Memories of the 23 March 1989 centenary celebrations: A page from the history of Ahmadiyyat

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Last Updated on 9th July 2021

Ataul Mujeeb Rashed, Imam Fazl Mosque London

Historic reception of 23 March 1989 in London. Left to right: Tom Cox MP, Aftab Ahmad Khan, Lord Avebury, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh, David Mellor MP, Ataul Mujeeb Rashed

Members of Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya London had the good fortune of spending the blessed and historic day of 23 March 1989 in the presence of their beloved Imam, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IVrh, and thereby witnessed the centenary celebrations in full swing. 

How did this day start and how did it end? This is a long story. 

The schedule for the day was extremely busy and the sentiments and emotions of the participants were overwhelming. The centre of all the activities and celebrations was the personage of Huzoorrh – he was like a bridegroom of the procession singing the songs of praise of God and resolve. I intend to focus mainly on Huzoor’s activities in this brief article.

Huzoorrh started each day with Tahajud prayers. God Almighty only knows what this day’s Tahajud was like that ushered in the second century (of Ahmadiyyat). At the Fazl Mosque in London, an unprecedentedly large number of Ahmadis had travelled from far off places to participate in the congregational Tahajud prayers organised by the Jamaat, that were led by this humble one as part of my responsibilities as imam of the Fazl Mosque. 

Later, when Huzoorrh arrived to lead the Fajr prayer at the mosque, his face was radiating with an indescribable light and luminance, as though his face was lit with impending divine manifestations during the new century and a reflection of special supplications of that day’s Tahajud. By the grace of Allah, this humble one had the good fortune of being the first to shake hands with him and offer heartfelt congratulations. The congratulations then continued throughout the day as if the day was for this very purpose.

The recitation during the Fajr prayer had an intangible quality that melted the hearts of the supplicants. Strong emotions of gratitude welled up and streamed down the eyes in tears. Every heart was prostrating to God Almighty and engaged in supplications. After Fajr, Huzoorrh announced the first nikah of the second century. It was solemnised between Nayyara, daughter of the late Dr Abdul Hamid Sahib, and Abdul Waheed Khan Sahib. Calling it the first nikah of the century, Huzoorrh led the prayers for that nikah and for the nikahs that would be performed throughout the new century.

Huzoor’s special message about the centenary had been issued a few days earlier. A large press conference had also been held in the press centre. 

The ceremonial activities of 23March started with raising the flag of Ahmadiyyat. This ceremony took place right in front of the Fazl Mosque at 11 am. The mosque and the mission house had been decorated like a bride, with beautiful small lights and multi-coloured flags. 

People had started arriving since early morning. The place was full to its capacity when Huzoorrh arrived. The office-bearers of Jamaat UK, delegates from the markaz, missionaries and other workers stood behind Huzoorrh. On the right stood Atfal behind whom were men and on the left were Nasirat with ladies behind them. On the sides of the fountain that was in the middle were poles for the flags of Ahmadiyyat and the Union Jack. The place reverberated with slogans on Huzoor’s arrival. 

Huzoor’s face was glowing. He unfurled the Ahmadiyya flag and Nasirat sang. Next, the Union Jack was unfurled and Atfal sang. This simple and graceful ceremony reached its climax when Huzoorrh raised his hands for prayer; a prayer that was full of emotions. Huzoorrh congratulated everyone. Indeed, this day was no less than Eid day.

It was the busiest day for Huzoorrh, but it is beyond any person to cover all his engagements and write them down. There was a state of excitement and hustle and bustle all around. The day was spent in carrying out more than usual appointments, massive correspondence, worldwide contacts, telephone calls, exchange of messages and so on and so forth. There was excitement everywhere. Ahmadis were walking about in the mission house compound joyously. The exhibition in Mahmood Hall was the central attraction for visitors.

As part of the centennial celebrations, Jamaat London had organised a Promised Messiah Day Jalsa after the Zuhr prayer. The hall was jam-packed. The meeting was presided by a senior British Ahmadi, Bashir Ahmad Orchard Sahib who was a life devotee and a missionary. Speeches were delivered by Mansoor Saqi Sahib, Bashir Ahmad Rafiq Sahib and myself. This was a memorable Jalsa. 

After Asr prayer, we started to prepare for the evening event – the banquet. This was arranged at one of London’s most reputable hotels, The Grosvenor Hotel, and was probably the same hotel where a reception was held with Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra previously.

The hall had been decorated elegantly. Many distinguished personalities, including members of the House of Lords, members of parliament, ministers, ambassadors, mayors, councillors and many other dignitaries were present. Huzoorrh welcomed them all. Following a recitation from the Holy Quran, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sahib, Amir Jamaat UK delivered the welcome address. This was followed by an exceptionally fine speech by Lord Avebury and then by David Mellor, Member of Parliament for Putney. 

After the speeches, Huzoorrh delivered an immensely powerful address for half an hour. It had a great impact and brought tears to many eyes. Many of them were people whose hearts had not yet been illuminated with the light of Islam. 

The deep, heart-touching effect of this passionate address coming from the depths of his heart was obvious on these people. This was a manifestation of divine intervention and support which we saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears. 

Later, one of the dignitaries told me that he had never heard a man speak out the truth vividly with such courage and bravery in the presence of delegates. Although there was criticism of some aspects of the role played by some of the nations in this address, nonetheless, people appreciated and fully admired the courage and greatness with which truth was spoken out explicitly, but keeping within limits of decency. 

On the stage, a British minister sat to one side of me and an ambassador of a country on the other. Their reaction was in no way different from that of other audience members. Towards the end of the event, the minister expressed his heartfelt emotions.

This majestic and historic address by Huzoorrh brought this magnificent event of 23 March to its climactic end. That forceful address to usher in the new century is worth listening, and relaying to others, again and again. I had never heard such an impressive address by Huzoorrh before.  

A group photo of some British Ahmadis in the company of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh at Islamabad, 24 March 1989

Friday prayer on the next day, 24March, was another day of memorable gathering. The Friday prayer was performed at Islamabad, UK. Ahmadis had arrived from various parts of Britain, and from other countries as well. There was a great deal of activity, hustle and bustle, excitement and meetings all around in Islamabad. Huzoorrh delivered the Friday sermon which was broadcast live to Germany and Mauritius. This was another cause for happiness that augured well for further developments during the new century. The state of fervency and passion in the prayers after each of the two addresses was unforgettable. 

After Asr prayers, a graceful event was held in the open air of Islamabad. The field, despite its vastness, was filled to its capacity by people. Huzoorrh came out of his house and a group photograph was taken with British Ahmadis that included some 20 Englishmen. Later, Huzoorrh planted a walnut tree to mark the jubilee, at my request. Huzoorrh then came up onto a raised platform around which people had gathered. He had a beautiful garland around his neck. His face was radiant with happiness. He waved his hands in response to people’s chanting. Atfal and Nasirat carried out a march-past, which was viewed by Huzoorrh

Next, Huzoorrh went to the ladies’ section for a short visit. Atfal and Nasirat carried beautiful flags and sang songs of praise of Allah. The song that increased the beauty of the celebrations was the Ahmadiyya anthem, composed by Huzoorrh himself. Although it had been written many years earlier, it seemed to fit so perfectly as though it was meant for this occasion. Qadian’s youth recited it in their melodious voice in such a manner that every listener joined in with their heart and tongue including Huzoorrh himself. It filled the atmosphere with the fragrance of hamd-o-sana (praise of God).   

It was such an ecstatic atmosphere that it is difficult for me to describe. It is with Allah’s grace that I was fortunate to attend this event and to describe it briefly for Jamaat members and for the history of Ahmadiyyat. 

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