Born Charles Barton Stedman, brother Abdusalaam Stedman volunteered for VSO (a charity) when he finished university. In 1977, he started work as a teacher in the Ahmadiyya Secondary School Joru, Kenema Province, Sierra Leone. He was based there for three academic years. As soon as his work finished, he travelled straight to Rabwah where he spent three months. After that, Abdusalaam worked for three years as a teacher in the Solomon Islands and then returned to Britain to do postgraduate studies.
He performed Bai‘at in London in 1984. Thereafter he moved to Spain where he got married and settled down. Abdusalaam has been teaching English in a private school since then.
Currently Abdusalaam is a member of the team that produces the new Spanish edition of the Review of Religions and is Al Hakam’s Spain correspondent.
This article was written by brother Abdusalaam as a tribute to the late Chaudhry Anwar Hasan Sahib who he feels indebted to for introducing him to Islam Ahmadiyyat through his example.
In this brief article I would like to recall the life and work of Chaudhry Anwar Hasan Sahib. I met him at the Ahmadiyya Secondary School Joru, Sierra Leone at the end of the rainy season in 1977. He was the headmaster and I, a novice volunteer teacher. I can’t say that I knew him that well; our relationship lasted less than three years, but the way in which he put his religion first and his quiet self-sacrifice made an indelible impression on me that led me to Islam and Ahmadiyyat.
Joru is a village in eastern Sierra Leone. In those days it could only be reached after a long, bumpy ride sitting on a wooden bench at the back of a Mazda pickup. The laterite roads were either dusty or muddy according to the season. The drivers would stop every few minutes to drop or pick up passengers, chat to someone or give a few coins to the policemen who manned the frequent checkpoints which seemed to exist mainly for the purpose of collecting money in this way. It was a slow journey.
Chaudhry Anwar Hasan Sahib welcomed me into his own house when I arrived, since the little breeze-block building with the corrugated iron roof that had been assigned to me and Terry – my fellow volunteer – had not yet been cleaned after the departure of the previous incumbent, a teacher from Pakistan who had apparently done a runner to Nigeria with the aim of earning more money. When I first looked inside and touched one of the curtains, three or four cockroaches fell out and scuttled away over the concrete floor. It wasn’t what I was used to.
His house was rather dim inside. The windows were covered with wire mesh and mosquito netting. There was no electricity or running water. He was married and had two small children: a boy and a girl. But they were all in Pakistan and it would be a long time before he would see them again.
Chaudhry Sahib was from Multan and I reckon he must have been born around 1938. His family had some fine orange and mango trees. At an early age he dedicated his life to Ahmadiyyat. After finishing his studies, he was sent to take up a teaching job at Ahmadiyya Secondary School, Freetown. After some years he was appointed the headmaster of AMSS Bo, one of the best schools in the country. He ran the school successfully and with tight discipline. He was rather pleased that the students nicknamed him “The Brigadier”.
But around this period, the early 1970s, a problem arose for the Ahmadiyya Community in Sierra Leone. Great efforts had been made by the community to extend the network of schools to rural areas. One such school was in Joru. Schools at this time, though they received some money from the government, still relied heavily on the school fees they collected from the students. The continued success of a school depended therefore to a large extent on being able to attract a sufficient number of students. Naturally, students who lived in the town would go to the town schools, but students from rural areas lucky enough to have enough money would also prefer to go to the nearest town. The village, for them, meant a dull life of hard work from sun up to sun down with no expectations. But they believed that in the town, things were easier and more exciting. It was not difficult, therefore, for the town schools to attract enough students and keep high standards. In the villages, however, the opposite was the case.
The situation in Joru being particularly worrying, the Amir of the time decided he had no option but to send one of his best teachers there to turn the situation around.
One of the strategies that Chaudhry Anwar Hasan Sahib decided upon immediately on arriving at Joru was to attract as many foreign teachers as possible. Due to his energy and persistence, he was able to convince both the American Peace Corps and the British NGO, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), of his needs, and as a result, in the time I spent at the school I saw two teachers from Pakistan, four from the USA and three from Britain, including myself, spend various periods at Joru. And certainly, during my stay at the school the number of students remained satisfactory.
One aspect of Chaudhry Sahib’s character that fairly soon became apparent to me was that he was in no sense a “Friday Muslim”. His religious beliefs permeated every part of his life and daily activities. What is more, he laboured under two special difficulties. He never complained about these and if I am able to describe them it is because we were close neighbours, and since there was no electricity, we would often sit outside under the stars in the evening in conversation. We got to know each other quite well.
First of all, he was deprived of the company of his wife and two small children, for what reason I cannot say. But in the three academic years that I was in Joru, they were only with him once for a two- or three-month period. It is only looking back and having been a father myself that I can appreciate how hard that must have been. There were no telephones or any other modern forms of communication. He had to wait for the letters that came regularly and which took nearly two weeks to arrive.
Secondly, he suffered badly from asthma. Even the two hundred metre walk from his house to his office in the morning left him wheezing. The journey in the pickup truck to town which he had to undertake regularly to deal with administrative matters was a considerable trial. What is more, the hot humid air exacerbated his symptoms. In Bo, he had enjoyed considerable relief by being able to work in an air-conditioned office. In Joru there was no such luxury. He spoke to me about this because I asked him, but I doubt if he mentioned it to anyone else.
I left Joru in the autumn of 1980 and went straight to Rabwah. I had read a book by the Promised Messiahas in which he said that if anyone doubted his claims, they should come and spend some time with him. This, I was determined to do.
I attended Jalsa in Rabwah in January 1981 and I was happily surprised when his father and young son came to look for me at the Tahrik-e-Jadid offices. After that, I worked for three years in the Pacific so it was not until the mid-eighties that I was able to enquire about him at the London Mosque. I was told that his ill health had forced him to retire to Pakistan and that he had died shortly after.
In the annals of Ahmadiyyat, the contribution of Chaudhry Anwar Hasan Sahib may not be considered particularly exceptional. However, there are many such quiet heroes in our Jamaat. And it was my good fortune to be able benefit from his example of fortitude, determination and dedication and I remember him today with affection and gratitude.