This series of articles focuses on the African-Americans who Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra brought under the banner of the true Islam during his time in America between 1920 and 1923. The converts all came from varying backgrounds. Ultimately, they became zealous preachers of Islam Ahmadiyyat in America.
Dr Talha Sami, UK
“I prayed for three things when I was sent from London to America to establish the first Muslim mission: a sincere Jamaat of new Ahmadi Muslims, the construction of a mosque and a new journal. In spite of all the challenges, God Almighty, with His sheer blessings, answered my prayers and gave me a community during the first year; [The Moslem Sunrise] started in the second year and a mosque and residence was constructed during the third year.” (Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra, Tahdeeth bin Ne‘mat [Urdu])
Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra was a seasoned veteran missionary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. His extensive and successful tours of India and England helped him prepare for establishing institutions and extensive propagation systems to preach Islam in America.
Mufti Sahib’sra efforts were not spontaneous; they were calculated moves, blessed with the constant prayers and guidance of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra who was in India at the time. Mufti Sahibra was a close companion of the Promised Messiahas and was blessed with a wide range of skills from oration to administration. He was very well aware of the tools that were needed for the effective spread of Islam.
He may have left America with tears in his eyes, but what remained were institutions he had created – these are still celebrated today. The connotations of “institutions” are broad. They include the literature he commenced, which is still in circulation, publishing to this day, the mosque he erected and even the people that were empowered to further spread the message of Islam.
The focus here is purely on those pious African-American pioneers who joined the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat and set out to spread the message of Islam to Americans.
“He left an extraordinary legacy of individuals who were committed across Dayton, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Columbus.” (Habeeb Shafeek Jr, “Islamic Renaissance in the 1920s” on MTA, 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ln5dvJOLLF0)
The panelists – Habeeb Shafeek and Dhul Yacub – while discussing Islam in America, stated that Mufti Sahibra left 12 trained missionaries behind as he left the USA. He infused them with the same zeal he had; they were able to propagate the message across their own native cities. These people were institutions who would be able to continue the propagation of Islam.
However, before a formal “sheikh programme” was ordained, Mufti Sadiq Sahibra was already training converts by giving them the blueprints for tabligh (propagation) that he would give to the later “sheikhs”.
One of these individuals was Elias Russell who was born in Mississippi around 1873. At least by the year 1930, he had moved to Chicago, County Illinois. (Roll 419 Enumeration District 87. Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA, p. 48)
Sometime before then, he converted between 1920 to July 1921 at the hand of Mufti Sadiq Sahibra and was given the name Ghulam Rasul, becoming the 45th to have accepted Islam, as recorded in The Moslem Sunrise of 1921. Mufti Sadiq Sahibra made a comprehensive list of those who converted. Elias Russell’s mention carried special significance:
“The brethren in Chicago hold regular meetings every Sunday with Mr L Roman as their secretary. Brothers Muhammad Yaqoob (Mr Andrew Jacob) and Ghulam Rasul (Mr Elias Russell) have been working like missionaries in Chicago and have succeeded in bringing nine American souls to the fold of Islam.” (The Moslem Sunrise, 1921, Issue 2, p. 36)
Ghulam Rasul was clearly working actively, almost as a missionary, securing subscribers and spreading the message of Islam. Mufti Sadiq Sahibra mentions him with regard to the former, alongside Madame Rahatullah and Sheikh Karoub (who helped purchase the Highland mosque. (The Moslem Sunrise, 1921, Issue 1, p. 29)
He was further mentioned again for his missionary efforts in spreading Islam to his fellow citizens in the next year. (The Moslem Sunrise, 1921, Issue 1, p. 64).
“They [Ahmadi sheikhs] did their very best in instructing us as to the teaching of Islam.” (Wali Akram, Black Pilgramage to Islam, p. 110)
Mufti Sadiq Sahibra instituted a system of training indeneous individuals wherever he went – in England he had four individuals working under him and spreading the message of Islam. (Al Fazl, 8 January 1920, p. 2)
Mufti Sahibra transferred his skills to America and titled those learning from him as “sheikhs”. He was preparing for the future. Those that he trained early on became fundamental to the spread of Islam in the next generation. This was following the sunnah of Prophet Muhammadsa who also appointed 12 leaders to supervise his followers, citing Mosesas and Jesusas at the time of the second pledge of Aqabah. (Muhammad, Seal of the Prophets, Hazrat Chaudhry Muhammad Zafarullah Khanra, p. 73).
This is something that has been identified by Robert Danin in Black Pilgramage to Islam. The Ahmadiyya Muslim mission spread throughout 16 cities, stretching from Mississippi to the Atlantic. Mufti Sadiq Sahibra surrounded himself with people who were interested in the truth, then instilled within them the same passion he had to preach the truth in the way he did. This was at a time when books or a standardised Islamic education was either not available or too expensive, therefore oral transmission was the alternative (Black Pilgramage to Islam, p. 38). This set off native Islam in America. (The End of Empires: African Americans in India, p. 43)
As a side note, it is interesting to point out that within a decade after Mufti Sahib’sra arrival and his campaign to train and empower African-American converts to preach Islam, a native form of Islam was to arise in Black America that came to be called the Nation of Islam. Though when it did, few recognised that its path had been lubricated by a force that hailed from the Punjab. Out of the sheikhs trained by Mufti Sahibra and left behind in America, the following personalities are particularly identifiable. From my research, I believe most, if not all, were African-Americans:
1. Sheikh Ahmad Din
2. Sheikh Ashiq Ahmad
3. Sheikh Nasir Ahmad
4. Sheikh Saeed Akmal of Pittsburgh
5. Sheikh Ahmad Omar of Braddock, Pennsylvania (previously known as William M Patton)
6. Abdullah Malik of Colmbus
7. Ahmad Rasool of Dayton
8. Shareef Ali of Cincinnati
9. Sheikh Abdus Salam (previously known as Reverend Sutton)
It is possible there was a Sheikh Suphan who taught Arabic and was an Ahmadi sheikh in Buffalo. He taught the renowned New York based Sunni scholar, Daoud Ghani. (Black Pilgramage to Islam, p. 121 & 286)
Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra made sheikhs responsible for organising local missions, collecting donations, maintaining contact with the head office in Chicago and supplying them with pledge forms to register new converts and a plethora of other preaching and administrative duties. This was a systematic and effective approach. (Black Pilgramage to Islam, p. 36)
The history of the other proto-Islamic or early Islamic movements are shrouded in mystery. However, due to the early pioneering eff orts of the Mufti, a tremendous amount is on display. His mission still stands a century later whilst his magazine is still active and running. His legacy has truly been preserved.
Ahmadi missionary, Mahmood Kauser of New York, said:
“The first concerted efforts to spread Islam in America can be traced directly to the missionaries of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Pick up any book detailing the history of Islam in America and you will be forced to recognise the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as the sole group that trained, organised and sent their missionaries for the service of Islam and the benefaction and education of all those who accepted Islam at the hands of these tireless missionaries.” (Early Ahmadi Converts of North America [Thesis], p. 17)
An Ahmadi blogger, Hafiz Nasiruddin, has said these that these Ahmadi “sheikhs” were integral to the success of Ahmadiyya in the US. Their efforts spread throughout a network of 16 cities, from the Mississipi to the Atlantic. They would follow the blueprint Mufti Sahib had left for effective preaching: lecturing at ecumenical functions, writing articles and debating. (Black Liberation: The Tree of Ahmad) (http://soulmuslim.blogspot.com)
This article only scratches the surface and serves as an introduction to how Islam was first spread across America by the Ahmadi missionary, Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra, who was sent there by the Second Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmadra, and served under his constant guidance and instructions. People from diverse backgrounds joined Islam Ahmadiyyat through the Mufti and helped propagate the message.
Sheikh Abdullah din Muhammad was a Caucasian convert. Born as Joseph Livington Mott, he converted to Islam Ahmadiyyat and became fundamental in the early years of the Mufti’s work, often mentioned in The Moslem Sunrise. Mahmood Kauser has seconded this and said that he went on to be a prolific preacher in the Bible belt. (Early Ahmadi Converts of North America [Thesis], p. 64)
There were others of notable mention. The Mufti mentioned Mrs Ophelia Avant and Brother Ahmad of Sioux City, Michigan for their passionate preaching although not everyone got the title of “sheikh” (Ahmadiyya Movement In Islam, Ahmadiyya Gazette, April 1997, p. 48)
The former and Madame Rahatullah were examples of how Mufti Sahibra empowered women into leadership roles. Gender was not a restricted setting of Mufti Sadiq Sahibra who empowered local females to preach Islam. These women preachers will be discussed with greater depth in future articles.
(In the next article, we will focus more on the formally anointed sheikhs by Hazrat Mufti Muhammad Sadiqra)