My Memoirs part16
Blog No. 16: (1973-1974)
- Mohammad Salafi
I previously mentioned my journey to Marsabit via Isiolo where we met our friend Mohammad Salafi. Let me talk a little more about him.
After graduating from Madinah two years after me, he was employed first in Agades, Niger, where he stayed for three years, and was later moved to Nigeria. I was in touch with him through post and often encouraged him to persuade the office in Riyadh to let him serve in Kenya. In March/April 1972 he was able to secure his transfer to Kenya. An orphanage in the small town of Isiolo, run by the Islamic Foundation of Nairobi, welcomed him as a pioneer in this remote part of Kenya. He told me about Sheikh Muhammad Mahmood Al-Sawwaf’s visit to Nigeria in 1971 following his visit to Kenya as well. His services in turning that primitive orphanage into a great institution are to be remembered for many years to come. We had an interesting evening with him and his family in one of my social visits to Isiolo. In two cars we left for a remote spring of water in the jungle surrounding the area. The water of the spring ran through a small passage which eventually turned into a big pool where we enjoyed, with our children, a couple of hours bathing and swimming. It was in the evening that we were warned by a lone wanderer that this spring was often visited by an alligator, which had in the past injured a child there with his family. The news fell on us like a thunderstorm. We left the spring, rushed to our cars and sped back to our dwellings in Isiolo. Later we learnt some more details of this incident; how the poor child was taken from the alligator’s jaws and how a helicopter had to be dispatched to move the child to either Nanyuki or Nyeri where first aid facilities were available. Muhammad Salafi at present (in 2020) runs a major Islamic seat of knowledge, known as Jamia Sattariya, in Karachi. Despite leaving Isiolo for good in 1986, he maintains very close contact with Isiolo through regular visits to Kenya.
Since we have mentioned the Islamic Foundation, let me record short notes on its founding members in Kenya. It was an offshoot of the mother organisation established by Professor Khurshid Ahmed in Leicester, England.
- Mr Bashir Diwan
Despite being a businessman dealing in meat, he was a well-known Islamic worker. As a chairman of the organisation he played an active role in establishing the Quran House and bringing the translation of the meanings of the Quran into Ki-Swahili, a great task accomplished by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Farisi of Mombasa.
Among his children, Munir Diowan was very close to me. He followed his father’s legacy in joining the Young Muslim Association, which were the pioneers of the famous orphanage in Garrisa. Because of some commercial issues, motivated by political reasons, he had to leave Nairobi around 1971 and made London his permanent home.
- Abdul Rahman Bazmi
A great scholarly person, a poet of deep rooted eloquence, meaning, and a great proponent of Maulana
Mudoodi’s thoughts on teachings. Though he was brought up in Africa, a continent far away from the seats of knowledge, especially in the Urdu language, he was in constant touch with the literary circles of Pakistan and India. I could see in his house the copies of weekly ‘Sidq’ and ‘Sidq-e-Jadid’ of Maulana Abdul Majid Darya Abadi. His sitting room was always a meeting place whenever he hosted scholars. In his old Volkswagen he was always ready to serve his guests from around the globe. I knew him as a man of letters but he was a civil engineer by profession. I first saw the copies of ‘Impact’ of London with him. It was a bi-monthly journal of Islamic thought and vision on modern lines, produced by a great ardent Islamic activist, Hāshir Farooqi, who like Khurshid Ahmad, made London his home in the seventies. He graced me with a visit several times, especially when my father came to visit Kenya and at a special dinner in honour of Mr. Amanullah Khan, the Pakistan High Commissioner at Nairobi. Bazmi, like Bashir Diwan, had to leave Nairobi in either late 1972 or early 1973.
Once I was visited by Mr. Bazmi when I was ill. By that time, I had a good number of poems rhymed by myself in my notebook. Very hesitantly I showed him my contribution to a field of which he was the champion. He measured these lines of poetry by the yard of the poetical standard; Fa’ilatan, Fa’ilatun, Faa’ilāt, and so on. He was not satisfied with the results, so, his advice was not to enter into a field full of thorns. I accepted his advice for the time being and closed the notebook with a sigh of relief.
- Abdul Halim Butt
He was one of my closest neighbours in Pangani where I seldom visited him. He showed me how he worked in lithographic printing. In those days the articles were composed in lithographs i.e. by placing all letters of the English alphabet, primarily made of metals like zinc, either small or capital, by hand in a frame which then had to go through a printing machine. He moved to London as well. It was due to a time limit set by the British government for all British “D” passport holders, mainly of Asian origin, to enter the U.K without a visa.
- Muhammad Luqman
He was my immediate neighbour once I moved from the upper storey flat in the complex of Mr. Mahdi Khan of Chakwal to one of the two flats owned by the Pangani mosque on the ground level. His family remained a source of great support and strength for me and my family during my days of need and turmoil, when I used to travel within the country or abroad. His two eldest sons, Abdul Hamid Slatch and Farooq, were well known to me because of their active involvement in the Young Muslim Association. Z’ia was the youngest and was still in education. Mr. Luqman was a quiet person, always busy in his work as an optician.
- Dr. Muhammad Saeed
A man of sober character and vast knowledge, with thoughtful conversation. For quite a long time he would leave his house in Westland, a locality far away from Pangani, in the early hours of the morning only to pray Fajr at our mosque. Then he would leave his car and walk with me to the nearest park with lots of trees, where monkeys would jump and stroll freely. We would talk about various issues; religious, social, political and much more. By the time we would come back, the sun would already be up in the sky and it would be time for me to take my children to school.
At his surgery in Eastleigh, another locality populated mainly by Asians, he was known for his kindness and gentle behaviour. I used to visit him at his house and was always fascinated by his vast collection of books both in Urdu and English.
My visit to the land of the English:
Was I fascinated by the land of the English? Yes, to some extent. There were glimpses of English history; the Wars of the Roses, the poetic verses of ‘All in the valley of Death, Rode the six hundred’, the historic masterpieces of Charles Dickens, especially the adventures of Oliver Twist on ‘his road to Dover’, the oblivious philanthropic character in Great Expectations. All these were from my secondary school and my first year reading at the college in Lyallpur, Pakistan. Then there was England’s reputation for higher education; its great universities and seats of knowledge which prompted me to explore how I could benefit from them to pursue research work leading to higher degrees, such as M.A’s and Ph. D’s.
It must have been the summer of 1973, when I embarked on my journey to the U.K on a Sabina flight to Brussels, Belgium. In four hours we landed at Cairo airport and after a short stay the plane took another four hours to land in Brussels. Our journey to London was planned through land and air. First they took us to Ostend, a seaport in Belgium, by coach. From there to Southend, the British coastal city, by a small plane. Another coach was waiting for us, the tourists from Africa, to bring us to Victoria bus station in the heart of London. For me it was an adventurous journey full of excitement, taking me to foreign lands with amazing sites and wonderful scenery. Once in Victoria, I phoned two of my friends; Abdul Rahman Bazmi and Bashir Diwan to let them know of my arrival, not knowing that one of them was in the far end of the south of the city and the other in the far end of the north (Walthamstow). An hour later, Mr. Diwan arrived to take me in his car to his house in Walthamstow. Mr. Bazmi came a long way only to miss me at Victoria, I could only imagine how frustrated he would have been to find out later that I had already left for North London. Both these fellows had preceded me to come to the U.K and settle there. Mr. Diwan even wrote a letter to me with a cutting of an English tabloid; a picture of some nudists and their specific club, saying: “Maulana! Here Da’wa is needed more than Africa’.
The following day after Fajr prayer in a small mosque, within a house, I took a stroll through Floe Street. The summer morning was bright, the cool air pleasant, the street clean and tidy. For me London appeared to be a nice place to live and work.
Mr. Diwan was still struggling with his new business in leather bags and similar products. He took me to the famous Brick Lane in Whitechapel, where he had set up his office. My dear friend Absar Ahmad, the younger brother of Dr. Israr Ahmed, one of my students at the Quran Hostel in Montgomery, Pakistan, was at Reading University in those days. He came all the way from Reading to show me around this big, cosmopolitan city. In his company I visited many places including Piccadilly, Oxford Street and Regent Lodge, the very old building which housed the Islamic Cultural Centre very near Baker Street. It was there that I met a young Azhari Sheikh, Imam Mutawalli Syyed Al-Darsh, with whom I would develop a great bond of friendship and company in the years to come.
Later I visited Bazmi at his place and apologized to him for my unintentional irritating act which led him to take a futile journey to Victoria, the day of my arrival, whilst I had already left with Mr. Diwan. We revived the memories of our days in Nairobi. For him, it was a past which had culminated. For me, it was still the “present” and thriving with activities. At his home in Nairobi, I had seen the copies of the bi-monthly magazine “Impact” since its inception, so I took a trip to visit its editor Hāshir Farooqi, in Finsbury Park. In an old two storey house he was at his table surrounded by heaps of books, papers and magazines. Some on his table, others on the floor and mostly scattered everywhere in ready-made shelves in cabinets that filled every inch of his office. It was an honour to have an audience with a great thinker, prolific writer in English and a bold Islamic activist.
Nearby, in Strowed Green Road, I also visited the office of the Muslim Education Trust represented by its chair, Fazal-ur-Rahman and its director Ghulam Sarwar. It must have been a Friday, because we were guided to someone’s flat on Fonthill Road who, through removing sofas and chairs, turned his drawing room into a Musallah where a limited number of people could offer their Juma prayer. It meant that there had been no Masjid in that part of North London.
The following four days I had to visit various places in the North. On my way to Manchester, I paid a visit to the city of Leceister. I wanted to meet Professor Khurshid Ahmad, the economist and prolific writer both in Urdu and English. Very recently he had established the Islamic Foundation, located in an old building in a factory in an Asian populated area. The receptionist was an English lady who welcomed us and took us to his office. As expected, I found him sitting at his desk surrounded by books and journals. I was not a stranger to him; he knew me through my father, who was known to be one of the mentors for students who after graduation used to join the ranks of Jamiat al-Talaba in Pakistan. Jamiat used to invite scholars both from Jamaat Islami and others to address their camps of Islamic Tarbiya and awareness. At one time Khurshid Ahmad held the post Nazim A’ala (the Secretary General) of Jamiat as well. He spoke about his work, his mission and his ambitions in the field of Da’wa in the West. He was heralded as a beacon of light for many, especially those associated with the U.K. Islamic Mission, one of the pioneers to raise the flag of Islam in Britain.
The evening train took me to my next stop: Manchester. One of my good old friends Master Tufail Hashmi’s family had now already settled down in the suburb of Chorlton-cum-Hardy. His wife Āpa Bilqis and his younger brother Rauf preceded him to the U.K.
My wife told me about how Master Hashmi used to take my children in his car to school while I was travelling abroad, and how his wife used to prepare her a nutritious diet during her post-birth days of weakness and dire need. Master Hashmi was a regular visitor to Pangomi mosque. With a stick in hand in the early hours of the morning he would come for Fajr prayer and often raise the call for prayer.
The man had been a school teacher throughout his life. He and his wife, Āpa Bilqis, had been a great source of help and inspiration for me and my family in Nairobi during the trials and tribulations I faced of confrontation and hostility from the evildoers around me. I used to visit him a lot and they used to care for us a lot.
After visiting the family for a short while, I headed towards Rochdale, a small town adjacent to Manchester where I hoped to meet Syyed Ali Naqi at Neeli Masjid. He was a great teacher, of many generations. By seeing him, my memories went back to my teenager years when twice our family stayed in Ichra, Lahore, the seat and centre of Jamaat Islami with which my father was associated right after our emigration to Lahore in 1948 and later in 1956-1957, the year I passed my secondary school examinations. I also remember visiting his house with my mother and borrowing one of Nasim Hijazi’s historical novels from his library, who was the most inspiring prolific writer who through his novels made Islamic history a subject of passion and prudence for young and elderly minds alike. Mr. Naqi Ali was the creator and headmaster of Naya Madrasa in Ichra as well. Though I was not blessed with studying there, my younger brother Khubaib benefitted a lot from his guidance.
Neeli Masjid was at that time located in a two-storey ordinary building and was being renovated. Mr Naqi Ali took me to the nearest chapel. We were walking on the pavement around the church building, and the pavement itself was made of stone plates with grave markings. He told me that these plates were really a mark of the graves under them. This came as a shock to me. We, according to Islamic teachings, were advised to pass by graves in a cemetery but not to trespass on them, as a sign of respect and reverence for those who were buried therein.
My next stop was Stockton-On-Tees, a remote town in the North where I had to visit another old friend from Nairobi, Mr. Bashir Rajput, who like many others moved to Britain well before the visa restrictions were imposed on the British colonial residents. He used to live in Pangani, near that small beautiful mosque where I also dwelled. I remember visiting him the day he invited the Pakistani hockey team over which was touring Kenya at the time. We went for a stroll in the park on a long summer day. It was easier for me while I was in that part of northern England to visit Durham, a town near Newcastle, known because of its historic cathedral and renowned university. I had been corresponding with this university with the aim of being admitted to pursue a higher degree by way of distant learning, but I was informed that this was not possible. However a visit to the premises was still of great value to me of course.
After a two week stay in the U.K, I returned to Nairobi with a splendid vision of Britain.
Bright and long shining summer days, evergreen pastures with abounding thick forests, three lane motorways with hard shoulders beside them, small, pleasant looking two-storey symmetrical houses in most places, neat and clean streets with pavements for passers-by, and lots more to see and admire. London was fascinating and wonderful. Its gorgeous buildings, museums of all kinds, its historic railway stations and its unique labyrinth of underground railways. A pioneering effort demonstrated the skill and engineering ingenuity of the English people. A hundred years ago they started it, the first in the whole world, as an overground transport system with iron wheels running on rails and soon after they took it to the depth of the ground, below the towering structures of London.
Heathrow airport was not yet connected to the underground but they had been working on the project somewhere quietly. For me everything was fine, except for the cultural shock. For the first time in my life I could see people hugging and kissing each other in public, boys and girls like hands in gloves, making merry in parks, not to mention those that would lay on the grass embracing each other, totally unmindful of those passing them by in Hyde Park, the famous landmark in the English capital.
Was it a rebellion towards Victorian culture, a manifestation of a growing permissive society, or just an
expression of freedom? If it is the latter, then it was best demonstrated in the other corner of Hyde Park where you find hordes of tourists wandering around, listening to various speakers. Each speaker stands on a stool, or elevated object, totally free to speak on any topic of their choice; religion, politics, social mannerisms, sex etc. as long as they do not touch the sanctity of the monarch, the Queen in our times.
I wish someone could speak about Islam like that in an eloquent, lucid way. What a great opportunity to convey the message of the last Prophet of Allah, Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.