100 Years Ago… – Tabligh tour of West Africa

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Al Fazl, 1 & 8 December 1921

Hazrat Maulvi Abdur Rahim Nayyarra (1883-1948)

A week’s tour

I have already mentioned in my previous letter that I am engaged in a [tabligh] tour these days and the said tour is the primary purpose of my programme. According to this programme, I have visited Winnehah and Saltpond districts. As the tour of a particular part of the aforementioned [Winnehah] district was left, I completed it during this last visit. During that tour, I travelled 138 miles and in addition to meetings on an individual basis and preaching, I gave speeches at five different places. That week, or the first four days or four stages of the Haft Khan [the Seven Labours of Rustam], are interesting stories from the events of my life.

Destination

The sky was clear and the road was open. On the first day of the tour’s programme, there was an inspection of the Eshiem constituency. The people had gathered there on that day. At nine o’clock, the car departed from Saltpond. We had just travelled 20 miles when a series of accidents began. 

The driver’s shortsightedness and poor conditions of the roads caused the car to slip in the mud and its wheels got stuck, so much so that it was impossible to get them out. After waiting for an hour, some labourers were called from a nearby village and the car was pulled out of the mud. We safely crossed the river, but the tire burst and so we had to wait for repairs. 

Thereafter, the destination came close and two men were present for the reception on the royal road. We went along with them on the forest road. The said people made the mistake of not mentioning the hard and steep descent along the way. Consequently, the car broke down so badly on that path that it was impossible for it to move forward. Leaving the car in the forest, we proceeded on foot. The boys and girls had come one mile outside of Eshiem with small flags and they started to recite صلّ‭ ‬علٰي‭ ‬محمّد as usual. I was happy to observe the change that the boys and girls were standing in separate rows. All praise belongs to Allah that whenever I express displeasure in a matter or instruct [the people of Africa], they immediately comply with it. Eventually, I reached the destination.

Sermons, advice and sincerity of jamaat

After reaching the destination, I led the Jumuah prayer and since the English-speaking interpreter was not present, the sermon was delivered in Arabic and the interpreter conveyed it to the people in Fante language and conveyed my words in the best possible way. Thereafter, I gave advice to the whole jamaat and talked to a Muslim of the Hausa tribe in Arabic and explained to him the characteristics of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat. The said person attested to the truth [of the Jamaat] by calling out loudly, “Haqqanhaqqan and haqqan.” 

As the car had broken down and 50 men were needed to go up the hill to bring it back on the road, I said that those who wanted to go should perform that task. I was glad to see that Amir Ibrahim, Chief Ishaq Sahib and Jamaat Abakuá, who were guests at the place, got up first and said that they would go. The said action of elders and influential people on the one hand was an expression of their sincerity and was a source of encouragement to the youth on the other. The entire jamaat stood up and I sent 50 local gentlemen.

The Fante people will turn out to be good Ahmadis, insha-Allah. There, I also gave two sermons to Christians and idolaters, who were gathered separately, and answered their questions. The interpreter at that time was an Arabic speaker and for some time, an average English speaker.

Loss of sleep at night

Some Christians came in the evening with a Bible, and when I presented two Bibles, which I keep with me, and said to one of them, “Please, open chapter 17, verse 21 from the book of Matthew,” he immediately took out the verse. Then, I said, “Please, find the same verse in this second Bible.” The innocent man was astonished as he could not find the verse.

After that, I offered Salat and lay down on the charpoy [Indian style bed], but as there was only one sheet on a wooden charpoy, such a struggle took place between my bones and the hard wood that I spent the whole night conversing with Allah the Almighty and counting the pictures of the room. 

There were many pictures on the walls of the room and all of them were depicting Christian idolatry. In one picture, the Christian god was riding a donkey as a child. The mother was also on the donkey, while the father walked. In the second picture, the father god, with a long beard, was stood on the left side and the son god was stood on the right side wearing a crown, holding hands and making an arch. A dove was seen flying above them. Below, was the holy spirit god in the form of a beautiful lady. In the third picture, seven heavens were arched. At the top, the old god was sitting. Below each heaven sat another god with every day’s creation. In another picture, the unclothed Christ was hanging on the cross.

I think Hindu idolaters are a lot better than trinity idol worshippers. The former have a philosophy behind their idolatry and the latter have only superstitions. 

I really liked one of the pictures in that room. It was a picture of an innocent little girl praying with her hands raised and eyes pointing towards the sky. Next to it was a picture of a Christian female preacher lying with her hands tied together in a prison. That picture made me very uncomfortable and the restlessness of the night was spent in the remembrance of God. I thus repeatedly said, “O God, save me from vanity. [I don’t know] what is yet to come. Alas! I couldn’t even get ahead of this woman [in the prison]. I worry about small things. [O God] forgive me, pardon me, exonerate me and listen:

كام‭ ‬تيرا‭ ‬كام‭ ‬ہے‭ ‬ہم‭ ‬ہوئے‭ ‬زار‭ ‬و‭ ‬نزار

“[‘This task is Thine to do; we have become sorrowful.’]”

Worship of the cross

I have observed on many occasions during my travels that wearing or carrying a cross is considered a trivial matter. In fact, Muslims also help in the worship of the cross by imitating Christians. I have shattered this horrible ritual on three occasions and hopefully, this will now lead to improvement: 

1. A man came to offer Eid prayer carrying a stick in his hand with a cross sign on it. I asked his name and he said, “Ma Ma (Muhammad).” I was displeased to see the cross, so I could not control and I myself started the custom of breaking the cross. Muhammad himself broke it when he saw my hand moving towards it. 

2. A girl was wearing a necklace with a cross in it. When I asked the girl’s name, it was Fatima. I expressed displeasure while pointing to the cross and Fatima immediately removed that idol from the necklace. 

3. The small flags that were brought to my reception had a symbol of a large cross in them. A boy was holding that [small flag] in his hand to express his joy. I forbade him by pointing towards it and the cross suffered the same fate that is is destined for. […]

Al Fazl, 8 December 1921

Tears rolling down my eyes and determination

The next day, I gave a sermon to the jamaat and drew their attention towards giving chanda on a regular basis. Moreover, I instructed Amir Ibrahim (who demanded 10 shillings a year from working people and was displeased with the people who were willing to contribute four shillings a year), to accept whatever money a person could present. This disagreement at least shows that these people will do something slowly but surely, insha-Allah. Furthermore, they will not show inattention towards the expenses of the mission. 

Anyway, after the said advice, I had to prepare for the next journey. Unfortunately, Amir Ibrahim, despite his best efforts, could not succeed in acquiring the hammock. The journey of 11 miles was ahead of us and it was very hot (my current state of health is such that I cannot even travel on foot between Batala and Qadian), but there was no other option save to travel on foot. Ibrahim had informed his Omahene [king of Gomoha] that his white man would come to meet him on 1 October [1921].

Here [in Africa], the doctors instruct foreigners to walk less or else there is a risk of fever. Keeping all the said circumstances in mind, thinking and praying while sitting in a state of confusion, tears welled up in my eyes and then, putting my trust in Allah the Almighty; I decided that we would walk then.

The hammock came

The whole caravan set out on its journey and even the helpless and weak Abdur Rahim gathered his courage and accompanied them. After walking for only two furlongs, the river of sweat flowed, and on the other hand, the river of [God’s] mercy also gushed forth. A young Christian came running and said: “Rev Red, hammock came.”

Hammock is a kind of palanquin but its shape is like this: A cloth hangs in the shape of an arc and is tied to two wooden sticks below. Four men pick up the wooden sticks with which its roof is attached and the rider sits on it and keep moving here and there like a swing. 

The hammock was picked up by four young men with great sincerity and affection. I then carried on my journey while riding and sometimes on foot. When the hammock came, I gave a short sermon to the friends in Arabic on the subject of trust [in Allah].

My Fante

The ignorance and the initial state of society consists of strange happenings. The jokes about Jatts are very popular in Punjab. On many occasions, when I observe the situation here and recall some incidents of the early condition, I say, “Oh my Fantes.”

One such incident occurred during the said trip. I was waiting for the caravan when I got out of the hammock and was standing on the side of the road looking at the small goats and chickens in the green bushes, when a voice called out to me, “Asufun,” i.e. “Maulvi.” Turning to the left, I saw a person who had just finished urinating and had not even completely covered himself. He called me and first by standing, then by sitting, i.e. by making both the states of urination, asked me by gestures as to how it was permissible to urinate. 

“What should I answer him? How do I point out?” These were two questions that were impossible for me to answer. Thus, after saying, “O my Fantes,” I indicated to wait for the Arabic interpreter. When he arrived, the answer to the said issue was given in the best possible way.

Bedbugs in Africa

Night fell while we were three miles away from the destination. In every village along the way, the cries of سبحان‭ ‬اللّٰه‭, ‬الحمد‭ ‬للّٰه and اللّٰه‭ ‬اكبر, and the loud voices of ‭ ‬صل‭ ‬علٰی ‬محمدannounced the arrival of Muslims. A great number of people gathered and listened to short speeches from me and wanted me to stay with them. However, the lack of time and the programme forced me to leave. Eventually, I was compelled to stay in a village and a charpoy was arranged for me. A mosquito net was fixed and to avoid the bitter experience of the previous night, I asked them to arrange a mattress as well. It was thus arranged. I happily went to bed. Less than 15 minutes had elapsed before the vanguard of Africa’s black bedbugs appeared and a war began. I thought I had killed the whole army and so I lay down without fear. However, I was mistaken and the real army was coming after them, which did not let me sleep all night and it was the second night that Allah the Almighty kept me awake and gave me a chance to remember Him.

The third and the fourth day of the tour

Since the mail is about to be sent and there is not enough time, I will send the second half of the accounts in the next letter, insha-Allah. As for now, friends should be informed that: 

1. I successfully preached to Omahene, i.e. the great king of Gomoha

2. Then, I effectively gave the message of Islam to another king, i.e. Ajmakon

3. 16 people converted to Islam 

4. I witnessed the practical manifestation of:

وَ‭ ‬اِذۡ‭ ‬فَرَقۡنَا‭ ‬بِكُمُ‭ ‬الۡبَحۡرَ

[“And remember the time when We divided the sea for you.”]

All praise belongs to Allah Who made it all possible. The rest of the accounts will be sent in the next post, if life permits.

Miscellaneous

The class of missionaries has been started and the dar-ul-tabligh [mission house] has been inaugurated in Saltpond. I am personally teaching the Holy Quran, hadith, fiqh [jurisprudence] and the Ahmadiyya beliefs to missionaries in the Arabic language. Some educated Christians have become semi-Muslims, and idolaters and Christians no longer look down on Islam.

[This humble one] needs your prayers. 

[From] Abdur Rahim Nayyar

(Translated by Al Hakam from the original Urdu in the 1 and 8 December 1921 issue of Al Fazl)

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