Football: Any Place in Islam?

16 football place in Islam

By Hajji Murat Radjabov – Writer

Today, the world cannot live without football.

A German consulting company “Sportfive” did research in Europe to find out the number of people interested in football. The research was carried out in the leading football countries of Europe. The results were as follows:

  • Germany – 81% are interested in football (which constitutes 53 million people)
  • Italy – 78%
  • Spain – 67%
  • England – 63%
  • France – 60%

The numbers in other countries were very similar. Interest in football has also reached the Muslim countries and Muslims all over the world.

For football players

For practicing Muslims, Islam is not only a religion but a way of life. Generally, it is not forbidden in Islam to play football, as long as the following requirements are met:

(1) During the game, the Aurah (parts of the body that are forbidden for others to see; in the case of men, it is the part of body between the navel and knees) of the players has to be covered.

(2) Under no conditions during the game or in preparations for the game should the players miss their five obligatory players (Salah). Interest in football should not distract them from remembering the Most High or turn into them into fanatics of the game. Likewise, watching the game should not prevent people from performing their mandatory prayers.

(3) Sometimes the dates of significant football events fall in Ramadan, the month of obligatory fasting. Football, however, requires extensive physical exertion. In this situation, no matter how important the game is, Muslim players do not have the right to leave their fasting.

(4) Very rarely does a game go by without any physical trauma for the players. Sometimes, players intentionally do actions against their opponents, which cause them injuries. Such actions are also forbidden in Islam. Purposeful hurting of another person has to be compensated!

(5) Fights, filthy language, and arguments should not be a part of the game.

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Yes to Honesty!

By Muhammad Arif Sirajudinov – Writer

I was inspired to write this article by a story a friend of mine recently told me. People who acquire some wealth and are no longer satisfied with the car they own tend to get into the habit of selling their old car with the aim to buy a new one. My friend also decided to sell his old car and told me the story of how it happened.

“I headed out to a car market with the aim to sell my iron horse, which had suffered quite a bit due to my travels into mountainous areas. On the way, I was already picturing in my mind the dialogue I will have with my customer and thought that most probably I will have to hide some of the shortcomings of my car, in order to sell it at a better price. Then, suddenly, I heard on the radio the Hadeeth of the Prophet (sa): “The one who deceives is not one of us.” (Abu Dawood) I had heard it before, but had not paid much attention to it… well, I was the sort of person who did not lie to others and lived honestly, or so I thought. However, this time, the words of this Hadeeth went straight to my heart and would not leave me. For the remaining part of my journey, I kept on thinking about these words of the Prophet (sa).

Having arrived at the market, I put a price on the windshield of my car, sat down in a shadowy place and in my mind, went through the upcoming conversation with my customer. “And how about the shortcomings?” the customer will ask me. If I will tell him about all the blemishes, he will, of course, wish to lower the price. And I was already in trouble of not having enough savings to add to the price of the old car, in order to buy a new one.

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How Our Habits Construct Our Fate


By Zulfia Hayrutdinova – Writer

Besides following the obligatory practices of Islam, belief in Allah (swt) and adherence to the Sunnah of our Prophet (sa) entail that we strive towards high morality, continuous self-improvement, and perfection of soul and body. Every believer would like to be in special favour with the Most High: to be the best in deeds, have the most important standing, and be most beneficial for the society. All of us work on ourselves to some degree: every one of us in our own ways, according to our own capabilities and in line with our own understanding of perfection.

When we analyze the results of our work on ourselves, sometimes we realize that we have not achieved much in this life – we have not become better; in some ways, we are even worse than we were a few years ago. We wish to be healthy and fit; however, we do not play sports more often than once a month, thus with every next year becoming more and more ill. We wish to be kind and polite; however, we once again lose our temper on our close ones due to trivial matters. We wish to get up every night for the night prayer; yet, we achieve it only in Ramadan. The endless list of failures goes on and on. Why don’t our efforts bring the desired results? Are we capable of changing towards the good, or maybe that is only for those singled out by Allah (swt)?

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What Constitutes Manhood?

12 manhoodBy Majid ibn Abdur-Rahman – Writer 

What type of men would you like to see in our Ummah, the community of Prophet Muhammad (sa)? What constitutes a man? Is it the moustache or the beard? There are so many who have both.

Manhood does not depend upon years. We can often see a seventy-year-old man with the heart of a child: he rejoices over trivial entertainment, sheds tears over petty issues, covets what he does not possess, and greedily clenches whatever falls into his small hands, so that others would not play with it. He simply is a small child with a moustache and beard.

However, by the grace of Allah (swt), there are children who, despite their young age, can be extremely manly in their words, deeds, thoughts, and noble behaviour.

Who is Truly Strong?

truly strongBy Irada Mirzamagomedova – Writer

Strength. Power. What comes to mind when we hear these words? Someone may imagine a muscular athlete with a stern face, while someone else may think of the power of a thought or a word.

So who, in your opinion, is truly strong? Is it someone who can bend iron rods or pull a truck on his own? Yes, such people are ‘strong’ in the physical sense of this word; we cannot argue over this. However, how can we identify a person with a strong spirit? Here intuition will be of no help as a person with a strong spirit can only be identified through his deeds and his words. Have you ever heard the statement: strong is not the one who beats, but the one who can tolerate the beating? It is a fact that no special talent is needed to hurt someone. However, helping another person or finding enough strength within oneself to refrain from replying to an offender in kind is something that is in decline today.

It is not always true that those who possess willpower – which characterizes them as a strong person – are able to live through the hard times and trials of life without collapsing and falling in the eyes of the society as well as close ones. Often, the reason behind all the troubles of a ‘strong’ person is his inability to accept his own weakness. Unwilling to admit this, such people swing from one extreme to another as they seek a way out of difficulties, making use of means which exceed the limits of morality and conscience. Today, we witness such cases in our society more and more often.

Who is the strong one today, according to the standards of society? Is it someone who has power, money, and beauty?

Translated from Latvian to English by Laila Brence

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Ethics of Auto Repair

ethics of auto repair

On the Day of Judgement, every detail – be it a screw or a nut – will be accounted for.

It has been reported that Prophet Muhammad (sa) said: “The happiness of a person in this world depends on four components: a righteous and obedient wife; a spacious and comfortable abode; good neighbours; practical and comfortable means of transportation.” (Ibn Hibban and Ahmad)

In this article, we will take a closer look at the fourth component or, more specifically, the technical servicing of a means of transportation.

Up until the twentieth century, animals were the most widely used means of transportation worldwide. When the first automobiles appeared, animals started losing their ground; they were eventually pushed aside completely as Europe and the US began the mass production of automobiles.

Due to global technical developments, the automobile, which was once a luxury, has now become a mere means of transportation. In some countries, the number of automobiles is roughly equivalent to the adult population. The number of cars per 1,000 persons is 508 in Europe, 540 in Japan, and 776 in the US.

With an increasing numbers of automobiles, there is also an increased need for specialists qualified to service cars. No driver can avoid seeking the help of an auto mechanic, even if it is just for changing a tyre or car oil. The frequency of seeking the help of a mechanic depends on various factors, such as the condition, year of manufacture, and brand of the car, as well as the driving capabilities of the car owner. The gentler you are towards your ‘steel horse’, the less frequent will be your visits to the auto service.

Sheikh Saeed Alfandi Al-Chirkavi and Imam Kuramuhammad-haji Ramazanov, two great contemporary Muslim scholars, have extensively discussed in their writings the ethics of driving and auto repair.

Selecting the Best Auto Mechanic

Good auto mechanics are always in great demand. Just like in any other field of work, Islam prescribes certain ethical norms and requirements for auto mechanics. The most important principle a mechanic should follow is: to service and repair any automobile as if it was his own, or, like a famous saying goes, “do the work, as if you are doing it for yourself.”

Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “None of you will truly believe until you wish for your brother what you wish for yourself.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

Auto Repair Ethics

Although the above discussion should suffice, it is important to mention some ethical norms that must be observed by all auto mechanics:

  • Clear intention to help people and earn, through this, the pleasure of Allah (swt).
  • Aim to earn only by fair means, without deception.
  • Don’t miss Salah, no matter how much work is at hand.
  • Since cleanliness is half of faith, it is very much desired to keep the auto repair shop clean and neat. Clients will also feel good about visiting a well-maintained and clean car service.
  • During work hours, it is desirable to keep the radio tuned to an Islamic channel with the aim of acquiring Islamic knowledge.
  • In the course of work, car oil comes into contact with the skin of mechanics. For Wudhu to be valid, the body parts that need to be washed should not have any water resistant materials on them. Therefore, before making Wudhu, mechanics have to remove all traces of oil from their hands. It is recommended to work in gloves.

Professional Traits

  • First of all, the mechanic has to be well-versed in his trade and have a good understanding about the specialties of different types of transportation. He should continuously keep himself updated about the latest information on car repairs and should raise his qualifications by learning from more experienced mechanics.
  • After evaluating each individual case, the mechanic should not start fixing the auto if he does not have the required skills and knowledge for it.
  • The mechanic should keep in mind the safety of the owner of the car and others on the road. More specifically, he should consider how the auto might behave in traffic situations once he completes his work on it.
  • The mechanic should do honest work with the client’s best interests in mind.

What is Forbidden

Under no conditions should a mechanic cheat his client. Sometimes a sly and unfair mechanic may use the ignorance of his client regarding the technical specifics of his car and:

  • Deceive him by asking to pay for work which is not done;
  • Make the client buy new spare parts in his shop, although there was no need to replace the old ones;
  • Replace a well-functioning car part with a faulty one.

There are numerous ways of cheating through which the mechanic can earn considerable amounts of money. In Islam, such dealings are forbidden. Money earned by such means will not result in blessings. Moreover, such unlawful dealings may bring upon the mechanic severe illness, loss of property, and other afflictions, as it has been said: “Beware of the curse of the oppressed. There is no barrier between such Dua and the Most High.” Car mechanics should keep this in mind, as there is no other word than oppression for unethical practices.

What Should an Unfair Mechanic Do?

A mechanic, who earns his wealth through Haram ways, must know that on the Day of Judgement, he will experience severe difficulties. Every cheated client will come and ask from him his due share. Every smallest detail – be it a screw or a nut – will be accounted for on that day.

Compared with these difficulties on the Day of Judgement, is it not easier to earn your bread by Halal means? We will receive what has been decreed for us. However, ours is the choice by what means our Rizq (provision) will come to us.

So what should an unfair car mechanic do if he has realized his mistake? The answer is self-evident: repent, while there is still time. He should try to recall what he has done wrong, and set it right. Also, he should never cheat again! He should know that he must pay back all those from whom he has taken Haram money; he should find the wronged clients, pay them back, and ask forgiveness. It is easier to set things right in this world than to give to the wronged clients your good deeds on the Day of Judgement and take on yourself their sins.

If you do not know the clients you have wronged and are unable to find them even after searching for them, give the amount you owed them in charity. Also, keep asking the Most High for forgiveness.

Source: Translated by Laila Brence.



Reinforcing Spirituality in the Workplace

Workplace spirituality

I did not realize that relationships at the workplace could be so gratifying in terms of Ibadah, until I sat down with my father to delve into his experiences about human resource management. His answers left me inquisitive, and I set out to search for the ideal virtues of a Muslim employer and employee.

Motivation, communication, cooperation, conflict management, wage compensations, promotion, job description, rotation and enrichment are the key components outlined in an employment agreement. To fortify the faithfulness in daily roles played by a manager, a supervisor and a subordinate, I rummaged through the admirable work of Imam Ghazali to the rejuvenating lectures of Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan.

To begin with, Ayah 57 from Surah Yusuf is of utmost significance for both the manager and the worker.

Allah (swt) says: “And verily, the reward of the Hereafter is better for those who believe and used to fear Allah and keep their duty to Him (by abstaining from all kinds of sins and evil deeds and by performing all kinds of righteous good deeds).” (Yusuf 12:57)

Thus, a mandatory virtue for both parties is to never lose sight of the perpetual mission of life. The subordinate should trust Allah (swt) as the Ultimate Provider for hard work and service, and the supervisor should learn from leadership qualities exhibited by Prophet Muhammad (sa), the four caliphs, Prophet Yusuf (as) and all the beloved messengers of Allah (swt).

Consequently, the Muslim manager ought to devise the employment agreement around the five prayers (Salah), negotiating time management, submission deadlines, rest pauses and work shifts.

Another principle characteristic is built upon Ukhuwat or Islamic brotherhood. Both should know the fruits that lie beyond this temporary life of a heart-warming brotherhood.

An important lesson taught by this Ayah is that when Satan intrudes the mind of the employee in the absence of the supervisor, he should remember that Allah (swt) is All-Seeing; He knows the conflicts created by the Nafs. Such a self-reminding habit ensures that one understands the importance of honesty and sincerity to his leader.

This verse steers to an aspect, which is also mentioned in Ihya Uloom Ad-Deen (“The Revival of Religious Learnings”) under “Seven Things That Make the Religion of a Businessman Perfect”, meaning the worker and the manager should both remember that they are setting up accounts with everyone they deal with. Allah (swt) will have the debit/credit records on the Final Day.

According to Abu Hurairah (rtam), Allah’s Messenger (sa) said: “Allah (swt) said: ‘I will be an opponent to three types of people on the day of Resurrection: one – who makes a covenant in My name, but proves to be treacherous; second – who sells a free person and eats his price, and third – who employs a labourer and takes full work from him but does not pay for his labour.” (Bukhari)

This Hadeeth shows the intensity of love that Allah (swt) has for the hardworking person. The employees offer their services in return of remuneration and benefits. Also, the religious-mandated practice of abiding by the agreement has been emphasized. A Muslim naturally tends to get psychologically attached to his Muslim brother. Reviewing the Prophet’s (sa) management skills, we see how Allah (swt) wanted him to boost the morale of the companions (Sahabah) at all times and listen to their concerns. Our Messenger’s (sa) life reveals his highest regard for employees’ services; their covenant was uncomplicated but magnificent in the context that the volunteers were the most important asset in the mission.

Isn’t it miraculous how our Creator, the most Magnificent and the most Merciful, has paved way for our self-evaluation in every field of life? Alhumdulillah! Allah (swt) says: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a Better Protector to both (than you). So follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is Ever Well-Acquainted with what you do.” (An-Nisa 4:135)

The know-how of justice, self-acceptance, embracing of criticism, being truthful and avoiding discrimination lies in this verse. The righteous employee should keep an eye on any acts of discrimination around him; this divine code of life also defines discrimination in terms of favouring the rich staff over the poor. The intention (Niyah) of the employer of any organization should be to facilitate his employees and make them intellectual and highly productive Muslims, securing an abode in the loftiest compartments of Jannah.

At our workplace, we should remember the value of a smile, which is also a form of Sadaqah or an act of charity. Such cheerful habits make us beloved in the eyes of Allah (swt).

Purification of the soul can also be conquered at work, which brings us to yet another attribute of an employer – the ability to pre-plan training programmes. Integrating Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan’s lecture ‘People of Substance’ into the employment bond, positive and negative reinforcement done in accordance with Shariah will yield awe-inspiring results.

For example, in a Lahore based firm, the supervisor sends his employees to a holistic nutritionist on performance-based work; she devises plans based on Prophetic medicine and quantum health sciences, which bring them closer to Allah’s (swt) creation, their body systems and the lifestyle of the Prophet (sa). Another effective bequest to be given for employee’s recognition could be a book on Prophet Muhammad’s (sa) Seerah. Regarding training programmes, employees deserve a chance for rejuvenation of faith; thus, they can be registered for workshops, Quran and Hadeeth boot camp courses and conferences.

I believe that becoming a beloved of Allah (swt) requires mastering the art of forgiving. It is perhaps the most fulfilling attribute to apply at the workplace; the employer should forgive the errors of employees as frequently as he can, looking ahead to the riches of the hereafter. On the other hand, the employee should forgive the judgements made about them and accept demotions as a form of test from Allah (swt).

Allah (swt) says: “For such, the reward is Forgiveness from their Lord, and Gardens with rivers flowing underneath (Paradise), wherein they shall abide forever. How excellent is this reward for the doers (who do righteous deeds according to Allah’s Orders).” (Ale-Imran 3:136)

Heart-to-Heart on the Highway


Every morning, you can see children gaping vacuously at the passing landscape, as they travel to school. One wonders if this routine interval can be transformed into a healthy and productive period.  Following is a list of five noteworthy areas for conversation, which can be talked about along the way.

  1. The signs of Allah (swt). Contemplation, in reality, is a habit that parents can help form in their children. A scurrying squirrel, changing weathers and the beautiful symmetry of nature are all prompts for initiating insightful discussions about the Creator and His attributes. This observation, as mentioned in Quran, is a quality of true believers and develops profound love and awe for our Creator. Parents or teachers can also point to the attributes of Allah (swt), as they are being reflected in the surroundings, for example, a close encounter with an accident reminds of the attribute Al-Muhaymin (The Protector and The Overseer).
  2. Bounties and blessings. Point to the crumbling slums, beggars looking cravingly at food and little children rummaging in the garbage and have kids count the blessings that Allah (swt) has bestowed upon them. Make them notice those less privileged and teach them to be grateful for all that they have. Important structures and landmarks can be observed, too. Ask them who is the Creator of these edifices? Is it the architect or Allah (swt)? Isn’t it true that intelligence and ideas are all blessings from our Lord (swt), the Ultimate and Flawless Creator? He inspires people to build; they, in turn, invent and create things.
  3. School and family. This may be an apt time to listen to your child without interfering, or disrespecting his/her thoughts. Suspend your own judgement. Let him/her talk. Observe intently his thoughts and beliefs. Reviewing the times tables, solving problems concerning friends and teachers and discussing ideal school behaviour can also be done while driving to school. Sibling rivalries and other school and family related issues can be spoken about as well.
  4. History and current affairs. A severed nation is cut off from its past. Our curriculum does not do justice to Islamic history and even history in general. Hence, parents must supplement children in this field. Use these valuable minutes to revise concise lessons from history through audio lectures or passages from books. Discuss the glorious past of the Muslims and ponder over the current affairs; think about how to gain what we have lost. Go over the daily news, the situation of our country and Ummah, and talk about how they can contribute. Remember, kids will think and talk big, if they’re taught how to, by actively engaging them.
  5. Memorizing. Many a children have memorized portions from the Quran that were played in their cars. When not in a mood to chatter, put on recordings of short Quranic Surahs, Duas and Azkar (words of remembrance), and automatically they’ll be transmitted to the tongues of your young ones. Even if they don’t reproduce, it is all going in and settling in their minds. If practiced daily, no doubt, children and even parents will have memorized large portions of the Quran by the time they’re out of school!

Don’t undervalue the importance of time. Take advantage of every minute that you have to raise the leaders that you are entrusted with.

Kamila: She Dared Where Many Men Hesitated (Part 3)


“Assalam Alaikum, brother Yusuf,” I notice the British accent. “The refugees had told me about you and brother Abbas.”

She was around twenty years of age, with south Indian features and not more than five feet tall; her slight built would not let her look short. She looked simple in a Hijab, someone you would hardly notice on an average day in a Muslim country. In Orebic’, that December afternoon, she was nothing less than a mystery. I was seized by curiosity: “Who is she? What made her come? How did she make it?”

I returned her Salam and sipped on the dark bitter coffee – the only expression of hospitality that life in exile allowed the Bosnians. “I have gathered that you will be visiting the other rest house,” she started out, “I would like to come along, as I have to visit a seriously ill girl there.”

The other camp was less than fifteen miles away. As Zahruddin negotiated the turns on the hilly road, sister Kamila unfolded her story. Her parents had immigrated to England when she was born. After graduation, she had taken a secretarial job in London. Moved by the sufferings of the Bosnians, she had resigned from her work and convinced the leader of a Muslim relief convoy to take her along. Citing the perils of war, they had refused to take her into Bosnia and had dropped her in Orebic’. The convoy was long gone.

The camp had arrived by then. I went off with Zahruddin to distribute supplies. As I walked around, sister Kamila’s account was on my mind. She had spoken passionately, her words brimming with purpose and confidence. It must have taken a lot of courage, and I was moved. I knew many men who had considered this step, only to be overcome by fear. And as I reflected back on the night in the Vienna train station, my own hesitations shamed me as never before.

We visited the girl that Kamila had come to see. She was epileptic and the war had aggravated the condition. She was in her twenties and appeared almost like a skeleton, with an ashen face and sullen gray eyes. I will never forget the eyes: their quietness was so eerie and disturbing that it dominated the whole atmosphere. It was as if she had moved beyond pain. Her seizures had made her fall a number of times, her face showing cuts and bruises. Her old parents sat by her side. She was like a fresh rose suddenly torn off by a violent storm, its life painfully ebbing away.

Kamila hugged and comforted her. “The medicines would be here soon,” Kamila promised, “I will visit you regularly.” Her words held out hope, which the family was desperately looking for. As we left, I caught the parents managing a weak smile.

On the way back, I was worried. Kamila had taken a brave step. What if the going gets tough? There were rumours that the Croatians may force the refugees back into Bosnia. Worst still, they might trade Muslim refugees with the Croats being held by the Serbs. What would Kamila do? Being a Muslim and a foreigner, she could be easily singled out for harassment. Orebic’ was remote; help could be days away. She could stay in Split, which had better living conditions and many Muslim relief organizations. I expressed my fears to her: “We shall be returning tonight. Why don’t you come along? I really think it would be safer in Split.” She smiled: “No, brother Yusuf, I’ll be fine here. My life and death is with the refugees. Allah (swt) is with me.”

We were leaving Orebic’. Like always, some of the refugees had gathered to see us off and among them was Kamila. I caught sight of her and almost panicked. “I just can’t let her take this risk,” I thought to myself: “She is so young and inexperienced.” My earlier fears flooded my mind. I walked up to her: “Sister, please, think again.” I started out, my voice laden with urgency. “We will be leaving in a few moments and you can come. It would be weeks before we return.”

I glanced at the sea. The waves were catching the last rays of the sunset. The wind had picked up, gently tugging the evening for inland. I could taste the salt, mixed with the moisture of the fog. In the distance, large dark clouds loomed. A storm was on its way. That moment of silence almost froze in time only to be interrupted by her voice: “Brother, Yusuf,” she was calm and composed. “I will stay.”

I turned around and waved to the group. The van lurched forward and so did time. In the mirror, I could see the people dispersing. Soon, the view started meshing with the shadows. We were soon out of Orebic’ and ascending the mountains. I took a last look. Lights glimmered then faded. The fog had moved in, wrapping the town in an eerie darkness.

I was deep in thought. Many would question what a young girl could do in such circumstances. The scene of Kamila comforting the epileptic girl drifted into my mind. The last few hours spoke differently. Kamila was a hope that had come to the refugees: a light at the end of the tunnel. It was a statement to the Bosnians that whatever comes, we, the Muslims, are with you. Kamila’s presence was shouting at the refugees: “Good times will come and I want you to believe in it. Why? Because I believe in it. Look… I wouldn’t be here, if I didn’t!”

The courage of this young sister continues to inspire me. For me, and I hope for others, too, Kamila offers a model of courage, self-sacrifice, dedication and above all, the love of this Ummah.

Speeches, talks, protests and even donations can never pay the price of that one hug that Kamila had given to the sick girl. If this Ummah seeks men and women of action, Kamila will always be there among the forerunners: an example, a model, and a beacon.

It was very dark. The stillness of the night was broken by the continuous drone of the diesel engine. Zahruddin was silently concentrating on the road; night driving on those mountain roads was treacherous. It had been a long day and fatigue was setting in. I caught myself shivering. I hastily rolled up the window and dozed off, little knowing that it would be months before I would return to Orebic’; only to find that Kamila was no longer there.

Time flew by. An all-out conflict started between the Muslims and the Bosnian-Croats, and we got more heavily involved with the city of Mostar. In the end of December, 1992, I had to leave for the USA in a bid to raise funds.

On my return, I asked Abbas if he remembered the English sister that I had mentioned to him months ago. “She is fine and still active,” he said. “She was in Orebic’ for a while and finally joined Amin’s organization. Amin met her when he delivered some supplies there after you left.” I knew that through Amin’s organization, she must have been able to do a lot for Orebic’.

Amin was a Sudanese brother who was studying in Bosnia, when the war broke out. Fluent in the local language and familiar with the area, he had taken charge of a Muslim Relief Organization. His dedication and hard work had made him an asset for the Muslims.

“But didn’t Amin have a problem with Kamila not having a Mahram (a male relative)?” I asked. Some people had commented that Kamila, being a Muslim, should not have travelled without a Mahram. It had troubled me a bit, but I had placed that on the lack of a grounded Islamic education, when she was growing up in England. “Well,” said Abbas, “She took care of it.” “But how?” I was perplexed.

Abbas paused. “Simple,” he then smiled with a twinkle in his eyes. “She married Amin.”

Adapted (with permission) from “The Embattled Innocence.” Compiled for “Hiba” by Laila Brence.

Kamila: She Dared Where Many Men Hesitated – Part 1


By Suleman Ahmer – CEO and the Lead Facilitator of “Timelenders”, a management consulting and training firm

May, 1988

It was very cold on the night of October 27, 1992, as winters arrive early in Austria. A small group huddled in a tiny glass waiting room in the Vienna train station. I noticed them staring at us. Two bearded Asians didn’t quite fit in. The big clock on the wall ticked noisily; it was almost midnight. It was another few minutes before the train left for Zagreb in war-torn Croatia. I shivered and anyone watching could have easily attributed it to cold. I knew it better: it was fear.

I took a deep breath and sat back, my hands deep inside my pockets. The previous months whirled by. It had been very hectic: the decision to go to Bosnia, interrupting my graduate studies, taking permission from my family, discovering that Abbas wanted to come along, and then the million dollar question: “How in the world are we going to get to Bosnia?”

“There is a train,” a friend had told us, “that goes to Zagreb from Vienna in the night. That’s your best bet. Croatia is a new country and the immigration people on the train stations are not that vigilant. They might let you in. Going to Bosnia from Croatia should be relatively easy.”

And here we were, with a telephone number of someone in Croatia as our only tangible plan; a couple of brothers had gone to Croatia and we were supposed to link up with them. This number, as we later discovered, was as worthless as the worn-out piece of paper it was written on. A Bosnian brother had told us of Muslims being detained while trying to get into Croatia. I was beseeched by different thoughts that day: “Am I crazy? Is this a right decision: going from the luxury of a certain life to this madness of uncertainty? We still had time and maybe we should just turn back!”

The train’s whistle blew furiously, jolting me out of my thoughts. Everybody started hastening towards the door. We followed with our bags. The train was ready to go. The moment had arrived.

As two strangers boarded the train that fateful night, a young girl on the other side of Europe was calmly planning her moves. There was no hesitation on her part, no afterthoughts. She would have smiled had she seen the hurried boarding of these two men in Vienna and read their thoughts.

Fate brought us together for a few moments. I dedicate this story to explain why those moments are one of the most unforgettable ones in my life.

We drifted into sleep as the train rumbled on. Our car was empty. We entered Slovenia, a former province of Yugoslavia. The Slovenes would question people passing through their territory and harass Muslims. We had been advised by our friends to lock our compartment and ignore all knocks. We would have definitely slept through but what confronted us was a loud banging. Jolted out of sleep, we stared at each other. The Slovenian border patrol wanted to have a word with us two highnesses!

“Going to Jeeth-had?” said one, eyeing us suspiciously.

We politely indicated our failure to understand. If they had meant Jihad, well, the pronunciation was off, way off.

“Jeeth-had, Jeeth-had!” said another one, pointing towards his gun.

“Oh no,” we managed a smile, “Humantarna Pomoch (humanitarian help).” The Serbo-Croatian phrase book had finally proven its worth.

Out came a list of names. With our Pakistani passports in their hands – the ‘Islamic Republic’ boldly staring at all of us – the name tallying started. There were Mohammeds, Ibrahims, Yusufs, Abdullahs and Abdur-Rahmans. There must have been over 300 names.

We held our breaths. By the grace of Allah (swt), no one named Abbas or Suleman had done any wrong to earn a place on that list. “You have a few hours,” warned the chief, clearly disappointed with the absence of our names on the list. “Go back to Vienna or continue to Zagreb. Just clear off Slovenia.”

“Sure, sure, no problem,” relief dripped in invisible drops from our faces, “Hvala, Hvala (thanks, thanks).”

The plan was to get up an hour before Zagreb, and rehearse what we would say and how to protest if things went awry.

The stopping jerks of the train woke us up. The relief of not getting into trouble in Slovenia had worked as a tranquilizer. Suddenly there was calm. The 7 o’clock sun lit up the compartment.

Zagreb had come!

Pulling our things together, we broke into a rush.

“What were we supposed to say?” The phrase book hid itself somewhere. ‘Dobar Dan’ meant ‘good morning’ or was it ‘good night’? Maybe it was ‘I am hungry’. No, no that was ‘Jasem Gladan’…

The tap on the door was gentle this time. It reminded me of the famous saying, “Barking dogs seldom bite.” It was the thought of what could be the converse that made me a little uncomfortable.

One exclaimed on seeing our passports, “Pakistanats,” which roughly translated into ‘Pakistanis’. We nodded. To our utmost surprise, our nods were met with smiles and handshakes. “Pakistan is our friend,” said one turning to the other, “it was among the first countries to recognize Croatia.”

In no time, our passports were stamped and we were on our way, thanking Allah (swt) and bewildered at the simplicity of the matter. Few physical steps were as significant as the ones we took that morning to step outside the station. It seemed as if by magic, we had entered a new world. The old world that we knew was somewhere in history: remote and unreachable. Our new adopted one lay ahead.

For the first time in days, I suddenly became aware of the freshness of the air and the chirping of the birds; somehow the surroundings looked a lot more colourful, the grass greener and the sky a bit bluer! I can now understand how Alice must have felt in wonderland – enchanted! The dream of going to Bosnia had materialized into a not-too-distant reality.

As we clumsily entered the realm of our newly-found uncharted territory, the same girl, in sharp contrast, confidently made her way to her job with her letter of resignation.

We soon hooked up with other foreign Muslim relief workers and time flew by. Thousands of Bosnian Muslims were languishing in Croatian refugee camps. Armed with a few thousand dollars that we had collected and tons of goodwill, we kept ourselves busy while planning our ultimate move into Bosnia: we distributed flour, oil, baby-milk, detergent and medicines.

It was the first time that I was confronted with a tragedy that defied limits, with shattered families and heart-wrecking tales of death and pain. At times, I felt the tragedy had invisible hands, reaching out and choking my heart.

On the outskirts of the City of Split in Croatia was a house, where Muslim relief workers got together in the evenings. With constant additions and subtractions, it was an interesting group. We had brothers from Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria… The list was long. We would sip coffee and chat, exchanging stories and sharing notes. We found our smiles and laughter. It was an oasis of joy in an endless expanse of grief.

On one such evening, we learnt that a group of 2,000 refugees had been placed in a remote part of Croatia. Public transportation was non-existent and few relief supplies found their way out there. Deciding to help, we arranged for five tonnes of flour, powder milk, sugar, cooking oil and washing detergent and in a couple of days, set off towards Orebic’ (O-re-bich). (To be continued)

Adapted (with permission) from “The Embattled Innocence.” Compiled for Hiba by Laila Brence.

Basheer: A Friend’s Farewell


March, 1999

The assassin didn’t have to wait for long in the cold, winter morning: Basheer was seldom late.

I was in Florida, raising funds, when the news came. It was a shock: I was with him just a couple of months ago. The sequence of events, as they had probably occurred, flashed into my mind.

Basheer has to be in office in Dushanbe – the capital of Tajikistan – by 8:00 a.m. to let the other officers in. Dawlat Baig picked him up at 7:40 a.m. I had accompanied Dawlat Baig a number of times. As we would pull up the car, Basheer would appear out of the sea of people, walking briskly with long, purposeful strides with an air of confidence and mission. To be at the intersection on time, he would have left at least five minutes earlier, putting him in the line of fire precisely at 7:35 a.m. on Monday, January 11, 1999.

The first time I met him was at the Tajik refugee camps in Afghanistan in 1997. He was tall, slim and strongly built. He had become fluent in Persian and wore traditional Afghan dresses. What gave him away were his strong Arab-Berber features. A smile was never far from his stern face, which spoke of years of struggle and hardship.

The eldest son of a government officer, he came from a village 200 miles from the capital of Algeria. He gave up his studies in Engineering to help out in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion. He later joined BIF (Benevolence International Foundation) to provide relief assistance to the Tajik refugees in Afghanistan.

Life was hard in the camps in Kunduz and Takhar – the northern Afghan provinces bordering Tajikistan – with no electricity, running water or communication. Food and medicines were always limited. Malaria, Typhoid and TB were close to assuming epidemic proportions. Basheer was going down with Typhoid every year, spending weeks in bed.

I once asked him how he managed to stay there for five years. “I can’t see myself deserting these people,” he had said. “I see myself as holding a post. If we leave, the vultures will come in.” He was referring to some of the secular organizations. Alarmed by the return of the Tajik refugees to Islam, they were trying to compel the Muslim relief organizations to leave. These organizations had one camp in their control where they distributed music and movies, while the children in the Muslim-run camps learned the Quran.

He had kept in touch with his family through letters, which would take up to six months to reach Algeria. We decided to arrange for a phone call. Using a wireless set, we connected via radio to Peshawar and then through telephone to Algeria. It was a joyous occasion, as the family hadn’t heard his voice in five years. They initially failed to recognize him, as out of emotion, he could only speak in his adopted Persian. He had broken down during the call and wept.

Basheer managed a staff of twenty-four Tajik Muslims in the refugee camps, and I could see the love and respect that flowed towards him. I didn’t have a shred of doubt that these Tajiks could have easily stood in the line of fire for him.

He was like a father to the orphans, who loved him dearly. Some didn’t know their fathers but they knew Basheer. I asked some of the young orphans – I didn’t ask the older kids, as they understood – where the money for their sponsorship came from. They pointed to Basheer. I explained that Basheer was just an officer, and the money came from the Muslims in the US. They weren’t convinced: it was Basheer who cared for them. To those little, simple minds, that was what really mattered. I gave up. I wish could tell them now that Basheer gave much more than care: he ultimately gave his life.

This dedication and compassion endeared Basheer to the Tajik Muslims. He loved them, and, yes, they loved him. He gradually became an inalienable part of the Tajik cause, a hero who had come from a faraway land. As the Tajik Muslims struggled in their war against the Communists, Basheer stood by them, supporting their orphans, running clinics, sharing their joy, and wiping their tears. His presence whispered to the Tajiks: “I believe in you and your struggle. Don’t give up.”

In the summer of 1997, the refugees started moving back into Tajikistan, bringing an end to the five years of exile. Deciding to start work in Tajikistan, we established an office for BIF in Dushanbe in November 1997, and later arranged for Basheer and the staff to move from Afghanistan.

A few months after moving to Dushanbe, Basheer married a Tajik sister by the name of Sadbarg. The mother requested Basheer to move in their apartment. She was widowed in this apartment, when Sadbarg was very young. Basheer agreed.

The Muslims signed a peace agreement with the Russian-backed government and the overall situation started to improve.

We took Dr. Nazr-ul-Islam – a surgeon from England – to Dushanbe and established a TB hospital for children. Furthermore, we continued the sponsorship for the orphans; we also started supporting families of men disabled in the war, and commenced the rebuilding of homes of orphan families destroyed during the war.

A group of young sisters, who had set up an Islamic study group in Dushanbe, approached us for help. Concluding that the sisters were high on enthusiasm but low on knowledge, we decided to teach them the fundamentals of Islam and prepare them to reach out to more women in Dushanbe. We gave Nurudin – a graduate of the Islamic University in Madinah – the charge of the programme.

Nurudin had come to Afghanistan in 1993, and had set up an Islamic school for Tajik students in the refugee camps. This is when Basheer and Nurudin had become friends. After the ceasefire, Nurudin had moved independently to Tajikistan, where he had also married a Tajik sister. He had started some Dawah programmes in the mosques in and around Dushanbe.

When we decided to sponsor the sisters’ Dawah programme, Nurudin was like a gift from Allah (swt): he was there; he was married to a local sister, spoke fluent Persian and above all, was a gifted scholar.

The classes started in March, 1998 with a group of 32 sisters and 20 brothers.

Unfortunately, the political situation started deteriorating. Soon, it became apparent that a cold war was taking shape, fuelled by the secular and communist elements to undermine the Islamic movement in Tajikistan.

On June 15, 1998, only three months since the start of classes, Nurudin was shot and martyred outside his apartment. Only 36, he left behind a pregnant wife and a four-month-old daughter, Asma.

No one claimed responsibility, and the Tajik government denied any involvement. “Could it have been the Russian intelligence?” we were left wondering. “Or could it be the breakaway communist fraction which had split from the government and violently opposed the peace agreement?”

We immediately froze all Dawah activities. Our staff of nine people in Dushanbe included two foreigners, so we had reasons to be worried.

Our CEO travelled to the area and told both Basheer and Dr. Islam that they could leave, if they wanted to. Both refused, saying that we need not worry since we were no longer involved with Dawah, and the relief services being offered to Dushanbe were badly needed. Soon a contract was signed between the BIF and the Ministry of Health, finalizing the administration of the TB hospital. With all Dawah activities frozen and only relief projects remaining, we reasoned that the anti-Islamic elements – if indeed they were behind Nurudin’s death – would surely back off.

Our office in Dushanbe faces the parliament building in the Independence Square. A statue of Firdousi, a famous Persian poet, stares down at the beautiful gardens lining the main street. In these gardens are small cafes, where one can dine on a lunch of rice and Kabab on tables scattered under the tall trees. Basheer and I would walk down, have lunch and talk – we would spend hours talking, with the snow-capped Pamir Mountains in the background. These meeting are now memories to be cherished for the rest of my life. We talked about a lot of things: our time spent together in Afghanistan, our families, the BIF, the political situation and our plans for the future.

In one such meeting, I asked him why he didn’t leave Tajikistan after the death of Nurudin. “My mother-in-law would be left alone,” he said. I smiled. We both knew that there was more to it. I was also his manager, and he was aware that I could have asked him to leave. He was careful in wording his answer. “Look, Suleman,” he was very serious and thoughtful, “you know that I have given myself to this cause. I know that I am in Tajikistan for no other reason but for Allah (swt).” Then he paused: “And if I were to die, I have the confidence of knowing that I shall be a Shaheed.”

At the age of 34, Basheer was shot at point blank range. I can conjure an image of his assassin, most likely a local Tajik clad in a black suit – so common in Dushanbe – walking up to him, as he stepped out of his home. Alone and unarmed, Basheer stood no chance and was hit a total of seven times in the chest and the head. The $600 in his pocket – a lot of money in poverty stricken Tajikistan – were not touched.

For us, he was and will remain an inspiration, a statement that this world is worthless in front of the hereafter, and if it takes our lives to establish Islam, then so be it. While we talk, write and lecture about sacrificing for Allah (swt) and Islam, Basheer lived it and etched it in history with his blood. He was a true embodiment of the statement that “a faith not worth dying for is not worth living for.”

He leaves behind in his legacy one more reason for us to struggle for the dream both he and Nurudin gave their lives for – to return Muslims to the arms of Islam from the torturous clutches of colonialism and communism.

Basheer, may Allah (swt) accept your Shahadah. (Ameen)

Adapted (with permission) from “The Embattled Innocence.” Compiled for Hiba by Laila Brence.



By Suleman Ahmer – CEO and the Lead Facilitator of “Timelenders”, a management consulting and training firm

Two weeks ago, I was in a TB sanatorium for orphans at Kofar Nihon, a small town ten miles from Dushanbe, the capital of war-ravaged Tajikistan. As I entered one of the wards, Sham-e-Gul dragged herself to the corner of the bed and sat up. Like many others around her, TB had wasted her legs. I found her in pain and with no relatives at her side to console her. Her brother used to visit her twice a month. Sham-e-Gul was only six years old.

The staff and the children of the sanatorium were Sham-e-Gul’s family. She missed Daulat Shah, another six-year-old, who was sent home when some relatives visited a few weeks ago. “There is nothing more we could have done for Daulat Shah,” said Dr. Nazir Rahimov. “We figured at least he would have a home and hopefully adequate food in his last days.” Sham-e-Gul was not told why Daulat Shah had left suddenly. She was too young to understand.

During the Soviet era, orphans who had TB were admitted to the sanatorium. When the war broke out, Kofar Nihon came under heavy fighting. People fled the area, leaving a skeleton staff that battled to keep the damaged facility running. With no electricity and an acute shortage of medicine, food and money, the orphans had nowhere to go. The sanatorium became a death trap, as the symptoms of TB grew worse. Soon, the children started dying. I found thirty-two children there, between the ages of six and fifteen. Most had been there for the last five years and many with advanced TB.

The four long years that BIF (Benevolence International Foundation) had worked with the Tajik refugees in northern Afghanistan came to an end in the summer of 1997. By the Grace of Allah (swt), the Communist regime in Tajikistan gave in and signed a peace agreement with the Muslim opposition, ending more than four years of bitter conflict. This was a great victory for the Muslims as they now controlled around fifty percent of the territory and were partners in the newly-formed coalition government.

The Tajik refugees from the neighbouring countries had returned to their homes with dignity. Now we could concentrate on projects in Tajikistan that badly needed our assistance like the sanatorium in Kofar Nihon. With the blessings of Allah (swt) and Muslims, we were determined to turn things around in Kofar Nihon. We could, Insha’Allah, initiate surgeries, which were long overdue, provide proper medicine, food and hygiene, fix the building and heating and provide decent salaries for the staff. For Daulat Shah we were too late, but for the remaining thirty-two children, we still had time.

As I was leaving, I gave my pen to Sham-e-Gul to cheer her up. This was the least I could have done. She had smiled and the thought of it still warms my heart. With the pen, I also gave her a silent promise that I would leave no stone unturned to see that she and the other children got a decent chance at life.

Eleven months later…

As I approached her bed, Sham-e-Gul woke up and squinted – it was a bright day and sunlight was streaming into the ward form the large windows. The startled look in her eyes slowly changed to recognition.

I had first met her in Kofar Nihon, a village fifteen miles from Dushanbe, almost a year ago. She was the youngest of thirty-two children with advanced TB in a war-damaged hospital. With no electricity for seven years, no heating, shortage of staff, food and medicine, the children – many of them orphans with no place to go – had started to die. I had given her my pen with a promise that I would leave no stone unturned to see that she and the other children got a decent chance at life.

Now, eleven long months later, I looked around the brightly-lit ward of neatly lined beds with clean linen. I could smell the freshly painted walls. Fifteen children slept peacefully. Now there is no shortage of food or medicine. The repair on the wrecked heating system has started, which means heating for the hospital for the first time in five years. I could hear the clamour of the workers repairing the remaining part of the hospital.

It had been a struggle. Within a month of my return from the last trip, we had moved our staff from Afghanistan to Tajikistan and recruited new officers, including Dr. Nazr-ul-Islam, a surgeon from England. With Kofar Nihon continually under heavy fighting, we shifted our focus to a similarly neglected hospital in relatively safe Dushanbe – only to find what relative safety meant when one of our officers was shot and killed. We decided not to give up.

Taking the hospital from the Ministry of Health, we started the repairs. BIF started to provide food, medicine, lab facilities, salaries and the operating costs. We served fifty-two children with TB between the ages of three to fourteen years.

I asked Sham-e-Gul about the pen that I had given her. She broke into an embarrassed laughter: she had lost it.

By the grace of Allah (swt) – and to the astonishment of the doctors – she recovered from her paralyses. I believe it had more to do with the prayers of the Muslims, who had come to know her, than medicine. I asked her if she could walk for me. When she nodded, I helped her out of bed. She hesitantly took the first step and slowly walked the length of the room.

I handed her the picture that I had taken with her the previous year. She held it in both her hands for a few moments, then looked up and studied my face carefully, as if confirming whether I was indeed the same person. She said she wanted to keep the picture and asked me not to leave. I was saddened as I didn’t know where her parents were or whether they were alive. I promised her that I would come again.

I walked out with tears of gratitude to Allah (swt) and the Muslims who, by their generosity, helped me fulfill a promise made in a far-away, war-ravaged land to a seven-year-old ill girl – Sham-e-Gul.

Adapted (with permission) from “The Embattled Innocence.” Compiled for “Hiba” by Laila Brence.

The City, the Girl and the Little Rag Doll

The City, the Girl and the Little Rag Doll

By Suleman Ahmer – CEO and the Lead Facilitator of Timelenders, a management consulting and training firm (

The first time I came across her was in the winter of 1992 in the Bosnian town of Mostar. She had long black hair, hazel eyes and a smile that lit her face. Her eyes refused to laugh. They held a look of bewilderment and fear of an uncertain future. Girls as young as Aida had started understanding the misery that wars so easily delivered. They call war ‘raat’ in the Bosnian language, which sounds similar to ‘night’ in my native Urdu. For Mostar and its daughters such as Aida, the Balkan war meant exactly that – a never-ending darkness.

Aida’s father had been a young and aspiring architect before the war. Edin Batlak, or Edoo, had never called any other city his home. It was its sons such as Edoo that Mostar had called upon when confronted by the Serb siege. Educated and experienced, Edoo became the chief of logistics for the Muslims and was the one to receive the supplies that we brought to Mostar from Krilo. As Mostar warmed up to its guests, Edoo happily filled the role of a perfect host, providing home-cooked food and putting us up for the nights. One evening, he introduced us to his daughter.

Aida could not understand the strange language that we spoke. Her nine years of life had not awarded her the luxury of learning a foreign language. We tried to get by in broken Bosnian. Children are expressive and so was Aida. Soon we started understanding each other.

The war had forced the Muslims to take a fresh look at their identity and religion. There was an eagerness, especially among the children, to learn about Islam. Wanting to learn the Salah, she had started learning Fatiha. We would teach Aida a part of the Salah in each trip with a promise of a ‘Poklon’ (gift) which would be candy, a rag doll or tidbits of that sort. The thought that a small girl eagerly awaited us in Mostar would warm our hearts many times over.

River Neretva divides Mostar into the east, which was predominantly Muslim, and the west, where both Muslims and the Croats lived. The Serb front lines were a few miles east of the city, cutting off the Muslims from their strongholds in central Bosnia. West Mostar was linked through Croat-held Bosnia to Croatia. Sandwiched between the Serbs and the Croats, East Mostar was vulnerable, a fact the Croats knew very well.

I remember some children insisted that I accompany them. They took me to a school, which had been converted into a refugee camp. The lower floor hosted the office of the Merhamet (a Bosnioan relief agency), the office of the Mufti of Mostar and some rooms for medical emergencies. I was led to the basement, where some young girls were practicing Islamic songs for an upcoming festival. Upon seeing a stranger, they fell silent. I urged them to continue and left after a few minutes, leaving behind my cassette-recorder.

With every spin of the recorder, the songs and the memories were electronically preserved. It was to become a prized possession and a great companion for many months to come. During our long drives in Croatia and Bosnia, Abbas and I would play the tape and sing along in Bosnian:

O Allah (swt), Bosnia bleeds today.

And we suffer.

But we have hope that you will deliver us.

And we don’t complain.

We know You will be with us forever.

A girl had burst into tears and before the tape could be shut off, her sobs had been recorded. Upon reaching this section, we would gently cry ourselves, our tears cementing our determination and pushing away thoughts of giving up. “How can we give up when children in Mostar are calling Allah (swt) and trusting Him?”

Many months thus passed. Once Mustafa, Edoo’s interpreter, smiled when we said good-bye.

“You may not find us upon your return. The Croats will not wait for long!”

“Never mind,” we said, “we belong to this city now. If we go down, we go down together.”

“It is easier said than done, you know,” he said.

“We have been with you all these months; we would not desert you in the end,” we promised.

The Bosnian Croats struck in the early hours of May 18, 1993. The Muslims were outnumbered, outgunned and taken by surprise. Hundreds of Muslim men, women and children were forced to walk in front of the Croat columns to prevent the Muslim army from firing back. The Muslims were pushed to the eastern side, where they stood their ground and prevented the Croats from crossing the river. Thus began a nine-month siege that would later claim thousands more lives, inflicting pain and devastation of unimaginable proportion.

Never in our lives had four words held so much devastation: “West Mostar has fallen.”

We frantically tried to find a way to get to Mostar, but to no avail. The memories of the town came flooding back: the faces, the long hours spent talking, the laughter, the mosques and the walks in the old town. The voices of the girls singing the Islamic songs and the words of Mustafa echoed: “You may not find us…” and then there was the sinking feeling of defeat and the heart-wrenching realization that we had failed Mostar in its final moments. Our promise of being with them had been broken.

We started asking about the people we knew. Some had survived. Some were in concentration camps. Of some, there was no news. What happened to Edoo? Did he make it? How is Aida?

Edoo lived above the offices of the Muslim army, which were the first to be targeted. A huge fire had erupted, catching all by surprise. Edoo and his wife had managed to escape, but Aida had gotten trapped. I shudder with the thought of the painful last moments of the young Aida, trapped in the fire of a war she never fully understood; punished for a crime that her enemies are still not ready to forgive – Islam! Had she lived, Aida would now be in her teens. She would surely have completed learning her Salah.

Aida may not be with us today, but the struggle for which she died so young continues. Bosnia is alive as are many Aidas and many lands like Bosnia. Our failure to keep our promise to Aida must not prevent us from making our promises to others. For Aida, the help was too little, too late. It doesn’t have to be the same for others. The understanding that we are Muslims is a promise to all the Aidas and all the embattled Muslim lands: a promise that we are with you and you shall never be deserted.

When I am down with despair, and hopelessness seems to prevail, I thank Allah (swt) for giving me such treasured memories. As I look back and see a little town with a little girl with a little rag doll, I know that I have reasons to continue.

An Unlikely Letter from Kashmir


During one of his numerous travels to India, Igors, a European entrepreneur, visited Kashmir, where he accepted Islam. Following is the letter he wrote to his wife on the day of his conversion.

Kashmir, May 19, 2008

My dearest wife,

Today was one of the most beautiful and wonderful days in my life!

After having breakfast at eight, I headed to the old town on my bike. As I cycled along, I noticed and photographed a Hindu temple.

I kept on cycling around till about two in the afternoon. I reached the oldest mosque in Sirnagara and wanted to go inside. When the guard said that only Muslims could enter, I said I was a Muslim and went inside. The prayer had just concluded and people had begun to disperse. I sat down on the side. As I sat, my thoughts wandered towards home, where I saw you and our son David. I was overwhelmed by an incredible feeling of happiness. In order to seal or preserve this moment somehow, I bowed and placed my forehead on the floor, just like the Muslims do in prayer. The feeling was truly wonderful!

As I stepped outside the mosque, I noticed that everything had changed a little. Upon seeing me, people smiled.

I cycled back to a small roadside shop and bought two drums, which cost me seventy-five rupees. I gave them one hundred. She had only fifteen to give for change. I said that it was alright, but she insisted that I should wait and sent her son to exchange the money. I felt like I was in another world. In Tallake, everybody tried to cheat the foreigners, just like they did with Din, the Englishman, who was requested to pay fifteen thousand rupees for a one night stay in a hotel! But here she was not letting me go, until I got the exact change.

When the drums were packed into my backpack, the shopkeeper lady invited me for a cup of tea. I did not refuse. We had some tea and biscuits. The conversation was not going very well since Ramika (the lady) didn’t know any English. Her son, who was in grade seven, knew some. So that’s how we spoke – she in Kashmiri and I in Latvian. The main topic was families.

I was treated also to some local sweets, which resembled Halvah. I tasted a bit and gave it back. Ramika refused and said to bring it home for my little son. When Ramika’s son asked me what religion I belonged to – Hindu or Christian – Ramika, pointing at my prayer beads, which I had been gifted in another mosque, said: “No, he is a Muslim.” I did not object. I said good-bye and left.

Since the sun was already setting, I could not photograph any more. At some house, a man from a high-up window called out to me to take a photo of him. Sure, it was no problem. He also invited me for tea. I did not refuse. The setting of the home was poor but very clean and neat. This time, I was treated to the salty Kashmiri tea. I really loved it.

Two women came upstairs. One of them was the old man’s (Noor’s) wife, while the other his sister. Again, the talk turned to our families. Noor showed me photos of his sons. I could show only the one picture of little David I had with me. We talked about my impressions of Kashmir. After some more conversation, I said good-bye and returned to my guest house.

At five, Gulam arranged for me to meet his friend, Sikander, who worked in a tourism agency and was well-versed in Islam. When I arrived, he was sitting on the prayer rug busy in prayers. Everything that followed seemed to be happening by itself, somehow detached from me.

I told Sikander what a fun day I had had. I told him about my visit to the mosque and Gulam said, through laughs, if things were to continue in the same manner, I would soon become a Muslim. I had said that I was a Muslim twice, and had felt good after the visit to the mosque. With a smile, I answered that I was already a Muslim. I took all of this as a mere joke. To this, Gulam happily said: “Super! Then we should only give you a new name and you would be a Muslim.” Since he knew a young and well-educated Imam, he suggested visiting him in the mosque close by.

When we arrived in the mosque, the prayers had just ended. Upon entering the mosque, Gulam loudly announced: “Hey everybody, here is a foreigner who wants to revert to Islam!” I had not expected such a turn of events. Since I didn’t want to explain everything, I just went with the flow. And then something unexpected happened – all those present came up to me, smiling, hugging, and shaking my hand; many of them with tears in their eyes. They were crying. At this moment, something broke inside me. Tears started streaming down my face…

After returning to the guest house, Gulam and the Imam gave me instructions as to how I have to prepare for accepting Islam. When all of that was done, I went to the big room. All of us sat on the floor. The Imam recited something in Arabic and I repeated after him: “Ash-hadu Al-laa Illaaha Illallah, ash-hadu anna Muhammadan rasoolullaah.” Then everybody shouted loudly: “Allaku Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” It seemed just like in a movie.

When we got up, everybody congratulated and hugged me. I still needed a new name. The Imam went off alone, got down on his knees and started praying. We left the room. After a few moments, the Imam joined us and announced that he has the following name for me – Noor Muhammad, which means the light of Muhammad or the light which comes forth from Muhammad.

That’s how I became a Muslim and got a new name – Noor Muhammad.

My European friends sitting next door looked somehow perplexed. Everything happened so fast. That same morning I had not expected to be a Muslim in the evening. Rimi, one of my friends, said that I should have been more critical. Eriki, the other friend, asked, if I knew that I would not be able to denounce Islam, to which I replied that I would never want to do it. Muslims simply have to believe in God, His last Prophet (sa) and have to do good things. Why would I leave the good to do bad things again?

We returned to the mosque, where I saw a crowd of men with smiles on their faces. When the Imam came, all of us arranged ourselves into a straight line. Gulam said to look at him and repeat whatever he did. The Imam started to recite the prayer.

Gulam later explained to me that there was an angel behind the right shoulder of every person who urged them to do good deeds. If anybody does something good, the angel records it. Behind the left shoulder also was an angel, who tried to prevent the person from doing the bad, wrong deeds. If we still don’t listen and continue with the bad deed, he records it. This is how we are held accountable for our deeds. With a smile on his face, Gulam added that now, after accepting Islam, all my old sins were erased and I was as if I was a newly born. Honestly, that’s exactly how I felt.

The prayer was over. Everybody came up to me, hugged and congratulated. We went outside. Gulam paid for tea for everyone. We took photographs. Everybody wanted to be in a picture with me. Gulam was telling everybody how things had happened that day. My actions had encouraged him to come to the mosque for prayers. He admitted that he had not been to the mosque for a very long time.

I went back to the guest house and again played cards with the Europeans. Then, I went to sleep. Even though I was extremely tired, I could not fall asleep for a long time…

P.S. My dearest wife, I know that everything you just read seems a bit strange to you, but I’m perfectly alright – I have not gone mad. I have just become a little better.