My Memoirs part14
No. 14 (1970 – 71)
A) A hazardous but incomplete journey towards Mombasa:
The year started off with our road journey to Kampala, Uganda, around 400 kilometres away from Nairobi. We wanted to accompany Brother Abdul Hameed Slatch, the son on our dear friend Muhammad Luqman, who was on his way to Uganda for his own wedding. Leaving Nairobi behind we had a precipitous drive into the rift valley, the biggest cleft in the Earth which is said to be 6000 kilometres long, stretching from the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon in the north, going across East Africa and ending in Mozambique in South-eastern Africa.
We had to drive first to the escapement at the beginning of the steep road from where we had a good view of the valley with plush green pastures and herds of wildlife. Once you enter the valley you pass first by Lake Nivasha, a shallow Soda Lake which attracts flamingo in countless numbers each year.
A similar lake lies ahead: Lake Nakuru with a similar flamingo phenomenon. Our exit from the valley was once again to the highest point in Kenya, the town of Eldoret with an altitude of 2100 meters to 2700 metres. This was the highest altitude, throughout the British colonies where the railways had reached.
In Eldoret we passed by the imaginary Equator line; thus, crossing from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere. Then the highway lead us to the Ugandan border where a short break was required to check our passports.
We passed through the town of Jinja, another source of the Nile, as commonly perceived. During this visit, we could only see the amazing flow of water from under the bridge, which paved the way for that great river that flowed through the continent, giving fertile land to Egypt and falling eventually into the Mediterranean ocean.
This was my second visit to Kampala, the city of the seven hills.
In a modest ceremony, Abdul Hameed was joined to his bride and we had to return back to Nairobi, because of the long journey we had to stay overnight at a small bed and breakfast hotel in Eldoret.
A few days later, my second son was born in January 1970. He was given the name Muhammed Abid Hasan as I wanted one of my children to have this blessed name as a part of their identity. Muhammad was born in the famous Nairobi Hospital, run and managed by the Ismaili community in Kenya. It was known to be the best hospital in the capital. It was open to all but offered special privileges to members of the Ismaili Jamat. He was five months old when we faced our first major accident at Tsavo Safari Park. The park is the largest of its kind in Kenya, and also in the whole word. It occurred when my my elder brother Shuaib Hasan, an employee of Saudi Airlines in Jeddah, was visiting us. A part of the itinerary was a visit to the coastal town Mombasa. At the time, I had a saloon Anglia. For this journey, we asked our friend Syyed Fatahuddin Tangal to accompany us with his car, a similar one to mine but with an open boot to accommodate our luggage.
It was a shining bright day when we all set on our journey to Mombasa. Myself, Fatahuddin, my brother and my wife and three kids: Khola, Wohaib and Muhammad. It was a six-hour drive that was to cover three hundred miles to our destination without a break.
I was in the driving seat looking for signs to stop and rest. After two hours, we were fascinated by the sight of a gate leading up to Tsavo National Safari Park, the biggest of its kind in Africa. After purchasing the tickets, we set off on the rough, unpaved roads inside the vast plains without any signs, except the one leading to the lodging in the middle of the park.
Our first stop was at a huge pool of water, a natural reservoir for the animals and beasts to quench their thirsts. We could see a huge body of a single rhinoceros on the opposite side of the pool. I now realise that it had been a sheer blunder to come out of the car at a place which was habitually visited by beasts of prey.
We visited the lodge, a place where tourists used to stay at night, only to have a glimpse of big game like elephants or tigers in the early hours of the morning. They could feel them, at the best of their luck, hovering around outside their campus but easily seen through the windows.
We had no intention to stay overnight. So, we carried on with our driving, on passages, up and down, surrounded by bushes and trees and somewhere by an overgrowth of wild grass, and ideal place for beasts to hide and rest, such as large and small game like deer, gazelles, zebras, wild cows, warthogs, waterbucks, giraffes, buffaloes, hyenas, monkeys and baboons, we saw a lot but our eyes failed to spot a lion or tiger. The Safari Park was showing a sign towards an exit for the highway to Mombasa. It meant that you entered into the Park from the side closer to Nairobi and came out through the other end nearer to Mombasa. The park itself covered an area more than fifty miles long. Mombasa highway was an edge on one side, the jungle of Tanzania on the other.
We had almost spent the hours wandering in the valleys and plains until we came to a passage with corrugation on the path that made the driving difficult. We saw some gazelles jumping ad running before us and it was quite an act of stupidity on my part to start chasing them by accelerating the car. Only an expert driver could control the wheels in such a trickery, slippery terrain. The outcome of my adventure was horrible. At one point the car swerved, them stumbled and then fell by the deep side of the unpaved road. It was about to roll over but it struck by its top, the land once by my side and then from the opposite but it did not overturn completely. It still landed on its four wheels but the windscreen had been thrown out and the side door open aghast. Once the car came to a halt, I discovered my fellow passengers, Syed Fatahuddin thrown out with half his body still in the car. He was unconscious.
I myself and my elder brother escaped with some bruises on our knees. My wife suffered a shock in her neck and the little kid Muhammed, or Hamdi as he is known, a slight fracture in his arm. Our first priority was to attend to my friend, drop some water in his mouth and shout at him, whether he could hear us. We made him lie on his back on the backseat, moving my wife and kids into the open boot whilst my brother took the passenger seat. In a hurry, we just placed the windscreen back in its place, tied the door from the inside with a rope, as it could not close properly. It was almost dark and we had to prepare ourselves to stay in the car all night in a jungle with every variety of animal and beast imaginable.
Thanks to Allah! There were none around. We kept on honking and leaving the headlights on to attract someone in the vicinity. But there were no people either. It was a unique night as we spent it staying in our seats, praying and supplicating to Allah All-Mighty to keep us safe and make a safe exit for us. In the early hours of the morning, we came out to offer our Fajr Prayers. Syyed Fatahuddin had gained consciousness and was wondering why we were stuck in the jungle. He did not recall any of what happened. All of us pushed the car until it ascended to the path. We discovered that water had spilt from the damaged radiators, but the car, once ignited, started moving forward.
We said to Sayyed: “What will happen if an elephant appears before us?”
He said: “I am going to strike him with a hard fist of mine.”
Moments later, we spotted an elephant right in the middle of our way. We had no option but to stop the car. Syyed was much annoyed at the sight of the big animal. With curious eyes, he was looking for a tree nearby to climb and escape.
Once again, we were at a standstill, just waiting for an unseen help. And suddenly it came.
It was a Mercedes, with an English couple in it, who must have spent the night in the motel and were on their exit route after breakfast. With three persons and a child, they no more room except for one more person.
I had to take the ride with them to the exit gate in order to fetch some kind of transport to bring the whole family out of the jungle. I discovered that we were around twenty miles away from the fate. There, they dropped me off as they were heading towards Mombasa.
Standing on the side of the road, I was waving down a lift to each and every vehicle heading towards Nairobi. A cement van picked me up and took me to the nearest point with a petrol pump at Makindu. Luckily, I found, for the first time in my life, an agency of A.A. (Automobile Association) which came to my rescue. They provided me with a jeep and a towing rod. Within two hours I was back in the jungle looking for the stranded members of my family.
The jeep driver and I saw a Volkswagen mini-bus coming towards us. We halted to discover that the wagon, with German tourists, had already picked up my family since they had passed by them. They were generous to offer them the only drink that they had, but it was the only one which could hardly be tasted by a Muslim. However, I brought with me some soft drinks which quenched their thirst.
They took their seats in the jeep and we strolled back to where we left the car. I took to the wheels of my car, with the windscreen removed while the jeep driver towed the car. I had still to steer the car but the dust scattered by the jeep in front made me half blind. I was quite unable to control the steering wheel.
“You are going to overthrow the car once again” the jeep driver shouted, “better to leave the car there to be towed later.”
So, I joined the group and we made our way out of the exit gate. The gate keeper showed his remorse at what had happened. He told us there had always been a night patrol on all major paths inside the Safari Park and it was a pity our path was neglected last night.
We were able to reach Nairobi by the evening by hiring a Peugeot estate car which took us to the nearest village which had a small dispensary with enough to provide soothing balms on our injuries.
Once we were at home, we headed towards the nearest private hospital, operated by Dr. Abdul-Haq, a well-known physician in Pangani; to examine all of us, especially my wife, my child Hamdi and my friend Syyed.
The child received a bandage on his arm, my wife a collar in her neck and Syyed, some plaster on his legs.
All is well that ends well.
We thanked Allah who brought us back safe and alive without any major mishaps.
Some rare photos of my days in Madinah and later in Nairobi:
B) The visitors to the mosque:
- Peer Habib of Chakwal
A man of great stature, with a white turban on his head and a long staff in his hand, Peer Habib of Chakwal (Pakistan) became almost a regular visitor to our mosque each year. The Pakistani community, being very fond of Saints and Peers did give him a warm welcome. He was of Deobandi faith and traditions and he used to teach the people prayers and supplications, according to the Sunnah. But in the matter of Mukashafat (seeing into the future about destinies) and Muraqabat (going deep into the state of thinking and reflection), he would speak a lot and impress the audience.
What I believe was the essence of Tawheed. The unseen (Al Ghaib) is known to Allah Al Mighty only.
The Prophet of Allah know some of it through the revelation which he passed it over to the Ummah through the Quran and the Sunnah. He also told us that a very tiny part of it could be conveyed to a person through true dreams.
Even that part is so tiny that it could be compared to the 46thpart of the Prophethood. So, there is no place for Mukashafat and Muraqabat in Sharia.
Sheikh Habib was very concerned of the timing of Isha prayer which used to be held at 8pm every night. To him it was not the right time. Nairobi, because it was located very near the Equator, witnesses almost equal length of a day and night. The nightfall (Maghrib) used to be around 6:30pm. In accordance with the opinion of the Hanafi school of thought, the time for Isha does not become due until the white twilight disappears. It means Isha’s timing begins 90 minutes after Maghrib. So how could we call for prayer 15 minutes earlier.
In Kenya, the native Muslim, Sawhili’s or Somali’s, were all the followers of the Shafi’i school of thought. To them the time begins by the disappearance of red twilight which at the most take 60 minutes to fade away completely. So the timing set by their shedules was well within the limits of Sharia’a.
May Allah have mercy on his soul!
- Muhammad Mahmoud Al-Sawwaf of Iraq
A man of great knowledge, an eloquent speaker in Arabic, a member of Ikhwan movement in Iraq, being exiled during the tyrannical rule of Baath Party to Saudi Arabia.
I used to see him, with his Azhari attire and a red cap with a white surface on the top, sitting in the Haram of Makkah surrounded by his friends, students and well-wishers, during my university days in Saudi Arabia.
It was a great honour for us to receive him in Pangani mosque one evening. His speech was emphatic, encouraging and emotional. I got the privilege to interpret what he said into English for the benefit of the audience.
He was visiting Kenya on behalf of King Faisal. During his short stay, he helped the Muslims to establish a Union of Muslims of Kenya with Esa Kuria, a native Kenyan to be its first president.
Sayyid FD (Fatahuddin) told me later that the Sheikh asked him secretly to bring him a good amount of money as a loan, to assist the newly established organisation as he had already exhausted all what he brought with him from Makkah. Mr Habib Adam noticed his secret talk with the Sheikh. He was curious to know if it was something beneficial. Qari Syyed told him about his request, he straight away went to the bank and brought him the money. Syyed FD asked him why he did that, to which he replied: I wanted him to know that the delegates, who were engaged in Da’wah work in Kenya on behalf of the Darul Iftah of Saudi Arabia enjoy our good respect by the local people and dignitaries. Sheikh al-Sawwaf renowned his promise by paying back this amount to Syyed FD on his visit to Makkah later.
Qari Mahmood Al-Husary of Egypt
The Egyptian government used to send the famous Qurra (reciters of the Quran) to different parts of the world during the month of Ramadan and throughout the year as a token of its Islamic duties toward the ummah. We were blessed to have sheikh Qari mahmood al-Husary for few days in Nairobi. On a Friday, he sat on the pulpit of the Jami Masjid and read Surah al-kahf to the congregation. I had also the honour to interpret for him at various places.
Then there was an interesting incident! My friend, Dr Muhammad Saeed, a reguiualr companion to me in my morning walk after Fajr prayer, took me to Nairobi Safari park at the outskirts of the town. To capture the memory of that visit, especially when we three were together, he took his camera along with him. Throughout our wandering in the vast spacious park, he kept on taking the pictures with its light exposure at each shot.
Later I was expecting an album with our wonderful memorial photographs. But he simply apologised to me saying: sorry I forgot to equip the camera with the film reel required to capture the pictures. Thank Allah! I had at least one picture with him at a different place. It reminds me of my young age and that of sheikh al-Husary who was not very old at that time.
4. Sheikh Imran Khan Nadawi of India
The man was totally concerned with raising funds for the competition of the great mosque in Bhopal, India. Bhopal is famous as a princely state in India which was ruled by a number of ladies from the family of its rulers known as nawabs. The most notable among them was Shahjahan begum who married nawab Siddiq hassan khan, one of the most famous ahl-e-hadiths scholars who combined between rule and knowledge.
In that state was that incomplete mosque which was a remnant of the princely rule. Sheikh Imran Khan used to have a portrait of this mosque in its entirety. Underneath the picture was the caption in Urdu which says : “it would be like this, even if it was built”. I remember him saying after a drink of cool water in a hot summer day: “we say alhamdulillah after each drink but the real “al hamdullialh” only emerges from the depth of our hearts when the water is really cold.
5. Maulana Ihtisham-ul-Haq of Pakistan
A great speaker, with a melodious Quran recitation and a beautiful Urdu accent, maulana Ihtisham-ul-Haq paid a visit to the mosque and honoured us with his speech. During my short stay in Karachi, back in 1962, prior to my voyage to Saudi Arabia to join the university in Madinah, I happened to listen to this eminent scholar in his mosque at Jacob lines, a colony In the old city of Karachi which became a hub for immigrants coming from India in an around 1947, the year Pakistan was established. He was accompanied by one of his young sons who, on a donner table, would say in a humorous style: “we were travelling in Africa when the car of our host stopped because of a mechanical fault. The host, a young man like him, spread a prayer mat for me on the ground indicating to me to sit there and do my Tasbih while he was busy at the bonnet repairing the car.”
What he obviously meant was to point out about the attitude the common people hold towards Maulvis (i.e. the imams). They think that they know nothing about the worldly matters, so they should be left doing tasbih and Dhikr and that is all they can do.
6. Shah Ahmad Nurani of Pakistan
the man with his tall structure and black turban, and his paandan (small box to keep the leaf known as Paan which is normally chewed with Khatta and chuna) which brings redness to the lips of its chewer, was a well-known speaker on islam but with a Barailvi flavour, who frequented some African countries, especially Mauritius a lot with his regular visits. When he came to Nairobi, the family of Ibrahim of Koh-e-Noor jewellers was those to present him to the audience in the Pangani mosque. I had no recollection of attending any of his speeches. Syyed FD told me about his visit as follows:
he said in his speech: Makkah is blessed because it was the birthplace of the prophet SAW. All the previous divine scriptures were lost. The Quran was the only scripture which remained preserved because it contained the name of Muhammad SAW. Syyed FD could not resist asking him after the speech: what about the saying of Allah that the first house ever to be build for worshipping Allah, was the one at bakkah, which was blessed and made a source of guidance for the whole mankind (Surah Al-Imran). And what about the previous scriptures! They used to have the name of Muhammad as well. Why were they not, then preserved? He asked: “who is this fellow?” Syyed FD said: “is it relevant to the question?” they said: he is a Wahabi who came from Saudi Arabia. At that point they showed him the way out from the mosque.