Asif M Basit, Ahmadiyya Archive & Research Centre
The 1924 tour of Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IIra to England was a very eventful one. Although the Conference of the Living Religions of the Empire and the corner-stone laying of the Fazl Mosque stand out as iconic events, there was a lot that went on to contribute to the momentousness of this tour. How ever less mentioned it may be, every event worked towards the greater goal of spreading the message of Islam Ahmadiyyat.
One such event was a tea party that Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra hosted at the Ritz Hotel in London in honour of the organisers and delegates of the conference. Held in the afternoon of 28 September 1924, this tea party was to prove very eventful in its own right – carrying many lessons to Ahmadis, non-Ahmadi Muslims and to non-Muslims alike.
In the morning, when Huzoorra came to the breakfast table, he was shown the invites that had been sent out. Huzoorra, noticing that he was titled “Secretary to the Indian Delegation”, immediately expressed his disapproval for the title. Huzoorra said that he would not attend the party as the status of the Khalifatul Masih had been lowered down to a “secretary” of some organisation.
“The status of Khilafat”, he said, “is a very delicate one. Every sentence, every word and every letter of every word of the Khalifatul Masih will be analysed in the times to come. Every movement, every gesture of the Khalifa will be studied”.
Huzoorra plainly told his companions that he would not attend the event.
Panic struck the whole flock of his companions. They had invited not only delegates and organisers of the conference, but other dignitaries of the English society. The press was ready to cover.
Were Huzoorra not to attend, the event could rather result in embarrassment. Hafiz Roshan Ali Sahibra, Chaudhry Zafrulla Khan Sahibra and Abdur Rahim Nayyar Sahibra tried to persuade Huzoorra by saying:
“Many dignitaries have been invited. They are from the influential circles of the English society. If Huzoor does not attend, it could even hinder the tabligh projects of the Jamaat in England. Your absence, Huzoor, could result in a great loss”.
The wording of the plea is enough to show the level of desperation that the companions were faced with.
“This loss would be far less insignificant,” said Huzoorra. “My attendance would mean I approve of the Khalifatul Masih as a mere secretary of a delegation. This would undermine the status of Khilafat, something I will never allow to happen. Progressive nations should tread every step with extreme care.”
Reports have it that Huzoorra mentioned this mishap repeatedly with greater grief and deeper sorrow every time.
Huzoorra left the table and went to his room. The companions sat outside, sinking in the regret of what had happened, albeit unintentionally. They knew not that an even greater test was yet to follow – that too before the much-anticipated afternoon tea at the Ritz.
Engaged in his routine work of writing and going through the correspondence, Huzoorra stayed in his room all morning and only came out for lunch. The companions were very hopeful that Huzoorra would pardon their shortcoming and honour the afternoon event at the Ritz.
As Huzoorra was having lunch, Hazrat Zulfiqar Ali Khan Gauhar Sahibra – who had been out all morning running errands for the afternoon event – walked in and enquired whether his guests had arrived. He was told that around six people had called to meet him but had left after much wait. Zulfiqar Ali Khan Sahibra, shocked at the news, mentioned that he had invited them to lunch. Those who had attended to them said they had no idea of this invitation and had thus not asked them to stay for lunch.
This conversation caught Huzoor’sra attention, who, terminating his lunch, asked what exactly had happened. He was told how a miscommunication had led to honourable guests being turned away without appropriate hospitality. Huzoorra expressed utter dismay when he came to know of how guests had been invited for lunch but then turned away without it.
“What impression would they have taken? Wouldn’t they think how inhospitable Muslims are?”
Deeply saddened with what had happened to the guests, Huzoorra retired to his room once again.
Time was ticking away and something had to be done to persuade Huzoorra for the afternoon event, and if anything could be done, it had to be done now.
It was decided that all members of Huzoor’sra entourage collectively ask for Huzoor’s pardon. With a light knock on the door, Huzoorra allowed them to enter his room. They all asked for Huzoor’s forgiveness and request him to honour the tea-party. Huzoorra said, “Alright, I will go. But what happened is not something that can be overlooked.”
Huzoorra then instructed that the short speech he had prepared for the event be translated into English immediately while he got ready to depart for the Ritz.
As he left his residence – 6 Chesham Place in Belgravia – he ordered that the translated speech, once ready, be brought to the Ritz.
Since Huzoorra was hosting the tea-party, he arrived there before the guests. Hazrat Maulvi Abdur Rahim Nayyar Sahibra and Sir William Loftus Hare – one of the organisers of the conference – received guests at the entrance and introduced them to Hazrat Khalifatul Masihra.
Once everyone was seated, Sir Denison Ross, the Chairman of the organising committee of the conference, introduced Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra to the guests and requested Huzoorra to say a few words.
As Huzoorra stood up to speak, he gestured to Chaudhry Zafrulla Khan Sahibra to translate simultaneously. Sir Denison Ross insisted that Huzoorra speak himself, saying, “We are here to hear you speak, sir!”
Hazrat Khalifatul Masihra started his brief comments with a light-hearted comment. Huzoorra said, “You are quite used to seeing broken bottles after such gatherings, but I suppose you want to witness some broken English words tonight.”
Then Huzoorra delivered his comments where he thanked everyone in attendance and told them about the importance of religion in society. Huzoorra said that religion is the source of all morals and it is a lack of morality that leads to the unrest that the society is faced with.
Huzoorra recommended that more conferences of similar nature should be held as it would help to keep the religion relevant to society and will also lead to interfaith harmony. Huzoorra recommended that instead of inviting open-ended papers, delegates should be given a certain topic and asked to speak on it from their scriptures and teachings. This, Huzoorra said, would lead to better results in terms of developing an understanding of different faiths on the same issue.
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud’sra brief speech was followed by Sir Denison Ross’s comments where he thanked Huzoorra for travelling all the way from India for the conference. He said that he had no hesitation in acknowledging the fact that had it not been for Hazrat Khalifatul Masih’s presence, the conference would never have seen this level of success and press coverage.
Guests enjoyed tea and the event came to its end with a group photo of all in attendance.
For this large group, a row of chairs was laid before a two-stepped pedestal. Huzoorra was invited to sit on a chair that had been allocated for him, but he responded with a reply that amazed and amused everyone present.
“Today, women will sit on chairs and men shall stand behind them. This is our way of showing respect to women.”
The photograph that was taken on the occasion is given below. The Ahmadiyya Archive & Research Centre is humbled to present this photo for the first time to be henceforth recorded in Jamaat’s history.
In the short span of only a day, this event taught us the understanding of Khilafat that every Ahmadi should have; it taught that the Islamic standards of hospitality should always be observed and that guests should be treated with utmost respect; it showed how every opportunity should be utilised to tell the world about the beauties of Islam.