RANDOM THOUGHTS: Remarkable Personalities - BY: Dr. A.Q. Khan

Remarkable Personalities
Dr. A.Q. Khan


It is not difficult to find good books, if not in our own language, then in translations from other languages. Reading took a nose dive with the advent of electronic and social media. It is now common to see young and old socializing on their smart phones. Then came animated films. While some are cute stories for children, many are of a more violent nature, with all hell breaking loose left, right and centre.

In the Western World many books become best sellers and make millions for their authors, especially if their film rights are sold. Unfortunately, in Pakistan many authors only manage to get 1,000 or 2,000 copies of their works published out of which they get 50 copies to distribute for free. In my young days, there used to be libraries in all mohallas and these always seemed to be busy and well visited. I can still well remember the rush on the day when Ibne Safi’s new book, my favourite author of fiction, came out.

Recently, while suffering from a bout of flu, I managed to read “Meetings with Remarkable Muslims”, edited by Barney Rogerson and Rose Baring and published by Eland Publishing Ltd, London. In this book a number of people - not necessarily professional authors - from all walks of life described their individual experiences in meeting ordinary, but remarkable, Muslims. It was the cover of the book that initially caught my eye. It shows the interior of a mosque with a Tuarag Imam standing in it. My colleagues and I have been to Timbuktu, Gao, Mopti, Bamako, etc. in Mali (West Africa) and visited those very mosques. Mali’s river Niger originates in Guinea (West Africa) and flows north through Mali. It reaches Timbuktu, the trade centre of old between the Arabs of North Africa and the Africans of the south, after about 1,000 km. The Arabs used to bring salt, cloth etc. and exchange it for gold, silver, etc. It became a great centre of learning and at one time the university there had about 25,000 students from all over. After Timbuktu, the river takes a turn southwards. Nowadays, the first medium-sized city along its banks is Gao. Ahmad Baba, a religious scholar from Gao, was banished to Morocco by the then rulers. We were greatly impressed by the old historical mosques and the Islamic culture we found in Timbuktu. There was a building housing many old, original manuscripts, some of which had never been examined – the Ahmad Baba Centre. At my request, H.H. Karim Aga Khan had the mosques and the Centre renovated and also donated a small plane to shuttle tourist and supplies between Bamako and Timbuktu.

On our second visit to Timbuktu, we met our own remarkable Muslim - a polite, well-spoken guide, Abdur Rehman. He spoke English, French, Arabic and the local language. He offered to show us around the historic places. We all like him very much and usually invited him to have meals with us. He took us to stay at the only middle-class hotel available. During the course of our stay we got to know him quite well and discussed the possibility of helping him construct a guesthouse with 8 rooms. We thought it would give employment to some local families and give him a regular income other than his guide services. My Dutch friend, Henk, paid $ 4,000 for 2 pieces of land measuring 35 x 70 m. each and the plans were drawn up by Eng. Alvi and Eng. Khizar in Islamabad. Abdur Rehman was hard-working with lots of ititiative and soon construction was under way. He came to Islamabad for about a month, learnt to prepare some Pakistani dishes and returned with many spices. Friends from Dubai donated kitchen equipment and dining room furniture and on one of our next visits we were pleased to see the guesthouse up and running. With further hard work he slowly managed to extend the original 8 rooms to become 32. This was our particular experience with meeting a remarkable Muslim.

Back to the book. It is a collection of 39 writers drawing together experiences with Muslims from all parts of the world, from Morocco to India. What shines through is the common humanity shared by both authors and subjects - a need to learn, to love, to protect, to enjoy and to make sense of life. Piers Moore Ede in “Traveller” says: “Best of all is the subtlety with which this message is put across. None of these pieces stoop to lambast the West. Rather, their tactic is simply to portray the Muslim World as it is and to allow the reader to make up his or her own mind. The result is a gem.” Here are some more reviews of this excellent book. “…..what this deliciously varied anthology does…is to affirm that the love affair between British writers and the Islamic world is far from over. And for as long as there are writers willing and able to remind us that a brighter side to our dealings with Islam, then the peddlars of those ‘lies, half-truths and manufactured fears’ won’t have it all their own way – The Spectator.” “….a sparkling array of talent …. In a collection that shows how virbrant and relevant travel writing can be – Anthony Sattin in The Sunday Times Magazine.” “This is indeed a remarkable book, conveying the diversity and humanity of Muslims with style and grace. It proves that if we overlook, or look down on, the ordinary, we diminish ourselves and the world – Ziauddin Sardar in The Independent.” “It goes without saying, of course, that this book is well-timed, but its value extends further. It is a deeply lovable work, and has in fact become a treasured possession – Bradley Winterton in Taipei Times.” “…the book is a breathless, exciting narrative, and I have rarely come across such compelling travel writing. The collection sheds light on the dynamics that animate contemporary Muslim societies, but each piece is a gripping read in its own right – Gamul Nkrumah in Al-Ahram Weekly Online.”

Posted on Jan 30, 18 | 5:18 am