Life in Qadian: A 1970s snapshot

Sahibzada Mirza Wasim Ahmad (1927-2007)

The 1974 publication “Popular Religion in the Punjab Today”, edited by John C. B. Webster, features a segment on the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Qadian. Commissioned by the Christian Institute of Sikh Studies, Batala, and published by I.S.P.C.K., Delhi, this concise volume provides a window into the religious landscape of Punjab.

Its contents offer insights into various Sikh denominations, including the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar, both Nirankari and Sant Nirankari sects, the Kukas, the emergent Namdhari Sect, and the Nihang Singhs, among others.

Beyond Sikhism, the book delves into Arya Samaj, Jainism, and Catholicism, thus casting a wide net over the religious diversity within Punjab’s rural and urban contexts. Essentially, it compiles papers from a seminar titled “Popular Religion in the Punjab Today,” held from 7-9 December 1973, at Baring Union Christian College, Batala, sponsored by the Christian Institute of Sikh Studies, and includes three additional contributions post-seminar. This seminar aimed to capture the essence of Punjab’s religious dynamics in the 1970s.

Following is the complete text of Sahibzada Mirza Wasim Ahmad’s article, which presents a vivid portrayal of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s life in Qadian. (— Awwab Saad Hayat, Al Hakam)


“Qadian is the centre of the Ahmadiyya Community. Because there are now Ahmadis in many parts of the world, this holy place is of international importance. Each and every Ahmadi, no matter what his nationality, loves and reveres this holy settlement greatly. After the partition of the country in 1947, 313 men stayed in Qadian to look after its holy places; now, as the wives of these men returned, as the bachelors among them married girls from other parts of India, and as some more families have arrived over the years, the Ahmadi population of Qadian has increased to about 1500 people. In this paper, I shall describe the religious life of the Ahmadis from morning until late at night. I shall then describe some of our festivals, special occasions and religious activities.

“At dawn, an hour and a half before sunrise, a melodious voice calls out from the tall, white minaret at Qadian, ‘Allah is Great’ and is heard for miles around. This call marks the beginning of the day for the Ahmadis. They wake up, perform the washing rituals (ablution), and walk towards the mosques with the name of God upon their lips. Soon, all three mosques in the Ahmadiyya settlement are filled. All the worshippers join in the morning prayers together under the leadership of an imam (the person who leads the prayer); there is no distinction between the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the dark and the light-complexioned. After the prayers are over, the worshippers remain to hear some portions, either from the Holy Quran or from other religious books, which will increase their yearning for God and desire for good living. At the same time, the women and young girls say their prayers in their respective homes. When this is completed, all the members of the household recite from the Holy Quran in their own individual ways. This is a time full of divine love and ecstasy; the songs of the cinema or never heard at this or any time in Qadian. (Ahmadis, particularly in Qadian, are most emphatic about the cinema being one of the great curses of modern life.)

“After breakfast, the Ahmadis go about their daily work. Some tend their fields, some work in the shops and stores of the Ahmadiyya bazaar, and some carry out religious responsibilities in the offices of the community. All of them come to the mosques at the time of prayer and join in mass worship. In fact the major part of the religious life of the Ahmadis in Qadian is their saying the prayers five times a day. For these, the men come to the mosque while the women say their prayers at home. Since women have household responsibilities, Islam has exempted them from having to come to mosques to say their prayers. This does not mean that they are forbidden to come; they can and do come, provided there is a curtain separating them from the men. On Fridays after noon, when special prayers are said, the women do come and participate with the men. A curtain is drawn inside the mosque so that the women can say their prayers undisturbed and listen to the Friday sermon of the imam.

“Every year we observe fasts for the whole month of Ramadan. Before dawn the young children pass through the streets reciting spiritual verses in melodious tunes in order to [wake up] the Ahmadis and get them ready for the fast. The fast continues till sunset. During the day those observing the fast are strictly forbidden from eating or drinking anything. During Ramadan, lectures and lessons on the holy tradition (Hadith) are given in the mosques after the morning prayers to both men and women. Similarly, after the prayers which are performed in the afternoon, the scholars of the community read by turn from the Holy Quran, explaining and elaborating on its meanings. In this way, the whole Quran is read through the month of Ramadan. At night a special prayer is held at which the imam recites portions of the Holy Quran from memory until, in twenty-nine days, the whole of the Holy Quran is completed in this way. Ahmadis participating in the prayers listen in silence. In the last ten days of Ramadan, a devotion in seclusion is held; whoever wants to participate in it has to stay in the mosque for ten days. This is considered to be a very important act of worship. Every year, scores of people get the opportunity to do it.

“When the month of Ramadan is over and the new moon of the next Islamic month is visible, all the Ahmadis celebrate Id-ul-Fitr. Men, women and children put on new or neat and clean clothes and go to idgah (an open place where mass worship is said on the day of Id) to say the Id-day prayers. On this day the prayers are usually said in a beautiful park adjoining the Bahishti Maqbara (blessed graveyard). First of all, prayers are said along with the imam and after this, the imam delivers a sermon in which he explains the significance of Muslim festivals and exhorts the people to serve humanity and other such things. Thereafter the people greet each other and embrace On this happy occasion special food is prepared and either this food or something else is sent as a gift to relations and friends. This gift is not compulsory. However, as the giving of gifts enhances mutual love, gifts cannot be refused. Those who are incapable of giving are not looked down upon by others.

“A second Id is celebrated two months and ten days after Idul Fitr. At this time the devout and solvent go to Mecca for pilgrimage or Hajj. This Haji takes place on the ninth day of the Islamic month (Zol Hajj). Those who cannot go on pilgrimage observe Id-ul-Azhia the next day, that is, on the tenth day, in their own towns. Idul Azhia means the festival of sacrifices and is celebrated in commemoration of Prophet Abraham’s offering up his son, Prophet Ishmael. In commemoration of this sacrifice, Muslims all over the world sacrifice animals after special Id prayers, sermons, etc., as we do in Qadian. We give each other and non-Muslim friends gifts from this sacrificial meat. Qadian becomes a festive place during this Id.

“In Qadian, the community runs, from its own funds and without government grants, two separate high schools–one for boys and one for girls–in which students (irrespective of caste and creed) acquire a modern education. It also has a purely theological school in which Arabic scholars are trained. All the students and teachers of this school have dedicated their lives to the service of their faith. The community also runs a hospital through which they serve the general public, spending on it a lot of money, as such, social service is an integral part of our religion. The community gives aid and allowances to deserving and needy students, orphans, widows and invalids from its charity funds. In 1955, when much of the surrounding area was flooded, the community provided medical aid as well as help in repairing homes for people in need. This made a great impression upon the people of the area.

“The white minaret of Qadian is a holy tower for the Ahmadis built by the Founder of the Community in order to fulfil publicly a prophecy of the Holy Prophet of Islam (May God bless him and grant him peace) that the Promised Messiah will descend near a minaret east of Damascus. Because so many visitors come to see this minaret, the Mubarak and Aqsa mosques, and the Bahishti Maqbara, (Blessed Graveyard), the community has opened an office to show all these to them and provide information about them as well as about the teachings and activities of the community. Non-Muslims come in large groups every day. If there is a wedding or special guests visit Qadian, almost invariably these people come to visit these holy places. Moreover, the Ahmadi Muslims of Qadian have become a kind of wonder for youth and children born after the partition of the country. Therefore, they visit us in order to learn about and understand our way of life. Should a visiting party arrive two hours before sunset while we are saying our prayers in the mosque, it gives them much pleasure to see us pray, even as it gives us who are performing Islamic worship, spiritual joy and ecstasy.

“As has already been stated, Qadian is the centre of the Ahmadiyya Community, of which there are close to two hundred branches in India, all of whom receive instructions from Qadian. A properly registered body under the title Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya Qadian with its own bye-laws is functioning at Qadian. This society collects subscriptions from the members of the community both in and beyond Qadian itself. These collections or subscriptions include a general contribution (to which each member gives one-sixteenth to one-third of his income), a share of inheritance (which runs from one-tenth to as high as one-third of an inheritance), special subscriptions for the annual conference held at Qadian, for the publication of literature, for preaching, Waqf-i-Jadeed (The Modern Dedication), Tahrik-i-Jadid (The Modern Movement), Fazle Umar Foundation (for the advancement of the campaigns launched by the late Second Caliph), Nusrat Jahan Fund (for the assistance of the world). The Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya has separate departments such as the departments of Education, Preaching, Publication of Literature, Finance (Income and Expenditure separate), General Affairs, the Treasury, the Auditor, etc. Each department has a secretary or Nazir and over them is a President or Nazir Ala. From amongst the darveshes (religious devotees) and other Ahmadis deserving candidates are chosen and employed in these different departments. Besides their salaries, certain payments are fixed for the families of the darveshes. But these salaries and allowances are minimal and only people with missionary zeal can live on them. The lives of our darveshes are extremely humble; somehow they live on what they receive.

“Our second religious leader, the late Hazrat Khalifatul Masih us Sani[ra] (the Second Successor to the Promised Messiah) has divided the men of the community into three groups according to their age. Children below 15 years are included in Atfal, youth above 15 but below 40 years of age are known as Khuddam (Servants) and elderly as Ansar (Helpers). Each group has a separate set of activities and is given lessons in accordance with these activities, and is inspired to act according to the teachings of Islam. Ahmadi women similarly participate in religious activities, just as do the men. They are divided into two groups: Lajna Ima-Ullah (the maidservants of Allah), which includes girls and women above the age of 15 years and Nasirat (The Helpers), which includes girls below the age of 15 years. They hold weekly meetings at which religious books are read and are trained to become good citizens, good daughters, and mothers. Therefore, if one were to visit the Ahmadiyya settlement at Qadian, one would at once feel that this is a Muslim area. Whenever Ahmadis meet each other, they exchange greetings invoking God’s blessings – ‘As-Salam-o-Alaikum’ and the reply, ‘Walaikum-us-Salam’ which means ‘May God grant you grace, peace and blessings’

“In Qadian, we celebrate two special days in the year besides the two Ids and Ramadan already described. One is called Milad-un-Nabi by Muslims in general and is the day on which the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace & blessings of Allah be on him!) was born. The Ahmadis, instead of celebrating it with qawalis (a particular type of singing) or like the Urs (Observance of the memory of the saints), hold a big meeting at which speeches are made on the different aspects of the innate nature and virtues of the Holy Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (May God confer the blessings of peace upon him). We ask not only our own scholars but also people of other faiths to present their ideas on this subject so that mutual love may be strengthened. The other special day is known as the day of Peshwayan-i-Mazahib, i.e., Religious Founders Day. On this day, the lives and innate virtues of the outstanding leaders and founders of all religions are described with love and reverence at the same time by members of the community. People of other faiths are especially invited to speak on this occasion. Such gatherings have always borne good fruit as followers of different faiths sit together; many have expressed their appreciation of this practice.

“Finally, mention should be made of the community’s annual conferences. These conferences are purely religious in nature, the speeches being based entirely on spiritual and religious subjects. The conference is generally held towards the end of the second week of December for three days. People from all parts of the country without distinction of caste and creed are invited to it; the community makes all necessary arrangements for lodging and boarding of the invitees. This kind of conference was actually begun in 1891 AD by the Holy Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement. Ever since then, this tradition has been maintained. Years ago, when the Holy Founder[as] of the Ahmadiyya Community was unknown to the world and probably no more than three or four people had associated themselves with him, God Almighty told him that people from far and near would come unto him and come in large multitudes. And that is precisely what happens when large multitudes visit Qadian and Rabwah, the other centre of the community, at conference time. Although, since the partition of the country, the conference at Qadian is not up to its former magnificence, delegations from all over the country and abroad do come.

“Scores of Ahmadis from abroad [undertake a journey] to Qadian, spending their time in special prayers and worship and away from worldly pleasures. Their sole objective is to please God. When these friends from abroad return to their own countries, they tell others that they have seen Ahmadis performing their religious duties in India with complete freedom. Their reports about the well-being of the Ahmadis of Oadian make the Ahmadis of foreign lands happy. The Punjab Government in particular and India in general get credit for granting the Ahmadis of Qadian freedom in the conduct of their religious life.

“These are some of the highlights of the religious life of the Ahmadiyya Community of Qadian, as its members practice their faith from one day to the next throughout the year, spreading over the twenty-six years since the independence of our country.” (Popular Religion in the Punjab Today, Edited by John C B Webster, pp. 67-73)

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