‘Didn’t the Irish migrate to America? People need to look at it from this perspective’
Originally published by the Irish Times on October 9, 2019.
New to the Parish: Imam Rabeeb Mirza and Ayesha Hasmin Mirza arrived from the UK
Rabeeb Mirza was 16 when he began training to become an imam. He had been studying for his A-levels at school in Mitcham in south London when he was offered a place at the Jamia Ahmadiyya institute of modern languages and theology in Surrey.
“It wasn’t something that I had pre-planned. My father did want me to pursue this life but never forced me into it. I had no plans of becoming an imam, I was actually thinking of studying zoology. But there was some turning point inside me which said I should go and serve my religion.”
Rabeeb spent seven years at the college learning Arabic, Urdu and Persian and following the teachings of the Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the Ahmadiyya strand of Islam in the late 1800s. When he was 24, following a few short stints in Liberia, Spain and Pakistan, he was sent to Ireland as a missionary. “I had thought I was going to be put in an office because generally I’m not very articulate. I get stage fright quite a lot. But you learn.”
To be fair, I never expected to marry a missionary, because I knew I would be moving around a lot… The comfort factor this time was the blessing from our holiness
The 29-year-old imam is speaking to me from behind a desk covered with books and papers in his small office in the Dublin mission house of the Ahmadiyya Association of Ireland. Beside me sits his wife, Ayesha Hasmin Mirza, who moved to Ireland in spring this year after the couple were married.
Like her husband, Ayesha grew up in south London, going to school in Wimbledon. When she was a teenager her family moved to Saudi Arabia. “At first going there was different because of the culture and way of life. It was also different as a woman but I actually found it very peaceful and respectful and made life-long friends. You get used to it after a while.” She returned to the UK after school to study sociology at the London School of Economics and went on to train as a teacher and work in a primary school.
In February the couple were introduced to one another through a matchmaking process organised by the current Ahmadiyya spiritual leader, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, and with the support of their families. They had both seen pictures and read a small biography of each other before meeting in person. The pair had previously had a number of proposals from other prospective partners but refused the offers. However, this time they both agreed it was the right match and the following week they were married.
“To be fair, I never expected to marry a missionary because I knew I would be moving around a lot,” says Ayesha. “I had lots of suggestions [for marriage] before that and my mum was starting to wonder and get worried about me. But the comfort factor this time was the blessing from our holiness [Masroor Ahmad].