Monday, 10 October 2016

My Memoirs Part 3- New beginnings in the university of Medina.

Part 3 – 1962-1963

It was sometime in June 1962 that I finally left Montgomery. With my suitcase packed by my mother, I was waiting on the railway station with my father and brothers who were there to see me off. Montgomery railway station had only one platform, the longest one in the country’s entire railway network. One half is for the train coming from Lahore (the North) and the other half for trains coming from Multan and Karachi (the South). Of course it had two railway lines to let the trains transfer from the main line to the one along the platform.

It was a long journey for me to travel alone to the metropolis, Karachi, the port city which provided the air and sea access to travel abroad. It was a stunning journey which took the passengers through the fertile lands of Punjab, then across Punjnand, the great water reservoir where the river Sindh hits the other four rivers of Punjab, turning into a massive trail of water. Through Multan and Bahawalpur, it enters into the desert wilderness of Sindh province to which the river Sindh has brought a gift of fertility and growth on both banks. By reaching Rohry Junction, once again we had to cross Sakkhar Bridge, one of the biggest in the whole country. In the early hours of the following morning, long before arriving at my destination at Karachi Cantt, I could see miles and miles of populated area on both sides of the mainline. Karachi, the city of immigrants had expanded towards the Arabian Sea. Stepping outside the station, a tanga took me to the old Golimar where my sister had her abode. The locality, with immigrant population had grown haphazardly with all types of houses mostly with brick walls and tin roofs. In the main room, during the hot hours of mid-day, all family members, some on the bed and some on the floor would enjoy their siesta. From the ceiling, a huge flapper of folded chaddar was hanging like a massive feather, tied with a long string; this was the ceiling fan. It was the duty of the children to take it in turns to pull the string and let the big flapper move and break  the air. Soon those hand operated fans gave way to the electric ones.

In Karachi, I had to travel each day by bus to the city, the hub of commercial and state activities, to arrange for getting a passport, then a visa to travel to Saudi Arabia. It was not an easy task to meet all the requirements needed for acquiring a passport but with the help of Ishtiaq Ahmad, father’s maternal cousin, I was able to get hold of the paperwork. Still I needed a verification from an authority, with a status of section officer in a Ministry. Ishtiaq’s step brother, Uncle Khaliq Ahmad was such an authority who was glad to see me embarking upon a noble mission. He had no hesitation in stamping  my papers. In a few days I had my green passport in my hand, with my name as Suhaib Hasan Salafi on it. The addition of ‘Salafi’ to my name was an innovation by my brother in law, Abdul Rabb Salafi, the son of Abdullah Salafi.

We had to visit the Saudi Consular (someone) Fatani to get our passports stamped and tickets in our hands. 'I' has turned to ‘we’ because by that time I had made the acquaintance of some other young men who were the part of the first batch of Pakistani students selected to study in Medinah;  Muhammad Salafi from Ghuraba Ahl-e-Hadith was one of them. In the Saudi consulate, we felt the cool breeze emerging from the air condition unit which had its seat in the wall. One day he gave us the astounding news of our travel arrangements. We were all going on a sea voyage aboard Safina Hujjaj, the biggest Pakistani ship which had carried a massive five thousand pilgrims returning from Hajj that year. Now it was ready to sail back to Jeddah, to bring the second wave of pilgrims. 

One day a friend took me to a teaching circle at Idara Ma’arif Islami, Nizamabad. A young teacher, sitting on a chair, was addressing a host of relatively younger group. That was my first encounter with Professor Khurshid Ahmad.  (Who knew that thirty five years later, my son was destined to marry his daughter!) He had been an ardent follower of Maulana Maududi. As a former head of Islami Jamiat Talaba, an off-shoot of Jamaat Islami and the editor of its weekly organ, he was a known figure among the youth. Unlike Dr Israr Ahmad, who preceded him in presidency of the Jamiat and joining the Jama’at, he remained attached to Jama’at after the great upheaval of 1957 which led to a schism in Jama’at’s rank.

By that time, Dr Israr Ahmad had established his office, very near to Jinnah’s big mausoleum under the banner of ‘Qureshi Construction Company’. Though he had shifted from his profession, he never abandoned his Quranic circle which he started at Montgomery. Once, accompanied by one of his close friends, Allah Baksh Sayyal, we were strolling beside the highways of Nazim Abad.  Allah Baksh Sayyal pointed towards the earth under our feet, which was full of pebbles and sand and said: “This is what Jeddah looks like”. On another occasion, someone introduced me to an elderly man as an expert in palmistry. Out of curiosity, I stretched out my hand asking him about the lines of my hand. Holding my hand and concentrating his gaze into my palm he said: “it seems that you will have a long stay abroad.”

During my stay in Karachi, I made acquaintance with Abdul Mun’im al-Adawi, an Arab settled in Pakistan. He used to publish a monthly magazine “Al-Arab” by name. The journal used to cover all the activities carried out by the Arab ambassadors and the Arab community in Karachi. It wasn’t much of a pleasant read but through this journal, I developed a friendship with his son who would relate to me his adventures; an imaginative fairy-play to amuse both of us.

At last, on a hot July evening, the day had come when I had to leave the Kemari Shore to embark upon an unknown world: a world in pursuit of knowledge. Waving my hand, from the deck of Safina Hujjaj, I said farewell once again to my father and my brothers, who by that time had also moved to Karachi as well. Gradually, the ship started drifting away to the deeper blue waters of the Arabian Sea with eighteen passengers on board, the first batch of Pakistani students to join the Islamic University of Madinah. The other seventeen were all new to me and I was the youngest among them. We had our sleeping bags type of bedding rolled up on the floor in a big compartment. Soon we were introduced to each other.

Let me see if I can recollect their names:

1.     Mohammad Salafi from Ghuraba Ahl-e-Hadith, Karachi

2.     Abdul Razzaq Iskander from Binnori Town, Karachi

3.     Ghulam Qadir from Baluchistan

4.     Muhammad Qasim from Baluchistan as well

5.     Yusuf Kazim from Jamia Salafiyyah, Lyallpur

6.     Bashir Ahmad from Taqwiyat-ul-Uloom, Lahore

7.     Abdul Rahman Nasir from Lahore

8.     Salahuddin from Ocara

9.     Sufi Ahmad Din from Punjab

10. Hasan Jan from Charsaddah

11. Abdullah Kaka Khail from Peshawar

12. Muhammad Ibrahim Khalil from Skardu

13. and 14.Two students from east Pakistan

15. Abu Bakar from Binnori Town Jamia, originally from Mozambique

I fail to remember the names of the other three. The fate of all these young and excited students was a mystery. Who was going to shine as a teacher, scholar, Imam, Mufti, speaker or politician was all in the making.

By the time of writing these memoirs in July 2016,  to my knowledge six have passed away.  The latest among them was my class-mate for four years in Madina, Shaikh Ibrahim Khalil of Skardu, Baltistan who breathed his last in Islamabad at the end of June 2016, after serving for fifty years after graduation in Mombasa, Kenya. How fortunate was I, when I met him at his house, after many years, during my latest tour of Kenya in February 2016.

Let me come back to our carrier, Safina Hujjaj, a huge sailing edifice of five or seven floors. We spent much of our time standing beside the railings, at the front decks, turning our gazes to the stormy waves of an agitated ocean, which kept on tossing the mighty ship like a toy. What an amazing sight it was to see another ship which happened to pass by even at a far distance, or of jumping and diving dolphin, small and big creatures of the water. It is at times like these, when one is on a boat in the middle of a vast and seemingly endless ocean, that one sees why the boat has been given the status of 'sign of Allah'. That ship was our whole universe at the time, our only means of survival in an unruly and merciless ocean.

Apart from the crew, a young Indonesian man was also aboard the ship. Everyone was keen to talk to him.

“How is Indonesia?” we asked.

The young man must have had some dealings with Arabs as he was able to construct a couple of simple sentences. He responded to our questions thus:

“Fi Muslim Kathir, Al-Hamdulillah

Fi Masajid Kathir, Al-Hamdulillah

Fi Cinema Kathir, Al-Hamdulillah.”

(Thanks to Allah, there are many Muslims, thanks to Allah there are many mosques, thanks to Allah there are many cinemas.)

After five days, the southern coast of Oman, Hazramaut and Yemen appeared to our grateful eyes. It had only been five days since we left land, yet we were yearning to see it again.  Nearer we came to the port of Aden after crossing the gateway of Al-Mundab, our curiosity to see an Arab land at its height. Embarrassed and horrified, we saw our Indonesian co-passenger chained to a bench. We learned that the poor fellow was on this ship on its previous trip to Jeddah but was refused entry to land because he was travelling without an entry visa. Courier was forced to take him back until his visa was sorted out. So he had to shuttle between Jeddah and Karachi for an unknown time. He was to be chained lest he should try to escape at the port.

We were allowed to visit Aden, still under British Protectorate, for a few hours until the ship could fill its belly with enough fuel to carry on. Though a small boat we came to land at the port. A neat and clean bus took us, through hills and valleys, to the small town of Aden. What a great and amusing experience for us to use our knowledge of Arabic to all Arab hosts around us. We walked the foreign streets and did some window shopping ( a term I did not learn until later in life) until we entered a café to quench our thirst with a taste of coke. One of us was in charge to pay on behalf of us all. Soon a row started with the shop keeper who insisted that we had consumed twenty bottles of coke while we knew that we had drank eighteen. It seemed that two strangers had mingled with our group, finished their drinks and disappeared quietly, leaving us to pay their bill. It was not a good sight of the shop keeper shouting to us at our backs when we had left his shop. So our first encounter in an Arab land was not a pleasant one.

We were two days away from Jeddah. We sailed along the Red Sea, the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula constantly in view. Passing by Yalamlam, a point on the Yemini coast, we were told to enter into the state of Ihram, a ritual required of each pilgrim coming from the south, either for Umrah or Hajj. Our intention was for Umrah; we bathed, perfumed ourselves, and dressed in the two unsewn white sheets of the pilgrim. We then offered two rak'ahs of prayer.

I was fortunate to be the first person in my immediate family to be blessed with fulfilling this sublime act of obedience. What a privilege to be called to the House of God.

After two days journey, the ship was anchored at a distance from the port of Jeddah. It was a unique sight of the first town in Hijaz. Jeddah was at that time a small town with no sky-scrapers or magnificent buildings. Unlike Karachi, the ship had no direct mooring on the bay. A small boat took us to the port. We could see, at a far distance, hundreds of  pilgrims waiting earnestly to aboard this ship which would take them all back home; home sweet home. Abdul Aziz Linwaji, the Madina University’s representative in Jeddah was there to greet us; to facilitate our exit and to host us for the remaining few hours until we took our bus to Makkah.

At his spacious residence, he offered us food and drinks while he was busy on his phone speaking to someone in Madinah to let them know about our arrival. Again and again, he had to turn the handle attached to the handset and shout “hello, hello” until the exchange would be able to connect him to the other person on the line. He was a lovely, good-mannered man who did not know how to say “no” to any of our requests.

A mini-bus took us to the most sacred city of Makkah. We had to stop for a while at Bahra, the only rest-area type of a point between the 70 km ride to our destination. The road leading to the Sacred Mosque of Ka’ba goes up and down and long before reaching there we had a glimpse of the tall minarets of the mosque basking in the sunlight of a hot July month. Our bus made its way through a narrow road leading us to the Abdul Aziz gate. Beyond a few steps, Ka’ba, the House of Allah was in our sights. Covered in its traditional black curtains, its marble floor gleaming in the light, it was there to welcome everyone who comes to pay homage to it. With the supplication to grant it more dignity and honour we started our Tawaaf  by kissing the black stone glowing in one of its corners.

Passing by Al-Hateem and rubbing our right hand on the Yemen corner, we passed by the black stone once again to mark our first circle. Tawaaf was completed at the end of the seventh circle followed by two Raka’at prayer at Maqam Ibrahim. Then we turned to the wall of Ka’ba: a place to embrace and supplicate as long as you can. Heading towards the hill of Safa, we have to pass by the wall of Zamzam to drink the blessed water. In those days, both the station of Ibrahim and Zamzam well were inside a covered area, the first one with a small canopy above it and second one with a mausoleum type building surrounding it.

At present, in order to make room for the pilgrims to do Tawaaf easily, the building has been removed completely. The water finds its way to the drinkers through pipes connected to the underground well and projecting at many places inside and outside the Haram (precinct of the Sacred Mosque). As for the station of Ibrahim, the canopy is replaced by a glass-covered column. After walking between the hills of Safa and Marwa seven times, we completed our Umrah. The hair of our heads was then shaved or trimmed before we could remove our Ihram.

This was our first visit to the Ka'ba, and was to be followed by many more throughout my life. Apart from the covered area of Mataf, the remnant parts of open floor around Ka’ba were cut into many pebbled-ridden pieces open for the visitors to spread their mats upon them for prayers in the cool hours of the evening. Ramla (sandy area) was the popular name by which they were known.

The sacred mosque was surrounded by narrow alleys, shops of every kind and some leading to the minor market (Suq Saghir) which offered all types of fruits, vegetables, meat, live chickens, spices and grocery. Similar was the scene outside Masa’a (the place of walking between Safa and Marwa). Somewhere within these alleys was a two-storey building with a sign of Maktaba Al-Haram (the Mosque library). That was exactly the same location where the Prophet (SAW) was born in 570 AD. Once the rituals of Umrah were over, we took our way back to Jeddah. This had been a short but blessed stopover. We had to continue with our 420 km journey to Madinah.

The coastal road passes through Rabigh and Mastura; sea on your left and vast sandy plains on your right for about 270 km. Once you approach Badr (the famous battle-field which witnessed the first encounter between the Muslims from Madinah and the polytheists of Makkah in 612 AD), small hills turn into barren mountains throughout the way to Madinah. You can see oasis here and there; streams of water bringing coolness and growth. At a far distance from Madinah the following morning, we had the first glimpse of the tall and glowing minarets of the Mosque of the Prophet (SAW).

“May Allah bless him and grant peace to him” was the cry on our lips.

We passed by the old Madinah railway station: the end spot of Hijaz railway; a remnant of a glorious past but now a ghost town with  old engines, shattered looking carriages and a deserted platform. Then comes a small old mosque with one minaret of a Taskish architect. That was the gateway to Madinah. We were temporarily housed in Hotel Bahauddin, just left to the mosque if you are facing Qiblah. The nearest gate of the Mosque to the hotel was Bab-Majidi (named after Sultan Abdul Majid of Ottoman Empire) but we had to enter the mosque, in our very first visit, from Bab-us-Salam, on the western side of the mosque which used to face the market leading to Masjid Ghamama. There were two more gates, Bab-ur-Rahma which takes you to the front old building of the Ottoman construction and another gate opening to the new added building by King Sa’ud. The old Ottoman building with red round pillars; front wall decorated with multi-lines of the verses of the Qur’an in Naskh calligraphic gold writing, some large and some in small letters. At the middle of the wall was the Mihrab (niche) where the Imam lead the prayer. After entering through Bab-us-Salam one walks until reaching the house of the Prophet (SAW) on your left, which now accommodates three graves: that of the Prophet (SAW), Abu Bakr (RA) and Umar (RA). The whole tomb is covered from all four sides by iron railings. There in front of that wall, where there is a marking which faces all three graves, you have to stand and offer your salutation to the Prophet (SAW) and his two companions. Then you turn towards Qibla and supplicate as long as you can. On the eastern end is Bab-Jibreel to let you exit. A small area beside the Western wall of the House of the Prophet (SAW) is known as Rauda (The Garden of the Paradise) extending as far as the pulpit. The Prophet himself declared: “what is between my house and my pulpit is a garden from among the Gardens of Paradise”. (Bukhari, Muslim)

This area is now at the back of the front four rows. Here you offer your Nafl prayer beside the daily obligatory prayers. Visitors come in huge numbers to look and pray, so courtesy demands they leave quickly to allow others to share in the wonderful blessings. A section is screened off for the women to pray in privacy. In those days, the eastern part of the Mosque was allocated to women who could enter the mosque from three eastern gates or from Bab-un-Nisa at the Northern side, straight opposite to the Qibla and next to Bab-ul-Majidi. In between the old Ottoman building and the newly added Saudi extension, these used to open areas with pebbles under you and sky on your head and was known as Ramla (sandy area). On its both sides was the covered new extension. On the right for men and on the left for women. In the area at the right, on the wall in front of you, was the only clock which gave the Arabic time. This clock rang its bell at 12 midnight, which is the Maghrib time or the start of the new date. According to Arabic time, the night precedes the day. So the Islamic month first day would start from Maghrib and this is why you start praying Tarawih, the moment you see the crescent of Ramadan, followed by Isha prayer, even before beginning your first fasting day. So Maghrib was always at 12 followed by Isha Adhan at 1:30. You can say that Islamic day starts around six hours earlier than the Western-orientated of starting the new day from midnight. We, the students from Pakistan, appointed this place in front of the Arabic clock as our point of gathering in the mosque throughout our four years stay in Madinah.

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