Maulana Hafiz Sher Muhammad — My Benefactor
by Shahid Aziz
The Light & Islamic Review (US), March/April 1992 Issue (Vol. 69, No. 2, pp. 11–14)
In the first issue of the overseas edition of The Light (September–October 1991) an article was published about Maulana Hafiz Sher Muhammad sahib. It related some of the services of Hafiz sahib in the cause of Islam and this Jamaat. However, Hafiz sahib’s life was such that much more can, and should, be written about him.
My association with Hafiz sahib goes back to 1975 when a convention was held in the U.K. The first I saw of him was when he made a speech at a meeting in Woking. It is a measure of my ignorance that I understood very little of it despite the fact that Hafiz sahib had a very simple and lucid style of both speaking and writing. A few weeks later, Hafiz sahib, accompanied by Hazrat Amir Dr. Saeed Ahmad Khan sahib, came to visit me. Hazrat Amir had brought with him from Pakistan a list of the names and addresses of Ahmadis resident in the U.K. Using this list, he had embarked upon a campaign to gain members and elicit funds for the Jamaat in the U.K. I was very critical of our then imam in the U.K., the late Maulana Shaikh Muhammad Tufail sahib. Hazrat Amir supported Shaikh sahib, saying that we should help Shaikh sahib and not just criticise him. Hafiz sahib said very little at that meeting and shortly after departed for South America. He was to return to the U.K. many times. It was my good fortune that the U.K. Jamaat did not have a place of its own and I had the honour of serving as Hafiz sahib’s host.
Hafiz sahib originally belonged to the Ahl-e-Hadith, and he was trained in their traditional schools. There he learnt the Quran, Hadith, jurisprudence, etc. After qualifying he tried to serve as an imam at Sunni mosques. However, he soon discovered that it was almost impossible to serve as the imam of such a congregation without becoming involved in petty politics on such irrelevant issues as whether the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) used a spoon or not. He soon became disenchanted and started to look around for a more sincere, simple and straight-forward approach to Islam.
As he had moved to Lahore from his hometown, Khushab, he soon came into contact with Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Ali. He was much impressed by Hazrat Maulana’s deep learning and piety. He had previously read some of the Promised Messiah’s [Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian’s] works. However, he now embarked upon a detailed research of these writings and discourses. Whenever he saw the word nabi or rasul applied by the Promised Messiah to himself in his writings, not knowing how he made use of such terminology, Hafiz sahib would become agitated. He would then complain to Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Ali. Hafiz sahib used to relate how Hazrat Maulana would gently request Hafiz sahib to be patient and everything would become clear.
Once Hafiz sahib’s questions had been answered and he joined the Jamaat, his faith in the fact that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the Mujaddid [Reformer] of the fourteenth century, and the Messiah and Mahdi promised by the Holy Prophet Muhammad [pbuh], never wavered for a moment. As Justice Van Den Heever said in her judgment in Jassiem v Muslim Judicial Council:
“I have no doubt as to the sincerity of the belief of this witness that Mirza was not only a Muslim but a great reformer in Islam, a saint, the Promised Messiah …” (p. 107).
The most remarkable thing was Hafiz sahib’s steadfastness in face of the most severe cross-examination, of which I was a witness. Of this the learned judge said:
“… nor did Mr Hoberman succeed in dislodging one iota of his conviction not only that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a saint, a reformer, the Promised Messiah, but also that he himself and all adherents of the Ahmadiyya Movement are Muslims.” (p. 110).
Work in Pakistan:
Once Hafiz sahib joined the Ahmadiyya Movement, he never looked back. After training as a missionary, he served in that capacity in various parts of Pakistan. It was at this time that he established his reputation as a formidable debator with both the Sunnis and the Qadianis. This practical training was to serve him well over the next forty years. Apart from success as a brilliant debator, Hafiz sahib also proved to be a great administrator and writer. The monthly magazine Ruh-e-Islam, of which he was the Editor, was regarded in Pakistan as a journal of the highest standing.
Later, Hafiz sahib was appointed as the administrator of Anjuman’s missionary college, which he ran with great success. He never let slip any opportunity to introduce the Promised Messiah and the Jamaat to the people. Central Anjuman offered scholarships to the prospective students for their missionary college. The applicants were required to be Ahmadis. However, some of the applicants were not genuine. They were only applying because they knew that for two years, the Central Anjuman will provide them with free board and lodging as well as pocket money. Soon after these students joined, Hafiz sahib found out. However, he did not report the matter. His view was that real propagation is to serve the poor regardless of their beliefs. In any case, one never knows whose heart Allah may open to the Truth. Although none of these students joined the Jamaat, one of them told Hafiz sahib after leaving that through his studies at the college he had come to regard Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as a great Muslim who had done unparalleled service for the cause of Islam.
Work in Fiji Islands:
Hafiz sahib’s true worth to the Anjuman became known after he went to Fiji. Mirza Muzaffar Baig [Sateh] was the first Muslim missionary to land in Fiji in the 1930s. He made a noble contribution to the cause of defence of Islam in those parts against the Arya Samaj. Although Mirza sahib had registered Ahmadiyya Anjuman-e-Ishaat Islam in Fiji, this body had remained a paper organisation. In order to present a united view to non-Muslims, Ahmadis had joined the Muslim League. This was the organisation that owned all property such as the mosques used by Ahmadis, etc., and all work was done in its name. After Mirza Muzaffar Baig’s return, the Central Anjuman did not send another missionary to Fiji for many years. The Muslim League was the organisation responsible for inviting Maulana Ahmad Yar, the missionary who, in the 1960s, followed Mirza Muzaffar Baig to Fiji. The Muslim League put severe restrictions on Maulana Ahmad Yar. He could not mention the Promised Messiah’s name, or Ahmadiyyat or even defend the Promised Messiah or the Movement against attacks by other groups. The sacrifices Maulana Ahmad Yar made to revive the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat Islam in Fiji need to be preserved in themselves. He refused to abide by the restrictions imposed by the Muslim League, and by the time he was forced out of Fiji, he had revived the Ahmadiyya Jamaat sufficiently for it to start raising subscriptions and invite Hafiz Sahib from Pakistan. Had it not been for Maulana Ahmad Yar’s work, Hafiz sahib would himself say, he would not have been able to achieve even half as much.
As soon as Hafiz sahib landed in Fiji, he set about his task with great vigour. The sacrifice required to leave one’s home and family and to go and live in foreign lands with alien cultures and depend on others is something that only experience can teach. There was great opposition to Hafiz sahib both from the Sunnis and the Qadianis. Members of the Jamaat were demoralised and disorganised because the Jamaat had not functioned as a separate body since the 1930s. Hafiz sahib organised the Jamaats in various towns, travelling great distances to give lectures and discourses of the Holy Quran. He also started a campaign of writing leaflets in Urdu and distributing them throughout Fiji. In some instances, his material would be translated into English by members of the Jamaat and published in the newspapers as letters to the editor.
So successful was he that the Sunnis soon requested Maulana Ihtasham-ul-Haq Thanvi to come and destroy this evil. No sooner had Ihtasham-ul-Haq landed in Fiji, that Hafiz sahib started a campaign to force him to give a verdict on whether Ihtasham-ul-Haq would declare his own uncle, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, to be a kafir for allowing a disciple to recite the Kalima as La ilaha ill-Allah, Ashraf Ali rasul-ullah (‘There is no god but Allah, Ashraf Ali is the Messenger of Allah’) instead of in its correct form: La ilaha ill-Allah, Muhammad-ur rasul-ullah (‘…Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah’). After a few feeble excuses, Ihtasham-ul-Haq fled from Fiji, and he was never seen in those parts again. In the same way, for so long as Hafiz sahib remained in Fiji, the Qadiani khalifa did not visit there, despite requests from the local Qadiani Jamaat. Having established Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat-e-Islam as the greatest force, in a short time, Hafiz sahib collected sufficient funds to be able to purchase Muslim League’s property. Having purchased this property, he then set about the most ambitious project — the building of the largest mosque in the Pacific. It took many years of hard work and fierce opposition, with the Sunnis threatening any construction company that took part in the project. Hafiz sahib toured the globe many times making appeals for funds. He saw the completion of this mosque, called Masjid-e-Nur, and another smaller one called Muhammad Ali Mosque before he left Fiji for the U.S.A.
Work for Survival of Jamaat after 1974:
Hafiz sahib also made a great contribution, together with Hazrat Amir [Dr. Saeed Ahmad Khan], to the survival, and creation, of Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat-e-Islam outside Pakistan. It is not an exaggeration to say that without these two stalwarts the Jamaats outside Pakistan would have died. In 1974, the government of Pakistan declared that Ahmadis were kafir [non-Muslims]. This put Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat-e-Islam under great pressure because, under Hazrat Maulana Nur-ud-Din’s instructions, it had devoted itself to propagation of Islam without setting up its separate branches. In many countries such as Trinidad, Suriname, Holland, etc., Ahmadis were ejected by those so-called sympathisers from the mosques that were built by Ahmadis. The Jinnah Memorial Mosque is the living proof of such treachery. The same treachery was attempted in Holland and Suriname.
In 1975, Hafiz sahib toured the Jamaats in various cities of Holland and raised their morale through his speeches. In the same way, he visited Suriname where certain members of the Suriname Islamic Association which had been associated with the Central Anjuman for fifty years, wanted to break away and join Rabita. Here again, Hafiz sahib made a great contribution to the success of the referendum ordered by the courts to decide whether the Suriname Islamic Association was to remain linked to the Ahmadiyya Movement or become turncoats and join Rabita. He made speeches, he had debates, he appeared on television, and he spoke on the radio. Allah granted the Ahmadis victory against the evil machinations of our enemies. When Hafiz sahib visited U.S.A. and Canada, indeed whenever he visited any country, he went to great pains to seek out Ahmadis and their children who had migrated to those parts. He would then encourage them to organise a Jamaat. It was, in the main, through his efforts that Jamaats were formed in U.S.A. and Canada.
He made a great contribution to the work of the U.K. Jamaat. When this Jamaat was formed, some Sunnis from Woking published a booklet against us and challenged us to a debate. I contacted Hafiz sahib who immediately accepted the challenge to a written debate. This was made known to these persons but we did not hear from them again. Another time, in response to a letter I had written to the press, the Qadianis started corresponding with me. I requested Hafiz sahib for help. After each side had written three letters, the Qadianis ran away. Sometimes I would receive questions about the Jamaat that I could not answer. I would write to Hafiz sahib, and back would come a scholarly reply. I would myself raise questions, or objections that I had heard for which I could not find a convincing reply, and Hafiz sahib was only too happy to reply. He sat halfway across the world from me and yet I learnt more from him than from any of our imams stationed in London.
Every time Hafiz sahib visited London, he brought with him addresses of Ahmadis from many countries resident here. He would visit them all at his own expense, encouraging them to take part in the activities of the Jamaat.
Second Court Case in Cape Town:
The part that Hafiz sahib played in the two cases in South Africa will be written in letters of gold in the annals of the history of our Jamaat. I had the honour of translating, together with Mr. Masud Akhtar from U.S.A. and Dr. Zahid Aziz, much of the material that was submitted to the court in the second case, that of Sheikh Jassiem v Muslim Judicial Council, as well as interpreting for Hafiz sahib in the court. I saw how Hafiz sahib worked round the clock. The day would start with the hearing. After that, debriefing sessions would be held with Sheikh Jassiem’s advocates (these were inaccurately referred to as “our advocates” in the article that appeared earlier), we would then retire to collect further references and translations. Hafiz sahib’s task was the more difficult, as he had to prepare the original Urdu submissions.
Against Tremendous Odds:
He was fully aware that the opposition had collected together an array of the most formidable opponents, most of whom had made opposition to the Promised Messiah their life’s mission. It is said that the government of Pakistan had set up a committee to seek references and prepare a case against our submissions. Is it not a sign of the truth of the Promised Messiah that one lone sick old man stood against six leading opponents from Pakistan, with the rest at their back through use of fax and courier delivery services, as well as others from Saudi Arabia, and he won. I was only appearing as the court interpreter and I felt the strain of the cross-examination. I used to worry about Hafiz sahib’s health. Hafiz sahib would say that when he left Pakistan he was sick, but the cause of clearing the Promised Messiah’s name had given him back his health. At least on one occasion, at my insistence and despite his protests, Hafiz sahib was given a most rigorous medical examination. And what did Hafiz sahib do on his days off? He entertained visitors and answered their questions. And though he was working until two or three in the morning and then being subjected to the most severe, rigorous and high-pressure cross-examination, this remarkable man always smiled.
Hafiz sahib disregarded all personal needs where the Jamaat was concerned. After the tragic events of 1974, Hafiz sahib was recalled to Pakistan from Fiji for consultation. As Hafiz sahib and his children were the only Ahmadis in his family, he thought that the rest of the family may put pressure on him to forsake the Jamaat. He told me that he had made up his mind to withdraw from his family in case this happened, even if it meant leaving his wife and children.
On one occasion, while on the way to South Africa from Lahore, he even neglected to collect his essential medication. In Lahore, he wanted to discuss matters with Hazrat Amir [Dr. Saeed Ahmad Khan] and therefore did not have time. In Karachi, Mian Umar Farooq sahib and other members went to see him and he could not get away. The result was that by the time I collected him from London Airport, he was having breathing difficulties. As it was late on a weekend, it was with great difficulty that I obtained the necessary medication. Many people borrowed money from him. They were not honest enough to pay him back, and he did not want to ask for repayment, in case it caused a problem in the Jamaat. His hospitality was legendary. He may not have much money but he would insist that his guests have a proper meal before leaving. He also had a great passion for books. He spent both his time and money on just two things: hospitality and books. I hope and pray that the library he spent a lifetime collecting, and which has many rare items, is preserved at Dar-us-Salaam in Lahore.
I will always remember Hafiz sahib with great affection as my benefactor — the man who developed in me an interest in the Jamaat, the man who patiently answered all my questions (many of which seem to be silly on reflection) and the man who never treated me with derision or contempt despite his great knowledge and my equally great ignorance. May Allah grant him a high place amongst His beloved.
The tribute above brings to mind one or two points about Hafiz sahib which may be recounted here for the interest and benefit of a wider public.
An incident illustrating a spiritual experience took place as follows. When visiting Canada in 1975, Hafiz sahib fell so ill that at one stage he was on the verge of death. He used to relate that his soul had started to leave the body, and had reached the window of the room, from where he could see his own body on the sick bed. He prayed to God to grant him respite as he had yet much work to do. The prayer was heard, and the decree of death postponed. And indeed, Hafiz sahib did his most important work after this experience.
A valuable point which Hafiz sahib used to teach, as a result of his life-long study of the works of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, is that his writings encompass all the Islamic theology, philosophy and metaphysics of the entire history of the faith. Therefore, many references occurring in his books to various doctrines and issues cannot be fully understood unless one is familiar with the writings and views of previous religious commentators, thinkers and Sufi saints. Lack of such requisite knowledge has led both to objections raised against him by his critics, and to a lack of correct understanding by many of his own followers. Often, when Hazrat Mirza expresses some belief which happens to conflict with the picture of Islam in today’s popular imagination, he is actually summing up the views held by eminent theologians of the past, and not giving some novel, unorthodox interpretation. It is only through ignorance of these matters, as well as prejudice and blinkered vision, that most allegations have been made against him.
[Related: Letter to the Editor: Clarification of Movement’s History in Fiji by Muhammad Amin Sahu Khan (General Secretary, Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat-e-Islam Lahore, Fiji)]