WILLIAM BASHYR PICKHARD (G.B.)
It is stated in a hadith ash-Sharif: "Every newly-born baby
is suitable for and agreeable with Islam. Afterwards they are
made Jews, Christians or Magians by their parents." Likewise,
I had been born as a Muslim. Yet it was only many years later
that I realized this fact. Since my childhood I had been deeply
interested in the past. When I graduated from the university,
I began to work as a writer. I was not a well-known writer yet.
Nor could one tell what I was going to be. As a Christian, I had
been given some teaching on the concept of Allah and on how to
worship Allah. Yet my adoration was not confined to their teachings;
I felt the same worship-like attachment towards all paragons of
chivalry and valour that I had read about in history. Eventually,
I was given an office in Uganda, which was under the British sway
in those days. When I went to Africa, I saw that life was entirely
different there. Lifestyles of people living there, the sentiments
that they displayed concerning various worldly events, their behaviours
towards one another amazingly defied the expectations and imaginations
that I had harboured about them when I had been in London. People
living in this place faced the very primitive and onerous life-styles
and all sorts of difficulty they encountered in a sense of absolute
trust, did not lose their jollity at times when one would normally
feel quite despondent, and no degree of poverty could inhibit
them from helping one another. A sacred glue composed of love
and compassion had attached them to one another, which was well
beyond the narrow mental grasp of people of our sort. In fact,
I had taken an interest in the orient during my school days. In
Cambridge, for instance, I had tasted the pleasure of reading
the stories of Arabian Nights. And now, being in Africa, and so
close to the Orient; I resumed reading the book. The difficult
and unaccommodating life I was now leading in Uganda was making
me feel closer and closer to the oriental people. As I was reading
the stories of Arabian Nights now, I was comparing them with the
people of Uganda and, as it were, I was living with them.
I was completely accustomed to life here, when the First World
War broke out. When I applied for military service, they would
not admit me into the military on account of my poor health. When
I felt better I applied again. This time they admitted me, and
sent me to the German front in France. In 1917 I joined the terrible
Somme battles. I was wounded in these battles, and I was captured
by the Germans. They took me to Germany, where I was put in a
hospital. I saw extremely horrendous events in the hospital. Because
of those battles, mankind suffered such horrible afflictions.
Many Russian prisoners of war were brought to the hospital. They
were suffering from dysentery, which had already exhausted them.
food provisions were extremely poor in Germany. They did not give
enough food to the prisoners of war or to the other patients.
I was writhing with hunger. The wound on my right arm never seemed
to be recovering, nor did the one on my right leg. I was already
crippled and paralyzed. I applied to the Germans and requested
them to repatriate me to my country through the Prisoners of War
Exchange Commission in Switzerland. My request was approved by
the Germans. I was sent to Switzerland, where they hospitalized
me again. My arm and leg were entirely out of service. What would
become of me now? How would I earn my living? These thoughts drove
me to infinite despair. As I was in this mood of utter hopelessness,
I somehow remembered the consolatory Koranic statements that I
had read in a book which I had bought in Uganda. In those days
I had read them again and again with deep interest and adoration;
I had even memorized them. I began to pass these statements through
my heart and to repeat them a number of times daily. It gave my
heart a sense of relief and opened the gates of hope. And my hopes
came true, too. The Swiss doctors operated on my leg once again,
and my leg began to feel better. I owed this to the Qur'an al-karim.
As soon as I began to walk, the first thing I did was to go to
a bookstore and buy a translation of Qur'an al-karim by Savary.
[This book is still my most cherished companion.] This time I
began to read the entire Qur'an al-karim. The more I read, the
more relief did my heart feel, the higher did my soul ascend,
the deeper into my essence did a tremendous mass of light penetrate.
My leg was completely well now. Yet my right arm was still motionless.
Upon this, I obeyed the command of the Qur'an al-karim, surrendered
myself to the Will of Allahu ta'ala, and drilled myself in writing
with my left hand. The first thing I did after learning to write
with my left hand was to embark on writing a copy of Qur'an al-karim
with my left hand. At one time, I had been deeply impressed by
an episode in an Islamic book that I had been reading. The episode
was about a young man who was reading the Qur'an al-karim quite
oblivious of his surroundings and without even knowing that he
was in a graveyard where he had come accidentally. I put myself
in his place, delivered my essence to the Grace of Allahu ta'ala,
and carried on my reading the Qur'an al-karim. In other words,
I was a Muslim now.
In 1918 I went back to London. In 1921 I began to attend Arabic
lessons in the University of London. One day my Arabic teacher,
Mr. Belshah of Iraq, told us about the Qur'an al-karim. He said,
"You are free to believe or not. Yet you will find that it
is a very interesting book and that it is worth studying."
When I said, "I know the Qur'an al-karim. I have read it,
and many times, too. I believe in it," he was bewildered.
A couple of days later he took me to the London mosque at Notting
Hill Gate. I joined the daily prayers in that mosque for about
a year. In 1922 I became a Muslim officially.
We are in 1950 now. So far, I have held fast to all the commandments
of Qur'an al-karim with both hands, and this has given me a great
pleasure. Allahu ta'ala's power, compassion and grace are boundless.
The only personal treasure that we can carry on this trek of life
and which we can take to the world to come is to offer hamd-u-thena
[gratitude and glorification] to Allahu ta'ala, to surrender ourselves
with love to that Almighty Being, and to worship Him.