Rabwah, for many people, is a place so special, that no matter where they live, they will never forget their childhood memories in that town. My own parents, who were born and grew up there, often mention how peaceful and lively it was back in those days. Whenever they tell me stories about their childhood, it becomes apparent how fond they are of their birthplace and how much they miss it. I am every so often told about Eid at that time when you could celebrate openly and spread the happiness everywhere. The congregational prayers, the family celebration afterwards and the whole town becoming one on that special day are now just distant a memory as the oppression of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan has become unbearable.
But what is Rabwah like through the eyes of young Ahmadis who were born and raised in the western world? A lot of my friends who I have spoken to mentioned that they have never been to Rabwah, or Pakistan in general. What surprises me more is that many amongst them haven’t even considered visiting the town in order to see it for themselves. Ramadhan of 2010, I came to Rabwah with my family after about 4 years. The few times I visited before that, I was quite young so I wasn’t very interested in the town itself, but engaged more in having a great time with my relatives there. However, when I visited last year, I saw Rabwah through the eyes of a fascinated teenager and noticed how uniquely different it actually is from the places I had been to before.
One thing I particularly liked was that the majority of citizens were in fact Ahmadis themselves, and I therefore saw an atmosphere of togetherness which I had never seen anywhere else. The shops were decorated with pictures of the Promised Messiah (as) and in spite of the governmental restrictions in terms of publicly announcing our faiths, it seemed like the people were not at all ashamed of or trying to hide their faith. In fact, they were determined that come what may they will always be ready to support each other and stand to their faith. I felt a great admiration for everyone who lived there, as they all seemed to never complain about the difficult times that they are going through due to their faith. It seemed like everyone was ready to even sacrifice their life in the name of Allah and that was something I had seen the first time in my life. I instantly fell in love with the town. I loved the fact that as an Ahmadi, no matter where you are from, you never have the feeling of not fitting in or not being part of that community.
In Europe, I have been mixing with people of different backgrounds and I have noticed that here, religion not given that much importance. Although mixed communities make you less prone to discrimination, there is also a certain limit in terms of sharing your joys and religious celebrations with those around you. Often, one is so isolated that one does not even acknowledge their own neighbour as all are busy with their own lives. Religious celebrations are narrowed down to just immediate family and the local mosque. In Rabwah however, I saw the complete opposite. In Rabwah, Eid preparations are started well in advance. During Ramadhan, Aftaris are held for larger groups of people and Eid is celebrated with all those who live in the same area as you. Even throughout the year, people visit each other; share their nice food with neighbours, and show great understanding for each other.
When going into shops, no one would look at you oddly after recognising that you are an Ahmadi. This was something I had noticed when I went shopping in Faisalabad, that although everyone there was Muslim, I still felt somewhat out of place as most others were not Ahmadis. However, in Rabwah, I was comfortable with going into the shops as I was aware that they were run by people of my own community. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that during Prayer times, congregational prayers were offered in different parts of the Bazaar and everyone, without exception, took part in the Salaat without question. As a result, I developed a great liking for the bazaar in Rabwah. I also very much appreciated the great respect with which the people deal with you when they see that you are also an Ahmadi, especially when from overseas.
I also visited the Bahishtee Maqbarah a few times. What startled me was that it was very peaceful, clean and calm. Cemeteries in the UK are mostly run by churches, and sometimes it becomes apparent that they are not taken care of as well. When visiting the Bahishtee Maqbarah however, I did not feel the slightest distress as by the grace of Allah, it has been taken care of very well and no matter what time of the day you go there, it has a certain peaceful atmosphere to it.
Unfortunately, I discovered that the Aqsa Mosque was locked down permanently due to the current situation of Ahmadis in Pakistan. Similarly, the Darul Ziafat was out of bounds and the parks were also closed which meant that I was unable to see them.
Although I had only been there for a few weeks, I enjoyed my visit so much that I decided to come back on a regular basis and in future try to be an active part of the community there by moving there temporarily in order to serve the Jamaat. That unity I saw there is so extraordinary that one feels grateful and proud to be part of the Ahmadiyya Community. Since I came back, I have tried to persuade many people to visit Rabwah as it will surely be a special experience to see a whole town full of our own people. An atmosphere like that in Rabwah, is impossible to recreate for Ahmadis in the western world. Despite the great difficulties that our community has been facing for the past decades, the spirit that those citizens are showing is something one can only admire.
I can only pray that many other young Ahmadis who, like me, have spent their lives in westernised societies, will get the chance to see Rabwah for themselves and be fascinated by the determination and courage that people living there are showing.