Amjad Mahmood Khan, National Secretary for External Affairs, USA Jamaat
It was the Summer of 1989. I was an 11-year old kid on summer vacation visiting Pakistan with my family. I clung close to my father as he took me on a tour of the streets of Rabwah – a burgeoning, dusty town full of life and vigour, and with Ahmadi Muslims, like me, all around.
I had heard so much about Rabwah prior to visiting it for the first time – the blessed headquarters of our Jamaat, with numerous mosques, the historic Jamia University, inspirational Ahmadi Muslim professionals devoting themselves to caring for the poor and needy; and, of course, the iconic Bahishti Maqbarah – the heavenly graveyard – wherein lay the graves of Khulafa and distinguished servants of the Jamaat.
My interactions did not disappoint. I marveled at meeting Dost Muhammad Shahid Sahib, the Jamaat historian, who took us to his residence full of books as far as my eye could see. I enjoyed thumbing through old newspapers at Khilafat Library with the chief librarian giving me a crash course in how Rabwah corresponds with US universities.
I saw Jamia students playing a fierce game of basketball and peering closer, met for the very first time our distinguished Missionary-in-Charge, Azhar Haneef Sahib, then a final year student at Jamia – dunking the ball to the delight of onlookers. And yet, as I spent a few days enjoying life in an Ahmadi Muslim town, I could not help but notice something that unnerved me.
On each block corner, I saw signboards lay to waste; strings of festive lights ripped down from their fasteners, draped low; the word “Centenary” and the symbol of the minaret blacked out. Every house, office and mosque I visited had the same eerie appearance of a structure that a prior celebration had once undoubtedly enlivened.
I soon learned that months earlier, Rabwah had celebrated the 100-year centenary of our Jamaat, as all Ahmadi Muslims had done all around the world. In the wake of this celebration, anti-Ahmadi extremists had raised an uproar, causing the entire town of Rabwah to face grave charges of “blasphemy” and ultimately leading to the forcible removal of all possible indications of celebration.
I was an American kid passing through a Pakistani ghost town, and I did not even know it – not a ghost town of the kind I watched on television with no people and rolling tumbleweeds, but something more hidden, though equally galling: a town of people and homes that were once illuminated in lights and luster, now made to cloister in the quiet solitude of their own faith. On the faces of every Ahmadi man, woman and child, I saw expressions of contentment and courage – so pronounced, in fact, that I initially could not even notice a deeper pain in their hearts: the inability to let their neighbours know who they were.
It was my first encounter with the unforgiving grip of an unjust law: the forcible deprivation of an Ahmadi’s conscience. Over 30 years later, I reflect on those few days on the streets of Rabwah, and I am unable to forget some indelible images. I cannot forget seeing tears stream down my grandmother’s face as she recounted how extremists had prevented hundreds of thousands of Ahmadi Muslims from having a single day of celebration in their homes for the Jamaat’s centenary.
I cannot forget speaking broken Urdu to a child of my age who was playing soccer near the streets of Gol Bazaar, and him telling me that they could not talk about the Jamaat Centenary in public. I cannot forget seeing nervous shopkeepers covering the 1989 worldwide centenary logo on their posters.
This year marks the Centennial of the USA Jamaat. Tomorrow, we will be celebrating Centennial Day on 15 February to mark the 100th year since Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra landed in Philadelphia on 15 February 1920, a hallmark achievement in the time of Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IIra. While we prepare for this day living in the generous comforts this country affords us – in our spacious homes, comfortable cars and open mosques – it’s very easy to see this day as just another Saturday in America where we spare a few hours for a Jamaat meeting. But 12,000 miles away, our dear Ahmadi Muslim brothers and sisters remain deprived of any ability to share in any celebration of our Jamaat—be it the 1989 Centenary, the Khilafat Centenary in 2008 or any other historic milestone.
Let us celebrate Centennial Day knowing full well that this is a precious and immense privilege afforded us. Let us celebrate Centennial Day showing our immense gratitude to Allah that our country, America, has enshrined religious freedom for all and preserved our unrestricted freedom to showcase our Ahmadi Muslim identities in private and in public, at our mosques and mission houses and in our front yards.
Let us celebrate in honour of our Ahmadi Muslim brothers and sisters in Pakistan (and other parts of the world) who cannot fasten a festive light to the walls of their homes or hand a balloon to their children.
Let us educate our children about who we are as one Jamaat and one nation among thousands. Let us encourage our fellow American Ahmadi Muslims to appreciate the history of our forefathers who sacrificed everything they had to introduce Ahmadiyyat in America so that we can be alive to witness the 100th year of our movement.
Let us not treat 15 February as just another Saturday. Let us wake up in the dead of night on that day with our eyes welling in tears thanking Allah for us being alive to witness history. Let us remember the great servant of Islam on this day, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra, through whose resilience, training and prayers, we see the Jamaat in the shape it is today.
May Allah forgive our shortcomings and bless our meagre efforts in His cause. May we witness the next century of Ahmadiyyat in America as humble water carriers and expendable foot soldiers for Hazrat Khalifatul Masih, may Allah be his Helper. Amin