Memories of My Father
By Abid Khan
Earlier this year, 29th February 2020, marked twenty years since my father, Dr Hameed Ahmad Khan passed away. What follows does not in any way seek to be a biography of my father. Rather, it is a collection of memories, some joyful, others sorrowful, which as his son, I observed and which have stayed with me ever since.
Hand on my shoulder
It was a winter night in early December 1994. I was two days shy of my twelfth birthday when I was awoken by rare early morning commotion. I could hear footsteps travelling up and down the stairs in our three-story Victorian-era home at 5 Coniscliffe Road in Hartlepool. I could also hear my father speaking on the phone. It was 5 or 6 in the morning and so I knew there was something wrong. In fact, I knew instinctively what had happened. I knew my mother had finally succumbed to her illness more than a decade after first becoming ill.
Initially, I stayed in my room for a few minutes unsure of how to react. I kept wondering if someone would come and tell me, but I assume my family thought it was better to let me sleep and break the news to me in the morning. When I realised this, I got out of bed and and joined my father who was seated at the top of the lower level of stairs in our hall. I can still picture that scene and moment vividly as though it was yesterday. He did not say anything to me and nor did I say anything to him. Instead, I listened as he called various relatives to inform them of my mother’s passing. My father did, however, place his free hand tenderly on my shoulder, whilst continuing to hold the phone with his other hand. No words were spoken, yet that gesture was more than enough for me.
Through his reaction, I received his subliminal message that I needed to remain strong, trustful in Allah and patient. Despite the undoubted grief, I felt content knowing my father’s supportive and guiding hand remained rested upon my shoulder. Till his last breath a few years later, he never once removed his hand from my shoulder.
Back to school
I had just started secondary school a few months earlier in September and was still finding my way. I had made some friends and through Allah’s Grace, I was doing well in my schooling. My teachers liked me. Yet neither my friends nor my teachers were aware that my mother was unwell. I missed one day of school so that I could partake in the burial but that was all. When I returned my father did not inform my school or any of my teachers what had happened at home. He wrote a short note saying that due to a ‘family bereavement’ I had missed a day of school. For all my teachers knew, it could have been a distant cousin or anyone.
For many months, no one at the school was aware that I had suffered the loss of my mother. In fact, there were some friends and teachers who remained unaware of this fact for several years. As a result, I did not receive any special treatment or sympathy. No one blinked an eyelid. As I look back now, I realise this was my father’s way of showing me that we did not require the sympathy or support of anyone save for Allah the Almighty and His chosen Khalifa. It was a lesson that has served me well and has proven true time and time again at different junctures of my life.
The kindness of others
Over the next few years, as I entered my early teens, my relationship with my father developed and grew stronger by the day. There were times when our house was full with my siblings, my paternal grandmother (dadi), aunts, uncles and cousins. In June 1995, my brother Fareed and my sister Nabbo (Munavara) were married within days of one another. Many members of our family visited and some stayed for months and helped to keep our home busy and occupied. Having people around certainly helped me navigate through those difficult times.
There were also times in the years ahead, where it was just my father and I living together. Though we had a spacious six-bedroom home, I would often sleep on the floor of his room. It was comforting for me and I hope for him too.
Often our biggest challenge at such times was preparing our evening meal. I became an expert in microwave jacket potatoes which I would often prepare after school and my father and I would eat them together. He used to sprinkle liberal quantities of salt over his, which was perhaps the one habit of his I ought not have copied, but which I nonetheless did! I also learned how to make toasted cheese sandwiches, which we would eat from time to time. Nevertheless, due to the love and kindness of others, we were invariably well-fed. In this regard, I will particularly always remember the kindness of Mrs Huma Omer, the wife of Dr Fazal Omer. For a period of at least one year during my father’s ill-health, almost every single day, she would send some food to our home, which my father and I would enjoy together. It became a routine that at around 6pm each evening the doorbell would ring and Dr Fazal Omer sahib, who was also a partner at my father’s GP practice, would quietly drop off whatever dish his wife had cooked for us.
My father would often remark to me that I should never forget their kindness and should consider such sincere gestures to be a blessing of being part of the Jamaat of the Promised Messiah (as), as he had taught Ahmadis to always be supportive and caring towards one another.
A model of prayer
From the summer of 1995, I remember our house being full for at least a year. My sister Gugu (Tayyaba) had moved back to the UK from Abu Dhabi with her husband, Syed Hashim Akber Ahmad and they stayed at our family home for some time. My brother Fareed and his wife Zuna also moved back home for a period. My cousin, Ramla, the elder sister of Fateh Dahri sahib (son-in-law of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V [aba]), came from Pakistan and stayed with us for a year until she married Syed Aqeel Shah sahib, who was serving in MTA International and continues to serve as its Director Transmission. Other relatives from my father’s side also stayed with us. As a result, my bedroom was needed to host other family members and so for the entire year, I slept on the floor in my father’s room.
I will never forget those nights, because each night, without fail, no matter how busy he had been the previous day with his medical practice or Jamaat work, he would rise around two hours before Fajr and would use that time to supplicate in Tahajjad prayer. In normal daytime hours, I never once heard or saw my father so much as shed a single tear. Yet each night, whilst he assumed I was sleeping, I heard him weep with complete subservience and beseech Allah the Almighty for His Mercy and Love.
He had a routine to his prayers. I do not remember exactly but whilst in prostration he would always thank Allah the Almighty for His Grace, Mercy and Compassion. He would call on Allah the Almighty by reciting His Divine Attributes. Thereafter, he would pray for the Holy Prophet of Islam (sa), the Promised Messiah (as), the Khulafa-e-Rashideen and the Khulafa of the Promised Messiah (as). It was only then that he would permit himself to pray for my deceased mother, for his parents, his children and for other members of the Jamaat. I am sure he must have prayed for himself but my abiding memory are his prayers for others.
I also remember hearing him pray for me by name every single night. Sometimes he would pray that Allah protected me, other times that I remained forever attached to Khilafat and sometimes, that Allah may help me tolerate the loss of my mother.
I have no doubt that those prayers in the dead of the night, when he thought I was asleep, have sustained me, protected me and enabled me to stay close to Khilafat.
A quiet person
I think it is fair to say that my father was a naturally quiet person, though I also think it would be wrong to say he was overly reserved. He was happy when family or friends visited and delighted in taking guests on trips to the Lake District. He enjoyed good humour. There was a comedy series on television called ‘Keeping up Appearances’ which both my parents used to enjoy. It was about an English lady who was living a normal lower-middle class existence but yearned for others to consider her as a member of high society.
Watching that comedy, once a week for half an hour, is a happy memory indelibly marked in my mind. My mother would laugh out loud, whilst my father would smile and I would sit as a young boy enjoying the comedy but more so enjoying the fact that everything was well and joyful in our home.
My father encouraged me to play sport. He used to play football with me in the garden and we would watch football and cricket matches together on the television. As a child, I would find it frustrating that often at the very peak of the match, he would suddenly switch off the TV and say “It is time for Namaz”.
Occasionally, if it was particularly exciting or engaging match, I would plead with him asking why we could not wait until it ended before doing Namaz. At those moments, he would gently, yet firmly make it clear that Namaz took priority over everything else. There would be no negotiation in the matter of prayer.
Looking back, I am grateful to have been brought up in such a way. It meant that after he died and when I went to University and started to find my own way in the world, the one thing I could never depart from was the five daily prayers.
During the period I have served as a Waqf-e-Zindighi, I have listened first-hand on countless occasions to Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) instruct and guide Ahmadi Muslims towards prioritising the five daily prayers above all else. So my father was right and his firmness in the matter of punctuality in prayer was something I will always be grateful for.
Apart from weakness in prayer, if there was one other thing my father would not tolerate in his son, it was falsehood or deception of any kind.
Once, when I was coming to the end of Year 8, my father enquired from me when we would receive the results of my school exams that had taken place a few weeks earlier. My heart sunk. Truth be told, I had not worked very hard at school that year. I had no excuse. I had enjoyed socialising with my friends during lessons. Often instead of concentrating, we would laugh and joke. When I came home from school, instead of studying, I would phone my friends and we would continue our conversations from earlier in the school day. I had also become very passionate about sport and played cricket, football and rugby with regularity. The sum result was that my exam results had been distinctly average.
Previously, I had always been near the top of my class but that year I had not performed nearly as well. There were a few As, mostly Bs, an occasional C and worst of all a D in science! Even I was horrified by the D! I knew my father would be disappointed and so I had not informed him of my results. Upon his enquiry, I cannot recall exactly how I responded. I am hopeful that I did not directly lie to him but, regardless, my response was enough to give him the impression that my results had not yet arrived. I breathed easier knowing that the inquisition was over and hoped that perhaps if I delayed telling him for long enough he would eventually forget about the exam results.
A few days later, after he came back from work, I could tell my father was angry by the way he entered. He did not smile or ask me how my day was as he normally would. After a few minutes, he called me to his room. It soon became apparent he knew that my exam results had been published. A girl in my form class by the name of Stephanie was a registered patient at my father’s surgery. She had visited him that afternoon for an appointment with her mother and my father had casually asked them if they knew when this year’s exam results were coming. Thereupon, they informed him that the results had been published some days before. The look of disappointment in his eyes was clear as day. I felt instantly ashamed.
Shortly after, I had to go out to play a cricket match for a local team but I did not enjoy the experience at all. Throughout, I felt a weight that I had deceived my father and feared the consequences.
When I returned home a couple of hours later, I went straight to my father and apologised. Upon this, his tone and expression softened and my heart felt that weight lift. I recall clearly his words thereafter.
“The reason I was angry with you is not because you did not tell me your results and nor was it because you have not performed well in your exams. The reason I am angry is that when I asked you if you had received your results you gave me the impression you had not. The one thing I will not tolerate in this house is falsehood because Islam says that falsehood is a form of Shirk.”
It was a life lesson. On the one hand, I realised that lies and falsehoods would always catch up with a person. Additionally, my father’s reaction imprinted in my heart that any form of deception was a serious, grave sin.
Another time I felt my father’s displeasure, albeit on a smaller scale, was when I was aged 9 or 10. It was 1992 and my father had volunteered to travel to Russia, along with Bilal Atkinson Sahib (Uncle Bill) for two weeks of Waqf-e-Arzi. The purpose of the visit was to offer some support and religious training to newly converted Ahmadis, some of whom were suffering from grievous poverty following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In addition, they sought to introduce the teachings of Islam through Tabligh.
I was too young to fully comprehend the significant objectives, but I do recall that the day before he travelled my father went shopping and came back with a very large bag filled with chocolates and sweets. I had never seen anything as appetising in my life! When I asked who they were for, he told me that he had bought them for the children he would meet in Russia. Given how large the bag was, I did not think the children of Russia would mind if I took one thing and so I asked him if I could have one packet of caramelised popcorn which had particularly attracted my eye.
Upon my request, my father took out the packet and handed it to me. However, at the same time, he said:
“You can have it but remember that these sweets are for the poor and under-privileged. Allah the Almighty has given you so much already and so you should always be grateful to Him and never again should you seek or desire what is meant for those who are less fortunate.”
I came to understand what my father meant better when he returned from Russia. The journey had clearly affected him. He explained how he had seen intense poverty and the desperate state of the people. He said he had seen people queuing for hours outside in tough conditions waiting in line to get a small cube of butter or other basic necessities to bring home for their families. He reminded us how lucky we all were and that we should never underestimate the blessings of Allah the Almighty in our own lives.
A memorable trip
After the passing of my mother, my father desired to introduce me to my familial and religious roots and so in the Easter holidays of 1996, I travelled with my him to Pakistan and Qadian.
It was very strange to land in Pakistan for the first time. There were many close relatives who I did not know well. Also, many elders would speak about me, whilst I was in the same room, which I found very odd and disconcerting. Often, they would refer to me as ‘bechara’ (poor boy) and allude to the fact that my mother had passed away. Hence, in certain respects, the visit was awkward and a real culture shock. Yet, in other ways, it was amongst the happiest of times. It was the only proper holiday I went on with my father where it could be said that he was fully well and in good health throughout.
Prior to the holiday, I informed Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) that I was visiting Pakistan and he was very pleased. He told me places to visit, people to meet and even what to eat! For example, he instructed me to eat a special Sindhi type of roast lamb known as sajji in Nawab Shah and also told my father to take me to Nathia Gali, a stunning mountain town in northern Pakistan.
Thus, along with an uncle and aunt, we travelled from Lahore to Nathia Gali and later to Bhurban, another hill town a few kilometres from Murree. Unquestionably, the views were incredible but it was an incident on the road that remains etched in my mind.
The drive was long and winding and as we drove through a certain stretch, suddenly the most thunderous, golf-ball sized hailstones started to crash down from the skies. I had never seen anything like it. It was thrilling for me to see and hear the deafening balls of ice hurtle towards us but not so much to my uncle. Fearful for the state of his precious car, he could not help but let out a mild expletive! I had never heard anyone use such a word in front of my father and I tried as best I could to gauge his reaction from the back of the car where I was seated. As far as I could tell, he pretended he had not heard anything and continued as he was. A few minutes later, the hail finally subsided and my uncle apologised to my father for his momentary lapse. My father smiled and the journey to Nathia Gali continued. For the record, exactly a decade later, in April 2006, the uncle also became my father-in-law.
The road to Nathia Gali was treacherous at points, the weather was poor but because Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) had told him to take me, my father was absolutely determined to reach there. Certainly, it was evident upon reaching Nathia Gali that his first emotion was relief at having fulfilled the instruction of Huzoor. It was only then that he took time to enjoy the view and surrounding scenery.
It was particularly wonderful to visit Qadian for the first time during the same trip where the late Sahibzada Mirza Wasim Ahmad (Mamu Wasim) and his wife Sahibzadi Amatul Quddus (Mani Quddus) took great care of us. Their hospitality and warmth had a very strong impact upon me. My father took me to all corners of Qadian, most especially those rooms and paths frequented by the Promised Messiah (as). He encouraged me to spend the nights awake in prayer alongside him.
We also visited Verowal, a small village in Indian Punjab, where my father had been born a few years before Partition. He had never been back and was eager to find his family home. The village was as far removed from our life in England as seemed possible, yet this was the place where my father’s story had begun. He enquired from local shopkeepers, farmers and other villagers if they knew where the property of his late father was. It had been almost 50 years and it seemed set to be a forlorn journey, as most of the villagers had no idea. Yet, finally, an elderly person recalled my grandfather, (late) Abdul Majeed Khan and took us to the land where he used to live. When we finally reached it, my father learned that their family home had long been demolished, yet it was enough for him to be there and to be reminded of his childhood. I understood it was important to him at the time, but it is only now that I recognise how much it must have meant.
Life at home
For several years after my mother’s passing, it became a routine for my father and I to eat breakfast together. On most days we would eat toast with butter. Occasionally, on a weekend, we would indulge by eating croissants purchased from Asda or Tesco and consider that we were eating like Kings!
Each day, my father would have a copy of The Times newspaper delivered to our home. During breakfast, he would read the main part, whilst I would read the sports section. After he finished reading, I would glance at the main news and it was in those moments that I first developed an interest in world events, politics and the musings of various columnists. Occasionally, I would discuss what I had read with him or what I had seen on the news that day.
Little did I know that years later, I would have the opportunity to serve in the Jamaat’s Press & Media Office and as MTA’s Director News and would have the honour and privilege to present news stories and media briefings on a regular basis to Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba). I am grateful to my father for cultivating that interest which has served me well.
It so happened that the Cricket World Cup 1999 took place in England at the same time that I was busy preparing for my GCSEs. It was an unfortunate coincidence for me, as my father made it abundantly clear that I should focus on my preparation. I pleaded with him to let me watch the matches but he said I could not afford to let the tournament divert my attention. That was until one day, I received a letter from Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh). I had written to him for prayers for my GCSEs but to my astonishment he had written back that he had a suspicion that my father would try to prevent me from watching the cricket. He said that my father should let me watch it freely as much as I liked! I was overjoyed and ran to my father and showed him the letter! He laughed and admitted that he no longer had any cause or right to stop me. Thus, I watched more cricket than I could ever have dreamed of during that month and my father never once tried to stop me. This too was a means for me to learn that once the Khalifa-Waqt has spoken, there was no room for any debate or second thoughts.
In terms of education, my father could be described as a traditionalist. Whilst I was growing up there was no Jamia Ahmadiyya in the UK otherwise I am sure he would have liked for me to have become a Missionary. With no such option available, many times he suggested that medicine was the best route for me. Though, when he finally learned of that ‘D’ in science, I think he started to realise I would not be following in his footsteps. After that, he suggested engineering or law as appropriate alternatives. I was never minded towards engineering and so through a process of elimination I was left with Law. I indicated to him during his final days that this was the subject I would pursue and he was pleased.
If I had my time again, I do not think I would have pursued Law in higher education. Regardless, through the Grace of Allah, after my father’s passing, I attained admission at the University of Durham where I attained a Bachelor of Law (LLB) and a Master of Law (LLM).
I do not think I would ever have been a particularly gifted lawyer, yet some of the skills and training have served me well in my future Jamaat duties. For example, we received intensive tuition in ‘drafting’, which helped me a lot whilst drafting statements or Press Releases on behalf of the Jamaat.
Growing up in Hartlepool in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, there were not many Asian people living near us. As a result, almost all of my friends were white English people. Apart from the occasional comment, I never experienced any form of serious racism nor any religious opposition. If my friends thought it strange that I prayed five times a day or that, each Friday, I would go home to offer the Jumma prayer during my lunch break, they rarely, if ever, expressed it. In this regard, I was fortunate.
My father though wanted me to know that Ahmadis were making great sacrifices for the sake of their faith and so, one morning, he explained to me the persecution faced by the Jamaat in Pakistan. Based upon my own upbringing, I was taken aback by what he said next.
“There will come a time when you will have to face religious hatred and opposition here in the UK. They will throw stones at you because of your religion. Make sure you stay strong in your faith.”
I remember being genuinely perplexed by this comment. What did my father mean? I responded by saying it was impossible! He stood firm. He explained that as the Muslim population increased, people would start to resent us. Further, as Ahmadis, we would be the target of hatred of non-Ahmadi Muslims as well. He instructed me to remain firm in my faith and never to succumb to societal pressure.
Looking back, I realise the naivety of my position compared to the acumen and foresight of his. Though I remained initially unconvinced, soon after his death and, as we entered a post-9/11 world, I began to realise that what he had warned of was true. I started noticing anti-Muslim and anti-Ahmadi prejudice, bias and bigotry and certainly this is something that I have come to see on a regular basis after assuming my duties as Press Secretary of the Jamaat. Those stones he spoke of have been unleashed but, with the Grace of Allah, we continue to be shielded by the true Khilafat.
My siblings have told me that my father mellowed as he got older in terms of parenting. They say he was stricter with them than he was with me. During my childhood and teenage years, I certainly respected my father’s authority in our home but I did note that, after my mother’s death, there were privileges that I had which were unusual.
For example, I did not have a bedtime. Invariably, I would go to bed whenever he went which would be around 10pm on a weeknight and a little later on a weekend. Furthermore, he used to permit me to read late into the night if I desired even on school nights. My family elders tell me that, as a young student, my father would himself read into the late hours of the night in Rabwah and so perhaps this was the reason he did not mind me doing the same.
I remember one occasion, when I would have been twelve or thirteen, my father came home from work and asked what we should eat for dinner. In reply, I said enthusiastically that we should go to McDonalds. My grandmother (dadi) who was also present was not impressed by my suggestion and told my father that there was no need to waste money since there was ample food in the house.
Upon this, my father looked at her and smiled before saying:
عابد کا دل چاہ رہا ہے اس لیے پیسوں کی فکر نہ کریں۔
“Abid feels like (eating out) so do not worry about the cost.”
It is strange how certain things stick in your mind. Often very insignificant details or incidents become those which you cherish in later years. This seemingly inconsequential comment, the type that every parent will have uttered at some point, is one that I have never forgotten.
Relationship with Khilafat
Unquestionably, my father’s story will always be linked inextricably to Khilafat. My sister, Nabbo, recently wrote about the Tabligh efforts of my parents in Hartlepool and how they were set to return to Pakistan in the early 1980s. They were later told by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) to remain in Hartlepool until they had established a Jamaat. MTA International has also produced a documentary about their Tabligh efforts. Hence, through the late 1980s and early 1990s, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) would occasionally visit our home in Hartlepool to attend Tabligh gatherings.
(Above: My father with Jamaat guests and several of the converts from Hartlepool)
Thereafter, in the mid-1990s, he started to visit us regularly for personal visits. I will be eternally grateful to Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) for granting us the honour to host him on nine separate occasions during that three year period. Sometimes, he would come alone, accompanied only by his security and staff. On other occasions, he would bring his daughters and on one occasion he even brought members of the Urdu Class.
The trip that stands apart is one made shortly after the Jalsa Salana UK in 1997, when Huzoor brought his cousins, Sahibzada Mirza Mansoor Ahmad and Sahibzada Mirza Muzaffar Ahmad along with him. I have written in the past about that visit and so I do not need to write again, save to say, that I think if anyone asked my father the greatest honour of his life, I believe he will almost certainly have pointed in the direction of that trip.
(Above: A photo from the 1997 visit by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) to our home in Hartlepool. From the Left: Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh), my father, Sahibzada Mirza Muzaffar Ahmad, Sahibzada Mirza Mansoor Ahmad)
The first morning after Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) and his Qafila arrived, I remember seeing my father’s reddened eyes and asked him if he was ok.
In reply, he said:
“Last night, I could not sleep for even one minute. Instead, I spent the night in prostration thanking Allah because today the direct representatives of the three sons (who lived to adulthood) of the Promised Messiah (as) from his marriage to Hazrat Amma Jan (ra) stayed in my home.”
He then explained to me further what he meant. He said:
“Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) is not only Khalifa-Waqt but is also the son of Hazrat Musleh Maud (ra). Sahibzada Mirza Muzaffar Ahmad is the son of Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad (ra) and Sahibzada Mirza Mansoor Ahmad is the son of Hazrat Mirza Sharif Ahmad (ra). Hence, the progenies of all three sons are here today. Alhamdulillah.”
My father did not live long enough to realise that one of the other people staying in our home during those days was destined to be elected as Khalifatul Masih V. I wish, somehow, I could inform him of the fact.
I used to enjoy very much watching my father interact with Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh). My father would never himself come to the dining table when Huzoor was eating his meal during his visits to our home. However, on most occasions, Huzoor would invite him to join. I used to observe how my father would always keep his eyes down in the presence of Huzoor. He would rarely, if ever, initiate a conversation with Huzoor and, instead, would wait until Huzoor spoke to him and would respond with as few words as possible.
Those visits of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) were a means of healing for all of our family and especially my father. The grief we felt at the passing of my mother would dissolve drop by drop through every visit and every interaction with Huzoor.
There were times when we made mistakes. On one occasion, my father decided to spray a few drops of perfume on the prayer mat which Huzoor would use at our house. He thought the fragrance would be pleasing. However, at the conclusion of the prayer, Huzoor said that the perfume had irritated his eyes whilst in Sajdah and so it should not be used in future. Hearing this, the colour drained from my father’s face. I remember how he spent much of the rest of the day and the following night offering Istighfar.
On another occasion, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) decided to visit Hartlepool with several members of the Urdu Class. The plan was that after spending two nights in Hartlepool, Huzoor would take the Urdu Class to the Lake District. As there was no one to host Huzoor and his Qafila at the Lake District, my father had written to Huzoor asking if he could be permitted to serve as host there as well.
In reply, Huzoor sent a message that my father should not come to the Lake District but that I should. I recall when this message came, I was jubilant and astounded in equal measure that Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) was inviting me to join him for that part of the trip. At the same time, my father expressed his regret and embarrassment that he had even asked to join.
During the visit to Lake District, the Urdu Class stayed in an unoccupied small house owned by an Ahmadi family. Given that there were many in our group, most of us slept wherever we could find a little room on the floor.
On the final night in Lake District, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) spoke to me and instructed that I give a message to my father.
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) said:
“Tomorrow we will be returning to London and so you should call Hameed and ask him to come and collect you from here before we depart. Also, you should tell him that the reason I did not permit him to come to the Lake District was because I knew that the accommodation here would be extremely tight and I did not wish for him to have to stay in difficulty or to be uncomfortable in any way.”
The next day when my father came to pick me up, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) met him with great love and affection. On the way home, after we had seen Huzoor depart for London, I informed my father of Huzoor’s message. Upon learning why Huzoor had not permitted him to join the Qafila at the Lake District my father was overwhelmed. For several minutes he did not speak and I could see that he was struggling to keep his composure in front of me.
(Above: Photo at Lake District before Huzoor departed for London)
On another occasion, I travelled to London with my elder sister Gugu (Tayyaba) and we stayed at the home of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh). One afternoon, at the dining table, Huzoor turned to my sister and I and said that we should convey a message to my father. He said we should tell him that, after the passing of my mother, he had allowed certain people to interfere in his family affairs and he should be more cautious in this regard.
I was a young boy and I trembled at the thought of confronting my father about such a delicate issue. On the journey home, I kept wondering how I would fulfill my obligation to convey Huzoor’s message. I wondered how my father would react and whether he would be angry with me or consider that I had misunderstood.
When I returned home, my father asked me about the trip and, eventually, I conveyed Huzoor’s message. I genuinely felt petrified and completely out of my depth.
I will never forget my father’s reaction. He did not challenge me by asking if I had properly understood the message of Huzoor. He did not ask how the conversation had arisen. He did not query or question me in any way. Instead, having heard the message of Khalifatul Masih, he did not care that the messenger was his youngest son, his response was an example of instant obedience.
My father said:
“Whatever Huzoor has said is completely right and I will follow his instructions, Insha’Allah. If Huzoor has observed something it must be true.”
Later in my father’s life, I saw another example of obedience which has stayed with me ever since. It also served as a faith-inspiring moment for me personally in my formative years. It illustrated to me beyond doubt that there is a God and He is always listening, so long as the person supplicating before Him does so sincerely.
It was the late 1990s and, after consulting with some family members, my father decided to remarry. There must have been some persuasive reasons for him to take this decision but when he informed me I felt dejected. I tried to cover up as best I could my feelings. I never once said I did not want him to remarry but neither did I offer him my support. Very quickly, as far as I was concerned, things progressed until one day, when I was in London, my father called me from Hartlepool. He told me that Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) would lead the Nikah the following day and so he was coming to London. At that moment, I did not know what to do or who to turn to. I knew there was nothing I could do now. All I could do was to turn towards Allah. Hence, for the first time in my life, I prayed all night until it was time for Fajr. I prayed and prayed that Allah the Almighty give me peace of mind and heart.
By the morning, I felt much better knowing that I had sought the Help of Allah with all my heart and soul.
Later in the day, I went to Fazl Mosque to do Khuddam security duty and, at Zuhr time, I was posted to stand a few metres from the Mosque entrance.
On his way back to his residence, after Namaz was complete, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) saw me and greeted me with a beautiful and loving smile.
As he continued to smile, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) asked:
“Do you not think the decision I have made is a good one?”
I did not understand what he meant and recognising my confusion, Huzoor said:
“I have sent a message to your father that he should not get remarried and so the Nikah will not take place! Now tell me, do you think it is a good decision or not?”
I was completely stunned and astonished. I had not dared to share my doubts or concerns with a single person. I had turned only to Allah the Almighty and somehow, at the very last moment, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) had intervened and withdrawn his permission for my father’s remarriage.
Still in shock, I remember saying:
“Huzoor, you have made the best decision!”
After Huzoor had returned to his residence, I rushed back to where I was staying and called my father to confirm if he had received the message. He had and there was not a trace of regret or sadness in his voice. Even though he had expected to have his Nikah later that day, without a second’s thought he cancelled all plans and never again considered remarrying.
The wisdom in Huzoor’s decision soon came to light. A few weeks later, my father’s ill health returned and this time it would ultimately lead to his passing, less than a year later. I can only imagine the problems or complications that may have ensued if the marriage had gone ahead. It was an incident that had a profound impact upon my life and my faith.
In the years that followed, I sometimes used to wonder what happened to the lady who was set to marry my father. I used to pray occasionally that she had a happy life. In 2013, when I had the honour of travelling with Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) to Australia, I met an Ahmadi man who had migrated from Pakistan. As we spoke, he became aware of my family background and who my father was. It was then that he told me it was his sister who my father had been close to marrying. It was certainly a strange and confounding moment for me. I settled myself enough to ask how she was and I was pleased to hear that she was now happily married with children and well settled.
Period of illness
The first signs of my father’s ill health started not long after my mother had passed away. He developed a cough, which was triggered especially at mealtimes. As a doctor, he would have known the warning signs but, initially, he continued with his normal routine, interrupted only by those sporadic moments of discomfort. Yet, as their intensity and frequency increased, he had no choice but to see a specialist. I cannot recall exactly when but after some time, he was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus.
My father fought his illness with bravery and courage. He never once allowed himself any sense of pity or regret. He was forever content and grateful for all Allah the Almighty had bestowed upon him. He maintained his dignity and composure in all circumstances. He certainly set an example for his children in many aspects of life of which his younger son has fallen short of time and time again.
In the years that followed, there were periods where it seemed he was recovering and all was well, yet just as soon as we allowed a degree of hope to enter our hearts, his health would take a dark turn. Flickering rays of light would often emerge before giving way to deathly cancer cells that continued to grow and spread viciously.
He never let his spirit be crushed and, despite the violent nature of his illness, his trust in Allah never wavered. If anything, it became stronger and stronger, as he recognised that he was moving towards an eternal life with His Creator.
During those dark days, the love of Khilafat gave strength to all of us. Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) would enquire after the health of my father on a daily basis. He would send beautiful bouquets of flowers and whenever any of us had the opportunity to visit London, he would ask with great love about my father.
(Above: Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) leading the prayers with my father standing at Huzoor (rh)’s right)
Perhaps, the single greatest act of love was that, whilst my father was frail and unwell, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) appointed him as Naib Sadr Majlis Ansarullah UK. I can never forget the look on my father’s face after he received a call from the Sadr Majlis Ansarullah UK informing him of this fact. As the call ended, he was on the verge of tears brimming with joy that Huzoor had personally entrusted him with this duty. No doubt, Huzoor will have known and understood that my father would not be able to fully carry out his duties and so I believe this appointment was purely an expression of his love and compassion.
Though it was difficult for him, on a few occasions, my father summoned up the strength to travel to London to partake in Ansar events and he sought to fulfil his duties as best he could. He considered his position to be a great trust and would take whatever duty he was assigned extremely seriously. I recall that the two Sadrs Majlis Ansarullah who he served under, Respected Iftikhar Ahmad Ayaz Sahib and Respected Rafiq Ahmad Hayat sahib would call him and take his advice from time to time. I used to observe these calls and my father’s face was a picture of humility at all times.
Watching him suffer was extremely difficult. Every meal became a trial. Would my father be able to swallow the increasingly small and purposely softened morsels that he ate? As time passed, the answer increasingly became no. He would cough up his food and I, or my siblings, would pat his back trying in vain to provide some relief to him.
Normally, he would suffer at the dining table, yet I recall that once Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV (rh) sent his son-in-law and daughter to enquire after the health of my father. My father was extremely pleased and made sure the arrangements for their stay in our home were as comfortable as possible. When it came to dinner time, I am sure he was nervous. Certainly, I know I was, as I knew he would not want for them to see him in a state of distress.
For a few minutes, he remained well and the mood lightened, however suddenly, as it often did, the malignant tumour blocked the pathway for his food. Somehow, in that moment, after coughing momentarily, my father controlled himself, calmly stood up and walked out to the other side of the house and out onto the front porch. As soon as he felt he was at a distance where the guests would not be disturbed or distressed, he coughed up the food. I could see the pain in his eyes. He looked up, composed himself before returning to the dining table and sat with the guests and ensured that they ate properly and well. He did not eat anything further himself.
I recall in the winter of 1999 I travelled to Pakistan in the Christmas holidays to visit family members. Though he was now seriously unwell, my father had encouraged me to go and visit Rabwah and to meet my relatives.
I remained quite shy during the visit. I recall how one of my aunts, Lubna Amatul Kabir, who I know as Khala Lubna, would encourage me to talk and open up. However, I remained extremely quiet, except for when my father called me. As soon as I would hear his voice, I would start to speak without reserve and explain excitedly what I had seen, who I had met and all my experiences. I remember, after one such call, Khala Lubna laughed and said that she had learned more about my trip by overhearing the call with my father than she had in all the days that I had spent visiting her home in Rabwah.
During those phone conversations, I used to ask him how he was and invariably my father would reply by saying he was completely fine and I should continue to enjoy myself and not worry about him.
Of course he was not completely fine and, as I returned home and the 1990s gave way to a new decade, a new century and a new millennium, I was faced with the growing reality that my father did not have long to live.
By now, most days, after school, I would travel 40 miles north to Newcastle to visit my father who was receiving treatment at a specialist cancer unit. It seemed that day by day he was weakening and it all led up to a conversation I had with him in the hospital waiting area one evening in the middle of February 2000.
My father spoke and I listened. As I look back now as a father to three young children, I cannot imagine the emotions and grief that he must have felt at that time.
My father said:
“Though I would have loved to see you grow up and to live your life that is no longer possible. I will not be there to see you when you graduate from university. I will not be with you when you get married. I will not be able to meet your children. I will not be able to guide you as you get older but there are two things, I will tell now which I hope you will follow. First, in terms of your marriage, if it is possible then try to marry within the family of the Promised Messiah (as). Secondly, and most importantly, always stay close to Khilafat. If you remain close to Khalifa-Waqt I promise you that everything in your life will be fine. This is all I ask of you.”
This was the last proper conversation I had with my father. It was also the hardest conversation of my life. And yet I had not spoken a single word. I just listened, occasionally nodding and not fully comprehending what it all meant. I did have a firm intention and resolve in my heart to try to act upon whatever he had said.
I do not desire to dwell further on his illness and subsequent death save to say that it was a relief when we were told by the doctor that he had breathed his last breath. I cannot speak on behalf of my siblings or how they were feeling but to a seventeen year old boy I was just glad that my father was no longer in pain and had entered the eternal life of the Hereafter. Watching the person I loved with all of my heart suffer day upon day, week upon week, month upon month, year on year had become too much to bear.
A message for the future
It is a common and well known phrase that ‘time is a healer’. For many this will be true and I suppose for me as well. Yet, as I have grown older, I have found myself missing my parents and feeling their loss somewhat more. Perhaps, it is because I now have children of my own and have come to recognise the sacrifices that every parent makes for the sake of the wellbeing of their children.
Perhaps, too, it is because I have had a unique opportunity to serve Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) for more than a decade and I know that the knowledge of their son having such experiences and blessings would have lit up my parents eyes. So, I do feel a certain sadness that they did not live long enough to see the blessings and opportunities that Allah has bestowed upon me – surely in answer to their prayers.
I feel sorry that Mahid, Moshahid and Jaweria will never get to meet their paternal grandparents.
I also feel regret that I did not serve my father better. I hope, perhaps, that this article will serve as means of rectifying that, to some extent at least, as hopefully those who read it will be inclined to pray for my father and also my mother from time to time.
It may be that some people wonder why it is only now that I have written some memories of my late father. I had always intended to but never knew where or how to start. Then, just a few days ago in late August, I opened up a box hidden under my bed which had remained unopened for several years. It contained some old letters and documents. One of the documents consisted of four points my father had written to his children shortly before his passing. They were his instructions and directions to us for the future.
I shared a copy with Huzoor in the hope that he would remember my father in his prayers.
Upon reading it, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) sent me the following beautiful message filled with prayers and guidance.
اللہ تعالی ان کے درجات بلند فرمائے۔ تم لوگوں کو ان کی نصیحت پر ہمیشہ عمل کرنے کی توفیق دے۔ تمہیں بحیثیت وقف زندگی ان باتوں پر زیادہ عمل کرنا چاہئے۔
اپنے ابا پر مضمون لکھو اس میں یہ نصیحت بھی لکھو۔
“May the Almighty elevate his status. May all of his children always act upon these instructions of his. As a Waqf-e-Zindighi, you have a special duty to act upon what he has said. You should write an article about your father and include these instructions of his.”
So, on instruction of the blessed person who has filled the void of the loss of my father many times over, I end with the instructions, my father, Dr Hameed Ahmad Khan, left for his children.
In the Name of Allah, The Gracious, Ever Merciful
6 February 2000
A few notes for Gugu, Fareed, Nabbo & Abid
- Always have strong faith and trust in Allah. Don’t forget Him. He will never forget you.
- Always stay in contact with the Khalifa. Write to him, visit him, attend his meetings and always follow his instructions.
- Stay close together. Unity will give you strength and happiness. Visit each other frequently. Help each other. Sacrifice your time and resources for each other. Remember the more you sacrifice for each other, the more Allah will give you.
- Read (and absorb) the Holy Quran daily. Read the life story and characters of the Holy Prophetsa, the Promised Messiahas and the Khalifas (May peace be upon them) frequently. Follow in their footsteps.
(Above: The memorable note from my father)
With thanks to Staff members of the Press & Media Office and Mrs Aliyah Chaudhary (Lajna, USA) for their assistance in proof reading this article.