Amtushakoor Tayyaba Ahmed (Umm-e-Taalay), UK
وَ اذۡكُرُوۡا نِعۡمَةَ اللّٰهِ عَلَيۡكُمۡ وَ مِيۡثَاقَهُ الَّذِيۡ وَاثَقَكُمۡ بِهٖۤ ۙ اِذۡ قُلۡتُمۡ سَمِعۡنَا وَ اَطَعۡنَا ۫ وَ اتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ عَلِيۡمٌۢ بِذَاتِ الصُّدُوۡرِ
“And remember Allah’s favour upon you and the covenant which He made with you, when you said, ‘We hear and we obey.’ And obey Allah. Surely, Allah knows well what is in the minds. (Surah al-Maidah, Ch.5: V.8)
I began this year by writing a series of articles on the amazing blessings of Khilafat on my parents, the late Dr Hameed A Khan and Sajida Mubashira Sahiba (Al Hakam, 5 March 2021, issue CLV, p. 12). It is indeed unexpected that less than a year later, I am writing about my eldest son, who has joined those who have gone before us at a young age. I consider it the will of God Almighty that I end the year writing about the blessings of Khilafat on our son, Syed Taalay Ahmed Shaheed, who was martyred on 24 August 2021 whilst making an historical MTA documentary about the Nusrat Jehan Scheme in Ghana.
Taalay began his master’s degree in journalism in September 2012, a few months after his marriage to Saleha Satwat Sahiba, daughter of Mirza Ghulam Qadir Shaheed and Amatul Nasir Nusrat Sahiba. A year earlier, he had been guided by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V, may Allah be his Helper, to read the Five-Volume Commentary of the Holy Quran whilst spending a gap year (during his undergraduate degree), volunteering for The Review of Religions magazine. Here, he had the good fortune of working under the kind supervision of Syed Amer Safir Sahib, Editor of The Review of Religions, whom he saw as a mentor and friend.
The Review of Religions archives tagging team
It was at this time that, alhamdulillah, I had the honour of working as Taalay’s assistant and team leader for ladies in a team that was formed for the specific purpose of tagging, i.e. cross-referencing the topics from the archives of The Review of Religions. Amer Safir Sahib had advised that I should focus on enlisting waqifaat-e-nau from the Northeast region of the UK (where I lived), who thus could also be given the somewhat rare opportunity (in 2012) to serve the cause of Islam Ahmadiyyat online (and from a distance to the centre of the Jamaat in London).
Thus, armed with a team of some waqifaat-e-nau and others, we began working. Taalay supervised my work (the ladies’ team) and had a small team of men working alongside him too. He divided the magazine archives between us, set us timeframes and patiently taught us how to cross reference the topics. He himself identified and organised the topic list and made a great effort to categorise the subjects in a clear, detailed, informative and interesting way. The work took several years and was, alhamdulillah, very successful. I am sure it was a great source of increasing the religious knowledge, skills and blessings for all those involved.
Another blessing that we were bestowed whilst Taalay was volunteering with The Review of Religions team was that he and part of our team also had the honour of transcribing the English translation of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V’saa Friday Sermons on a temporary basis. This involved dividing the English translation of the sermon between us into minutes and seconds and then carefully transcribing each word so that subtitles could be created to appear on the Friday Sermon recordings. It was an essential requirement to listen to each sentence repeatedly to ensure it was recorded in written format correctly and thus also meant each transcriber listened with great concentration to Huzoor’saa words.
Repeatedly listening to an allocated part of the sermon immensely increased the realisation that merely listening to the Friday Sermon once did not do it nearly enough justice. The team worked in this way for over a year, after which it was allocated to a team of missionaries.
Defence against anti-Ahmadiyya blogging
It was around that time that an anti-Ahmadiyya group set up an anonymous blog to propagate some false allegations against the Jamaat. The campaign, unsurprisingly, used the cowardly tactic of propping up a young woman on the frontline as the spokesperson.
Taalay, however, having monitored the situation and gauged its weaknesses, decided to come up with a powerful strategy. He set up a parallel blog with a team consisting of myself and another female family member amongst others, which answered the allegations made by the frontwoman with strong reasoning and arguments.
A sword and shield – Upholding the honour of women
Although Taalay used the tactic of anonymity against our adversaries, he did not use their tactic of hiding behind a woman’s skirt! Whenever he posted or wrote, he did not resort to falsehood or pretending to be a woman or girl. Similarly, I used a female pseudonym. By the grace and mercy of Allah alone, Taalay acted as a sword by refuting allegations with sharp, truthful and reasoned answers. At the same time, according to the traditional decency of Ahmadi gentlemen, graciously shielded us on any occasion when he felt that I or any other team member had not been spoken to in an appropriate manner on the blog. He was 22 years old at the time.
Additionally, Taalay used his wit and side-splitting humour to parody the anti-Ahmadiyya blog leaving us many times in stitches! This tactic was amazingly successful and within a short time, the woman’s blog no longer cast any kind of influence, except perhaps on a handful of the very weak-minded. Another sign of success was that the people behind the blog could no longer stand their humiliation and death threats ensued.
When it comes to the history of all true religions, unfortunately, the greater the opposition’s desperation, the greater the depths of depravity. The reality is that such attempts at harming the Jamaat of the Promised Messiah, peace be on him – the ardent devotee of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him – can never be successful in the long term as such actions are against Allah’s will.
As part of Taalay’s master’s in journalism, he began a very successful project setting up a news website that covered news relating to religions, called NewReligion. Again, the team from the previous blog joined him alongside a range of new writers – some Christian in faith, some belonging to other belief systems. The website was a very productive project, informative, neutral and allowing people from different faiths, backgrounds, countries and ages to join together. It gave Taalay the opportunity to report on news and events relating to Islam and also on Jamaat events, a skill he was to go on to fully develop when he was later appointed as part of the MTA News team. He also used Twitter as a tool to promote the articles produced and to make links with other similar websites and organisations.
Beginning as a waqif-e-zindagi
Taalay, aged 23 years, began his service as a life-devotee in September 2013 and was appointed by Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih Vaa in the International Press and Media department under Abid Khan Sahib. Of course, this waqf period of his life has been described as the time he became “a shining diamond”, one aspect of which was as a courageous, scholarly and eloquent online defender of faith.
By the grace of Allah, Taalay lived a short distance from Masjid Fazl and was able to pray behind Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa and meet him whenever possible, both in official meetings and as part of Huzoor’saa family meetings for the extended family. He also continued to attend Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V’saa Waqf-e-Nau classes regularly. These were blessings he cherished and, alhamdulillah, was very grateful for.
His official work in the Press and Media Office included online work and some social media management. He began writing articles, including a four-part article on God, on the Press Ahmadiyya website complete with embedded links to Rational Religion videos that further illustrated explanations. He covered questions such as the Islamic concept of God, proofs of the existence of God, six common arguments posited against the existence of God and the question of suffering.
Taalay captured current and historical viewpoints: the theory by the 17th-century French mathematician, Blaise Pascal; the atheistic viewpoint of actor, comedian and writer, Stephen Fry; the theory of evolution and the omnipotence paradox, whilst pertinently using evidence from research from a range of authors such as poet laureate Lord Tennyson, Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh and Hazrat Alira. His arguments were built on the foundation of the Holy Quran and ahadith.
Reading Taalay’s online jihad of the pen, a plain and simple fact shines through: Taalay was a humble devotee of Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya, his knowledge and understanding of faith was through a deep study of Ahmadiyya literature, and this was apparent when he wrote about the attributes of God. A small extract from one of his articles is as followed:
“Having thus formed an outline of God, we may ask what role Allah plays in our lives. Those who subscribe to the theory of deism acknowledge the existence and arrangement of the natural world points to a divine creator. However, they reject the concept of a personal God who answers prayers and interacts or intervenes in the affairs of His creation. The Quran dismisses this theory:
“‘When My servants ask thee about Me, say: “I am near. I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays to Me. So they should hearken to Me and believe in Me, that they may follow the right way.”’ (Ch.2: V.187) […]
“Indeed, the example of a loving mother is apt as the Quran repeatedly emphasises how Allah loves His people. In the traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, we are told that Allah goes so far as to say: ‘When My servant draws close to Me by the span of a palm, I draw close to him by the cubit and when he draws close to Me by the cubit, I draw close to him by the space (covered) by two arm spans, and when he comes to me walking, I go in a hurry towards him.’ (Muslim)
“Again we read: ‘My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing voluntary prayer till I love him. When I love him I become his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his leg with which he walks.” (Bukhari)
“Islamic teachings clearly illustrate a personal God, but does He remain so in our modern age? The founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, writes:
“‘Our God is that God who is alive even now as He was alive before. He speaks even now as He used to speak before. And even now He hears as He used to hear earlier. It is a false notion that in these times He does hear but does not speak. But He hears and speaks, too. All His Attributes are eternal and everlasting. None of His Attributes is in abeyance, nor will it ever be.’ (The Will, pp. 12-13)” (The God Article Part 1, Syed Taalay Ahmed, courtesy of Press and Media Office)
Reaching out on Reddit
I am sure I speak for thousands of parents who have realised as their waqif-e-nau children grow up that the love, guidance and prayers of Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaa has had an immense impact on not just their waqif-e-nau child, but also set a standard for their whole family.
Taalay attended Waqf-e-Nau and Atfal activities just as other children do. He learned his syllabus, attended ijtemas and participated, often very successfully, in academic and sports competitions.
As we lived in Hartlepool, at times he would attend the national Waqf-e-Nau Ijtema as part of a local jamaat group. On one occasion, the feedback after his attendance was:“We have never seen Taalay so happy as at the National Ijtema.”
It was his nature, by the grace of Allah, to enjoy any opportunity that increased his knowledge and understanding of matters pertaining to his faith.
Once Taalay was working as a life-devotee, there were aspects of his online defence of Islam Ahmadiyyat that I was not even aware of. He worked quietly and without any wish for public acknowledgement. However, it became apparent after his martyrdom that Allah wished to reveal some of his good actions, perhaps to benefit and inspire others (insha-Allah).
A few days after his martyrdom, a family member received a beautiful message from a US khadim who had worked with Taalay:
“6 years ago I got a DM from Taalay bhai while I was a moderator for the Ahmadiyya subreddit. Taalay bhai wanted us to get organised and do our best to defend Ahmadiyyat on Reddit.
“Back then there was a(n) anti-Ahmadi subreddit that called us apostates and even had Zia-Ul-Haq’s image as their banner. That group openly endorsed violence against Ahmadis. Thankfully we eventually got that subreddit shut down.
“Taalay bhai posted amazing content constantly. He defended Ahmadiyyat against false allegations, posted content that helped guide people to Ahmadiyyat, and helped strengthen slumbering souls (myself included).
“I always enjoyed reading his posts and comments … I really wanted to go to England and finally meet the guy that helped strengthen my faith. Insha-Allah we’ll meet him in the hereafter.”
This Reddit site contains a glimpse of Taalay’s efforts to defend Islam Ahmadiyyat using online media, alhamdulillah, and I hope and pray that many other Ahmadis will be inspired to increase their knowledge so that they too are fully capable of refuting false allegations, insha-Allah.
Taalay was only 25/26 years old when he began working on this site and he used a very youth-friendly approach whilst doing so. I hope to, insha-Allah, relate some of these arguments in the next article.
Encyclopaedic knowledge – WikiAhmadiyya
In around 2015, whilst working in the Press and Media department, Taalay undertook another fascinating online project, by the grace of Allah. This was to produce an encyclopedia on Islam Ahmadiyyat, aptly named wikiahmadiyya (www.wikiahmadiyya.org). The website hosts 113 articles, prepared by Taalay and checked by a missionary colleague of his. It covers a wide range of subject areas on Islam Ahmadiyyat and other world religions. Importantly, it also covers answers to allegations against Islam Ahmadiyyat.
For those sisters and brothers that would like to access this wonderful demonstration of the results of the blessings of Khilafat on a humble devotee of Khilafat, it is currently available online (it is sometimes easier to access by googling WikiAhmadiyya.org and then clicking the link). The website was accompanied by Twitter, YouTube and Google accounts with supporting materials.
Moving on to MTA
From 2016, Syed Taalay Ahmed was appointed in the MTA News department. It was from here that he continued his work producing content, some of it as online resources available for people to access. This work, of course, was more visual, using the tool of the camera. Many Ahmadis will have seen his documentaries and the programmes he produced and, insha-Allah, will continue to do so.
There are many aspects to Syed Taalay Ahmed’s life that perhaps could be mentioned: sports accomplishments and interests; wide-ranging study of literature; interest in TV and film (partially for the purpose of his work); a keen commentator on current affairs and politics; a wonderful son, neighbour, family man, and in due course, I am sure these will also be remembered, insha-Allah.
By the grace of Allah, however, like hundreds of thousands (if not more) Ahmadi brothers and sisters around the world, Taalay’s most fervent desire was to serve as a humble devotee of Khilafat.
“He fulfilled the pledge he made with me and did justice to it.” (Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, Friday Sermon, 3 September 2021)
(To be continued...)