Last Updated on 13th May 2021
The word darwesh in the Arabic language translates to someone who takes a vow of austerity and turns away from worldly pursuits devoting his life for the sake of Islam. There can be no greater champions of the true meaning and essence of what it means to be a Darwesh than the 313 Ahmadis that chose to remain behind in Qadian after the partition of India to protect the sacred places belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat.
In October 1947, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra wrote to some of the central office bearers in Qadian and asked their opinion with regard to the protection of Qadian as well as the manner in which Ahmadis should continue to stay in the city. After discussing this matter, a report was presented to Huzoorra with the opinions of the office bearers compiled by the Amir-e-Muqami, Sahibzada Mirza Aziz Ahmad Sahib:
“It is the opinion of these persons that these occupants shall not return the college to us nor vacate the buildings. Therefore, apart from the holy places such as the Bahishti Maqbara, Masjid Aqsa, Masjid Mubarak and Darul-Masih, nowhere else can our people be placed. 200 people will be enough for the protection of these places.”
Hence it was decided that Qadian would be evacuated and a few hundred Ahmadis would remain behind to protect the holy sites. These individuals came to be known as the Darweshan and served the Ahmadiyya Jamaat by keeping guard over the holy places in Qadian day and night and ensuring that the buildings owned by the Jamaat did not fall prey to captors. There were many occasions when death was inevitable, yet they remained steadfast and fostered an incredibly spiritual atmosphere whilst working to ensure the survival of the Jamaat in Qadian. It is their sacrifices, under the guidance of Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, due to which Ahmadis around the world are able to seek spiritual sustenance from the holy sites in Qadian today.
When the suggestions of the office bearers had been received, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra announced that all Lajna, children under 18 and men over 55 were to evacuate Qadian. Those men that would remain would be selected for a few months to undertake the protection of the Markaz. All Ahmadis were asked as to who would voluntarily remain behind, after which lots were drawn from various categories of Ahmadis. For instance, the family of the Promised Messiahas had separate lots drawn; fundamental departments of Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya and Tahrik-e-Jadid ensured that its representatives would remain behind to continue the work of the respective offices; lots were drawn for those Ahmadis that were skilled in certain professions and for the benefit of the local population, Ahmadis employed in utility services such as tailors and barbers had separate lots drawn for them. Thus, a list of 313 Darweshan was finalised and approved by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra.
On 12November 1947, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra wrote a letter to Hazrat Maulana Jalaluddin Shams Sahibra which contained important guidelines for the Ahmadis in Qadian. The interesting fact is that whilst giving guidance to the Darweshan, he wrote:
“The population of Qadian can only be established upon the rules of tasawuf [spiritual devotion and piety – mysticism]. Moreover, it is the rule of tasawuf to speak less, eat less and sleep less.”
He also instructed for Ahmadis to “incline others towards tasawuf.” Therefore, in light of the lifestyle that Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra wanted those Ahmadis that remained behind to protect the holy places of the Jamaat to adopt, the name Darwesh becomes perfectly apt since the word Darwesh is a term of tasawuf. Furthermore, when we read about the manner in which the Darweshan-e-Qadian lived their lives, we become convinced that they are truly deserving of this title since they offered the ultimate sacrifice of giving up their families, their professions and their lives lest the holy places, which were blessed with the presence of the Promised Messiahas, fell into the hands of the opponents.
Once the 313 Darweshan were chosen, a card was sent to congratulate them, informing them of their selection as a Darwesh – the card bore the signature of Hazrat Maulana Jalaluddin Shams Sahibra who was serving as Amir Jamaat Qadian. It read:
“Darwesh by the name of …. Congratulations to you for you have been selected to remain in Qadian for the next two months. We hope your stay shall be with safety and peace and that you will co-operate with your peers; that you will bear hardships yourself without troubling your colleagues.”
A pledge was also taken from each Darwesh in the words:
“We, Ahmadis – whose signatures are below – holding God witness over us, pledge that until we do not receive any other command, we shall not abandon Qadian. We shall live in peace and harmony and shall co-operate with one another. Moreover, the officers from among us shall bear hardships ourselves, and shall not let our fellows be troubled.”
The Darweshan were divided into blocks and smaller groups, then allocated the protection of various sites throughout the stronghold in Qadian which they would guard day and night. Such a systematic manner of protection left a deep impression upon the hearts of those who came across the town. Moreover, the Azan continued to be called out 5 times a day, which led to numerous women and children that had escaped the clutches of the Sikhs to flee towards Qadian where the Darweshan would arrange for their safe passage to Pakistan. In short, the few streets that were being guarded by the Darweshan day and night became a safe haven in the middle of a crisis that was claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands.
The valour of these few hundred Ahmadis can also be appreciated when we read the newspaper reports from the era which is full of admiration for these courageous souls. An Ahrari newspaper by the name of Azad notes how all the Muslims had abandoned their offices leaving their mosques empty and had fled towards the safety of Pakistan. However, it states that in western Punjab it was the town of the followers of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas in which the mosques still proclaimed the Azan. The newspaper Tanzim published from Peshawar (30 July 1950) wrote:
“The 313 companions of the Prophetsa defeated the Meccans and conquered Mecca thereafter. It is in these footsteps that today 313 followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani (son of Mirza Ghulam Murtaza of the Mughal nation, residence Qadian, Tehsil Batala, District Gurdaspur) stand strong in Qadian. It is their strong resolve that following the companions of the Holy Prophetsa, they are busy in the protection of Masjid Mubarak, Jamia Ahmadiyya and Bahishti Maqbara (where Mirza Sahib is buried) in Qadian with their full strength and imploring God for help. There are many scholars, huffaz [plural of Hafiz – those who commit the Quran to memory] and sufis among them.”
One should not be misled into thinking that because the Darweshan-e-Qadian were 313, they were a strong force, for such a number was next to nothing in the wake of the massacres taking place especially in western Punjab. By reading the accounts of those that were living in Qadian as well as the newspapers of the time, we can gauge the danger that they faced. For instance, there were constant rallies comprising of Hindus and Sikhs that would take place in the vicinity of Qadian aimed at flaring up religious animosity against Muslims. After one of these rallies at the wall of Baitul Barakat, which was opposite Noor Hospital, the following words were written: “O Hindus of Qadian! Beware of Qadian and destroy the Muslims!” Furthermore, the Qadian-Lahore correspondence is filled with stories of Muslims escaping their captors and taking refuge in Qadian after which the Darweshan would take it upon themselves to locate their families and then ensure their safe journey to Pakistan.
On one occasion, we find a group of 10 Darweshan being dispatched by the Amir to collect pages of the Holy Quran scattered in a nearby field by non-Muslims as a barbaric act of hate. On another occasion, we find the Darweshan engaging in Waqar-e-Amal to build two rooms on the corners of Bahishti Maqbara in order to safeguard it. From these accounts it would not be incorrect to conclude that for the Muslims, this was a state of war and anarchy. Yet at no place do we find any kind of hatred or violence being displayed against the government or those responsible for such atrocities. Rather, we find letters being written to the local government officials asking them to return the vehicles that they had borrowed from the Jamaat, thus demonstrating that in every circumstance, even where severe religious division was committing thousands to their graves, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat always held true to the Islamic belief of loyalty to one’s nation.
This is further reflected in a letter once written by Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra to Maulvi Abdur Rahman Sahib (Amir of Qadian) in which he suggested that a speech be delivered at the Jalsa Salana of Qadian on the 50-year teachings and example of the Jamaat regarding loyalty to one’s nation and that Ahmadis in India be reminded that since they were part of the Indian Union, they should remain loyal citizens of India. Though the political conditions of the time were heavily against Qadian, yet the Darweshan held fast to this teaching and invited over 50 Hindus and Sikhs to their Jalsa in order to create ties of brotherhood.
Hazrat Bhai Abdur Rahman Sahib Qadianira went back to Qadian in May of 1948 and wrote to Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra informing him of what he saw: “The effects of a new earth and a new sky are apparent”, he wrote as he described the revolutionary spiritual change in the Darweshan. He further wrote:
“I found Masjid Mubarak to be full [with wroshippers], I found Masjid Aqsa to be crowded… Not only are the obligatory prayers offered with due attention, but voluntary prayers are well offered. I found an alert populace. I saw a wont in the youth to learn about every corner of the holy places… The condition is such that in these three weeks, I tried very hard to enjoy a few moments of prayer in solitude in the Bait-ul-Dua of the Promised Messiahas. However, until now, this desire has not been fulfilled. Whenever I visited, not only was it not empty, but I found three or four youngsters crying in anguish whilst standing, bowing and prostrating.”
The Darweshan of Qadian truly demonstrated what it means to live a life under the practice of tasawuf in line with the desire of Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra. They are a practical example of the teachings of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam, for in the darkest hours and most troublesome times that befell them, they not only showed loyalty to their nation, served those in need, took care of the holy places of the Jamaat, but carried out all these tasks whilst establishing a spiritual kingdom in Qadian.