our belief, points to the coming of a time when believing men and women will simultaneously proclaim the unity of God in one voice, as one community.

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IVrh, at the occasion of the first International Bai‘at on 1 August 1993, whilst referring to the aforementioned reference, said:

“As far as my research has taken me, I have not found proof of any other incident of this nature taking place in history. Thus, this can be taken to be a vision that was seen. This was to take place not in the time of the first Messiahas, but in the time of the second Messiahas.”

Being delivered at the time of the first International Bai‘at, the translation facility now easily available to participants of Jalsa Salana, which materialised this vision, has a long and interesting history, which we aim to present to our readers.

We all know that only 75 persons were able to attend the first Jalsa Salana that took place in Qadian in 1891. Then, in the lifetime of the Promised Messiahas, the number of attendees started to grow into hundreds and then thousands.

Jalsa Salana then went through various phases, where its venue had to be changed – sometimes due to shift of the Markaz and sometimes due to lack of space. From Qadian to Rabwah to Islamabad in Surrey and later to Hadeeqatul Mahdi in Alton, England, the central Jalsa Salana has been through many chapters.

In the time of Hazrat Mirza Nasir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IIIrh, Ahmadis from foreign countries began attending Jalsa Salana in Rabwah. Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh felt that such attendees would travel from distant places of the world in their love for the Jamaat but could not benefit from the proceedings of the Jalsa owing to the fact that all speeches were in Urdu.

It was in 1973 that Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh instructed the Fazle-Umar Foundation to look into how simultaneous translations of speeches could be made available to foreign guests. The Fazle-Umar Foundation contacted Philips who quoted 2 million rupees for providing translations on 100 sets. This venture was seen as unaffordable at the time and was put off to a later time.

Feeling the dire need of such a system, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh instructed Ahmadi engineers to devise a system of their own. Professor Naseer Khan Sahib was given the responsibility to oversee the project who contacted various foreign firms, but this was to no avail.

At the Ijtema of Majlis Khuddam-ul-Ahmadiyya in 1979, Professor Naseer Khan Sahib mentioned the need for live translations at Jalsa Salana to Malik Lal Khan Sahib. Malik Sahib replied that although he was a civil engineer with no experience of electrical designs, he would still look into it and see what could be done.

It was no less of a coincidence that Malik Lal Khan Sahib spoke to Sahibzada Mirza Tahir Ahmad Sahibrh about his newly assigned project. Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh took great interest in the project and was later assigned the supervisor of the project by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh.

Malik Lal Khan Sahib, upon his return to Islamabad (Pakistan), spoke to Munir Ahmad Farrukh Sahib who was working at a key post in the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority. He too, despite being an electrical engineer, had no experience of electrical designs. In the meantime, Malik Lal Khan Sahib started contacting various firms like Philips, Sumitomo and Siemens, explaining to them the desired project. Only Philips got back showing interest, but the costs quoted were, yet again, out of the Jamaat’s reach. It was then that Malik Lal Khan Sahib and Munir Farrukh Sahib embarked upon the challenging mission of designing a system of their own.

Some other Ahmadi engineers were taken on board, namely Captain Ayub Zaheer Sahib and engineer Mahmud Mujib Asghar Sahib. With the prayers of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh and the patronage of Sahibzada Mirza Tahir Ahmad Sahibrh, these young engineers, who had worked tirelessly day and night, were able to see a breakthrough. They were able to design two models: a wired system and a loop induction system.

Wired system: This system was based on the model of audio facilities in aeroplanes where passengers can choose an audio track of their choice from a range of tracks. This was very close to what was required – an audio feed of original audio from the stage provided to translators in their booths; their audios relayed through a balanced network of wires; audio tracks relayed through a system of resistance and capacitance. The best feature of this balanced network was that whether the recipient of the audio is one person or 108, all could receive the same audio track of a respective language and benefit from it. Volume control was an added advantage. The amplified signal of the translator was relayed through the master-box to the slave-box and from the slave-box to the seat terminal, from where the guest could select their audio track and listen to it through their headphones.

Loop-induction system: When a cable carries electrical current, a magnetic field is produced around that cable. By placing a coiled wire in this magnetic field, the same frequency of the actual cable is induced into the coil. By amplifying the frequency produced in the coil, it becomes audible through devices like loudspeakers and headphones.

The Ahmadi engineers developed a system on this model. This model, known as the loop-induction system, was picked by the Ahmadi engineers from the pocket transistor radio receivers. A pocket transistor was purchased, its RF (radio frequency) systems were removed, leaving behind only the audio components. A coil was attached to the audio system to pick up the signals from translators’ booths and relayed to headphones. This proved to be a successful experiment, but what was required now were cases to hold these systems. Aluminium cases were acquired from Bolan Radio, but this experiment came with noise and disturbance in the audio. Abdul Karim Lodhi Sahib, an Ahmadi carpenter, made wooden boxes for the circuits to be placed in and this produced very good results.

Following these successful experiments, two prototype systems were manufactured – a wired system with provision for 18 recipients and another of the loop-induction system with only a few boxes.

In September 1980, a demonstration of both the prototype systems was given to the board members of Fazle-Umar Foundation who approved the systems and sanctioned a grant of 100,000 rupees. This grant came with the condition that four systems were to be prepared – two for the men’s Jalsa Gah and two for the ladies’; two for English and two for Indonesian languages. But all this was to be fully functional before Jalsa Salana of the same year which was only two months away. The board asked for translations to be available for 200 recipients.

The Ahmadi engineers got to work straight away and within a month, they had their fully functional demonstration ready to present before Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh on the Majlis-e-Shura of Ansarullah Markaziya, which was held in October 1980.

Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh appreciated the efforts of the engineers and approved the systems. The system was used to provide translation facilities with four translators working in turns. The names of the first translators on this newly developed system are Naseem Saifi Sahib, BA Rafiq Sahib, Mujibur Rahman Sahib (Advocate) and Shakil Ahmad Sahib.

With the prayers of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih, the teams were able to have 220 systems ready for Jalsa Salana 1980, which were delivered from Islamabad to Rabwah on 16 December 1980. It was a great breakthrough in the history of Jalsa Salana. A desire of Khalifatul Masih was fulfilled and that too at a very low cost.

First International Bai‘at on 1 August 1993

Had these 220 systems been purchased from Philips, the cost would have been no less than 4 million rupees. The team of Ahmadi engineers had made it possible in only 80,000 rupees; saving 20,000 rupees of their approved budget. All three engineers would assemble after work at Malik Lal Khan Sahib’s house and work late into the night on this project. Later on, a room was allocated as a laboratory for this project in the guest house of Jamaat Islamabad in the Aabpara area of Islamabad. It was in this small room that this grand project materialised.

The operation was huge anyway, but to have it ready in two months was what made it an even greater challenge. To have it up and running by Jalsa, more members were required in the team; three engineers were not sufficient.

Further members were required to work in four teams; manufacturing, installation, operation and repairs. Similar teams were required for the Lajna side.

The members taken on board to work in various teams were as follows:

1. Engineer Lal Khan Malik Sahib got in touch with various companies and came up with the initial design

2. Engineer Munir Ahmad Farrukh Sahib worked on the initial design, manufacturing and installations

3. Engineer Ayub Zaheer Sahib worked in the manufacturing and installation as 2nd level supervisor

4. Engineer Mahmud Mujib Asghar Sahib worked in maintenance and operations

5. Mubashar Ahmad Gondal Sahib in procurement of components

6. Abdul Karim Lodhi Sahib worked on devised wooden boxes for the systems

The above names were classed as level 1.

The technicians involved, and classed as level 2, were Manzur Kamal Sahib, Javed Rasheed Sahib, Hamid Mahmood Malik Sahib, Mubarak Ahmad Sahib, Tariq Mahmood Malik Sahib and Naseer Ahmad Sahib.

Laymen trained to handle the systems, classed as Level 3, were Zahid Mahmood Khan Sahib, Abdul Mannan Fayyaz Sahib, Maqsood Sajid Sahib, Mushtaq Siddhu Sahib, Faheem Ahmad Sahib, Ahmad Deen Sahib and Naeemullah Sahib. Members of Lajna trained to handle and manage the equipment on the Lajna side were Mrs Lal Khan Malik, Mrs Amatul Rashid Mahmood, Mrs Munir Farrukh, Mrs Ayub Zaheer, Mrs Inamul Haq Kauser, Naila Kokab Sahiba, Zakia Afzal Sahiba, Nasira Afzal Sahiba, Amatul Shakoor Sahiba and Tahira Nusrat Sahiba.

The same systems and the same teams continued to provide translation facilities in Jalsas up to 1983 in Rabwah. After the Hijrat of Khilafat to England, the same systems were used from 1985 to 2009. Some countries are still using the same facilities for Jalsas and other events.

Commending the successful efforts of the Ahmadi engineers working under Fazle-Umar Foundation, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh, addressing Jalsa Salana Rabwah on 27 December 1980, said:

“A great work that they have done this year is that they have provided translation facilities in English and Indonesian languages for foreign guests … This work has now set off. When we obtained quotes from external companies, they quoted 2 to 2.5 million rupees for about 150 sets. Allah bless our Ahmadi engineers who came forward saying that they would do it for a lot less, and so there was no need to spend such a huge amount. I think they have prepared 228 systems with 80,000 rupees. Pray for them that Allah rewards them. This work has yet to expand so they will deserve more prayers. This proposal was there for many years, but external companies scared us with their quotes and we never had the courage to go for it.” (Khitabat-e-Nasir, Vol. 2, p. 479)

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IVrh, on 20 October 1983, said:

“Some engineers have done a marvelous job in our department of telecommunication. This system of translations has been established by our Ahmadi engineers in much less than some quoted estimates. May Allah reward them in the best way.” (Technical Magazine of IAAAE, 199798)

With the advent of modern technology, the system of simultaneous translations in Jalsa Salana has progressed phenomenally. But the efforts of the pioneers in this important area can never be forgotten. May Allah bless them all.

On Al Hakam’s request, Mahmud Mujib Asghar Sahib wrote a detailed account on this subject. A part of it is included herewith:

“When Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh decided to hold the international Jalsa Salana at Tilford, Islamabad in 1985, Huzoorrh expressed his desire through Wakil-e-Ala Chaudhry Hameedullah Sahib to persuade the same team to come to London and install and operate the simultaneous interpretation system. 

“Chaudhry Hameedullah Sahib conveyed the message to Munir Ahmad Farrukh Sahib and he wrote to all members of the pioneering team. 

“I was by then in the Sultanate of Oman. Out of station leave was then applied and 10 days leave was granted by NESPAK, the company in which I was working. Th e visa was obtained easily and I also reached there. 

“Munir Ahmad Farrukh Sahib, Malik Lal Khan Sahib, Ayub Zaheer Sahib, Mubashar Ahmad Gondal Sahib, Abdul Karim Lodhi Sahib and some other volunteers like Col Ret Usman, Chaudhry Arshad Sahib and others were already there. The main team had met Huzoorrh and he was delighted to have them with him there.

“They very intelligently hand carried the available equipment like head phones etc. to London. The team performed well to the entire satisfaction of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh. Huzoorrh then wrote the following letter to Munir Farrukh Sahib who sent copies to all members including myself:

‘In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful. We praise Him and invoke blessings on His Noble Prophet.

‘My dear Munir Ahmad Farrukh Sahib; Assalamo alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.

‘The sincerity, love and effort through which you and your team have worked shall always remain documented in history. May Allah reward you all the best of rewards and enable you to be of the recipients of His divine bounties and blessings. May Allah enable you to offer similar services in the future also. Please convey my affectionate Salam to everyone.

‘Wassalam, [signed,] Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV.’

“The same pioneering team from Pakistan, under the leadership of Munir Ahmad Farrukh Sahib and Ayub Ahmad Zaheer Sahib rendered their services up to the year 2008. A number of local volunteers were taken on board and trained in due course while the present head, Safdar Sahib was one of them. 

“It was decided in 2009 to hand over the work to the UK Jamaat. Since then, the UK team has been running the project.

“It is worth mentioning that the International Association of Ahmadi Architects and Engineers (IAAAE) was founded by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIIrh almost  in the same period (October 1980) and the association considers simultaneous interpretation work as their first and foremost project.”

Currently, the translations department at the Markazi Jalsa Salana in the UK offers translations in 14 languages, including Arabic, Urdu, French, English, Bangla, German, Turkish, Russian, Spanish, Bosnian, Albanian, Indonesian and Swahili, with around 75 translators providing translations to not just those present, but also the world over through the divine blessing of MTA International.

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