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

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Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV

Zafar Bhatti, UK

Qadian is isolated from the Khalifa

The continued refrain from Evans is that Qadian has been “left … in a uniquely isolated position from the global caliphate” (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p. 78) and that it is both physically and spiritually distant from the Khalifa: “his actual distance (both physical and spiritual) from the town”. (Ibid, p. 82)

However, whilst reading the book, I struggled to comprehend Evans’ central point; how and in what way was Qadian isolated?

1.Did any interlocutor express this view?

2.Is Qadian isolated from Khilafat from an organisational perspective?

3.Is Qadian spiritually isolated from the Khalifa?

4.Was Qadian isolated in the past and it is that period which has left its mark on the town?

5.Or is it that the people of Qadian feel the absence of the Khalifa, after he was once amongst them?

We will examine each of the above points in turn.

Did any interlocutor express this view?

Throughout the book, I did not find a single interlocutor expressing the view that Qadian is isolated from the Khalifa. The closest I found was the desire and longing for the Ahmadis of Qadian for their beloved Khalifa: “Qadian exists in a perpetual state of waiting for its caliph to return” (Ibid, p. 79).

But this desire and longing is not unique to Qadian; I have had the fortune of visiting jamaats in the European, American, African and Indian continents and in every jamaat I have visited, I found this same longing for Khilafat – the question is one of love, not of bureaucracy or formality – we love the Khalifa and so we long for him.

In fact, I have a personal anecdote which occurred during my stay in Qadian regarding this very matter. Whilst in Qadian I remember several people telling me, “Yes, we are prepared that Huzoor will come this year for Jalsa”.

In response, I remember laughing and saying, “I have been to Canada and I found the Ahmadis telling me the same thing there; I went to Burkina Faso, and found the same thing there – a hope and longing that Huzoor will come. Then, even in my backwater town in the middle of England, my local president would keep saying to me that Huzoor would come back, and would conceive various means to invite him.”

The fact is that the feelings of those in Qadian longing for the Khalifa are the feelings that each Jamaat echoes across the world of Ahmadiyyat and is a feeling which is reciprocated by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, who states:

“‘Before sleeping at night, there is no country of the world that I do not visit in my imagination and no Ahmadi for whom I do not pray whilst sleeping and whilst awake.”

The following is an example of the longing of members of the Jamaat to see their beloved Khalifa, also known affectionately and respectfully as “Huzoor”:

“A friend of mine told me that two days before Huzoor’s arrival in Philadelphia, he observed a devoted member of the Philadelphia Jamaat, Syed Fazal Ahmed sitting in the basement of the Mosque after midnight with tears in his eyes. Upon being asked why he was crying, Syed Fazal Ahmed Sahib responded, ‘In my mind, I have dreamed a hundred times of the day when beloved Huzoor would walk into a new Mosque in the heart of this city and address our neighbours. Now, we are 48 hours away and my only prayer is that Allah lets me live to see this happen. I do not want to leave this hall until it does.’

“Then, when Huzoor had inaugurated the Mosque, Syed Fazal Ahmed said, ‘My life is complete. The person I love more than anyone on earth has visited my city and my Mosque. I can pass away now and need nothing else more.’” (www.pressahmadiyya.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/USA-Guatemala-2018-Part-1.pdf, p. 55)

Evans has not made an ethnographic study of the other Jamaats in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and therefore has nothing to compare Qadian to. Evans does not realise the strength of love between the Khalifa and his followers all over the world, and so missing this point, tries to concoct an alternative narrative that has no basis in reality.

Is Qadian isolated from an organisational perspective?

Maybe Evans’ contention is that Qadian is isolated from the wider organisation of the Jamaat, as he states, “Qadian is also, however, unique in its structural position, for due to its history, it has been forcibly separated from its leader and the global system.” (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p. 28)

But throughout the book, Evans keeps contradicting this very point and many times, albeit mockingly, but repeatedly acknowledges the direct link of Qadian with the Khalifa; for example, in one place, Evans quotes an interlocutor as saying “there is no gap between this department and the caliphate. We have never been stuck by any problem because of this.”

Later in the same conversation, he told me, “Our brain is the khalifa [caliph] of the time: we merely carry out his instructions’” (Ibid, p. 95).

Then in another place, he states, “One senior administrator explained that even the smallest matters are put before the caliph for permission”. (Ibid)

So the question to Evans is which one is it? From Evans’ own analysis, it is certainly not the case that Qadian is in anyway isolated from the Khalifa from an organisational perspective. And this is not just unique to Qadian, but is reflected in every Jamaat in the world.

In my trip to Burkina Faso, I remember visiting an Ahmadi village on the edge of the Sahara Desert, seemingly miles away from anywhere, with a population of only a few hundred people. Even that village had been affectionately named by the Khalifa himself as Mehdiabad; from that we can see how the Khalifa lovingly takes interest even in those Jamaats which are in the most remote parts of the world, let alone somewhere like Qadian which is not only the birthplace of Ahmadiyyat but is situated in the technologically progressing India, where there are no barriers to communication.

Is Qadian isolated from the Khalifa spiritually?

If not organisationally, maybe Evans feels that the residents are isolated from the spiritual connection with the Khalifa, but even this view is contradicted by Evans himself as he continually acknowledges the connection of Ahmadis in Qadian with the Khalifa.

For example, an interlocutor tells Evans about MTA, “Ahmadis have been provided new ways of seeing and hearing their caliph … ‘There is now a personal relationship [with the caliph] through MTA’, one Jama‘at employee told me, before comparing this new relationship to the pre-MTA days, when sermons were available only on cassette, and people would go to the extreme and costly measure of trying to cultivate a bond with their caliph by listening to his sermons live via international phone calls.” (Ibid, p. 106)

Then Evans himself talks about the intimate link between Ahmadis in Qadian and the Khalifa, writing, “In difficult periods, people will ask the caliph to pray that their personal or family problems might be resolved. They might ask that he pray that they are able to be true servants to the Jamaat … While individuals will frequently write to request prayers before making a big decision, they also ask the caliph for advice. Should they marry a particular person? Should they accept a job? Should they study engineering or English at university? Sometimes, people will even write with very specific personal requests. One young boy, a final-year student at the theological college in Qadian, wrote to the caliph asking whether the latter could recommend any books for his thesis.” (Ibid, p. 85)

An onlooker may find that these remarks are in fact too personal; why ask the Khalifa regarding such matters? But one can easily understand this when we look at this from the perspective of love; there is no requirement in the community that says a person should ask advice of the Khalifa regarding their marriage, job or any other personal request – but Ahmadis love the Khalifa just as a child loves their father, in fact even more than that.

Therefore, just as a child would discuss their most personal matters with their father, so too do the followers of the Khalifa pour their hearts out to their spiritual father.

I present one such inspirational account here. An onlooker outside the community may view this as hyperbole, but Evans’ own account is mostly full of anonymous interlocutors and each narration is always twisted to mock the community or the Khalifa. It is only fair to present in full, fully referenced and non-anonymised accounts with interlocutors:

“Some years later, Trawalley Sahib’s wife was expecting a daughter in the United States but the doctors had informed that the child had tested positive for Downs Syndrome and asked the family if they wanted to keep the child or abort it. At that time of grief and confusion, Trawalley Sahib sought the guidance of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa.

Sarjo Trawalley Sahib said, ‘The doctor told me we had just one week to decide if we wanted to have an abortion. I told the doctor that I would not make a decision until I had consulted my Khalifa in London. In reply, the doctor’s tone was quite dismissive and condescending. He said, “You are the father, not someone in London”.

Upon this, I told him that I did not make any major decision without my Khalifa. The doctor then handed me his business card and said somewhat indignantly “Give it to your Khalifa!”’ “After writing to Huzoor, Trawalley Sahib waited for a response. Just one night before the abortion deadline was due to pass, he got a call from the private secretary’s office in London. “Narrating the message, Sarjo Trawalley Sahib said, ‘The private secretary’s office conveyed Huzoor’s clear message to me. The person on the phone said that Huzoor had said, “If you are a sincere Ahmadi, do not abort your child. She will be fine if you let her live!”’

“As soon as he received the message, any doubt in the mind of Trawalley Sahib was eliminated. He went and told his wife that they would keep the child. The next morning, he went to see the doctor to inform him that they would keep the child. However, before he could say anything, his doctor greeted him with a smile and said: ‘Congratulations’. Sarjo Trawalley Sahib said, ‘I could not understand why he was congratulating me, as our baby was sick. But then the doctor explained. He said they had taken another test at my wife’s last appointment and it showed that our baby was fine and the initial Downs Syndrome diagnosis was mistaken! It was then that I told him the message we had received the night before and that our Khalifa had given us the glad tiding already. The doctor, who initially had been dismissive of our desire to seek Huzoor’s guidance, was genuinely amazed. He took a lot of interest and so I was able to do tabligh and tell him about the advent of the Promised Messiahas. Now, over a decade later, my daughter is ten years old and just as Huzoor promised, she is fine and healthy, Alhamdolillah!’” (www.pressahmadiyya.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/USA-Guatemala-Part-3.pdf, pp. 60-61)

As such, it is quite clear from Evans’ own analysis that there is a direct and personal relationship of each Ahmadi with the Khalifa, based on love and the belief born out of the personal experience of hundreds of thousands of Ahmadis that the Khalifa is a man of God.

Was Qadian isolated in the past and is it that period which has left its mark on the town?

Maybe what Evans contends is that although Qadian is no longer isolated, but that in the past, it was isolated; “Consequently, during the first four decades of independence, the Indian Jama‘at was largely isolated”. (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, p. 78)

However, this too is entirely baseless. I feel that the main evidence that Evans presents to support this view is that the partition of India and Pakistan created “complete division of Punjab by a border that to this day lacks real permeability”. (Ibid)

But can we really believe that this border completely cut-off any form of communication between the two countries; such that Qadian was left isolated and bereft of contact with the headquarters in Rabwah, as Evans implies? Even the “Iron Curtain” of the cold war would not have had this kind of effect.

For instance, if we just look at one form of communication, the mail service, it was only last year in 2019 that for the first time, the mail service was stopped from India to Pakistan; that is throughout “partition, three wars, and extended tension, and despite the circuitous route involving the Middle-East” the mail service between India and Pakistan never stopped and continued. (https://indianexpress.com/article/india/letters-put-on-hold-as-pakistan-stops-mail-from-india-for-the-first-time-6079517/)

Furthermore, if we question the elderly folk of Qadian who are the sons of the Darvesh, they categorically state that the people of Qadian were never cut off from the Khalifa and constant communication remained between Qadian and the Khalifa.

Is it that the people of Qadian feel the absence of the Khalifa after he was once amongst them?

Finally, maybe Evans’ contention is that in the past, the people of Qadian experienced the physical presence of the Khalifa amongst them, but now they no longer do. And as such, it is this loss that has caused anxiety amongst the residents of Qadian.

If this is Evans’ contention, then surely this ethnographic study is 70 years too late! Hardly anyone lives in Qadian now, who was alive when the Khalifa lived there.

However, there is one Jamaat in the world of Ahmadiyyat that does exist today, where its residents have lived through the painful forced separation from their beloved; Rabwah.

So not only is Evans 70 years too late in his study, it also seems he has chosen the wrong town!

Opposition to the Ahmadiyya Jamaat has heightened the anxiety of those in Qadian with regard to their Muslim identity

In quite a lengthy narrative (Far From the Caliph’s Gaze, pp. 21-22), Evans explains that the identity of an Ahmadi as a Muslim is constantly under attack and contested, and as such, there is a reaction from the Ahmadiyya community to prove their “Muslimness”: “In India, even if the Ahmadis are legally free to call themselves Muslim, their being so is always contested”. (Ibid, p. 21)

The more one reads this narrative, anyone familiar with Ahmadiyyat becomes ever more perplexed asking the question: if Evans wanted to examine the effect of separation from Khilafat and opposition to practice, then surely Evans picked the wrong town in the wrong country?

Surely, he should have picked Rabwah, where young and old are keenly aware of the separation of their beloved Khalifa, where daily life is under the shadow of the sword making it illegal for an Ahmadi to even outwardly profess being a Muslim? Surely it is the town of Rabwah and not Qadian which meets the self-devised criteria of Evans’ ethnographic study. Why Qadian? Where virtually no one is alive who was present in Qadian at the time of partition and so felt the loss of the Khalifa and which is a town where Ahmadis are free to practice their faith.

How and in what guise would there be a compelling need for Ahmadis in Qadian to try to grapple with some kind of existential crisis of Muslim identity and then try to reinforce that ident using a “fax machine” and “bureaucracy” as Evans contends?

I have clearly demonstrated that Evans’ contentions regarding Qadian being in any way isolated from the Khalifa, or in any sense abandoned are false. Therefore, Evans’ contention that this perceived isolation has resulted in the people of Qadian having an anxiety regarding their own “Muslimness” is completely erroneous.

Click here for Part VI

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