Asif M Basit, London
Chaudhry Hameedullah Sahib was a great man in every respect. Thus, many great writers will write about him and in high words. My words regarding Chaudhry Sahib, however, hold no more value as those of a bystander, who had limited experience and interaction with him.
A noble man would once be seen walking along the road of Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya and the Tahrik-e-Jadid offices. Although he was not very tall but the awe he commanded made him a towering personality.
During my childhood and adolescence and right up until the time when I left Rabwah for Punjab University, my familiarity with him never went beyond this. My paths never crossed with Chaudhry Sahib so I never got to become any more acquainted with him.
Growing up in Rabwah, I was always keen to meet with noble personalities that lived in that little town; however, his silence, his head slightly raised and the glance that came downwards from up there always became a hindrance. Then, to learn that he was the Wakil-e-“Ala” (superior) was something that would bring fear to any 14- to 15-year-old boy as it would mean stepping out of one’s limits into a higher, superior realm. In short, I never got to become acquainted with Chaudhry Sahib.
It was in those very days that Majlis Khuddam-ul-Ahmadiyya published a magazine that contained many historic photographs. In those photos, Chaudhry Sahib could be seen as an active member of Khuddam-ul-Ahmadiyya and also, in some, as the sadr. It was through those photographs that I got to know of Chaudhry Sahib’s long-standing services to the Jamaat.
My education and work took me initially from Rabwah to Lahore and then from Lahore to London. A relationship with Chaudhry Sahib had never even formed that it could come to an end. Neither was there a bond between us, nor could I say that I ever missed him. Every now and then, he would be seen on some MTA programme or at Jalsa Salana walking from one place to another.
Through Allah’s attribute of Al-Sattar (Concealer of Flaws) and the kindness of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, my application for waqf was approved and I was assigned duties in MTA.
On Jalsa Salana (I believe 2009), I received an instruction from Huzooraa that I was to host a programme on the history of Jalsa Salana with some seasoned servants of the Jamaat. This was to be broadcast live from the Jalsa Salana studios.
The names of participants in the discussion were given by Huzooraa: Chaudhry Hameedullah Sahib, Mirza Khurshid Ahmad Sahib, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Sahib and Syed Mir Mahmud Ahmad Nasir Sahib.
I had always been awe-struck by these noble gentlemen. Had Huzooraa not instructed for this discussion to take place, I probably would never have summoned the courage to approach them and pose them questions. I was familiar with the other gentlemen to some degree, but I had no previous interaction with Chaudhry Sahib.
Once I had notified every one of the programme over the telephone, they all replied by saying, “Alright. If Huzoor has said so, then we will be there”; however, along with this response, Chaudhry Sahib enquired of the details – “What is the topic of discussion?” “How long is the discussion to last?” “How many guests are on the programme?” “Where will the programme take place?” “What are the questions?” “Send me the specific questions.”
When he was assured that his requests would be fulfilled, he went on to say, “Your grandfather was a darvesh …”, and then narrated incidents of my grandfather. He also asked about my father.
You can imagine my surprise! I was of the impression that Chaudhry Sahib did not know me, not to speak of knowing me so very well.
Thus, my first interaction with Chaudhry Sahib was through this telephone call.
Chaudhry Sahib was still in Pakistan and was yet to travel to England for Jalsa Salana; after that day, I would receive many phone calls from his office staff, saying that Chaudhry Sahib wished to speak to me. Chaudhry Sahib would enquire about the specific reply I wanted from a certain question.
The detail with which Chaudhry Sahib was preparing each question only grew my anxiety and concern. The programme was only 30 minutes long and alongside a fellow guest, each answer was to be given in a duration of no more than three or four minutes; however, judging by Chaudhry Sahib’s preparation, it seemed as though we should be spending many days discussing Jalsa Salana.
Jalsa Salana finally arrived and so did the time for our studio discussion. Chaudhry Sahib came and took his seat in the Jalsa Salana MTA studio. The other guest accompanied him. I did not know how to tell the other guest that perhaps he would have to be as silent during the programme as he was now.
During those helpless moments, I made it a point to hint at least three or four times that during the Jalsa broadcast, the duration of programmes is kept short. However, I did not receive any signal from Chaudhry Sahib and the other guest, indicating that my careful innuendos were being registered.
The programme commenced and the first question was posed to the late Chaudhry Sahib. Chaudhry Sahib gave the answer to all my planned questions in that one initial answer. In the remaining little time, we managed to benefit from the experience and knowledge of the other guest too. In this manner, the programme came to its conclusion in just two questions.
As long as Chaudhry Sahib remained in London following that Jalsa, he resided in the guest house opposite the Fazl Mosque. Whenever I would meet him at any Namaz, he would start by saying, “That [specific] question could not be answered in its entirety. The fact is …”. He would then go on to elaborate on the missing aspects of that specific answer. I would walk alongside him until reaching the guest house, before Chaudhry Sahib entered his residence. On some occasions, it would so happen that Chaudhry Sahib would invite me in and narrate historic incidents, while seated in the sitting room of the guest house.
These meetings with Chaudhry Sahib enlightened me with hidden chapters of the Jamaat’s history. I developed a thirst for the history of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat, which only continued to grow. Thus, I became increasingly indebted to Chaudhry Sahib for this growing interest of mine.
Chaudhry Sahib himself had such love for the history of the Jamaat that he would not suffice in merely narrating incidents himself.
During the same year following Jalsa Salana, as I got up to leave following a sitting with Chaudhry Sahib, the late Syed Abdul Haye Shah Sahib, who was also residing in the same guest house, entered. Chaudhry Sahib said, “If you wish to enquire about the history of the Jamaat, you should ask Shah Sahib. It was said about an Oxford University professor that whatever he knew, was history and whatever he did not, was not history. The same is the case of Shah Sahib. You should most definitely speak to him also.”
As the time approached for Chaudhry Sahib’s return to Pakistan, one of his assistants called me to say that Chaudhry Sahib had asked for me to see him. Upon arriving, Chaudhry Sahib said:
“If you are planning another programme next year, then please provide the questions now. I believe in taking absolute care when narrating the history of the Jamaat. I consider it improper to mention anything without consulting authentic sources. I prepare my answers with a lot of effort. Therefore, if you wish to conduct any programme, let me know by the time I arrive in Pakistan.”
Through these brief encounters, I had become familiar enough with Chaudhry Sahib that not once did I even doubt that he said this with the desire to appear on another programme. Allah had given Chaudhry Sahib numerous opportunities to serve the Jamaat in numerous capacities; so much so that he had acquired an enviable level of contentment in this regard.
The weeks and months of the year that followed continuously proved the fact that Chaudhry Sahib only wished to record the history of the Jamaat and wanted due care to be taken in doing so.
In those encounters with Chaudhry Sahib, I learned that he had a sublime sense of humour, but one that did not compromise the dignity of his personality. Along with my relationship, my love and affection for Chaudhry Sahib continued to grow.
Upon his return to Pakistan, I said to Chaudhry Sahib that due to the growing discrepancies in accounts related to the migration of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IVrh to London, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa had instructed to record the events that took place in 1984; for this, Huzooraa had said that Chaudhry Sahib should do so.
After that day, I had the opportunity to contact him on a number of times, saying that the questions were being prepared, what the duration of the programme would be (which was left open-ended owing to past experience) and who would be accompanying him (an accompanying guest was also not needed for similar reasons) etc.
The stages of Chaudhry Sahib’s preparation made the wait between one Jalsa and the next one, easier. After every phone call and letter I exchanged with Chaudhry Sahib, it felt as though Jalsa was the next day and that rather than sitting in my office, I should be at the Jalsa Gah.
Jalsa Salana arrived, as did Chaudhry Sahib. I went to meet him and he sat me down in the same sitting room of the guest house, but he went back to his room. He returned with a large bundle of papers, saying, “These are all the answers that I will be giving to your questions. I will be reading from this. This is your copy.”
Out of respect, I could not even express my surprise. All I could say was, “Chaudhry Sahib, the name of the programme is ‘Guftugu’ [Discussion]; so will you read all this out?”
He laughed and said, “I have done my part. Now it is for you to see how to make a discussion of this.”
This programme was set to be recorded in the Baitul Futuh studios following Jalsa Salana. I could not find the time amid the Jalsa period, but afterwards, as I studied the “document”, my shock transformed into a pleasant surprise.
The late Chaudhry Sahib had painstakingly compiled the entire event to such level of detail that it included the number plates of the cars in the convoy, the names of those seated in them, their order and where and when the order of the cars was altered. All these details were included in the dossier.
I picked him up from the Fazl Mosque to take him to Baitul Futuh for the recording. Along the way, I said, “Chaudhry Sahib, as you read through your papers, I will ask a question every so often; but the question will be just to link the previous portion with the part to follow.”
He replied, “That is fine; as you wish. This programme is related to history and that too on the instruction of Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaa. Even the slightest degree of carelessness can cause problems in compiling history. History requires a great deal of care.”
The recording commenced. One copy of the document was in my hands and the other with Chaudhry Sahib. Chaudhry Sahib would read through the dossier, while I followed him line by line. To avoid monotony, I would ask a question related to the following paragraph. There was never a break in Chaudhry Sahib’s flow and he would continue reading on.
After this interview was broadcast, it became apparent that certain individuals held differing views on some aspects. When this matter was presented to Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaa, he instructed that Chaudhry Sahib should collate all such accounts and compile it as one full and final document. Huzoor’saa instruction was accordingly conveyed to Chaudhry Sahib.
Chaudhry Sahib immediately formed a committee, which included Sahibzada Mirza Khurshid Ahmad Sahib, Sahibzada Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Sahib and Chaudhry Hameed Nasrullah Sahib. In an effort that lasted many months, he compiled the accounts of all those who had any role to play in the migration of Khilafat to London.
Having transcribed and collated their accounts, he sent off the final document to Hazrat Amirul Momineenaa. Alhamdulillah, under the instruction of Huzooraa, this historic document has now been preserved at the Ahmadiyya Archive and Research Centre.
With respect to another historic event, Huzooraa instructed me to record another interview with Chaudhry Hameedullah Sahib. Huzooraa also said that this was for record purposes and not to be broadcast.
Huzoor’saa instruction was conveyed to the late Chaudhry Sahib, along with the guidance Huzooraa had provided. Chaudhry Sahib began his preparation and the next few months saw him occupied in research and, subsequently leading to an increase in my knowledge.
Then came Jalsa and Chaudhry Sahib arrived; with that, the time to record the interview was also upon us. Something new I learned this time was that despite knowing it was not to be broadcast, Chaudhry Sahib meticulously prepared for the discussion. Every incident’s date, day and time was carefully documented; the interview became part of our video archive.
When I recall those sittings with Chaudhry Sahib in the sitting room of the guest house, or along the drives to and from Baitul Futuh, many things I learned from the late Chaudhry Sahib spring to mind. It was such rendezvouses that I got to see the very pleasant side of Chaudhry Sahib’s personality. What I learned from this was that no matter how high a position one may hold, there is no harm in maintaining one’s wit.
One day, on the way back from Baitul Futuh, Chaudhry Sahib began explaining how missionaries were posted abroad from Pakistan. I asked whether there was a test for missionaries who were to be posted abroad, to which he replied in the affirmative. When asked what aptitudes were tested, Chaudhry Sahib replied, “What do you think?”
Chaudhry Sahib was my senior and I always maintained a degree of respect for him. I don’t know what happened in that instance, for I replied, “Blood tests?”
These words had only just escaped my mouth, when I felt just like a batsman watching his ball fly in air, with the hope that it flies out of the boundary and not into the hands of a fielder.
Chaudhry Sahib laughed aloud and I took a sigh of relief. Otherwise, I would have felt eternal guilt for my casual response. Thereafter, he described the method of assessment and the interview process which, I realised, was quite detailed and found it very informative.
Speaking of assessments and interviews, when the Ahmadiyya Archive and Research Centre came into being, I requested Huzooraa for a full-time missionary to be assigned to our department in Pakistan where most of our historical documents were preserved.
Upon Huzoor’saa instruction, I requested Mir Mahmud Ahmad Nasir Sahib to suggest someone for this task, who recommended a missionary for this role. Huzooraa graciously approved this appointment and also said, “As this will be a new setup [with the office being in London and a staff member working offshore], therefore you should write to Chaudhry Hameedullah Sahib to make appropriate arrangements.”
With that, Huzooraa also provided guidance on which department would provide his allowance and how the budgeting process would work for this new setup.
Although the setup was new, Chaudhry Sahib did not once give the impression that it was discomforting for him. When the time came for collating all records, due to being a new department, we had to introduce ourselves to all departments and organisations and that we were working in line with Huzoor’s directives to preserve the Jamaat’s records.
Readers will be able to gather that this process was not as easy as I have wrapped it up in a line or two. At every step of every challenge faced, the late Chaudhry Sahib proved extremely cooperative and also provided ample guidance. In all this, it was neither my influence, nor that of my fellow colleague; rather, it was Chaudhry Sahib’s resolute obedience to Khalifatul Masih and the sincere desire for history to be preserved that led him to show this courteous goodwill.
When the suggestion was made to Huzooraa to relaunch the Al Hakam newspaper, Huzooraa graciously granted approval and also instructed that preparations be set in motion. Alongside that, Huzooraa instructed for two certain individuals to be asked their view on its relaunch; one of these was Chaudhry Hameedullah Sahib.
Huzooraa had already decided, but this was not to be mentioned to the two individuals as their personal opinion was required. In keeping with Huzoor’s instruction, I wrote to both individuals.
Chaudhry Sahib replied that it was a great suggestion and such a newspaper should definitely be started and that too immediately. The other gentleman replied that there was no need at all.
In the following mulaqat, both views were to be presented to Huzooraa. Huzooraa had not even heard the opinions of both gentlemen, when he said, “Chaudhry Sahib will have said that there is a need, while the other gentleman will have said there is not. Am I correct?”
I replied that Huzooraa was indeed correct. With a smile, Huzooraa said, “Fine. I just wanted to confirm this.”
Following the establishment of Al Hakam as a department, as a lot of the Jamaat’s literature is in Urdu, the editor requested for a missionary, who was equally fluent in Urdu and English, to be appointed in Al Hakam for the purpose of translation. With Huzoor’s approval and guidance, Qaasid Muin Sahib (editor of Al Hakam) travelled to Pakistan.
Chaudhry Hameedullah Sahib had been notified of Huzoor’s instruction and provided full cooperation to assist the editor in the assessment and interview stages.
When, finally, a missionary in Pakistan was posted in Al Hakam, Chaudhry Sahib was extremely supportive as regards his allowance and various other arrangements. Thus, the editor and the department of Al Hakam, both were made known to the late Chaudhry Sahib’s affectionate personality. In this episode, once again, a great lesson was taught to us by Chaudhry Sahib on obedience to Khilafat and to accomplish a task to the best of one’s ability.
The department of Ahmadiyya Archive and Research was established by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa in 2014. At the occasion of Jalsa Salana 2015, an exhibition showcasing archived material and artefacts was put up. On the third and final day of Jalsa, the exhibition remained open well into the night. Thereafter, all documents, artefacts and equipment was packed and taken to our London offices.
The day after Jalsa, I received a call from Chaudhry Sahib, who asked where our exhibition could be seen. I explained that at present, we did not have a permanent exhibition and it was only a makeshift one for the three days of Jalsa, now packed and set aside.
He replied, “I just had an audience with Huzooraa. Huzooraa asked if I had seen the exhibition. When I replied that I was unable to do so during the Jalsa, Huzooraa instructed that I see it now and report back by the evening.”
I replied that he was welcome to come immediately and that we would show him all the material.
After only a short while, Chaudhry Sahib entered. My colleagues and I showed Chaudhry Sahib all the archives, who went through everything very keenly, sharing valuable information pertaining to almost every single document. Before dusk, Chaudhry Sahib bade farewell and said, “Now, I must return and report that I have been through the exhibition.”
The late Chaudhry Sahib was a quiet person. Bearing in mind that I had limited interaction with him, one can imagine how much I could have conversed with him? From this, you will gather how much verbal instructions or guidance he would have given. But Chaudhry Sahib taught me a great deal through his practice – love for Khilafat, obedience to the Khalifa, the need for preserving the Jamaat’s history, the careful requirements for preserving history, the importance and benefits of cooperating and providing ease in the Jamaat’s administrative matters.
For all this, I am indebted to Chaudhry Hameedullah Sahib.
I have written these lines for comforting my own self, for such debts can never be repayed.
Another thought, through which I wish to give myself some further comfort, is that if he was naturally a quiet person, then he must have been good at understanding the language of silence. I pray to God that Chaudhry Sahib had sensed my silent admiration for him.
May Allah exalt his status and continue to provide Hazrat Khalifatul Masihaa with such passionate, dedicated and devout soldiers.