Kashif Virk, Missionary, Sweden
The Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, peace be upon him, was sent in accordance with the prophecies of his lord and master, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, to propagate the universal message of Islam. The wisdom behind his appearance in India is that this was a contemporary melting pot where people from different religions and cultures lived side-by-side. Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jains, Christians and other religious denominations lived together in this vast empire, and thus they were all to be invited to the fold of true Islam.
Among the fortunate and blessed inhabitants of India who recognised the message of the Imam of the Age was my great-grandfather, Hazrat Sheikh Abdur Raheem Sharmara. He made tremendous sacrifices when he accepted Islam Ahmadiyyat. This article will outline crucial events from his life and will serve as an inspiration for us all about the importance of upholding our faith in Allah Almighty.
Birth and upbringing
Hazrat Sheikh Abdur Raheem Sharmara was born in 1887 in the town of Banur, District Patiala, India. He was named Kishn Lal and was the son of pundit Ralya Raam, a local shopowner and a sahukar i.e. money lender who made a profit on interest-based loans. His mother’s name was Jamna Devi. Both of his parents belonged to the venerated priestly Brahmin caste. Among his ancestors, many were revered as gurus and Hindu saints.
Hazrat Sheikh Abdur Raheem Sharmara received his primary education according to contemporary standards. He later moved to Patiala to pursue further education and was married during his years of study. Upon the sad death of his father, he was unable to pursue further studies and instead became involved in the family business.
Hazrat Sheikh Abdur Raheem Sharmara was a staunch believer in the Hindu religion and had built his temple at home and used to ring his bell loudly. Often, he used to go on pilgrimage to pay homage to Hindu goddesses. But a series of events would eventually shatter his conviction in these deities, and indeed in the Hindu faith.
Nephew dies of plague
One major reason for his waning belief in Hinduism was the shameful conduct of his elder brother, Shadi Raam. He was known as Bhagat Ji and used to have “religious” fits. He claimed that the souls of some deities entered him. In this state, he would sometimes state some facts and predictions. Initially, the family was convinced of the truth of these messages, but once it so happened that the son of Shadi Ram fell ill from the plague.
Hazrat Sheikh Abdur Raheem Sharmara had a deep affection for his nephew and was deeply saddened by this. He started to pray with his family to the goddess Basanti Devi. At the same time, he was grieved by the continuous negligence of his brother. One day, Shadi Ram had another fit, during which he predicted that his son would be cured on the 8th day. This gave the family great relief. However, on the very 8th day, the son died of his illness.
Hazrat Sharma Sahibra thought that if the Devi does not even listen to his esteemed brother, what could it do for the rest of them?
A wrong accusation
On another occasion, the brother accused him during a fit of not washing his hands after going to the lavatory and then getting himself seated on the couch of Lakhsmi, which they had placed in the shop. This was supposed to have angered Lakshmi and now, apparently, the goddess had expressed her displeasure to him. But this was untrue. He had indeed washed his hands, but instead of doing so in front of his brother, he had chosen another location where there was cleaner water. He thus protested and said that this was a blatant lie.
Incidents such as these increased the unrest in his mind and he was losing faith in the Hindu religion. At the same time, his brother was becoming increasingly extravagant and was severely damaging the family business.
Pardoning a poor Muslim family
Once, Hazrat Sharma Sahibra was sent by his brother to demand repayment of a loan from a poor Muslim family. But he knew the high rate of interest had made it impossible for them to return the loan. As he reached the farmer’s house, he met with his wife and his small children. When he saw their patched clothes and poor state, his heart melted. She told him about the difficult situation of the household. When the farmer returned, he also begged for mercy and respite. Hazrat Sharma Sahibra told him not to worry about the loan, and that he had pardoned it.
The farmer could barely believe what he just heard, but Hazrat Sharma Sahibra reassured him that he had indeed had not made a joke. He kept this incident a secret from his brother, who found out about it much later and became enraged.
A new job
As his brother’s extravagance increased, Hazrat Sharma Sahib’sra mother told him to leave the shop and look for another occupation. He found work as a chuprassi (attendant)at the customs and tax office. This would eventually prove to be a blessed occupation. It was here that he was introduced to Islam for the first time. Here he met Hazrat Munshi Abdul Wahhabra, who himself was a Hindu convert to Islam Ahmadiyyat. He used to preach to Hazrat Sharma Sahibra with a loving approach and would first compare Hindu and Islamic teachings and then establish the superiority of Islam.
Here, another interesting incident took place that weakened his faith in the Hindu religion even further. One day he was sitting next to a well with a soldier named Faqeer Muhammad. Suddenly, a cow emerged and urinated. As the stains fell on their clothes, Faqeer Muhammad (who was Muslim) rose and started beating the cow with his stick. Hazrat Sharma Sahibra, due to his reverence for the cow according to the Hindu faith, protested at this outburst on an animal he had considered holy all of his life and started to quarrel with Faqeer Muhammad. He was told the cow was an animal just like other animals, and he was asked why Hindus held paid much reverence to it. Hazrat Sharma Sahibra answered that it was Gaumata and a benevolent animal. Like a mother, it provided them with milk, and thus it was considered holy. As the heated debate continued, Faqeer Muhammad asked whom he considered more esteemed, the cow or his real mother. He replied that the real mother obviously held higher esteem. Faqeer Muhammad then said that since you drink cow urine, why then do you not also drink the urine of your mother? This retort left him dumbfounded and unable to answer, but the effect of this argument lingered with him for a long time.
Answering of prayers
Meanwhile, Hazrat Abdul Wahhabra kept preaching to him and also gave him some books of the Promised Messiahas along with some copies of the Ahmadiyya Community’s periodicals: Al Hakam and Badr. Here he used to read the revelations vouchsafed to the Promised Messiahas and they caught his special attention.
During those days, Hazrat Sharma Sahibra faced some difficulties. As he had heard that prayers were accepted in Islam, he now decided to put the faith to the test.
There were three objectives which are summarised below:
1. His sister had to be married off, but the family was unable to bear the cost due to the extravagant lifestyle of his brother.
2. He needed a promotion from his current job that was compatible with the social status of his family and his upbringing.
3. To convert fully to Islam, he needed courage and strength to leave his family and relations.
He did not reveal these aims to anyone, not even to his close friend Hazrat Munshi Abdul Wahhab. Albeit, he learned from him how to offer salat and started to pray regularly. He had to pray secretly in order not to be exposed. He thus chose two different locations. One was in a room at the customs office, which was mostly empty. He had asked Faqeer Muhammad to stand by the door and warn him if any Hindu was approaching. Faqeer himself did not pray, even though he was a Muslim. When he saw a Hindu pray fervently, this put him to shame. Eventually, he would amend his shortcomings and later even became an Ahmadi Muslim. The other location he had chosen was in a corner of a dark shed located in the backyard of his house. He used to shut the door behind him so no one could see him.
Initially, there were some difficulties in understanding the correct way of offering salat. Hazrat Sharma Sahibra used to count the qa’da (sitting position) in the second raka’ as one complete raka’. As a result, his prayers were twice as long as prescribed. Furthermore, he had difficulty pronouncing the Arabic prayers. Consequently, the five daily prayers took him up to 3-4 hours a day to perform. The heat of the summer days made him sweat profusely, but he continued to pray in this manner for a few months until he learnt the correct method.
By the grace of Allah, the aims for which he prayed started to materialise. In his home, the family found a huge amount of money, that had been stored inside a wall long ago and had been forgotten. The wall suddenly fell one day due to the rain, and the money inside was still intact. Thus, they were able to marry off his sister in an apt manner.
Secondly, he was promoted from chuprassi to clerk of the customs office. Later, when the superintendent (Darogha) of the office was promoted, he interceded on Hazrat Sharma Sahib’sra behalf and recommended he take over. Thus, he started to work as a superintendent of the customs office.
Regarding the third aim, Hazrat Sheikh Abdur Raheem Sharmara writes:
“Then the third aim was fulfilled in such an extraordinary manner that now, when I ponder over the circumstances and how such a weak person as myself, who was entangled in the shackles of religion and kinship and lived in a Hindu state, which meant that there were many hurdles in the way of accepting the truth, how I still became a Muslim, and not only did I become a Muslim but was also blessed to join the fold of Islam at the hands of the Promised Messiah (peace be upon him) – my soul bows down in prostration.
“I was not firm enough to face all these challenges that were in my way after the truth had become manifest. It was only through the sheer grace of Allah that He guided me and without any special effort on my behalf, He pulled me towards the threshold of the source of light and guidance and put a hidden motivation and extraordinary vigour in my heart to accept the truth that I became ready to accept Islam at once, without any concern for all the opposition and hurdles.” (Ashab-e-Ahmad, Vol. 10, pp. 50-51)
Visiting ‘Krishna the Second’ in Qadian
After reading about the Promised Messiahas and his revelations in Al Hakam and Badr, the time had come to meet him in real life. He thus took leave from his job and travelled with Hazrat Munshi Abdul Wahhabra to Qadian. This was in June 1904. They reached Qadian on a Friday, just before Jumuah. They were welcomed by a handsome man who asked them to first have a meal. Hazrat Sharma Sahibra first thought that this was the Promised Messiahas but later he learnt that it was Hazrat Maulvi Abdul Karimra of Sialkot who was a prominent companion.
In Qadian, some objected to the golden earrings he wore according to Hindu custom, but his friend explained to them that he was still a Hindu interested in Islam. As they entered Mubarak mosque, Hazrat Sharma Sahibra seated himself near the window from which he was told that the Promised Messiahas would soon emerge. As the Promised Messiahas arrived, Hazrat Sharma Sahibra was able to meet and shake hands with him. He recalled that he touched the garments of the Promised Messiahas and sensed the smell of a pleasant perfume.
This first encounter left a lasting impression on him and his attraction towards Islam increased.
Pledge of allegiance
At the time, his age was only about 15. His only intention was to meet the Promised Messiahas and he was told by his friend not to do bai‘at yet as the news of the conversion of a young Hindu could create disorder. But Hazrat Sharma Sahibra was unable to restrain himself now. Later that day, after Maghrib prayer, he did bai‘at and became an Ahmadi Muslim and thus a companion. He stayed in Qadian for a week and later returned to his hometown with some books.
Unfortunately, he was unable to return to Qadian again during his lifetime. However, he sent some letters to the Promised Messiahas asking for prayers about the consequences his conversion could have, not only for him but in particular for his married sister. He received replies to these letters from Hazrat Maulvi Abdul Karim Sahib wherein he stated that the Promised Messiahas had indeed prayed for him.
A secret disclosed
Back home, his interest in Islam was still a secret. But as he spent more hours praying in seclusion, his wife became suspicious as to what he was up to. Once, she stood outside the shed trying to peep inside but was unable to see anything because of the darkness. On another occasion, she heard her husband crying whilst in prayer and rushed to her mother-in-law and informed her. His mother climbed the staircase of the house and looked down whilst he was in prostration. She became very upset, and upon confronting her son, she asked where he had learnt to pray like Neel Gurus (a term she used for Muslims). Hazrat Sharma Sahibra told her he accepted Islam as a true religion and was not ready to leave it, and were she to oppose this decision, he would announce his faith openly and leave the household.
His mother loved him deeply and was frightened by the notion of losing her son. They reached an agreement that he could continue to pray secretly in their home and not let the wider family know.
But by now, the news of his conversion was spreading rapidly among the Muslim population of the town. Many approached him and gave him literature to read. In one of the books, he read that anyone who misses four consecutive Friday prayers intentionally, will lose his faith. This made him anxious. He decided to join the Friday prayer in an Ahmadi Mosque at a far distance from the town, where no one could recognise him. Every Friday he used to leave town covered in a blanket so he would not be exposed.
One day, it so happened that a Hindu who was collecting water from a well situated in front of the mosque spotted him. He followed Hazrat Sharma Sahibra secretly and observed him praying inside the mosque. Then he ran back to town and loudly announced that “I have seen Kishn Laal superintendent of the customs office, pray with Muslims!”
This resulted in general turmoil. Eventually, an elder Brahmin from his family calmed the situation down and reassured them that he would speak to the young man himself. Later in the evening, the elders gathered at his house to question him. Hazrat Sharma Sahibra replied that he had indeed accepted Islam. They spoke to him calmly and caringly, saying that there was still no harm since many made mistakes at such a tender age. They would be ready to alleviate any doubts that had arisen in his mind because of some deceiver. In the discussion that ensued, Hazrat Sharma Sahibra was able to give arguments against puja (worship of deities) and transmigration of souls which the elders were unable to answer. Thus, reinforcement had to be called and debaters from the zealous Arya sect arrived. The debates were held behind closed doors, but people stood outside and on top of the roofs to listen in. Since Hazrat Sharma Sahibra already had read the arguments of the Promised Messiahas against the Arya faith, as elaborated in books such as Surma-e-Chashm-e-Arya and Chashma-e-Ma‘rifat, no one was able to refute him.
The elders then asked him that if he was not ready to leave Islam, he should at least refrain from visiting the mosque and instead pray at home. They pressured his mother and wife to be strict with him so he would not leave the home or the Hindu faith. His mother cried and told him that he had put the whole family to shame. At this, Hazrat Sharma Sahibra decided not to mingle with Muslims and to avoid visiting the mosque.
At the same time, the pundits (Hindu religious clerics) did their level best to bring him back to his former faith. They even made him the secretary of their community council and kept a strict watch on him so that he would not be able to meet any Muslims. This was indeed a troublesome period for him.
Pilgrimage to Haridwar
Another device on the family’s behalf to bring him back to Hinduism was to sponsor a trip for him to Haridwar, a famous place of pilgrimage. They considered it necessary to cleanse him from the “impurity” he had incurred from having meals and praying with Muslims. They also sent letters to their acquaintances there urging them to persuade and preach to the young man.
This worried Hazrat Sharma Sahibra and he asked his friend Hazrat Munshi Abdul Wahhabra what to do. He replied that there was nothing to worry about since bathing in the Ganges or any particular river would not affect his faith.
As the journey began, he faced yet another challenge. How would he be able to offer salat without being seen by anyone? He had told his fellow travellers where he was headed. So, when prayer time arrived, he had to hand over his luggage to them and went to look for a place at the train station where he could perform the ablution. This took quite some time. Eventually, as he stood in prayer, the train arrived, and it made him worried since he did not wish to miss salat at any cost or even perform it quickly since he considered this to be a great sin. (This I consider to be a great lesson, especially for the youth of our time, about the importance of safeguarding salat.)
When he had finished the prayer, the train had already started to move, and he thus had to chase it. He tried to open the doors to the carriages, but they were all locked. As he reached the 5th or 6th door and moved the handle, it opened up and inside the carriage were his fellow travellers and his luggage. Hazrat Sharma Sahibra considered this to be yet another sign of Divine help that had occurred to him.
The issue of finding a place to pray was even more difficult at Haridwar. He had to walk far away to find a secluded place. He also took occasional bathes in the river. But this only decreased his faith in Hinduism. It made his ancient religion appear even more objectionable to him. As he returned to Patiala and his friend Hazrat Munshi Abdul Wahhabra, he shared details of the journey with him and felt great relief that it had indeed ended.
Announcing his faith publicly
Time went by, and after the demise of the Promised Messiahas the era of Hazrat Maulvi Nuruddinra, Khalifatul Masih I, had begun. Hazrat Sharma Sahibra was still hiding his faith and felt grief over this. It so happened once that he was walking home from work and felt so ill that he could hardly reach home, and as he did, he fell on his bed. His mother called the doctor. His state caused him great anxiety since he thought that if he died in this state, his body would probably be burnt and there was no chance of getting an Islamic burial. God would surely question him for this shortcoming, he thought. He prayed to God that he be granted respite until he could announce his faith publicly.
He wrote about this experience in the following words:
“I was not quite aware of Islamic issues, and I thought that one could only pray during salat. And since I had never seen anyone pray on the bed, I thought that one could not pray whilst lying down. I lacked the strength to stand up. With great difficulty, I managed to fall down from the bed and started to offer salat, while lying on the floor, praying, ‘My God, if my death is predestined, then at least give me time to announce myself as a Muslim’. I felt that my health recovered during the salat.”
He would later consider this an awakening call from God, Who was not pleased with him for hiding his faith for so long.
A failed plan
But as he recalled what had happened to him, doubts were emerging in his mind again about announcing his faith publicly. He thought to himself that he lived in a Hindu state with no religious freedom and if he announced being a Muslim, his wife and kids would suffer and be bereft of his inheritance.
These thoughts terrified him and he did all he could to change his mind. But then he thought he had made a promise to God and asked for respite to openly confess his faith. If he failed to fulfil this promise, what would happen to him? Surely, God would be displeased with him. Thus, he wrote to Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira for guidance. He received a reply instructing him to wait further and to keep preaching to his wife. Hindu women were loyal and perhaps she would be ready to travel with him to Qadian, it said in the letter. On the other hand, his wife’s family was telling her to stay firm, that Kishn Laal was staying only because of her and that if she showed any weakness he would become a Muslim.
At this, Hazrat Sharma Sahibra decided to shift his residence from the family home to an apartment of his own. There, it would be easier to persuade his wife. And this was also, apparently, the case. His wife agreed to travel with him and they even decided on a date of departure. But before the specified date, she informed her father of the plan. He suddenly showed up on the day of their departure, shaking with anger. He grabbed Hazrat Sharma Sahib’sra son in his arms and took his daughter and left the house. Hazrat Sharma Sahibra asked his wife what was going on, to which she replied that she was not ready to leave her faith or parents.
Hazrat Sharma Sahibra thought that the very last reason for him to remain in town had now been removed. The same night, he put up posters in the town stating that he had happily renounced his faith and accepted Islam and that no one was to consider him a Hindu.
The next day, a clamour arose in the town. A boycott of his mother and brother started. His mother was prohibited from meeting her son, hoping this would trigger emotions of regret. His mother was heartbroken. She could not bear the separation from her beloved son. As Hazrat Sharma Sahibra left his office in the evening and walked with the Muslims towards the mosque, he used to pass by his mother’s home. She stood ready at the window, pointing towards the bazaar to observe him. This was a very painful situation, Hazrat Sharma Sahibra recalls, and he would often hear his mother weeping from afar. But there was no possibility of meeting. This was due to the fear of the reaction from relatives. As he saw his mother’s state deteriorating, he sent her a message saying that they could meet at night at a certain Muslim home. Thus, these meetings started to take place in secret.
Through Divine assistance, Hazrat Sharma Sahibra was able to keep his job at the customs office. The employer was British and had no concern about employees changing their faith. He had also moved into a room in the customs office.
One winter, he fell ill with a high fever. As he was lying there all alone, doubts yet again arose in his mind. Here he was, all by himself. His wife, children and siblings had left him. He could not even meet with his own mother openly. Could he not remain a Hindu and keep worshipping God? Was there a difference between Ram and Raheem? Then he thought that these were indeed Satanic thoughts, and he did and started to pray fervently in salat. This alleviated his fever and he felt great relief.
Migration to Qadian and departing from his wife and children forever
Hazrat Sharma Sahibra now wished to learn more about Islam, but he realised this was not possible where he lived in Banur. He decided to migrate to Qadian. He was offered a job at the magazine Tasheez-ul-Azhan as an accountant. The agreement was a wage of 10 rupees a month. He would send half of this amount to his mother. Thus, on 26 December 1910, he arrived in Qadian. Here, he learned more about Islam through his colleague, Hazrat Maulvi Muhammad Ismail Sahib of Halalpur.
His efforts to bring his family were still ongoing. Once he was able to meet with his wife and they yet again decided on a date for the escape. But on the specified date, she did not show up. Instead, he was attacked by an angry Hindu mob. Luckily, he was saved by Muslims nearby. He feared that perhaps this was a plot of his in-laws and decided not to try again. He was never again to meet his wife or two children and was later informed they died along with his father-in-law in the plague in 1930.
Hazrat Sharma Sahibra remarried in Qadian in 1914 through Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra. The wedlock was with Aisha Begum Sahiba, a lady who had been partially raised by Hazrat Amma Jan. With her, he had five sons and four daughters. One of his sons, Maulana Abdul Karim Sharma Sahib, served as a missionary in East Africa. All of his sons were prominent in their service of the Jamaat, by the grace of Allah.
To his great joy, his mother, Jamna Devi would later move to Qadian and stay with him. For a long time, she remained firm in her Hindu faith and customs. But, through Hazrat Sharma Sahib’sra prayers and efforts, she would eventually convert to Islam. She was given the name Hameeda and was buried in Bahisti Maqbara in 1935. Her inspiring story can be read in the book Tabe’een Ahmad.
Gratitude to Allah
Hazrat Sheikh Abdur Raheem Sharmara wrote:
“Now when I think of how I became a Muslim, I am extremely amazed. My friends who know me are aware of my personality and know that I am very shy. How could I ever have had the strength to become a Muslim by myself and face all the hurdles and opposition? It was only by the grace of Allah that I was able to accept Islam. And not only was I blessed with accepting Islam, but I also saw the Promised Messiahas with my very own eyes and took the pledge of allegiance (bai‘at) in his hands.
سبحان اللّٰه و بحمده سبحان اللّٰه العظيم
“Neither was I at loss in my worldly state. I arrived empty-handed in Qadian and at the time I only had a pair of shoes, two garments and a few rupees. But my Lord did not let me perish. I left my home and found a better one. I left my wife, but Allah gave me another wife. I had to leave two children, but Allah gave me five sons and four daughters. I had to leave my family and relations, but here I got a better family and loving relations. I got a home to live in. I had to leave my mother, who was the most beloved to me. Apparently, there was no way to mend this loss. But my Lord removed this loss and gave me my beloved mother. She moved to Qadian and accepted Islam and stayed with me until her last breath, and she was buried in Bahishti Maqbarah Qadian.
الحمد للّٰه عليٰ ذلك
“When I think of how Gracious my Lord has been towards me, my soul falls down in prostration. O, my Lord, I was weak and You took hold of me! I fell down at every step, but you lifted me up. I became anxious at seeing all the troubles and trials, but You consoled me and gave me willpower. How was I even able to become a Muslim? It was only through Thy grace that I did become a Muslim. How was I ever to know that You had sent Thy servant to guide the world? It was You who guided me. How was my knowledge sufficient to know who Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, (my life be sacrificed for him) was? And what a prophet was? Thou did solve my difficulty. You solved my difficulty by Yourself and took my hand and subjugated me to a guide and filled my heart with that source of light and guidance to the degree that I was attracted to bai‘at automatically.
“At the time, I was unaware of the grace which was being bestowed upon me. My Lord, this was all Your working and it was marvellous.”
Today, the offspring of Hazrat Sheikh Abdur Raheem Sharmara live throughout the world and serve faith and humanity in different capacities, by the grace of God.
May Allah enable us to follow and uphold the great example set by this companion of the Promised Messiahas and our predecessor.