The Review of Religions (English), Jan & Feb 1920, pp. 47-55
The annual conference of the Ahmadiyya Community had just been over and visitors for the occasion had all dispersed and the remaining few were still dispersing when the memorable scene happened in the secluded headquarters of the new community which forms the subject of the present article.
It was the 6th of January: the Holy Leader of the community, after performing the usual Zuhr prayers, was going to retire to the inner apartments when he found his passage barred by the late-coming worshippers who were still at their devotions. He stopped and was immediately surrounded by the crowd of petitioners and workers: some with requests and others with reports whose number never fails so long as the Holy Leader is to be seen in the public.
One gentleman had in his hand, I suppose, some British price list regarding which, I guess, he had something to consult His Holiness about. The latter sat himself down on the floor. He called for one of the secretaries and spoke to him regarding the possibility of erecting a mosque in London. The moment was opportune. The exchange value of the sterling was low. A few thousand rupees would procure more of sterling money now than in normal times. Ahmadiyya missionaries in London had repeatedly pointed out and pressed for the urgent removal of the want. One of them had suggested that the work might easily be accomplished through the agency of some or other of the House Building Companies in London, a small sum to be paid monthly was the only additional charge to be defrayed by the community.
Rupees fifteen thousand if dispatched at once and carefully invested might at 10 p. c. [prime cost] of dividend return sufficient income to reimburse any Building Company for the construction of a small mosque. When the company has been fully paid up, the money invested will still remain to the community, while the mosque will be acquired wholly out of the profits of the investments.
What was important was the early dispatch of the money. If subscriptions were not forthcoming, loans might be raised to be repaid in ten years i.e., as soon as the building has been paid for or even in five years from subscriptions meanwhile collected.
Such were the cautious, tentative proposals put forward by the Holy Leader of the community who hardly perceived what flow of enthusiasm the idea was to evoke among his followers. The crowd of hearers, poor men with shabby exteriors, listened with rapt attention to every word of their leader, and as he slowly proceeded to detail the several suggestions as they occurred to him, I felt at every step the galvanic shock which in the laboratory I have seen giving movement to the dead. “Would that I were the first to respond to the call!” “Would that I had the wherewithal to adequately contribute towards the enterprise!” “Alas!” “Alas! My God! others will take away the privilege of precedence.” Such were the thoughts that ran through my mind and doubtless through many others present in the assembly.
It was, I think, a young man, by profession a carpenter, who was the first to make openly an offer of rupees five. Brave heart! the smallness of the amount daunted him not. The sum perhaps represented some weeks of his savings. Then came other offers—ten, fifteen, twenty, fifty. Every announcement came as a fire touch. For my hands were empty, and though my heart yearned I knew not whence I could snatch the means to be among the fortunate few who were to be the happy partners in the work. Other offers came, ten, fifteen, twenty-five. I could endure it no longer. Then came a thought. I left the mosque and ran home. There was in the house a war bond, the property of my wife. It was a present to her given in lieu of ornaments. “Wife!” said I, “a great work is afoot. His Holiness proposes to erect a mosque in London. He has been receiving subscriptions. Fortunate is the man who finds the means to contribute. I have no money. I cannot get anything with which to take a share in the work.” She understood not my agitation. “Where shall we,” she asked, “find the money to subscribe?” I desisted from further talk. It was perhaps too heartless, too cruel to expect her to undergo the sacrifice.
At the time of the Maghrib prayer I learnt that rupees eight hundred had already been subscribed and that the ladies in His Holiness’ family had given the project as warm a reception as the men, and that people had been invited to assemble in order to hear His Holiness speak more on the subject.
After the prayers His Holiness stood up to speak. He praised God for His many favours to the community. He spoke of the heavy responsibilities that such great favours entailed upon the recipients. Animals chew the cud when the busy hour of labour is over. Men too chew the intellectual cud when there comes a period of relaxation after any great intellectual effort. They repeat the experiences over and over in their mind, gloat over and enjoy the thrills of excitement which the memory revives. But to busy people such moments of relaxation come but seldom. Heavy is the load and long the way they have to traverse. Long must they wait to reach the haven of rest when their labours will be over and they will have time to enjoy the memory of the experiences undergone.
The [members of the] Ahmadiyya Community have been raised as the true heirs of Islam. They have taken up the banner where their predecessors stopped. The task before them is great and heavy. Europe lay before them and America and the rest of the world where the trumpet of Islam has not been heard these thirteen hundred years. They must not, therefore, expect any early rest. The annual conference with its strain, its activity, its demands union their purse has been over.
In other years, after every such conference there has been a period of comparative inactivity and the members have had time to enjoy the memory of the events of the occasion. But works and responsibilities have been increasing in weight and importance. It was indeed a matter of joy. It was as a proof that the Community was progressing. That was the reason why so soon after their last efforts he was going to speak to them for new and larger efforts. Their missionaries have now been working for some years in London. They have been working under very great disadvantages. They have no quarters of their own. They and their office occupy hired apartments at the mercy of the landlord. There is uncertainty regarding the tenure. Their success—and God be praised they have had considerable success—sometimes evokes the bigot jealousy of the landlord and they are asked to quit.
A removal from one quarter to another of London means something like a transfer from one city to another in India. One such removal means the loss of months or years of labour. Old acquaintances vanish, new acquaintances have to be formed. Accustomed visitors disappear; friendships are broken off. Men whom a long discourse with the missionaries had brought to the very door of Islam are left to revert to their former apathy and ignorance. Moreover, the absence of any permanent office causes in the enquirers a certain doubt regarding the genuineness and stability of the mission.
In a big city of the west bogus associations and pseudo religious societies are common. Ephemeral movements are started every day of the year with the noblest of maxims and the sublimest of precepts, but they vanish as the year runs out. Naturally the intelligent public have to be cautious and circumspect. Permanent quarters and real property will endow the movement with a colour of stability and permanency and create trust in the public. Their missionaries, therefore, had pressed time and again for the establishment of permanent quarters. One had suggested that if the required capital could not be raised at once, recourse might be had to some of the many House Building Companies. For an undertaking to reimburse the company under a system of monthly payments, the company will purchase the necessary land and construct the required house.
The amount required was inconsiderable, considering the circumstances of the country. He thought rupees thirty thousand would be required. The moment was opportune. The exchange was favourable. A guinea which normally cost 15 rupees could now be secured to in England for a remittance of something like 9 rupees. Rupees thirty thousand now would give them the advantage of rupees fifty thousand in normal times. Nor should they think the amount extravagant.
In London things are twelve to fifteen times dearer than in this country. A labourer here earns annas 8 a day. In London he earns from 7 to 10 rupees a day. Rupees fifteen thousand will here build a pretty commodious house. In London it will barely suffice to construct a moderate sized room. They wanted, moreover, one or two rooms for the resident missionaries.
At present in hired apartments they cannot freely call the Azan. Delicate and scrupulous people in adjacent apartments would raise objection and appeal to the landlord. The latter has no option but to choose between our missionaries and his other tenants, and naturally his interest goes against us. In a mosque which is our own property surrounded by houses occupied by our members there will be no reasonable objection to cry the Azan—the blessed cry which puts to flight the hoards of satan and opens the door of the soul to the ingress of truth. This in itself is an inestimable advantage.
It is the trumpet call of Islam, a trumpet which wherever blown has ever been victorious against ignorance and abomination of Shirk. Nor should they forget another important issue nineteen hundred years ago after the departure of the first blessed Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and dispersed his followers, one of his disciples Joseph and his companions fled as refugees through Italy to the shores of England and established there the first church of the new faith.
Though later on the inroads of the barbarians and the subsequent influence of the Popish cult obliterated all traces of the primitive faith, the fact remains that the first apostles of the first Messiah reached the laud as refugees flying before persecution at home. Providence has now undertaken to play another role.
A second Messiah has now visited the earth. This time his followers have gone to the new land not as fugitive refugees but as voluntary agents to point out to the people where they had formerly departed from the true teachings of their master. Church Christianity has raised the rampart of its defence by fabricating false and distorted versions of Islam. It is conscious of its inner weakness. There is already mutiny within its walls.
Now a mosque in the very heart of the country with its five daily bolts of Azan and its own propaganda [promulgation] of mission work will carry the war into the enemy territory and give form and life to the discontented spirits who now but dimly perceive the net of falsehood and pretences with which it has been sought to entrap their souls. In a straight fight with Islam none of the other creeds have even a bare chance. They believed it. They know it. He now called upon them to come forward with their mites towards the up-building of this first fortress of Islam in the enemy’s land.
Before His Holiness had ceased to speak, subscriptions had begun to come in. When he closed his oration with the customary praise of, and prayers to God, enthusiasm waxed hot. From every corner of the small mosque offers came eager, enthusiastic and liberal. Qadian is a small place. The Ahmadis here number some 2,500 souls. There is hardly any aristocrat; men of upper middle class are few. The majority belong to the lower middle class and the labouring class. Their average income may be put at 20 to 30 rupees a month. Their houses are mostly of mud and cheap brickwork. But they had felt the inspiration of conviction, had seen the society of a Heaven-inspired prophet, had learnt the lesson of sacrifice for the sake of truth.
Where one expected units, there came tens, where one expected tens, there came hundreds. The sensation was excruciating. O God! O God! Am I not to be among these? If my wife would not respond, shall I be lacking in my own duty? Shall the smallness of my offer keep me away altogether from participation in the great work? I tore myself away from the busy assembly in the mosque and ran home again. “Dearest! His Holiness has spoken again on the subject of the London mosque, and people are pouring in their subscriptions. You have still the war bond in lieu of ornaments. Will not a reward with God be better than ornaments on Earth? I cannot wait. I have little to give. But I think we have five rupees to spare from current stock. It shames me to pay such a poor sum, but I cannot be among the missing. I missed the chance of being the first to answer the summons. But there may still be a chance of being the first of my province. Do please give me the money.”
The money was received and forthwith dispatched with a silent prayer that it might reach the collectors before any other of my province. Praise be to God, the action proved more eloquent than my words. “Yes husband! give away the bond.” “Heaven bless you, Dearest!” A silent prayer and kiss, were all I returned. “God of our fathers! God of Islam! accept our offer. Thou art the seeing, the knowing.” Quickly I ran to His Holiness with a gladness and a fluttering in the heart and handed in the bond. He read the name and announced it. It was the largest of that night’s offers. God be praised.
Subscriptions continued to flow in. By the Isha prayer time, five to six thousand rupees had been collected. The next morning there was to be a meeting of the ladies with His Holiness to address them. They were perhaps more liberal than the men. Ornaments and jewellery and cash were thrown in. The collections came up to something like 2,500 rupees.
In the afternoon in the Jum‘a mosque, His Holiness was to make a public address to men who could not attend at the previous day’s Maghrib prayers. There was an eager attendance. His Holiness began with praises to God and told the people how the whole affair was seemingly providential. The idea had first occurred to him all of a sudden when he entered the mosque on the previous day to offer the Zuhr prayers. During the services the thought again and again forced itself into his mind and he had to keep it out with an effort. The strain upon the community was already considerable and multifarious and he thought he would not add to their burdens by launching a new project. But then do what he could, the thought found expression. He was afraid the community might find it hard to raise fifteen thousand rupees by subscriptions, and loan was his first idea. But the project was received with an unexpectedly generous response. Readily and liberally did the subscriptions flow in. When he entered the inner apartments, a young boy of not particularly well to do parents brought to him 13 rupees, 8 annas which he had saved out of his monthly allowance of tiffin money, and the whole of the amount he would pay for the projected mosque.
Perhaps it was the patient saving of months, laid by in the hope of acquiring some pet fancy of childhood. There was apparently the hand of Providence working. After the Maghrib prayers he spoke of an enlarged project—rupees thirty thousand to be raised by subscriptions and loans. The congregation, thank God, did not flag in enthusiasm. Eagerly and freely were the subscriptions promised and paid.
Next morning the ladies vied with the men in the race of subscriptions. Qadian, the small village, thank God, has done itself credit. The occasion was certainly one of thanks but was not also altogether without its regret. That very morning when writing out an appeal on the subject he had been moved as rarely before he had ever been moved on any subject. It was the recollection of a story of Hazrat Aisha[ra] that moved him. When the Muslim conquests had begun and wealth had begun to flow into Medina, there came one day some fine wheaten flour for the holy lady. The bread was laid before her. She ate it and said her thanks. At the same time a tear stole down her cheek. When asked about it, she said that she thanked God for those days of fine wheaten flour, days of prosperity for Islam, but could not help remembering that their master, the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) to the last of his days knew not any food finer than course bread.
Somewhat similar was an incident in the history of the Promised Messiah (peace be on him). The project of the Minaratul Masih, now an accomplished fact standing before them in its marble splendour, was then afoot. The Promised Messiah[as] had estimated the cost at 10,000 rupees. He had distributed the amount among a selected one hundred of his disciples, each one of whom was expected to pay a hundred. One example of devotion then displayed was that of a poor man who sold away his household furniture to make good his quota. When this came to the knowledge of the Promised Messiah[as], he referred to the disciple as having emulated the famous example of Hazrat Abu Bakr. This moved the devotee so deeply that he forthwith went home and in order to make the likeness to Hazrat Abu Bakr all the more complete sold away the remaining articles in his house and brought the proceeds to his chief.
But the whole of the 10,000 rupees proved inadequate for the completion of the work. Friends remonstrated that the thing was impossible, one was more emphatic than others, whom the Promised Messiah[as] asked what in his opinion was the sum required for the proposed structure. Twenty-five thousand rupees in the minimum was the answer. “Friend, you make it a hopeless undertaking,” said the Promised Messiah[as]. The work remained unfinished. Twenty-five thousand rupees a hopeless job, I remember with a pang, and now at a suggestion from me the community was prepared with alacrity to raise thirty thousand.
Individuals and communities have each some special point of sensitiveness. Touch it and his sense of honour is a-start. He would sacrifice every other thing for this pet. The acute businessman considers it a shame to be beaten by his rival in trade. The patriot will throw away thousands of lives and millions of money to save an inch of his country’s soil. The lawyer will not brook the idea of a defeat by his rival on a disputed point of law. Every one cherishes what he holds most dear. And what can be dearer to an Ahmadi than the honour and advancement of Islam. La ilaha-illallahu, the proclamation of Divine unity, was the life purpose of every Muslim and Ahmadi.
The clearness of this principle had been befogged by the glamours of a materialistic world. London was now the metropolis of this world. Any movement there was sure to make itself felt in every corner of the civilised world.
Let the Ahmadis raise the cry of La ilaha-illallahu in this centre of Shirk. Let them stint neither money nor labour for this dear purpose. It has long been prophesied that in the days of the Second Messiah the sun will rise in the west. Let the Ahmadis carry the sun of Islam there and from there it is sure to shed back its bright effulgence over the regions of a benighted world.
There was again a scene of enthusiasm. Every man ran to put in his mite. Those who had paid the day before paid over again. School boys paid generously out of their small purses. In an hour’s time some four thousand rupees were added to the fund already subscribed.
Well done, Qadian! Well hast thou learnt thy lesson from thy late master. And the great Lord of Islam will surely crown thy efforts with success. Amen.