Under the wings of the Caliph: A response to “Far From the Caliph’s Gaze” – Part III

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Zafar Bhatti, UK

Evans claims that he was summarily “dismissed … from the Indian town of Qadian”. (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p. 13)

“Go back to England straight away and only come back when you have permission.” (Ibid)

This apparent dismissal becomes the cornerstone of Evans’ book and the theme upon which he builds the rest of the book; “… it was nonetheless this moment … that ultimately led to … my understanding of life in Qadian.” (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p. 14)

Evans’ discomfort at his apparent “sudden dismissal” is all too visible to see, and he takes this as a personal insult and affront which he seems to lay directly at the door of the institution of Khilafat; “The caliph’s office in London sent an inquiry to Qadian asking who, exactly, I was”. (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p. 11)

In what can only be said to be a feat of wild imagination, he then bizarrely concocts some fantasy that this whole episode occurred because “I was not relating to the Caliph in the correct way”. (Ibid, p. 14)

However Evans’ narrative and perceived affront of “sudden dismissal” from Qadian needs to be dissected. It must be noted that I have not questioned the Ahmadiyya administration as to what transpired, as such the main source of information I have used is Evans’ own version of events. There are several questions that need answering from Evans’ own account of what transpired in Qadian:

i. Was Evans suddenly and immediately ejected from Qadian?

ii. Why did Evans feel he had the right to stay in Ahmadiyya Muslim accommodation – which grants guests with many free services, including meals – and judging by Evans’ book, unfettered access to all the offices of the headquarters, without the correct approval?

iii. Could Evans have been informed that he did not have the correct approval in a more courteous manner?

iv. The disingenuous nature of Evans’ claims

1. Was Evans suddenly and immediately ejected from Qadian?

Evans himself says that he was informed by the administration in Qadian that his visit “was not sanctioned” (i.e. for the purposes of research) and that he would need to get the correct level of approval. Evans then attempts to create the distinct impression that once he was informed of this, he was apparently “sent back to England straight away”, as if he was turfed out suddenly and immediately from the town of Qadian.

However, this impression is not true and according to Evans’ own account, he was still around at least for “the next few days” (Ibid, p. 14) in Qadian and possibly even longer before returning to the UK.

Furthermore, Evans fails to mention that he was actually living in Ahmadiyya guest houses, which provides many free services to guests and that this hospitality continued even after being informed that he needed to obtain further approvals to continue his research.

Additionally, it is evident from his own writings that he seems to have had access to the administrative buildings coming and going as he pleased, so much so that Evans seems affronted when asked to use the fax machine in the market rather than the one in the office, saying it left him “in a state of greater confusion”. (Ibid, p. 15)

I have lived in Qadian for several months as a guest of the Ahmadiyya Jamaat and always used the fax machine in the market, never once thinking that I should use the official Ahmadiyya Jamaat office machines. From Evans’ own account of what happened, it seems that Evans simply did not have the appropriate level of approval to conduct his research and it was in fact this facility which was now no longer being offered to him, rather than any physical ejection from any one place or town.

Once being informed of this, it seems Evans was then given some time to put his affairs in order, whilst continuing to be hosted by and catered for by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Qadian.

2. Why did Evans feel he had the right to stay in Ahmadiyya Muslim accommodation and have unfettered access to all the offices of the headquarters without the correct approval?

This is the real question in this story – and it is something only Evans can answer – why did Evans feel that he had a right to all this without having had the appropriate level of approval?

As an Ahmadi, I know that if I need to use a guest house of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, I need to seek approval from that country’s headquarters – and if it is a guest house in another country, then the approval process goes through my home country. I have also arranged such accommodation for friends of mine; it’s fairly straightforward and understandable.

However, what Evans wanted was access to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s offices, office-bearers, sacred areas, headquarters and accommodation in the guest houses at the birthplace of Ahmadiyyat, Qadian. And this access was not required just for a short period of time, but for a period of what was to become 15 months conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Qadian.

Surely it is not difficult to understand that the chief secretary of Qadian felt that he himself was not in a position to provide this approval, especially since concerns had been communicated about Evans from the offices in London (Ibid, p.15) and he had no real knowledge of Evans’ research or motivation for his research.

Thus, it is only natural that he refer the matter to London for approval. Therefore, it is difficult to comprehend why Evans cannot understand this very simple point, which surely is completely understandable and logical, and instead resorts to petty attacks directed at the Khalifa, with comments such as, “I found this hard to understand, for it implied that the caliph, with no knowledge of me and little time to consider me, would be able to make a better judgment about my research than those who had watched me conduct it for a number of weeks in Qadian”. (Ibid, p. 14)

Presumably, Evans’ budget for the research he conducted into his book was signed off by a budget holder that he may never even have met? Presumably, his research visa and affiliation with an Indian university was again signed off by individuals he had never met.

As such, why does he object to the Khalifa, the Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, having to sign off permission for Evans to have the level of access he required? How many institutions can you name where a researcher is given free access to all the offices, to question anyone he pleases and at the same time be provided food, lodging and all kinds of other help?

In every such occurrence, whether you take institutions of governments or religious institutions such as the Vatican or the Church of England, the researcher is always vetted and then given permission. It is evident from Evans’ own narration that he had the walk of the town, access to interviews all and sundry, unfettered access to holy sites, walking in and out of the offices interviewing whomever he pleased; the fact that the Indian headquarters is based in a simple town in India and not in a well-known place like the Vatican in Rome does not mean that there are no procedures to follow.

3. Could Evans have been informed that he did not have the correct approval in a more courteous manner?

I do sympathise with Evans in one sense that it is possible that the open-heartedness of the administration in Qadian made it seem that he had all the approvals required – which maybe was a failing of administration or indeed of generosity, a quality that the Khalifa emphasises year after year to the administration. Also if Evans was woken up “early in the morning” (Ibid, p. 14) and spoken to in a “hostile” (Ibid, p. 15) manner, when communicated the news about his lack of approval, then as an Ahmadi, I can only apologise sincerely for any discomfort and misunderstanding caused to Evans.

What I do know is that the Khalifa – in keeping with the teachings of Islam – has always taught the members of the community that a guest’s comfort or respect should never be compromised in anyway, even if the guest displays discourteous behaviour.

This reminds me of an incident that occurred at last year’s Jalsa Salana of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, in Hampshire. Some Christian protesters bearing a replica of the cross had assembled outside the convention. When news reached the Khalifa, he advised “that the best hospitality should be shown and the Christians must be invited to dinner”. (This Week with Huzoor Jalsa Salana UK 2019 Special, MTA News, www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBVUME_JUg8)

We can see from this practical example how, under the Khalifa’s guidance, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community seeks to treat others, even those who are looking to oppose the views of the Community. Indeed it is a reflection of the teachings of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas who was the most ardent servant of Islam and the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa.

Once, a man spent the whole night shouting verbal invective and abuse at the Promised Messiahas outside his home. At first light, the Promised Messiahas instructed that some provisions and breakfast should be provided to the man as he must be tired having spent the whole night shouting!

Despite any ulterior motives Evans harboured whilst conducting his research, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, as is borne out by the rest of Evans’ stay in Qadian, did indeed pay utmost attention to Evans’ comfort and well-being.

The disingenuous nature of Evans’ claims

According to Evans’ narrative, the keypoint that leads to him being asked to obtain the correct approvals is when an interview of his is viewed by “Jamaat officials in London” (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p. 14). He writes that they are confused by his presence “for they had not authorised me” (Ibid, p.15).

In fact, he then creates the impression that London has no knowledge of him by saying that the “caliph’s office in London sent an inquiry to Qadian asking who, exactly, I was.” (Ibid)

What Evans fails to mention here is that he had in fact been in touch with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the UK for many months prior to travelling to Qadian; in fact, he had met with members of the community on many occasions, even attending the Jalsa Salana in the UK, and had created links with the highest administrative channels in the UK Association; as such, the “Jamaat officials in London” were indeed aware of Evans and his research.

This provides context as to why eyebrows may have been raised about Evans, when he was seen on MTA in Qadian; if, as Evans states, he had sought approval for his research only through “local administrators in Qadian” (Ibid), one can fully understand why officials in London would be surprised that the researcher who had been engaging with them for many months and had been discussing a planned visit to Qadian, was now suddenly in Qadian without having obtained prior approval. Even members of the community seek approval to be housed in the guest houses in Qadian through the local administrations.

Furthermore, it seems surprising that despite this level of access in the UK, Evans was not familiar with the correct procedure to obtain approval to conduct his research in Qadian, and following on from this, when the understanding did develop in Qadian, did Evans have recourse to his contacts in the UK?

In the book, nowhere does Evans mention details of the nature and length of time the local officials had approved access. Whatever the truth of the matter, the fact is that following these events, Evans was not only granted an audience with the Khalifa himself, but spent a total of 15 months living in Qadian, where he was provided food, lodging and access to interviews all and sundry, including the office officials of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, thereby confirming Evans’ own words that the Ahmadis are “committed to open dialogue”. (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p. 14)

Evans was welcomed with open arms by the Ahmadis in Qadian; they “embraced” (Ibid, p.16) him “and exclaimed, “Please tell us everything you need and we will do it for you” (Ibid). They welcomed him in their homes and befriended him, fed him, opened up to him, believed him to have sincere motives, all the while being blissfully unaware that Evans was preparing a book that would be a critique of their most sacred institution: the institution of Khilafat.

One can only imagine how the people of Qadian must be feeling now having let Evans into their homes and hearts; Evans’ much used word “counterfeit” comes to mind.

Click here for Part IV

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