100 Years Ago… – Letter of Hazrat Abdur Rahim Nayyar detailing his missionary engagements in West Africa (1921)

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Al Fazl, 9-13 June 1921

We present below the latest letter received by the missionary of West Africa, Maulvi Abdur Rahim Sahib Nayyar. From this letter, where it is clear that by the grace of God, this Ahmadi missionary is making great progress in his work, it also shows that this task is so huge and significant that our Jamaat will have to do it with special courage and effort. 

At the same time, as our tabligh work in other countries is expanding day by day, it is needed from our Jamaat  which has pledged to – prefer religion over world and consider it their duty to spread and protect Islam – to generously present their wealth in the cause of their God to meet the expenses of tabligh, so that there remains no obstacle in the way of our missionaries.

 If we contribute as much as we can for Islam, the true religion of God, and make no less effort on our part, then Allah the Almighty will also shower His blessings and we will achieve such great things which will be surprising for even ourselves.

Thus, members of our Jamaat should not only express delight after reading the good news of their missionaries, but also pay due attention to assisting them financially, so that their work may expand by day. (Editor, Al Fazl [1921])

Muslims in pitiable condition

Everyday, I am reminded of the words of the Holy Prophetsa: ليس‭ ‬الخبر‭ ‬كالمعاينة with the translation of Sheikh Saadi:‭ ‬شنيده‭ ‬كه‭ ‬بود‭ ‬مانند‭ ‬ديده [Seeing something with the naked eye is different from hearsay]. 

Muslims in India and around the world believe that Islam is progressing in Africa and as Christians have repeatedly published, they believe that people are converting to Islam. However, the situation is quite the contrary. 

The [religion of] West Africa is Christianity. Public offices, educational institutes, finance, power, authority and trade are all in the hands of Christians. Ignorance, poverty, disputes and mutual discord are part and parcel of the Muslims whose majority have come from other parts of Africa and settled in British territories. Except for the natives of Nigeria, all of them are Christians or idolaters. Christianity is growing everywhere by the day. There are Christian colleges and schools in Sierra Leone, and sermonisers of every Christian sect are also present who are diligently engaged in preaching their religion. Although Muslims of this place are in better conditions than all other African countries, but in reality, their share is zero.

The [religion of] the entire Gold Coast [now Ghana] area is practically Christianity. There are only those Muslims in the region of Fante who have announced their conversion to Ahmadiyyat and only these people can be called the original inhabitants of the Gold Coast. The rest are outsiders who have entered the Gold Coast from northern and southern Nigeria or other Central African states and are distinguishing themselves from one another by fighting with each other. The situation is such that the mosque in Accra, the capital of the state of the Gold Coast, is sealed because of riots among these people. After the death of some of the chiefs who were Muslims, their successors are now Christians.

The same is the condition of Muslims in Nigeria. The two major groups [of Muslims] in Lagos are bloodthirsty of each other and have filed cases in court. There has been a conflict in the mosque. All sorts of defects, lack of true knowledge and disregard for the teachings of Islam have led them to the point that even their name is a word of contempt in the eyes of Christians. If Christians have to abuse someone, (God forbid) they will call him a “Muhammadan”.

There is not a single madrasa [religious school] in Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Nigeria that can be called Muslims’ educational institute or where Muslims can acquire knowledge and ultimately recognise Allah and His Messengersa and gain the strength to work with dignity in the world.

Significant task before the Ahmadiyya nation

Brothers! It is your task to revive the corrupted ummah of Muhammadsa and show them the light in the darkness they dwell in, and also to save Islam from the attacks of Satan. Every village, town and city of Africa is full of Christian preachers. They have their schools, colleges, influence and power in every sphere of life. 

I am alone in the land of thousands of miles and millions of people. I not only have to battle [with myself to eat their] food and [survive the harsh] environment, but I also have to deal with the misunderstandings of the authorities. 

In the midst all these difficulties and worries, I recite the following couplet of Hazrat Nimatullah Walirh and cheer myself:

غم‭ ‬مخورزانكه‭ ‬من‭ ‬دراين‭ ‬تشويش‭ ‬

خرمــــي‭ ‬وصــل‭ ‬يار‭ ‬مي‭ ‬بينــم

[“Do not worry, because I am looking at the joy of meeting my friend in the midst of this hardship and distress.”]

However, my heart melts when the following sight comes before my eyes and makes me desperate:

هر‭ ‬طرف‭ ‬كفر‭ ‬است‭ ‬جوشاں‭ ‬همچو‭ ‬افواج‭ ‬يزيد

دين‭ ‬حق‭ ‬بيمار‭ ‬و‭ ‬بے‭ ‬كس‭ ‬همچو‭ ‬زين‭ ‬العابدين

[“Infidelity is spreading everywhere like Yazid’s forces, and Islam is sick and helpless like Zain-ul-Abideenra.]

Surely, I have no guide and helper save for Allah the Almighty.

I have four important tasks before me: 

1. To establish three high schools for secondary education in Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Nigeria, and to open primary schools in each place

2. To train and produce mubaligheen [preachers] in the local languages 

3. To reform the present imams and muallims [teachers]

4. To establish a dar-ul-tabligh [mission house] in the capital

These works come under the heading of general tasks. Aside from these, some special tasks include: 

1. 1,000 children of new Ahmadi Fante Muslims should be circumcised

2. They should be made aware of the teachings of Islam and [conveyed the message] of Ahmadiyyat in the Fante language 

3. Madrasas should be opened in at least 10 central regions of the Fante people 

4. A dar-ul-tabligh should be built in Saltpond

These are very important tasks which are not in front of this humble and weak one, but rather, before the entire Ahmadiyya Jamaat.

Who are my helpers in the cause of Allah?

Brothers! Tell those who quench their thirst by drinking icy cold water and sweet drinks in warm weather that this Ahmadi missionary does not even have access to well water and that he sometimes has to use thirst-quenching tablets to satiate his thirst. Tell those who ride horses, chariots, motors and bullock carts that this missionary of Islam has to walk through dense jungles on foot. Tell those who use sweets made of milk and butter that these things are like a dream for this servant of Ahmadas

Why? Surely, for the sake of Allah and His Messengersa, and for the spread and safeguard of Islam. Thus, blessed are those who respond to the appeal of this wandering traveler and homeless stranger and be my helper in this great task which is before the Ahmadiyya Jamaat.

Listen! O all those people whose hearts ache for Islam; who consider themselves to be ardent followers of Islam and are gathered for safeguarding Islam under the flag of the Promised Messiahas. Islam is in danger! Help this missionary of Islam so that the work of safeguarding and spreading Islam can be carried out across thousands of miles and among millions of people of West Africa.

It is difficult and dangerous for men to come here from India. However, monetary assistance can reach me and the great work, which I have mentioned above, can be done with the help of kind-hearted Englishmen and educated Africans who are compassionate towards Islam.

Always remember! This is God’s work that will certainly be accomplished. However, if you show heedlessness, Islam will hold you accountable on the Day of Judgement and say:

پيش‭ ‬چشمانِ‭ ‬شما‭ ‬اسلام‭ ‬در‭ ‬خاك‭ ‬اُوفتاد‭ ‬

چيست‭ ‬عذرے‭ ‬پيش‭ ‬حق‭ ‬اے‭ ‬مجمع‭ ‬المتنعمين

[“Before your very eyes, Islam turned to dust. O people who are blessed with countless bounties! What excuse will you present before God [on the Day of Judgement]?”] (A couplet from a poem of the Promised Messiahas)

Thus, rise and make far greater efforts than before. Spend your wealth in the cause of God, so that the apparent means of safeguarding God’s religion can be achieved.

New convert Muslims

Bilal Mends and Abdul Aziz Francis, two young men, converted to the true religion of Islam after the previous report was submitted. As they were Roman Catholics before, they feared that the Roman Catholic fathers would curse them. I assured them that only Ahmadis are under the true grace [of God] now and no one else could succeed by praying against the servants of Ahmadas. After they were satisfied, they converted to Islam and [their names] became Bilal from Mends and Abdul Aziz from Francis. May Allah grant them perseverance.

Saltpond to Saraha

After a month’s stay in Saltpond and carrying out miscellaneous tabligh activities, I left on 1 April [1921] for a place called Saraha, which is 50 miles inland from Saltpond. Along with Mahdi, the chief of Fante, I met the chief of a village called Essian and conveyed to him the message of Islam. This Christian chief of a rural area was so impressed that he kissed my hands after I recited the [kalima] لا‭ ‬إله‭ ‬إلا‭ ‬اللّٰه‭ ‬محمد‭ ‬رسول‭ ‬اللّٰه. I hope from Allah the Almighty that he will convert to Islam at the second meeting.

Departing from Essian, we reached Saraha. I was accompanied by two Fante interpreters. In Saraha, around a thousand newly converted Ahmadi Muslim men and women were gathered who had come from nearby villages. They welcomed me in their own peculiar style and it won’t be wrong to call it a really grand welcome. The [entrance] doors made of bamboo were erected and boys and girls dressed in new clothes, holding flags in their hands and reciting:

صلّ‭ ‬علٰی ‬محمد

سيدنا‭ ‬محمد

سيدنا‭ ‬محمد

صلّ‭ ‬علٰی ‬محمد‭ ‬

And expressing joy and happiness in their African accent and style, they came one mile outside of Saraha to welcome me.

(I swear by God that I really admire these sincere African people. Their passion is of great significance.)

Arriving at the venue of the gathering i.e. Saraha, I gave a speech and then delivered the Friday sermon. After the sermon, the chiefs offered gifts and presented chicken, rice, tins of milk, a lamb and sugar, which I accepted and instructed to distribute [among the needy].

At the request of these people, I stayed the night in this village. Recalling the blessings and benevolence of Allah, I spent the night on tea and some pieces of bread, and intended to sleep after seeking refuge with Allah from the attacks of the African fever-bringing mosquito. 

A series of questions and answers was held in the evening. I shed light on issues of food, drink, marriage, death and birth, which had a great impact on Ahmadis and non-Ahmadis alike, alhamdulillah.

Saraha to Accra

We left Saraha in the early hours of 2 April [1921] and set off to Accra, the capital of the Gold Coast. Accra is about 100 kilometres from Saraha and a road leads there from a place called Swedru. Motor transport is available on this road, but fares are unreasonably high. There are Christian missions and churches everywhere along the way. I met a librarian in Swedru who was a Christian priest. He invited me to come and deliver a sermon in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.

In the village called Akwayang, where I had to wait for a second motor [ride], I met some Christian shopkeepers who listened very attentively to prophecies of the Bible. In the evening, I safely reached Accra and it seemed as though I had come back to civilisation from the jungle after many months. Accra is a nice town and has been built in a European style. As the governor resides [in Accra], it is very prosperous and developed.

Stay in Accra; India in Africa

This place has no hotel or accommodation for travelers. The driver of the motor dropped me off in the bazaar and I quietly got off. I asked the passersby about the location of a hotel. Not knowing the exact address of any hotel, I mentioned Indians and as soon as I said the word Indian, a boy took me to the shop of Messrs Dialdas and Sons.

This noble Indian compatriot from Hyderabad, Sindh, treated me with such warmth, love and affection that I really witnessed India in Africa. I stayed in Accra for five days and my hosts prepared every available Indian food. They provided karah parshad [a type of pudding made from an equal portion of whole wheat flour, milk and sugar] and a lot of milk (which can only be available in small quantities in Accra). 

Apart from Messrs Dialdas and Sons, there is another Indian place here called Messrs Moolchand Chauharmal. I stayed as a guest with him for a day and he also treated me with great courtesy, love and kindness and showed great hospitality and utmost affection. May Allah reward him abundantly.

Tabligh in Accra and three lectures

The time at the house was spent in reading the book, Ramayana and the works of Hazrat Baba Nanakas and following the [Persian] proverb:داشته‭ ‬آيد‭ ‬بكار [“Anything that is kept safe eventually comes in handy”].

On the outside, I held the Muslims accountable by delivering a sermon in a vast ground in front of their sealed mosque. I gave two speeches to Muslims and mentioned the appearance of the Promised Messiahas, as well as the death of Jesusas. Moreover, I delivered a speech at the native club, which was addressed to Christians. 

During my speeches to Muslims, three interpreters stood to my right, left and behind. One of them translated my words into Yoruba, another into Hausa, and the third one into Wangri. It was an exuberating atmosphere. My photograph was also taken here. Another strange incident which happened during my speeches was that a maulvi from Senegal, French colony, asked for the Arabic interpretation of the following part of a Quranic verse:

يٰعِيۡسٰۤي‭ ‬اِنِّيۡ‭ ‬مُتَوَفِّيۡكَ‭ ‬وَ‭ ‬رَافِعُكَ‭ ‬اِلَيَّ

[“‘O Jesus, I [Allah] will cause thee to die a natural death and will exalt thee to Myself.” (Surah Al-e-Imran, Ch.3: V.56)]

It was a testing time for me. However, Allah the Almighty helped me and an unlettered man was granted the power to speak in Arabic and so I spoke in Arabic for a few minutes, which was immediately understood by the kind-hearted maulvi, who also explained it to others.

It was the first time in the history of Africa that a Muslim missionary spoke at the native club. I spoke on how to be free from sin and explained the principles of Islam, which was well received by the educated audience.

Departure from Accra

On 7 April [1921], after observing that by the grace of God, the views of Christians in Accra were sympathetic towards Islam and that the Muslims were inclined towards Ahmadiyyat after five days of continuous discourse, I left with satisfaction of heart. A gathering of Muslims, along with Mr Tara Chand, manager Messrs Dialdas and Sons, Narain Das, manager Chauharmal and Moolchand came to bid farewell at the coastline. May Allah grant them the best of rewards.

Accra to Lagos

After being a guest of Indians in Accra for five days, I had forgotten that I was in Africa. However, as soon as I boarded the ship called “Akabo” , nausea and dizziness reminded me of the journey and I suffered poor health for an entire day. 

The next morning, on 8 April [1921], the ship arrived at the port of Lagos, the capital of the state of Nigeria. After meeting the immigration officer, Mr Vardan and the superintendent of police on the deck, I was allowed to disembark the ship. Soon after I landed on the shore, I met Ahmadi friends, Mr Shishaba and his associates, who had come to greet me.

After concluding this meeting, I met the commissioner of police and then at three o’clock, I met a resident of Cologne.

Both of them behaved very respectfully and affectionately. As it was a Friday, I offered Jumuah prayer at the Ahmadiyya mosque and delivered a sermon in English, which was translated into Yoruba by the imam, Mr Ajose.

Lagos

I will write about the accounts of this place in another letter, insha-Allah.

Meanwhile, I submit that: 

1. I have delivered three public lectures 

2. Friday sermons and darses of the Holy Quran, hadith and Ahmadiyya jurisprudence have started 

3. The series of regular meetings are taking place 

4. Friends are happy and enemies are surprised 

5. Aqiqah [Islamic tradition of sacrifice on the occasion of a child’s birth] of two Ahmadi children has taken place 

6. A nikah sermon has been delivered

I am need of prayers.

The traveller, Abdur Rahim Nayyar. 16 April 1921

(Translated by Al Hakam from the original Urdu in the 9-13 June 1921 issue of Al Fazl)

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