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My Memoirs part 19-20

Blog: 19. My Journey to Nouakchott (Mauritania) in May 1976

Another Conference! This time in Nouakchott, the capital of the desert country in West Africa. The Muslim World League of Makkah invited me and a number of delegates from Kenya to attend this conference. I took the Pan American Flight to Lagos accompanied by Dr. Muhammad Saeed, Mr Mahmud, Essa Kuria and Qazi of Kasumu. There were three more delegates: Muhammad Hashim of South Africa and two teachers from Comoro  Islands. As we were flying towards the West, the declining sun seemed to have a slow pace, since we took off on the 2nd May at 3pm and the sun was still on the horizon on Sunday evening.

After an hour’s stay, we flew to Abidjan, the Capital of the Ivory Coast, landing there 60 minutes later. It was 9:15 and only then did the sun finally set. In the transit hall we prayed in congregation. The airport terminal was magnificent, much larger than the one in Nairobi.

Another one hour 10 minutes flight later, and we were at the Monrovia airport, Liberia. Here the state of affairs were more down-to-earth, owing to the country’s lower economic status.

After a two hour stay, we boarded the plane for a fourth time on a journey to Dakar, Senegal. It took us one and a half hours to reach there. Our watches, still set to Nairobi’s time, were showing 4am, while there it was 1am.

We were keen to get the morning flight to Nouakchott but all our efforts were in vain. We took the airline bus to the main city, in search of temporary accommodation but the Hotel where we were dropped off was so crowded with visitors that we had no other choice except to return back to the airport hotel with a relatively more expensive fare of 5,000 Franks (around $25) for a room for two people.

Syyed Muhammad Hashim was to be my roommate, while Dr. Muhammad Saeed accompanied the Qazi of Kusumu in his room.

A hectic day was at last brought to some rest.

Monday 03.05.1976

At the breakfast table we met some more delegates including Mr. Abdul Quddus from South Africa, Mr. Adam Makda from Rhodesia and another guest from Burundi. After a number of attempts we were able to contact the embassy of Mauritania, giving them news of our arrival.

Later I had a bus ride with Muhammad Al Qazi, a regular columnist at Al-Jazeera paper of Riyadh. We visited the Grand Mosque which was built in 1964. The architecture was similar to that of the mosques of Andalusia; a fountain within the courtyard and a huge minaret at the side. Next to the mosque was the Islamic Institute, which we also visited, only to find that the Library was yet to be populated by books.

In the evening more delegates arrived. I recognised among them many Shaikhs from Al-Azhar and also:

  • Abdul Rahman Al Walai, the editor of Al-Balagh Magazine
  • Faisal from Al-Mujtama’
  • In’amul Haq from Togo
  • Shaikh Al Sharabasi

Later that evening we took a 45 minute flight to Nouakchott. At the reception hall they interviewed some of us about our impressions of the conference and I also gave my thoughts.

After a short while a bus took us to Marhaba Hotel where each one of us could find some solace in a separate room.

Tuesday 04.05.1976. Our first bright morning in Mauritania.

Mauritania is a name given by the Spanish to the most western Arab country in Africa. It is actually better known by it’s Arabic name Shanqit, the motherland of a great number of scholars and the crown amongst the Shuyukh, our Shaikh Muhammad Al-Amin Al-Shanqiti.

Shanqit is one of the oldest towns in this country and sits at a distance of 570 km from the capital. It lies amidst the sand, away from modernity and technology, but it has preserved its purity, simplicity and orthodoxy. Over the centuries it has produced an innumerable number of scholars, Huffaz of the Quran, and traditionalists. The whole area was known by this name until it was substituted with “Mauritania” by Spanish colonists.

This desert country covers an area of 1,030,815 and is almost twice the size of France and three times the size of Germany. It is the cradle of the Arabic language, a country of a million poets. It is no wonder then that it is known as a country of Huffaz of the Quran. This huge merit is not limited to men as the women are known for their preservation of the Quran as well.

Standing at the gateway of Al Ahmadi Hotel, the venue of our conference, I could see the vast sea of sand around us; nothing but sand. In front of us was the huge Atlantic Ocean, with its rising waves, roaring and splashing, then striking the sandy mounds and retrieving back. There were a number of boats and ships anchored at a distance. On either side of the hotel stood many armed soldiers in full uniform. These armed soldiers were present due to a dispute over the Western desert which had been evacuated by the Spanish the previous year. They had left behind a legacy of civil war among three warring forces; Mauritania in the South, Morocco in the North and Polisario in the middle. This last one was an armed local movement which aimed at establishing its own rule once Spain had left. This was heavily assisted by neighbouring Algeria, andposed a great threat to the other two claimants to this vast open territory.

These soldiers were there to protect the visitors from any unexpected intrusion from disputant forces in the region.

This was the first day of the conference. I participated in the discussions about the destructive movements aimed at disparaging the true teachings of Islam such as the Qadiyani movement, the Baha”i, Communism, Atheism, and Christian missionaries. The session was led by Ahmed Muhammad Mashhur Al-Haddad, the convenor of the session.

Later there was a meeting with the Saudi Ambassador and cultural attaché, who wanted to   address especially all the delegates and Imams working in the field of Da’wah on behalf of Dar-ul-Ifta of Saudi Arabia. Here a question about Tijaniyya was raised. Led by his experience as a diplomat and someone who was in touch with the community in Mauritania, the Ambassador was of the opinion not to make this issue a subject for discussion at all. I, however, expressed my opinion that if a Tijani could stand for his beliefs and teachings, then what stopped me from standing for my views, which are based on the Quran and Sunnah?

In the evening a government Minister hosted the dinner, attended by all the delegates in Marhaba Hotel.

I took my evening walk with brother Nuh, Ikhlas Ahmed, and Inaamul Haq, all of whom were graduates of Madinah. We took a stroll on the roads beside the hotel. At this time Nouakchott was still a developing town which was declared the capital just after independence in November 1960. It was as simple and humble as the locality known as Deera in Riyadh, the oldest part of the Saudi Capital.

Wednesday 05.05.1976

I was supposed to be a part of a committee to work out the resolution and recommendations in light of the deliberations which took place the day before, but I was delayed in reaching the conference hall due to a shortage of water at Fajr time that morning. This had led to a delayed breakfast, followed by a late arrival at the venue of the conference.

The morning session was addressed by delegates from a number of countries including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Rwanda, Guinea and others. Safwat Amin of the Muslim World League read the final communique, including the agreed resolutions and recommendations. There had been a heated discussion around some of the suggestions but the matter eventually was settled by a majority vote.

There were two more events and the last session was devoted to the reading of the final communique and a speech by the Minister of Human Resources and Islamic Affairs. The session ended with the recitation of the Quran by the Imam of the Grand Mosque.

Among the delegates I met were:

  • Abu Bakr from Mozambique
  • Mu’alim Saeed bin Ahmad
  • Ahmad of Jordan (in the region known as the Republic of Upper Volta)
  • Uthman Salih, the editor of “Al Buhuth Al Ilmiya” a magazine or Riyadh
  • Syyed Ahmad Madhkali, the head of all delegates in East Africa
  • Mr Jameel Ahman Abu Sulaiman


The second event was a traditional Arab dinner, sitting on the floor, at the House of the President, Moktar Ould Daddah. Each group of eight people were served with a complete sheep cooked with rice, but we barely managed to consume a quarter of the food presented to us.

After dinner we enjoyed listening to the Arabic poetry by a number of local and foreign poets. There were both old and young, but the elders excelled in eloquence and style. One of our colleagues, Ahmad Badawi from Kenya, and another delegate from the Comoro Islands, were highly applauded for their contributions.

The last one to speak was Shaikh Muhammad Saleh Al Qazzaz, the Secretary General of the Muslim World League. The audience were astounded to discover that he too was a poet!

With a farewell greeting to the President, we all retreated to our hotel. I had already seen the President at the conference in the morning and then in the evening at his modest residence.

I did not know much about him at that time but now, while I am writing these lines, I am well aware of this great man. I feel obliged to say a few words about him as a token of my appreciation of his great leadership.

Moktar Ould Daddah (1924 – 2003)

Born in Boutilimit, a small village in the wilderness of Mauritania, to a family known for its knowledge and piety, in line with the tradition of the family he memorised the Quran by the age of 12. His father admitted him to secondary school, an institution known as a secular way of tradition. After graduation he worked as an interpreter until he was able to proceed to Paris to study Law in 1948. During his studies he met Mary, a Catholic girl, whom he married. In 1957 he returned back to his homeland. A partial freedom was given to Mauritania by the French, which led to complete independence in 1960. Coupled with his new French connections and traditional Arab background, he was the most suitable person to lead the country. The emerging town at the Atlantic Sea’s coast, Nouakchott, was declared the capital. Moktar was able to lead the new unknown African state, turning it into a robust internationally recognised country within his 21 years of rule, until he was ousted in a military coup in 1978.

Much has been said about him; about his French connections, his policy of a one party system, his encounter against the mine workers, the student’s agitation, his involvement in a losing battle against Polisario (the freedom fighters in the western desert which became a battleground between the Mauritanian, Moroccan and Polisarian forces). After suffering great economic loss in this unwarranted war, Moktar agreed to let Morocco take control of the area.

He is painted as a saint by some and a dictator by others. I have seen him as a humble and very modest man. I have entered his house, a very simple ordinary villa, where he had hosted the delegates of the conference.

I think it is right if I mention here some of his achievements, as we are reminded of the words of the Prophet ﷺ “Remember those who have passed away with something good.”

  1. He declared the country as the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
  2. He was able to unite a vast area under one banner, with many tribes of Africans and Arabs alike.
  3. His successful diplomacy and leadership attracted the newly set “African Unity” to declare him as its President for a complete term. He completed an extensive tour of the African continent and worked as an ambassador for the Palestinian cause.
  4. He brought Mauritania out from a state of oblivion to a respected, internationally recognised country.
  5. While it is true that he would always make addresses in French, he made successful attempts to make Arabic prevail as a state language, especially in the field of education and media.
  6. He could have countered the revolt against him by the armed forces, but instead he preferred to hold back and compromise with the circumstances in order to save the country from descending into chaos. During his years of imprisonment, he would refer to his guards as “my colleagues” and often pray with them in congregation.
  7. It was not his involvement in the battle for the Western Desert which was the only cause for the revolt against him but also his fight against corruption which reached the army as well.

He was known as one of the most honest Presidents in Africa. All gifts and presents from foreign dignitaries which he received, were immediately deposited to the State treasury instead. Thus an interesting anecdote is linked to him in this regard.

The President of Zaire visited the country for three days. He noticed that during all three days of his visit, Moktar had been wearing the same suit with which he had received him on the first day of his arrival. The guest in his departure lounge made a cheque of some million dollars in his name and gave it to Moktar’s secretary telling him that this amount was to be spent for his clothing.

On another visit he saw banners greeting him, saying “Thanks for the gift”.

“Which gift?” he asked in surprise.

“The one which you gave on your last visit and which was exhausted completely in establishing a school,” Moktar has not taken this money for himself but instead added it to the treasury.

After one year in confinement he was allowed to travel to France for treatment. Later, the city of Nice became his abode for several years. Although he did take refuge in Tunisia too, he was compelled to leave when his friend Habib Bourguiba met his doom. In the final years of his life he returned to Mauritania where he was given a very warm and splendid welcome.

On 15 October 2003 he breathed his last.

Returning to my account, after bidding President Mokhtar farewell, we left his residence. The Pakistani Ambassador, Mr Khyber Khan was present and took me to my hotel.

I recorded two interviews that evening. The first with a representative of “Al Sha’b”, a local paper, and the other with “Iqra”, a journal from Saudi Arabia.

Thursday 06.05.1976

A day to prepare for our journey back to Nairobi. Mr. Nabi Bucksh of the Pakistani Embassy accompanied me to visit several places including the airline offices. In the evening we boarded a flight of Air Africa on its way to Dakar, where we spent the night.

Friday 07.05.1976

We failed to get seats for our group on the Pan American flight. After a while we were able to secure our seats on Nigerian Airways to fly to Lagos. Ahmad Madhkhali, the Head of Da’wah in East Africa, had already departed but left me with enough money to take care of my group members during the remainder of the trip.

Accompanied by Dr. Muhammad Saeed we came out of our hotel “Independence Palace”, looking for a mosque to attend for Jum’a prayer. A local man stopped his car and gave us a lift and took us to the Grand Mosque of the Senagalise capital.

It was an impressive building. We were in the main prayer hall waiting for Adhan. Eventually when it was raised by the loudspeaker, to our surprise, it was repeated an additional three times, one after the other. I sat wondering why there was no pulpit despite being such a big mosque.

Just after the Adhan, a gate beside the Mihrab opened and a grand pulpit of ten steps began emerging on wheels with the Imam sitting atop, there to deliver his speech. Once the pulpit had been rested into its place, the Imam stood up and delivered the sermon emphatically and after finishing both sermons he stepped down to lead the prayer.

By that time the pulpit retreated back to its hiding place again.

On our way back we took a stroll on the embankment, passed the seaport and took a bus back to the hotel.

Saturday 08.05.1976

It was Nigerian Airways which took us to a number of West African airports, just like a local bus stops at many stops on your way home. First we landed in Banjul, Gambia, where Ahmad (the Jordanian) departed us. Then we stopped at Free Town, Sierra Leone, followed by Roberts International, Monrovia, then Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where we prayed Zuhr and Asr prayers combined. Then we boarded the plane and stopped again in Accra, Ghana, and then finally Lagos, Nigeria.

Here at the Maryland Hotel we met Ahmad Madhkali, Dr Mohammad Saeed and others who had proceeded a day earlier.

Sunday 09.05.1976

On this morning we had a short tour of the town, which looked unattended and untidy, a place on its way to development. After lunch we were all waiting for taxis to take us to the airport. The Ugandan delegates were to board the first taxi to arrive and I was left with other Kenyan delegates including Mahmud, Esa Korya, Sharif Umar Qazi and someone from the Comoro Islands.

It could have been a pleasant end to our journey, but this was unfortunately not the case.

Mahmud, a well- built, heavy-weight boxing champion, was waiting and hurled on me a barrage of filthy words, all abusive and vulgar  because I could not pay his breakfast bill in Dakar which had amounted to either 42 or 60 dollars. He could have easily asked Ahmad Madhkali, the head of the delegation when he was still present that morning but did not.

I did not have any choice except to remain calm and face his unexpected onslaught with patience.

At the airport we boarded an Ethiopian flight which also passed through many airports, first at Accra, where we bid farewell to our colleague Khalid Kamal Mubarakpuri. Then the flight stopped at Entebbe International in Uganda where we stopped for four hours until the dawn of Monday morning.

It was around 7am when we landed in Nairobi, where Mahmud, the son of Dr Mohammad Saeed was there to take me home. Alhamdulillah.

BLOG no.20. 1976: A tearful farewell to Kenya.

The beginning of this year kept me busy with travelling and attending conferences. I had been totally un-prepared for and overwhelmed by the chain of events, enmities and attacks that eventually led me to ask for a transfer from Kenya to the UK. And so we decided to take a farewell trip and go westward to Uganda before our final departure from Africa. The journey by road was laborious so we booked a compartment on a train instead, heading to Kampala in the first week of June. The journey lasted 15 hours and was filled with excitement, stunning scenery and adventures.

Just after leaving Nairobi, the train enters the Great Rift Valley, a geological fault-line that runs through Kenya from north to south. It contains valleys, volcanoes, hills and lakes. The train thunders downwards, as if descending from a cliff, traversing meadows and forests, passing Lake Naivasha where a pink sea of flamingo, deer, gazelle, zebra, buffalo, and especially rare rhino are to be seen. The train then ascends upwards, climbing up the Kenyan Highlands until it reaches the highest point at 9,000 feet above sea level. This was the highest point that a locomotive ascended in the former British territories. The train then passes through the Equator, the tourist towns of Eldorate and Kitale, until it enters Uganda through the border post of Malaba.

The railway track is part of the famous East African Railway system instituted by the British colonisers, with a history of toil and suffering once the project began in 1896 from the port city of Mombasa. I have mentioned previously that work was halted for a short while on the project because of a man-eating lion who took the lives of 30 labourers, mainly Indian workers, until it was shot dead by Jim Corbit, an English hunter. The problems faced by the company building the railway were echoed in the British Parliament when MP Henry Labouchery poetically deemed it the lunatic line in his famous address to the Commons:

“What it will cost, no words can express,

What is its object, no brain can suppose.

Where it will start from, no-one can guess,

Where it is going, nobody knows.

What is the use of it, no-one can conjecture,

What it will carry, none can define.

And in spite of George Curzon’s superior lecture,

It clearly is naught but a lunatic line.”

The train finally halted at Malaba, the border post for immigration checks. Soon we were at Jinja, the town at the banks of Africa’s greatest Lake, Victoria, the source of the White Nile, the longest river in the world. The water flows through Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan, where the blue Nile, emanating from Ethiopia joins it, and then continues its protracted journey of 4,160 miles, passing through Egypt until it drops into the Mediterranean Sea at Alexandria. Egypt is a country of dry sand and mounds of rocks, except for the fertile areas along both banks of the Nile. At Cairo it expands like the palm of a hand, creating the Delta, which gives life and nourishment to many Egyptian towns and villages.

Our final destination was Kampala, where we were welcomed by Ahmad Madkhali and his assistance from the Saudi Embassy. He was to be our host for the rest of our stay in Kampala. Before I go further, let me introduce the reader to Uganda, the pearl of Africa.

It is incredible that Uganda is very similar in size to the United Kingdom, the former being 241,050 sq km, and the latter being 244,109 sq km. But the United Kingdom created the Great British Empire that colonised Uganda in 1894 and ruled it until 9 October 1962, the year of its independence. Our visit was during the rule of Idi Amin, the famous Muslim general who took control of the country after a military coup on 25 January 1971 and ousted Milton Obote. It is a land of evergreen beauty and freshwater lakes, and shares Lake Victoria with Kenya and Tanzania.

Uganda borders Congo through the dense jungles of the Rwenzori mountains, also known as the mountains of the moon. Mount Stanley has the highest summit and stands tall at 16,762 feet above sea level. The land is rich with food and fruit, the jungles harbour wildlife, and the lakes carry hippo and crocodile. Lake Victoria is said to be the largest freshwater lake in the world, next only to Lake Superior in north America. 84% of the population of Uganda is Christian and 14% is Muslim. The name of the country is derived from the old kingdom of Buganda. The equator passes through Entebbe, the airport town for the capital city of Kampala.

My old colleagues Sirajur Rahman Nadawi, Muhammad Tariq and their families escorted us during our holiday. The former managed a great educational seminary in Kampala and we were fortunate to visit this during our stay. One of the first places we visited was an area of hot water springs; I do not recall the name exactly but it may have been Sempaya hot water spring in Semuliki National Park. The area was full of bubbling hot springs, some small and some very large. Some of the locals were cooking dinner for the evening. Eggs were pushed into the spring, to emerge boiled. One lady wrapped bananas in large leaves and cooked these in the spring.

We spent the night in a holiday lodge. The river near us was teeming with hippo and crocodile, two animals that invoke feelings of amazement at their majesty as well as dread at their fearsomeness. It was during the evening that the shouting of the children made us run outside the hotel. The children of our party had been playing near the pool when a baby elephant lifted one of them up with its trunk. The hysterical screaming of the children brought running the hotel wardens, who used their sticks to persuade the elephant to put the child gently on the ground.

My friend Ahmad Madkhali, the head of the Saudi Da’wa delegates in East Africa, was kind enough to arrange a fantastic trip for us to the Rwenzuri mountains on the edge of the country’s border with Congo. We drove in his two cars, a Mercedes and a Range Rover, to this majestic area. The drive took us off a tarmacked road and into a narrow and muddy track. As the cars jolted on this uneven and broken path, we found our way blocked by a large van. The wheels of the heavy van were stuck fast in the mud and no matter how hard the driver tried to accelerate, the wheels simply spun and sunk deeper into the mire. The van was blocking the path of many cars, trucks and buses, and their occupants all tried to push the incalcitrant van forward but to no avail. Sheikh Madkhali jumped out of his car with alacrity, found a long metal cable, and tied one end to the front rod of the van, and the other was hooked to the back of his Range Rover. He then heaved his car forward with roars and ghastly screeches, but slowly and surely, his car pulled the van out of its muddy misery. The long queue of waiting vehicles sighed with relief at this sudden rescue.

During the long drive we drove into the territory of a number of pygmy tribes. Some of them were selling brightly coloured handicrafts by the road, and we stopped to purchase them from one stall. As was the custom in the area, we haggled and bargained for a better price, but the seller was stubborn and we left without accepting his price. As we continued with the drive along the winding road, we were astounded to find the same seller waiting at a bend in the road. He wished to continue with the bargaining, but we were spellbound at his sight. How on earth had he appeared ahead of us after a long drive? We wondered if he were a jinn who had flown ahead. Our African driver laughed at our suggestion and explained that while we had driven along a winding path, the pygmy had run in a straight line through the forest and so had appeared ahead of us. Our bargaining was concluded successfully and we left with our souvenirs.

Sheikh Ahmad Madkhali was aware that I was leaving soon for the UK and he was keen to change my mind and advised instead that I move to Uganda. The situation in Nairobi was dangerous for my family so I was keen to leave the continent quickly. My passport shows a large stamp from the Saudi Consulate in Kampala, dated 7 June 1976, allowing me to visit Saudi Arabia en route to London.

Soon we boarded our train for the return journey of 400 miles, back to Nairobi. And then it was a frenzy of packing, farewells to friends, colleagues and students, and attending farewell functions and gatherings. During my nine years as a humble teacher of Arabic and Islamic teachings according to the Salafi tradition, I had roused the ire of some Asians in the community. Much of my work was in building and running a school called Mungano Madrassa Riyadha Islamiyya in the Pumwani (or Majengo) district of Nairobi. The man who led the battle against my teachings was the head of a goldsmith (sunara) family. He disliked me intensely because of my Aqida (creed) and because I had loudly opposed the religious innovations that the community practised. Many run-ins took place with this sunara family. On one occasion, I returned home from a long day of teaching to find that his son had verbally abused my wife while she was teaching children in a large room near our home. Our families lived behind the Pangani mosque and our children had been playing together when an argument must have taken place. I was deeply upset by the news and rushed to the sunara’s house. A loud row broke out and may well have turned into a physical fight. But we were separated by my dear friend and neighbour Muhammad Luqman and by our Imam, Izhar Ahmad Qasimi (who was the father of Imam Qasim, the founder of Islam Channel in London).

I then walked to the Mosque to pray Isha Prayer and was sitting there when I was informed that a policeman was waiting to speak to me. The sunara’s son had made a complaint against me, but after a short conversation, the policeman realised there was little substance to the complaint and departed. But the sunara was not satisfied and took further action while I was away for my tour of West Africa and Noakchout. Muhammad Luqman was my very dear neighbour, living close by with his wife and three sons. He and his wife were always ready to offer any help or advice that we needed. Four of my children were born in Nairobi, and his wife would look after my children and provide hot soup for my wife whenever she was in hospital. Their friendship was deeply valued by my family. One afternoon, his wife was alone at home with two servants when three Africans knocked at her door. As soon as she opened the door, she was attacked violently, bound and gagged with a piece of cloth inserted into her mouth. She sustained severe injuries due to the beating. The servants were also bound and gagged. The men then ransacked the house, taking cash and jewellery. My wife heard the screams of the maid after their departure and rushed to help. The bravery of the lady was such that she asked my wife why she was sobbing so uncontrollably, as if nothing vile had taken place. The police were called but were unable to make any progress on the case. The mystery of the crime was never solved. I wonder if it was a case of mistaken identity, and that my home was the real target of the crime. Or that the Luqman family was targeted as a warning to anyone who supported my cause. These questions will have to wait to be answered on the day when all secrets will be revealed.

Only a night or two before my departure from Kenya, I saw an extraordinary dream that I will never forget. I dreamed that I was travelling in a car with my wife and children. As I drove along the road, an immense and terrifying python appeared ahead, its huge, twirling body blocking my path, its vicious face with long fangs staring at us. I pushed the accelerator down with full force and drove into the beast. The whirling wheels of the car struck it hard and shattered it to pieces, allowing us to escape. Alhamdulillah.

This dream came true only a couple of days later. We were leaving Nairobi on 19 July 1976 and a number of friends and colleagues were at the airport to bid us farewell. The departure should have been as easy as all my previous travels, but it was not to be. The officials seemed to take an inordinate interest in my luggage and plans, asking repeated questions, and examining everything in minute detail. Our luggage was spread everywhere as each tiny thing was examined. I was at a loss at this disturbance, as all my papers were in order, and I was carrying only the cash that was permitted. But the search continued, until my wife’s sewing machine was left. This had been packed carefully in bubble-wrap before being put in a box and tied with string. The official stepped forward to open it, but my wife thundered at him angrily: “if you open it, make sure you wrap it exactly as you found it!”  The commotion brought a senior officer who permitted us to leave without further delay. Soon we were in the Pakistan International Airways aircraft, bound for Jeddah airport. As we buckled our belts, the man behind our difficulties appeared on the plane. It was the eldest son of the sunara family. This man’s father had targeted me from my earliest days in Nairobi, a man who could not tolerate my salafi teachings, a man who tried to use the Eastleigh Masjid incident to instigate proceedings against me. This man was clearly not travelling, yet he was on the plane against all protocol, was gesticulating towards me while talking to some officials, and was surveying the length and breadth of the aircraft in apparent fury. I could not fathom the machinations of this man. Was he trying his final plans while I still remained on Kenyan soil?

He finally left the plane and we breathed in relief. As the plane took off and flew into the sky, I looked down at the plains of the country and thought about my last nine years in this beautiful land. I came to this country while in my mid-twenties, with a young wife and a little daughter. Today I was leaving, in my mid-thirties, with another three sons and daughter. My sons Wohaib, Mohammad and Usama, and my youngest daughter Hafsa, were all born in Nairobi. I had arrived in Kenya after graduating from Madina, my head full of theoretical knowledge. Today I was leaving with mountains of experience in teaching and the field of Da’wa. I had met and worked with so many people, from so many fields of life, all of whom had left their imprints on my life. I had worked with colleagues in the field of Da’wa in both Kenya and Uganda, built close friendships with them, benefitted from their experiences and advice, and shared with them both moments of joy and sorrow.

I had come to know and love a new land. The most glorious days of my life were spent in Kenya, a land of splendid weather, gorgeous sunshine, cool breeze and gentle rain. As a young man in the prime of youth, I had enjoyed adventure and travel. My family and I had explored jungles and valleys, visited remote villages, met ancient African tribes and learned of their customs, and enjoyed some of the most breath-taking scenery on this amazing earth.

Nairobi had been my base for nine years, and from this I had travelled for work and pleasure to the southern and western points of this great continent. I know more about Africa than any other continent. I learned to speak Ki-Swahili, and read the history of Africa, especially its colonial past and quest for freedom. English was also widely spoken, so I was able to keep up with my knowledge of English as well. The reader should remember that my mother tongues are Urdu and Arabic.

As an Asian, I felt a close connection with the people of Indian and Pakistani extraction, as well as with the Arabs of Hadhramaut and Yemen who lived in Africa. I learned of their efforts to establish Mosques, Madrassahs and to spread the light of Islam wherever they lived. Their contributions to spreading the teachings of Islam were always a source of inspiration for me.

In Kenya I began my career as a teacher, as a Daee ilallah. داعى الى الله

It was in Nairobi that I first delivered the khutbah of Jummah prayer, something that has been a cornerstone of my life.

I stand in humility, praising my Creator, my Lord, Allah Almighty, for all His numerous blessings and favours that He has conferred on me and my family.

We landed safely at Jeddah airport, received by my elder brother Shoaib Hasan, an engineer who worked for Saudia Airlines. After performing Umrah, we travelled to Madina to spend a week with my parents and my siblings. We visited the great Mosque of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), and then my teachers and Sheikhs at the university. It was a wonderful reunion before I began a new chapter in my life in London, leaving Jeddah on 29 July 1976.

A pleasant and happy chapter in my life had closed and new doors were beckoning.

And with Allah remain all matters, their beginning and their end. Upon Him is my trust and from Him comes all ability and strength.

ربنا عليك توكلنا واليك انبنا واليك المصير

O Lord! In You alone we put our trust, to You alone we turn in repentance, and to You alone is our final return.


(Written in the morning of Thursday 11 February 2021, at my house in Leyton, London, during the Covid-19 pandemic).

About Me

Sheikh Suhaib Hasan Abdul Ghaffar is the Secretary of the Islamic Sharia Council of Great Britain.

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