Wednesday, April 19, 2017

19 April 2003: A Day to Remember

19th April 2003 is an important day in the annals of Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya (Qadian), for it marked the end of an era and the formal beginning of another, within the larger concept and actual working of the system of spiritual succession or Khilafat’ among the Ahmadis. Many Ahmadis today can relate that day with the death of the fourth Caliph, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad Saheb (May Allah forgive him). Some also relate the day with the formal inaugural of a new system of ‘Khilafat’ among the Ahmadis, a Divine Manifestation in our era, with an Elect of God accepting Bai’at at his hands. 

Indeed one of the questions that deeply divide devout Ahmadis today relate to the events of 19 April 2003, its meanings, interpretations and implications. As is well known, it was in the final years of the caliphate of Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad Saheb that a pious Ahmadi in Mauritius, Hazrat Munir Ahmad Azim Saheb (atba), began to make the extraordinary claim that Allah (swt) has raised him, as His Elect of this era, to invite people to God and to strengthen Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya by sharing the Divine revelations and spiritual verities being vouchsafed to him, with the assistance of Rooh-il-Quddus

It is also a matter of historic record and Divine destiny that the fourth Caliph thought highly of the noble qualities and preaching attainments of the future Divine Elect when he was still working as a missionary ambassador of the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya into the various communities and nations of the Indian Ocean Region. Yet, when the saintly figure was reported to have made the claims of being a recipient of Divine revelations, under misleading circumstances, he was expelled from the Nizam-e-Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya, and social boycott was administratively enforced on those who preferred faith above the world. 

Promised Massih (as) indicated Two Types of ‘Khilafat’:
Elects of men, and Elects of God

It is instructive to note the great guidance of the Promised Massih (as) on the course of action to be initiated with regard to the continuity of Jamaat functions in times of vacuum in leadership after him. Devout Ahmadis are to remain united under an elected leader till the time when someone inspired by God with the Holy Spirit is raised by Him” 

The Promised Massih (as) wrote in his testamentary will, AL WASSIYAT:

Let the righteous persons of the Jama‘at who have pure souls accept Bai‘at in my name[1].  (Such persons will be selected by consensus of the believers. Hence if forty believers agree that a person is competent to accept Bai‘at in my name, he will be entitled to accept Bai‘at….) 

God Almighty desires to draw all those who live in various habitations of the world, be it Europe or Asia, and who have virtuous nature, to the Unity of God and unite His servants under one Faith. This indeed is the purpose of God for which I have been sent to the world. You, too, therefore should pursue this end, but with kindness, moral probity and fervent prayers. And till that time when someone inspired by God with the Holy Spirit is raised by Him, all of you should work in harmony with one another….

With the death and departure of the fourth Caliph on 2003 April 19, devout Ahmadis in Mauritius assembled around Hazrat Munir Ahmad Azim Saheb (atba), the recipient of Divine revelations as well as several, Divinely-bestowed, sublime spiritual titles  such as ‘Hazrat’, ‘Amirul Mu’minen’, ‘Qamaran Munira’, etc. 

First Bai’at in the HAND OF ALLAH (represented by the Messenger of Allah Munir A. Azim (atba)): In Quatre-Bornes (Mauritius), House of the Ummul Mumineen Sadr Sahiba Fazli Amena on 19 April 2003, the day on which the 4th Khalifatul-Massih Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad died in London (UK).  It was on the second storey of the house, on Saturday 19 April 2003; after Maghrib & Esha prayers in congregation, (Reference Book/ Magazine on the Life of the Messenger of Allah: The Light-Giving Moon, 2016).

19 April 2013: A Memoir

When Ahmadis in United Kingdom and Mauritius were contemplating the future of the Jamaat, in faraway India, on that very topic of succession to the leadership of the Ahmadiyya community, common Ahmadis have had their share of conversations in their own everyday life settings.  In this article, I seek to explore this question in my own way in relation to that extraordinary spiritual event.When grand historic events happen, perhaps it is natural and all too human for ordinary folks like us to wonder: Where were you? Where was I?  Hence, the rest of the Article is an exposition on a memorable conversation and discussion this humble writer happened to have on that very important day, with my bunch of friends at a University campus in Bangalore, India. 

In the early years of last decade, 2001-2003 to be precise, this humble writer was a graduate student at a well-known law school in the country. As someone who grew up in an obscure village in the deep South, the invitation to read for the Master's Degree in Law at the ‘Harvard of the East’ came as an unusually good opportunity at a very critical time in the formation of one’s personal, intellectual and spiritual outlook. For, the law school with its impressive academic culture of hosting legal scholars and visiting fellows, policy makers and social activists, eminent jurists and thoughtful teachers, had the right cerebral ambience for informed discussions and sharply-focused debates on the potential role of ‘law’ as an instrument of social stability, democratic change and social transformation, and justice. To make sense of the evolving social milieu and its legal and political questions including issues of equity and justice, scholars and jurists often advance innovative approaches for the interpretation of applicable legal texts and raise proposals for policy reforms in order to serve wider community interests. At the law school events, one could frequently observe gifted students critically engaging with accomplished scholars on manifold contemporary problems, especially the legal dimensions thereof-equity, fairness, rights and justice within the governance frameworks.

The Law school was indeed a liberal space, secular in its ethos, tolerant of diverging traditions and accommodative of students of different faiths and communities, cosmopolitan in its outlook and urbane in its culture. Students were from all parts of the country, mostly of course from elite families and richer classes, children and heirs of influential bureaucrats, lawyers and businessmen. Yet, the elite national educational institution was not an island impervious to the whims and fluxes of the times, including the creeping identity consciousness in India. After all, with the deep fractures that lie beneath the veneer of civility and culture, our societies confront a range of complex issues and humongous challenges in our times. Like in most of India’s elite institutions and administrative agencies, Muslims are hugely underrepresented in the law schools, despite their vast presence in the overall population. Only a handful of Muslims were on campus: out of 400 students, only four of us were Muslims! This creates its own dynamics in the world of students and young adults whose main avenue  of socialization is through educational institutions such as schools and universities. In a sea of Hindu students, in people's perception, a Muslim student is generally transformed into becoming the custodian and standard bearer of his religion and its cultural ethos. 

As the times were politically tumultuous, with catastrophic events such as the September 11 bombings and the subsequent American ‘war on terror’ hogging the global media attention and the horror of the killing of thousands of Muslims in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat against a backdrop of large scale anti-Muslim communal mobilization in India, the media coverage of terrorism and extremism often produced images of the Muslims as the ‘Other’ in a debate on ‘us’ versus ‘them’. Islam was frequently characterised as a religion that inspired obscurantism and fuelled the hatred and violence of the extremists and terrorists who were seeking to rip apart the social fabric through their mindless justification of the cult of death, suicide bombings and wholesale destruction. The burning topics of the day invariably found their way into our mind spaces in the Hostel. We often discussed matters of politics, religion, community consciousness, etc. especially against the national and international backdrop of events and controversies concerning Islam and the Muslims. Hence, beyond the class rooms, our evenings were full of discussions about the role and space of Islam in our times, in shaping one’s moral, intellectual, political and spiritual outlook. These informal debates were not always easy or cordial and sometimes turned emotional and surcharged, as occasional expressions of prejudices and unfair accusations against the religion and community were fiercely contested and robustly refuted by the Muslim representative. Of course, the cauldron of razor-sharp argumentation over the relative merits of the respective positions on offer, certainly helped the young men to revisit their jaundiced perceptions and received (uncritically accepted) notions about the ‘Other’. Just as one learns about many things through constant observation and interaction with people, it is humbling to recognize in retrospect that just as I learned many things about our complex world in the company of my friends, they could also evolve a perspective on Islam, in their own ways through being fellow Hostel residents and friends in and out of the class rooms! 

19 April 2003: An Ahmadi student remembers

One has vivid recollections of that Day in one’s life. It so happened that two of my bosom friends- Mr. Narayan Sharma and Mr. Rajesh Kumar (Batch mates at the University; also fellow Hostel residents) decided that we all need to go out of the law school campus and have a dinner together that Saturday evening, even if one does not have a tradition of celebrating one’s Janam Din (birthday) which, as it happened, coincided with that day. Ironically, one’s memory returns to that evening for the normal, simple, joyous, open- hearted conversations we have had that night over and after dinner in the backdrop of the birthday. From the joy of quietly marking one’s 25th year in this world, we returned to our Hostel Room.

Those were days before the mobile phones became a ubiquitous presence in India. So, the Hostel landline telephone used to ring for one only on Sunday mornings. That Saturday night, unusually for me, the telephone rang and on the other end of the phone call was my elder brother Fouse Jamal and one instantly knew that there must be something urgent and important for the call that night. Fouse was at that time based out of Cochin (Kerala) working also for the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya in its auxiliary youth wing, Majlis Khuaddamul Ahmadiyya holding important responsibilities  for the whole State of Kerala as the General Secretary. With a deep sense of sorrow, Fouse conveyed the news about the passing away of the fourth Khalifa, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad Saheb. 

All of us in the family has had deep affection for, and connection with, the Jamaat of the Promised Massih (as) and the death of its elected head appeared like the loss of one’s own family member. The news about the death of the fourth Caliph came as a shock, though one knew that the Caliph was already at an advanced age and was not keeping well. Sometimes, our moments of joy are so fleeting and transient: from remembering a birth, we moved quickly to mark a death, all in fleeting time! (Fouse’ own untimely death at the age of 31, in November 2007, is still an aching memory for one’s heart and when he died, the head of the Ahmadiyya community, Khalifatul Massih V remembered his attachment/connection with the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya, including with the Fourth Caliph). 

‘Ahmadiyya Khilafat’ in Transition

My sorrow at the bereavement was shared in the company of my friends at the university hostel. Almost two years of life together in the campus hostel has made them familiar with my temperament, intellectual interests, spiritual inclinations and religious practices. Our friends often witnessed quietly their fellow student regularly offering Namaz at five times of the day, the recitation of the Holy Qur’an, silent ruminations on spiritual writings, etc. Though they came from very different backgrounds with interesting cultural contexts and distinct political orientation, our views and opinions on all issues that appealed to our respective sensibilities evolved through sustained conversations over time. In any case, their perceptions about Muslims and Islam as a religion seem to have positively moderated, not just in solidarity with a Muslim friend, but also in large measure to what they have come to observe, discover, learn and understand about the unique and intrinsic vitality of the sublime teachings that under-gird the profound faith of the Muslims in their everyday lives. As such, the friends had developed a healthy respect for what our brother had told them about Islam, as they became intimately familiar with the teachings of Islam as taught by the Promised Massih (as) in his writings. They became familiar with the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya in Islam and understood the institutional framework of community leadership among the Ahmadis, known as the Ahmadiyya Khilafat system.

'Khilafat': An Alternative Conception

In the backdrop of the death of the fourth incumbent and the creation of a vacancy at the top position of ‘Khalifa’, the non-Muslim friends were curious about the future of Ahmadiyya leadership. Mr. Rajesh Kumar, one of the friends was a Dalit Hindu in social origin, with a political orientation that is Left-leaning and Marxist in its concern for social and racial equality. He admired Islam for its deep teachings on universal brotherhood and human solidarity across races and tribes. He conceded that the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya preached and practiced Islam very persuasively compared to many other groups among the Muslim community. Yet, he found an intriguing structural problem: it is a family enterprise of the Mirza clan at the top of the order, with the first family of the Jamaat occupying and monopolizing the leadership through the century since its inception. (Inset: with Rajesh at the Law School, a photo from 2003).   

From a purely rational and material conception of organizational dynamics, if a community institution like the Ahmadiyya Khilafat is closely controlled by a family (elite class) and its continuity is ensured through the privileging of its own family lineage, then, it says its own story about the real place and position of the masses/ common folks within it. All such arrangements smacks of nepotism and worse, unfairly compromises on foundational principles of true deliberation and real consensus building through informed consultation- processes that are at the heart of Islamic administration. Since Islam theorizes that no one can judge the faith of others, all claims of pious first, family over leadership is simply a matter of perception. If the Jamaat leadership is closed to 'ordinary' folks and the community is not really allowed to look beyond the first family to lead it even in a new century, then, the theoretical tribute to equality of all peoples and races amounts to nothing but an empty gesture, signifying nothing in reality.

Our friend further asked the Ahmadi student:

“You (Ahmadis) claim that African peoples have embraced your Jamaat whole-heartedly and that there are thousands of Ahmadis across the African continent. Why not appoint the new Khalifa from among the Africans? If you appoint a progeny of the “slaves’’ in Africa to the highest seat of power within your sect, then, you can claim that you have respected Islamic teachings in this regard”.

The Ahmadi student, notwithstanding his being a member of the community, readily conceded that facts cannot be denied and agreed that there is a manifest legitimacy issue in the continued absence of non-family member (including an African Ahmadi) at the top of the Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya as Khalifa. 

When we were in this discussion, it was 9.30-10.00 pm, India Standard Time. And in Mauritius, it must have been 8.00-8.30 pm. Unknown to us at that time, yet almost at the same time that we were discussing the Khilafat Transition question in far away India, Allah (swt) unveiled His plan to appoint a son of Africa in Mauritius to the sublime office of Muhyi-ud-Din Al Khalifatullah in the Jamaat of the Promised Massih (as), Alhamdulillah, Soumma Alhamdulillah. 

It is interesting to note that many, many years after the Law School Hostel night discussion it so happened that bearing witness to the profound truth of that rational/academic discussion about the nature, structure and future of Ahmadiyya Khilafat, Allah (swt) brought about circumstances in one's life in India to know about the Divine Manifestation in Africa and by the sheer Grace and Blessings of Allah (swt) one could go on to recognize and accept the spiritual claims associated with the advent of the Khalifatullah Hazrat Munir Ahmad Azim Saheb (atba) of Mauritius, Alhamdulillah. Almost 14 years after the events/discussions of 19 April 2003, earlier this year, this humble writer could also personally meet with Hadhrat Khalifatullah (atba) during an India visit of the Holy Servant of Allah (swt), Soumma Alhamdulillah.