Asif M Basit
It was the high noon of summer in the Indian Punjab. The year was 1897 and the whole British Empire was seething with the jubilant celebrations of the Queen Empress Victoria’s jubilee. The small township of Qadian might not have been an exception in this regard, but there was one element that made it exceptional.
Hazrat Ahmadas, the founder of the Ahmadiyya community, resided in Qadian and this made this tiny town the headquarters of an Islamic reform movement that was, in the years and decades to follow, to spread across the entire world. But by then, it only had a few thousand followers in India. While other government bodies and Muslim anjumans had plenty of funds to squander over the jubilee celebrations, the Ahmadiyya community was anything but affluent.
Hazrat Ahmadas was a great admirer of the British Government for the religious freedom that it had bestowed upon its subjects in India – an unprecedented luxury for preceding centuries. To get an idea of his gratitude for the British Government, and the underlying factors, we present a passage from a letter he wrote to The Pioneer, Allahabad, in 1899:
“When my father died, I renounced the world and felt drawn towards God, and I preferred honour in the eye of God to honour in this world. I need not make a comparison between the services rendered to the Government by myself and my father, but this much I must say that for over twenty years I have been publishing books written in Urdu, Arabic and Persian in which I have been stating with reiterated emphasis that all true Muslims are bound by their religion to become truly loyal and steadfast in their devotion to the British Government, in default of which they would be sinning against God; that they should once for all give up their antiquated and absurd ideas about jehad and their anxious expectation of a warrior Mahdi, as inconsistent with the teachings of the Quran; and if they are reluctant to come out of these mistakes, the least they can do is that they must not prove themselves guilty of ingratitude towards this Government, because ingratitude is a heinous offence against God, because this Government is the guardian of our lives, property and honour and it was its helping-hand that saved us from a fiery furnace.”
(This letter is reproduced in full, for the first time, for our readers.)
Going back to the summer of 1897, Hazrat Ahmadas had asked for any little donations that the members of the nascent community could make towards the jubilee celebrations. They had been asked to travel, if they possibly could, and assemble at Qadian on 19 June. Lest the word “celebrations” creates any confusion, let us go straight into how this “celebration” unfolded.
Around 225 members travelled from various parts of the country, and joined the local Ahmadi residents of Qadian, making the total number of attendees to around more than 300.
“We joined in prayer and offering gratitude to Allah the Almighty”, wrote Hazrat Ahmadas in an epistle titled “Jalsa-i-Ahbaab” (Convention of friends). Reports show that this sentence actually marks the theme of the three-day jubilee convention that commenced on 20 and ended on 22 June. That prayer remained the focus of this convention is what makes this humble celebration an exception in its own right.
During the three days, “the needy and the deserving were provided food”  and “for the expression of joy, a grand feast was arranged on 21 June 1897, and the underprivileged of the town were invited”. 
“On the first day”, reports Hazrat Ahmadas, “the congregation – comprising my followers – wholeheartedly prayed for the Empress and the Royal Family and the British Government …
“… We thank Allah that our community – of which many a government servant is a member – prayed from the depth of their hearts and paid gratitude to Allah and contributed towards the feast for the needy …” 
Hazrat Ahmadas had written a special speech for this occasion which was read out in Urdu, and then translated into English, Arabic, Persian, Punjabi and Pashto. Why this polyglot arrangement? Hazrat Ahmadas explains:
“Urdu, for being the lingua franca; Arabic for being the language of God and the source and the mother of all languages, through which was revealed the last book – the Holy Quran – for the guidance of mankind; Persian for being remnant of the Islamic kings who ruled this region for around seven-hundred years; English for being the language of our Empress and her associates, whose justice and grace we are thankful for; Punjabi for being our mother tongue; and Pashto for being the intermediary between our language and Persian.” 
While going through bundles of records of this jubilee – held at the British Library – we came across minute details of the goings-on of this celebration that enveloped the global expanse of the British Empire. Records reveal in detail how rehearsals were to be carried out, who was to be where and what was to be done at what second of what minute of what hour; where the guests – coming from all parts of the world, within the Empire and without – were to stay and how their hospitality arrangements had to be carried out with precision; where exactly which leader of which nation was to be seated during state dinners, parties etc.
Among these records was a hefty list of gifts presented to the Queen Empress on this occasion. I skimmed through entries to find Muslim names which, luckily, are not hard to spot. Coming from Muslim leaders were Iranian and Afghan rugs, pearls, souvenirs made of pure gold – name any extravagance, and it was on this list of “Muslim” presents.
What did Hazrat Ahmadas have to offer? Let us go back to his own words:
“For this event, a book on gratitude was compiled for the Empress of India and printed, named ‘Tohfa-i-Qaisariya’ [Gift to the Empress]. Several copies were printed in decorative binding, one of which was sent to the Empress of India through the Deputy Commissioner; another to the Viceroy.” 
What was written in this book that Hazrat Ahmadas presented to the Queen Empress? Let us look a passage from therein:
“I believe firmly that if a sincere seeker after truth would come and stay with me for a period and would wish to meet Hazrat Masih [Jesus] in a vision, they would be able to do so through the blessings of my supplications and attention. He can also talk to him and receive his affirmation of what I have stated, for I am the person in whom the soul of Jesus, the Messiah, resides by way of reflection. This is a gift which is worthy of presentation to the august presence of Her Majesty, the Empress of England and India.” 
This offer too makes this event an exceptional one, from among thousands that took place throughout the Empire.
Having mentioned how Christians have inadvertently associated with Jesus many a thing that actually go to belittle his status, Hazrat Ahmadas wrote:
“But, O Honoured Queen of India, we humbly submit before you that, on the occasion of the joy of the 60th jubilee, make an effort to exonerate Jesus.” 
For this, and to pacify the religious conflicts that were rife in India, he proposed:
“ … Since the people of this country have come to know of the Conference of Religions in America, naturally hearts are excited that Your Majesty should also arrange such a conference in London so that, due to this event, groups of loyal subjects in this country and their leaders and scholars may meet Your Majesty at the capital; and so that Your Majesty’s eyes may also fall on the thousands of loyal subjects of British India, and respected citizens of India be seen in the streets of London for a few weeks.”
“ … It would be necessary that every participant present their faith’s excellence and not malign others. If such a conference takes place, it will be a legendary spiritual event from our Honoured Queen; and England, which has been fed with Islamic matters incorrectly, will be introduced to the true face of Islam.”
“… Therefore, it is highly desirable that for the good of humanity, a conference of religions be held by the Empress of India to disseminate the reality of religions.” 
This proposal never saw fruition in the life of Queen Victoria, nor in that of Hazrat Ahmadas. But divinely inspired words have this thing of never going in vain.
Such a conference was arranged by the British Empire but a couple of decades after this proposal – in the reign of Queen Victoria’s grandson, King George V; and it was Hazrat Ahmad’s son and successor, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra, who travelled from Qadian to London to present the true message of Islam to England. This momentous event happened in the autumn of 1924. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra and his companions walked the streets of London for not only weeks, but for a good two months.
Who would have known that England was one day to house the headquarters of the Ahmadiyya community. The persecution of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan had escalated to a point where the opponents – backed and nurtured by the state – had engineered their plans to leave the community dysfunctional.
The then head of the community, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh, migrated to London and established the headquarters at the Fazl Mosque in Southfields. This successor and grandson of Hazrat Ahmadas was welcomed to stay and propagate the true message of Islam by Queen Elizabeth II – the great-great granddaughter of Queen Empress Victoria. It was on the soil of London that he lived the remaining years of his life – 1984-2003 – and was laid to rest upon his demise.
It was in London that the fifth successor of Hazrat Ahmadas – Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa – assumed office and carried on the mission of demystifying Islam, for not only the people of England but for the entire global population. This propagation of Islam from the heartland of England, and the seat of the British Monarch, has been a mission spanning decades and not just a few days, as would have been the case with a conference.
The migration of Hazrat Ahmad’s khilafat (successorship) to England happened in the time of Queen Elizabeth II in 1984. Ever since, the Ahmadiyya community has enjoyed the freedom of faith which Hazrat Ahmadas had once appreciated and expressed his gratitude for in the time of Queen Empress Victoria. For this, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has remained and will remain thankful to Queen Elizabeth II and the British Government.
Now that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her platinum jubilee, the prayers of the followers of Hazrat Ahmadas reverberate the words that he wrote more than a century ago. We conclude with the words of Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmadaa, that he conveyed to the Queen on her diamond jubilee in 2012:
“It would be pertinent to mention here that it is a pleasant coincidence that during the era of the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, was celebrated…
“Although the people of the Sub-Continent have now been granted independence by the British Government, the fact that in Britain the Government has allowed people of diverse backgrounds and religions to live here, and has granted them all equal rights, freedom of religion and freedom to express and to propagate their beliefs, is ample proof of Britain’s very high levels of tolerance.
“Today, there are thousands of Ahmadi Muslims living in the United Kingdom. Many of them have fled here to seek refuge from the persecution they faced in their own countries. Under the generous rule of Her Majesty, they enjoy a peaceful life in which they receive justice, and freedom of religion. For this generosity, I would like to once again express my gratitude from my heart to our noble Queen.
“I shall conclude my letter with the following prayer for Her Majesty, which is virtually the same prayer that was offered by the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for Her Majesty, Queen Victoria:
“O Powerful and Noble God! Through your Grace and Blessings keep our honoured Queen forever joyful, in the same way that we are living joyfully under her benevolent and benign rule. Almighty God! Be kind and loving to her, in the same way that we are living in peace and prosperity under her generous and kind rule.” (www.khalifatulmasih.org/articles/letter-from-head-of-the-ahmadiyya-muslim-community-to-her-majesty-queen-elizabeth-ii/)
 Jalsa-i-Ahbab, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 12, p. 285
 Ibid, p. 286
 Ibid, p. 287
 Tohfa-i-Qaisariya, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 12, p. 20
 Ibid, p. 25
 Ibid, p. 26