My Memoirs Part 18
An incident at Eastleigh Mosque
It must have been sometime in 1975 when a delegation of the world “Khatam Nabuwwat” organisation, led by Allama Mohammad Yusuf Binnori, came from Pakistan. My old colleague, Dr Abdul Razzaq Iskandar from the days of our studies in Madinah, was there with Shaikh Binnori.
We arranged an address for the Shaikh in the Somali Mosque at Eastleigh after Maghrib prayer. The mosque was packed with the local Muslim community.
The Imam stood up after the prayer to introduce the guests but instead he started talking about something unexpected. He was among those people who believed in innovations like Mawlid. He said “We used to be a united community here in Kenya until some teachers came from Saudi Arabia and created dissension and disunity amongst us”. Of course he meant to slander me and my colleagues, who had arrived as delegates of Madinah.
What happened after that was also unexpected.
One of my Somali students, who was there with his classmates, stood up and shouted to him “You are a liar!”
The whole congregation then stood up angrily and they were about to hit the poor fellow but he somehow managed to advance towards the Imam. There must have been a scuffle where either he was beaten first or he took the liberty to slap the Imam. It was a very embarrassing situation for me and my guests, so I escorted them to exit from the mosque.
After leaving them at their hotel, I came as fast as I could to the mosque. I was worried about the fate of my students.
I found the congregation had been dispersed and was told that the police had been called. They had already taken hold of my students and taken them to the Police Station. I hurried there to inquire about them.
The officer was not amazed by the situation. He said “Why on earth would people fight in the mosque, especially with the Imam while there is no such thing like this in our churches”
I said to him “Do you know why the Imam wanted to slander the teachers and delegates from Madinah? It is like a witch doctor who will never be happy in the presence of a qualified doctor”
We talked for a while and he promised to release them the following day. It was a very ugly incident which prompted my opponents, from among the innovators of my own Asian community as well and who opposed me right from the beginning of my career in Nairobi, to exploit the incident and complain to the authorities that I had been a source of trouble and disorder.
A few days later I was asked to appear before an Intelligence Officer at an office somewhere in the basement of a state building. Though the interrogation was elusive, my answers did satisfy them.
There had been nothing serious in my past. Ultimately it was a scuffle which had been among a Somali Imam and some members of the same community.
Alas, I could see that my opponents were not satisfied until they had caused some harm to me. Owing to my friends in some higher administrative and political positions, they were not allowed to succeed in their vicious plans to keep on hounding me.
Despite this however, I could see a bleak future for me and my family if I remained there. It seemed the right moment for me to think about leaving Kenya and moving to a different place; more peaceful and stable.
On 26th January 1976 I travelled to Riyadh and met our beloved Shaikh, Abdul Aziz Bin Baaz, the head of Darul Ifta. It is normally very difficult to have a private conversation with him due to his busy schedule. He was always surrounded by a great number of visitors with their questions and applications, his two secretaries with a bunch of papers including letters, correspondence from various authorities, applications for assistance, and his constantly ringing telephone from people asking for a Fatwa. Anyhow, I came with the intention of staying at least a week to secure a private sitting with the Shaikh which he was kind enough to grant me. He took me to his private chamber beside his office to listen to my concerns in view of the events mentioned above. I asked him if he could transfer me to another country for the very same objective for which I devoted my life i.e. Dawa in the way of Allah.
Without any hesitance he said to me “Where do you want to move? To Pakistan, England or America?”
It was always my wish to acquire my postgraduate studies in Britain, and I could do this alongside my duties as a delegate of Darul Ifta. So I mentioned England as the country of my choice. Shaikh turned to his secretary and asked him to prepare the necessary paperwork for my transfer to the United Kingdom.
The meeting was brief but to my satisfaction. After a week I was back in Nairobi, to mentally prepare for leaving Kenya for good. From my departure on 19th July 1976 first to Jeddah and then ten days later to London, there had been a host of international journeys awaiting me during the coming months.
An International Conference in London
This was my second trip to London which lasted for 16 days from 2nd to 18th April 1976. Sirajur Rahman (from Kampala, Uganda) and I were two delegates from East Africa to attend the International Islamic Conference in London which was hosted by Salim Azzam, the Secretary General of the European Islamic Council. Later we came to know that all it’s activities were a part of the great “World Islam Festival”, organised by a Trust, especially created to a very high level for this purpose in 1973.
With a budget of £4 Million it was funded up to 80% by the United Arab Emirates. It was also funded by Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan and partly by the Arab Bank and the Islamic Solidarity Fund. The festival was a great success which attracted the English media in a spectacular way. Apart from the financial aid, 30 Muslim countries contributed with materials of different kinds to bring a lot of splendour and glory to this great event.
It was my first exposure to such an activity of such a high magnitude and velocity. It was also a very precious occasion to see and listen to some very renowned and scholarly personalities from around the globe. For me it was an experience of a lifetime, an asset for the coming days, and a memory worthy to be hailed and cherished.
In London we stayed a day or two at the Hilton, overlooking Hyde Park and later we moved to Hilton Kensington. The conference along with the activities of the Festival for about 10 days were distinguished by four characteristics.
A galaxy of renowned religious and political personalities and academics from around the globe were invited to address and participate. I have listed the names in order of their presentation:
- Shaikh Al Azhar Dr Abdul Halim Mehmud, who led us in Juma prayer at Seymour Hall.
- The messages sent by Maulana Abul Ala Maududi and Shaikh Abul Hasan Nadawi were read.
- Abdul Kareem Brohi, a politician from Sindh.
- Syyed Naqib Al Attas from Malaysia
- Murad Hofman, the famous German Ambassador
- Altaf Gohar, a well known journalist
- Muhammad Asad, the author of “Road to Makkah”, the Austrian Muslim who served as the representative of Pakistan at the UN, shortly after the creation of the nation of Pakistan. He was given the task by Muhammad Ali Jinnah to lay out all the polices which could be a foundation for a timely Islamic state.
- Rashid Siddiqi, an activist of Jamaat Islami who later headed the UK Islamic Mission in the UK
- Ali Mansur, who I knew through his scholarly book on the concept of Hudood in Islam
- Mustafa Momin
- Saeed Ramadan, one of the most famous leaders of Ikhwan in exile. He used to publish the monthly journal “Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimun” from Geneva, Switzerland.
- Ayesh Lemu from Nigeria
- Habib-ur-Rahman, a UK Islamic Mission active member from Manchester.
- Abul Bashar Mahmud Hussain, Chief Judge of Bangladesh
- Muhammad Dimanji, the Director of the Office of the Muslim World League in Cophenhagen, Denmark
- Mr Maulud Qasim, a minister from Algeria, who spoke on an economic issue
- Professor Khurshid Ahmad, the renowned scholar of economics and the President of Islamic Foundation in Leicester
- Abdul Rahman Al-Ruwaishid, the editor of the weekly “Al-Da’wah” from Riyadh
- Muhammad Afzal, a delegate from Birmingham
- Dr Nasir, the former Prime Minister of Indonesia
- Saif-ul-Islam al Banna from Egypt
- Syyed Rashid, whose speech was about Shaikh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab
- A speech by a Qazi from Nigeria
- A speech by the former Prime Minister of Zanzibar
- Speeches by two delegates from Turkey
- Dr. Ishtiaq Hussein Qureshi from Karachi
- Dr Muhammad Qutb, from King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah
- Salim Azzam, the secretary General of the Islamic Council of Europe, who gave the concluding speech
- Farooqi Raji from Philadelphia, USA
It was a great opportunity to see a number of magnificent sites where the sessions of the conference were held. These included:
- King Albert Hall, Kensington
- Tudor Hall
- The Royal Commonwealth Hall, a reception by the UK Islamic Mission
- The Royal Lancaster Hotel, a reception was given there to the delegates by the “New Horizon” magazine.
- The Savoy Hotel, a dinner was arranged for all the participants by BCCI
- The Seymour Hall, where Juma was held
- Royal Festival Hall, where the inauguration of the Festival of Islam was held. It was a great occasion to hear Shaikh Al Husary once again.
- The Science Museum, there was a good display of the inventions and achievements by the Muslims.
A good number of them have already been mentioned but the others who I met or at least saw include the following:
- Hashir Farooqi
- Bashir Diwan
- Abdul Rahman Bazmi
- Haleem Butt
- Naqi Ali
- Imam Abdul Rahman Tarapuri
- Dr Abdullah Abdul Muhsin Al Turki
- Mahdi Khan, his son Haq Nawaz Khan (missing?)
- Saleem Kyani, the President of the UK Islamic Mission
- Mian Tufail Muhammad
- Hafiz Nisar Ahmed
- Kausar Niazi
- Syed Mutawawli al-Darsh, Imam of the Islamic Centre, London
- Amanatullah, an Indian graduate of Madinah who currently resides in Nigeria
- Shams Ashur
- Rahmat Ilahi
- Muhamid Siddiqi from Denmark
During my stay as a guest of the Council, I visited several places but two of them were of a significant nature.
Firstly, accompanied by Sirajur Rahman Nadwi, I went to 33 Bristol Gardens to visit some new Muslims who would assemble there in order to celebrate Dhikr in accordance with a Sufi Order known as Darqawiya. Also present was Kausar Niazi, the former Jamaat Islami member who became a Minister in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government (Pakistan).
Secondly, accompanied by Amanatullah, a delegate from Nigeria, I went to Westminster Hospital to visit Dr. Abu Bakr Ghaznavi; the great son of a great father, Syyed Dawood Ghaznavi. He had come to participate in the conference but incidentally was hit by a car while crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing. He had become so badly injured that he was rushed to a nearby hospital.
This was the first time I saw him. He was admitted to King George Ward, where his friend was there beside his bed. One of his legs was covered completely with bandages and tied to a sling from the ceiling. He was pale and quiet.
وماتدري نفس ما ذا تكسب غدا و ما تدري نفس باي ارض تموت
Never would I have thought that we were among the last four persons to see him alive. He came to London, where he was destined by Allah to breathe his last.
With a heavy heart we walked the way back to Trafalgar Square on foot.
By the end of the conference I had to leave the hotel and move to my friend, Hafiz Nisar Ahmed’s House in Battersea.
Writing these lines in 2020, I look back to 44 years ago and see how cheap London was at that time. It cost 70 pence for a return ticket by the underground railway, the same journey costing £10 today. Within Central London you could travel paying only 25-30pence.
We took a meal in Khyber Hotel, a Pakistani restaurant, costing only £2 each. The journey to Birmingham would cost us only £4.50.
During the last six days I travelled to Birmingham, Leicester, Manchester to visit various members of Islamic centres, mosques and Universities. In Birmingham I met AbdulRahman of UKIM, Dr Zubair, Muhammad Afzal, Dr Muhammad Nasim, Shaikh Nisar Ahmed, Shaikh Fazal Karim Asim. In Manchester I met Tufail Hashmi, a friend from Nairobi, and Allama Khalid Mehmud, who took me to the Oriental section of Manchester University. In Leicester I met with Professor Khurshid Ahmad, the founder of the Islamic Foundation, Syed Ali Ashraf, Abdul Karim Saqib (a graduate of Madinah University).
Back to London
It was another opportunity for me to visit some old friends from Nairobi including Abdul Rahman Bazmi, Halim Butt in Farnham in the South of England, Bashir Butt in Southall, Hamid Mughal in Croydon.
Then on 10th April, I took a flight back to Nairobi, via Frankfurt.
A note on the World Islam Festival
It is interesting to note that the festival was held on behalf of a Trust established in 1973. The people behind this trust were a number of English dignitaries like Ahmad Paul Keeler, Martin Lings and Alistair Duncan (a Bahraini businessman) and Mr Mohammad Mahdi. The Trust was financed by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, the Islamic Solidarity fund and the Arab Bank. A cost of £4 Million was estimated and 30 countries had contributed in providing loans of 6000 pieces of art, calligraphy and antiques which were displayed throughout a number of exhibitions in London Museums.
The BBC played it’s part in showing a series of documentaries on the “Traditional Values of Islam”. In total around 180 academic lectures at 80 venues were delivered.
The most outstanding work was that of the Islamic Council of Europe, who had organised this first International Islamic Conference in cooperation with King AbdulAziz University of Jeddah. Salim Azzam, the Secretary General, and Khurshid Ahmad of the Islamic Foundation, were the driving force behind the success of this global event. It is reported that the exhibitions attracted around half a million visitors and in addition to this the BBC had over a million viewers.
This all happened as the oil wealth in the Arab lands was booming, and thanks to Allah, a tiny part of this blessing was directed to serve Islam.