Awwab Saad Hayat, Al Hakam
The year 1933 for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat began with a historical incident. It was the first time Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra, his brothers and members of Qadian experienced flight on an aeroplane. This was the first time in history that a plane took off from the blessed soil of Qadian.
With the commencement of the blessed month of Ramadan, the first fast of the year 1932 was observed in Qadian on 30 December. It is recorded in the Jamaat’s history that a famous aviator from India, Mr Chawla, came from Lahore on his aeroplane on 30 December 1932, around 4 pm and landed in the open field near Qadian railway station. Mr Chawla reached Qadian from Lahore in 35 minutes. This journey, if taken by foot, would take roughly a full day if one walked without a break.
Mr Chawla requested Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra to see his plane. Huzoorra expressed his intention that he’d see the plane on 31 December; however, due to his busy schedule, Huzoorra could not make it on that day.
On 1 January 1933, around 11 am, Huzoorra arrived to see the aircraft. Since it was the first time that a plane arrived in Qadian, a large number of people gathered from Qadian and its suburbs, including women, men and children.
When Huzoorra arrived, Mr Chawla took the plane for a test flight. After this, some had the chance to experience flight for the first time. For the first flight, Huzoorra called Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmadra MA and Hazrat Sayedah Nasira Begum Sahiba, who was the daughter of Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra and the mother of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa. They boarded the plane and after flying 35 miles around Qadian for a total of 13 minutes at a height of 3,000 feet, they landed.
On the second flight, Huzoorra nominated Hazrat Sahibzada Mirza Sharif Ahmadra and Sahibzadi Amatul Qayoom Sahiba, daughter of Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra. Then, Huzoorra boarded along with Hazrat Sahibzada Mirza Sharif Ahmadra. As the plane took flight, slogans of Allahu Akbar were raised. The plane flew at a height of 4000 feet for half an hour and circled to the river Beas. After covering a distance of fifty miles, the plane landed amid chants of Allahu Akbar.
This interesting incident of 1933 shows how Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V’saa grandfather, Hazrat Mirza Sharif Ahmadra, had the opportunity to board the first flight in the history of Qadian twice, and the mother of our beloved Imam, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, was nominated to fly on the first flight. It also sheds light on Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud’sra approach to introducing Ahmadi men, women and even children to the modern inventions of the age.
The then Al Fazl correspondent, while reporting this important historical event, wrote that Mr Chawla Sahib was an expert in his art and a smart young man. It was through him, as stated above, the first time an aircraft came to Qadian and took flight from this abode of peace, denoting a memorable and historic day in the history of the Jamaat.
It would not be out of place to mention here that many members of the Jamaat were worried about the short plane flight and some sincere members even voiced their concern before Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra suggesting he should not board the plane and expressed that the life of the Khalifa was so precious it could not be estimated.
As it was the first time, they felt a high probability of danger and requested Huzoorra to not board. Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra listened to their sincere desire with a smile and consoled them.
During Huzoor’sra turn, when some time had passed, and the plane was out of sight, a wave of panic and anxiety tided. Finally, as soon as the plane came into sight from a far distance, people started raising slogans with great joy. (Al Fazl, 3 January 1933, pp. 1-2)
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud’sra interest and passion for air travel can also be estimated from the incident of 1924 which has been recorded by Hazrat Chaudhry Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khanra in his book. He writes:
“A few days before the return journey of the Imam was to commence, I left for Amsterdam. KLM’s London-Amsterdam air service had started only a short while earlier. It was my first experience of air travel. The plane was small – to carry just five passengers. Chairs were of cane, arranged two in the front and three in the back row. No more than a wooden plank separated the passengers from the pilot. There was only one exit and entry door for everybody to use. The plane flew low. The atmosphere being clear, every object on the ground could be distinctly seen. The plane stopped at Rotterdam for a few minutes before landing in Amsterdam. After a few days, Chaudhry Mohammad Sharif joined me there. Together, we travelled to Brussels. From there, after a two-day halt, we joined the Imam’s entourage in Paris. In Paris, he stayed at Grand Hotel near Louvre. Though not as busy as he was in London, most of his time was spent meeting with people. Only a day could be spared to visit the palace of Versailles. […] During the Paris stay, Imam observed that since I already had experience of air travel, a way should be found for him to have the same experience. I submitted that his companions would not approve of his trying this new mode of travel, which still carried an element of hazard. He said they should not be told beforehand. I submitted that once they came to know of it, I would be blamed for the advice and they would entertain no excuse I might put forth. I was conscious of the Imam’s wish for an occasion to arise for his travel by air but, I guess, the Imam did not insist.” (Tehdise Nemat or Recollection of Divine Favours [English], p. 213-214)
Further details and interesting aspects of the aforementioned first air travel in 1933 are also found in the writing of an eyewitness who passed away on 13 July 2017 at the age of 92. Syed Muhammad Ahmad Sahib, son of Hazrat Dr Mir Muhammad Ismailra, writes in his memoirs:
“Some 15 years before Partition, towards the end of 1932, a small three-seater plane called a Puss Moth came to Qadian. The plane landed on a large field to the west of the railway station. The owner and pilot of the aircraft was Mr R N Chawla who in 1930 was the first Indian to fly a de Havilland Puss Moth from India to England. He had brought his plane to Qadian with the intention of taking it to London and then flying from there to Karachi to create a record for the shortest-ever air journey between the two cities. At the time, the airport in Karachi was considered the centre of civil aviation in India.
“According to his proposed itinerary, he had to call in at 15 locations on the way to Karachi as his plane was unable to fly more than 300 miles at a time. In addition, planes in those days did not have the electronic instruments required to navigate at night and there was also the matter of his sleep and rest. Therefore, Mr Chawla had estimated he would need at least 15 days for this journey. Since he did not have the requisite funds to undertake it, estimated to be Rs 10,000, he had sent out requests for donations to the maharajas, rajas and nawabs of various Indian states. Each donor was asked to give Rs 500 to enable this expedition and enhance India’s prestige in the world.
“A copy of this request was also sent to Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra and Huzoor was the first person to respond to it. Huzoor wrote back to him saying that if he came to Qadian in his plane and took a few members of the community for a ride in it, he would donate Rs 500 to him. And so it was that Mr Chawla brought his plane and a mechanic with him to Qadian. The plane landed in the town at 7 pm on 30 December 1932.
“Back then, Qadian had a population of between 3000-4000 people. The entire town came out to see this aeroplane for the duration of its stay. There were oval semi-circles marked on each side of the landing ground and during the day, they would fill up with spectators. The visit of this plane took place a year before the infamous convention of the Ahrar which saw them enter Qadian and promise to destroy it brick by brick. The convention was held close to the Arya school which was near the railway line.
“Mr Chawla spent to technical and logistical issues before making a test flight. He also met with Huzoor in his office and requested him to come and see the plane for himself. On 1 January at 11 am Huzoor, accompanied by a group of khuddam and some elders of the community, went to see the airplane. I was 8 years old then and one of many enthusiastic spectators. As soon as Huzoor arrived, Mr Chawla made a short test flight and, after landing, he invited Huzoor to come up with him. But for the first flight, Huzoor chose his brother Sahibzada Mirza Bashir Ahmadra and his eldest daughter, Sahibzadi Nasira Begum. For the second flight, he nominated his youngest brother Sahibzada Mirza Sharif Ahmadra and second daughter Sahibzadi Amatul Qayoom. On the third flight, Huzoor went himself with Sahibzada Mirza Sharif Ahmadra.
“During Huzoor’s flight the plane did not land after completing its circuit. Instead, it flew higher in an easterly direction and after a while it disappeared from view, causing a wave of anxiety to spread through the crowd. There were people who thought that this might have been a secret plot to abduct Huzoor. Others started to cry, while some began to pray. Their prayers were ongoing when the plane came into sight from the east, flying at a considerable height. There was a sudden sense of relief and various people fell into prostration in gratitude to God. After landing, Huzoor explained that he had asked Mr Chawla to fly to the Beas River so that he could see the area between Qadian and the river from the air.
“The pilot’s seat was at the front of the plane and a wide seat for two passengers was at the back. Huzoor announced a list of names of those who would take turns going up. Each person was given the opportunity to fly for one circuit, which lasted about 7 minutes. The following day – the last one of Mr Chawla’s visit – some children were also given an opportunity and one adult and two children would go up in turns. My heart yearned for the chance to fly. Perhaps Huzoor sensed something of my desire because suddenly I heard my name called out. I felt like I had won the lottery.” (Wings of Duty, pp. 4-7, Al Fazl, 26 August 2010, p. 3)
In the Jamaat’s history relating to air travel, it is recorded that Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, in the 1936 Majlis-e-Shura, expressed:
“I am not aware of the views of other friends [about this matter], but when I travel via train, I feel a strong desire in my heart that ‘If only this train was manufactured by Ahmadis and the company was owned by Ahmadis’ and when I travel via plane, I say [in my heart], ‘If only this plane was manufactured by Ahmadis and Ahmadis were the owners of its company.” (Khitabat-e-Shura, Vol. 2, p. 79)
Allah Almighty paved the way and made airborne journeys and missions faster through the blessings of Khilafat-e-Ahmadiyya; for example, during the centenary of the Khilafat Jubilee year, the plane Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa boarded and travelled to Canada from, on his visit to the United States in 2008, was named the “Khilafat Flight”. This historic journey was made on 24 June 2008 on Continental Airlines – Mun‘am Naeem Sahib, Chairman of Humanity First America, was its Vice President. 27 members were fortunate to travel on this plane. Each member was given a boarding card.
The boarding card provided had the logo of the centenary Khilafat jubilee and a picture of Minaratul Masih. “Khilafat Flight” was written on the top of the boarding card and “Ahmadiyya Muslim Community” and “Khilafat Centenary Celebration” were written on the bottom.
After the plane took off, Naeem Sahib announced on behalf of the plane’s staff. He expressed his Salaam to Huzooraa and Begum Sahiba and said they were currently flying toward Toronto. The flight was being operated by the chartered division of Continental Airlines. He said the plane was manufactured by the Brazilian company Embrey E.R.J. Continental Airlines had 250 such aircraft in its fleet. Apart from the one used for the journey, 350 large aircraft including Boeing 777, Boeing 767, Boeing 757, and Boeing 737 models were included in the fleet. Continental Airlines, he said, was the fourth-largest airline in the world.
During Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V’saa visit to America in 2018, Huzooraa was given a similar respect. And now, very recently, in the reporting of Huzoor’saa visit to America in 2022, it is recorded:
“2 October, Sunday: Today, Huzooraa left Zion on the plane “Khilafat Flight” to Dallas. The “Khilafat Flight” left Chicago at around 1 PM and arrived at Dallas Airport at 3 PM. (Al Fazl, 14 October 2022)
“9 October, Sunday: Today, Huzooraa left for Maryland in the plane “Khilafat Flight” from Dallas. The “Khilafat Flight” departed from Dallas at 12:15 in the afternoon and arrived at Maryland’s Baltimore Airport at 15:45, from where Huzoor’saa entourage, with a police escort, reached Bait-ur-Rehman Mosque at 16:30.”
Around 90 years ago, the first air travel of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra started with the company of one fortunate traveller. Fast-forward to today, in the year 2022, when about 75 fortunate people had the privilege of travelling with Hazrat Khalifatul Maish Vaa on this historic “Khilafat Flight”.
No doubt, the time is not far when new milestones shall be unveiled through the blessings of Khulafa of the Messiah. Every useful invention in the world shall support and aid them in the propagation of the message of true Islam to the corners of the Earth.