I n t o t h e L i g h t
by Steven Masood
Chapter 9 - Beyond Suicide
I wandered in the cool of the early morning as the city awoke to another day. My life seemed utterly futile and the thought that my father would soon be in Karachi filled me with despair. I thought again of that little bottle of white pills in the briefcase I was carrying with me and a searing voice in my brain kept saying to me, "End it all. Go to sleep, sleep ...."
Around ten o'clock I found myself at one of the many temporary restaurants that spring up in Pakistan wherever there is a need for them. This one catered for the many construction laborers who would come and drink tea and have their meals there. It was set on a vacant piece of land, surrounded by buildings and as I sat down alone I reflected that this was a very ordinary place to end my life! For that is what I had determined to do by this time and, as I ordered tea, I opened the briefcase and took out the bottle of pills. As I looked at them again it seemed to me that death itself was mocking me. For a moment I hesitated, while the tea was brought with the customary glass of water, then I made up my mind and turned my thoughts from the fear that perhaps I might not die. I had absolutely no idea of what might be waiting for me beyond death, but I knew that I just wanted to escape this life.
Without hesitating any longer, I opened the bottle and emptied the entire contents into my mouth, swallowing the pills with the glass of water. I had a brief moment of panic, then deliberately drank the tea. I fumbled in the briefcase for a piece of paper and with a pencil I wrote: "I am desperate. There is no way out for me. I have decided to leave this world. I know that God is somewhere, but since he does not care about me, there is nothing else to do."
I signed my name to this sad little note, put it in my pocket, paid for the tea and walked out. I intended that when I died, they would find it on my body and at least someone would know what had happened. But first, I wanted to get to a deserted place where no one would find me and make me go to a doctor.
As I crossed the road, it seemed to me that the buildings were doing a drunken dance as the pills began to take effect. I understood what was happening, but I was worried that, like a wounded animal, I had still not found a place to die. I turned down another street, looking to the right and to the left, but there was nowhere to lie down. The street was wide, with trees growing down its length, and on both sides the high-walled bungalows told me that I was in a wealthy area where I would be very lucky to find anywhere. The guards at the gates of some of the houses, the chowkidars looked at me with suspicion, thinking perhaps that I had come to look over the houses that I would like to rob.
By the time I reached the corner, I could not stand upright. Quickly I clung to a telephone pole and I heard a voice asking me kindly, "What's the matter? Not feeling well?"
I turned my face to the voice and noticed on the roof of a nearby house a kind-faced woman. It was nice to have someone concerned for me, but it was too late now. She spoke again, "I think it must be this hot weather why you're not feeling well. Please come inside for a while."
She made her way down from the roof and I heard the door open as she came to unlock the gate. I was really frightened now and just wanted to leave, but I could not move. My legs felt like cooked rice. I tried to walk and for a moment I thought I was walking on air. Then there was darkness and I knew no more.
When I opened my eyes again the world was full of shadows. I had a vague idea that I had come to the next world, but as my mind cleared, I realized that I was in a cool room and that there were women and children there. Then I saw the doctor sitting by the bed. He smiled when I looked at him and gave me a big bowl of water, "Here, old chap, drink this."
I tried, for he seemed a good man, but I could not manage it. So he asked the others to leave the room. Another man came from the head of the bed, apparently his assistant, and he held me while the doctor inserted a rubber tube down my throat to wash out my stomach. I gagged and wished wholeheartedly that I had died! I didn't realize then that the doctor must have known what I had done.
It only took fifteen minutes, but to me it seemed like fifteen hours! Then the man gave me an injection and invited the women to come back. They had been waiting outside, it seemed, and eagerly trooped back into the room to see their unexpected patient and guest. It was then that I recalled the face of the kind woman who had invited me in and I realized that I must be in her house. The children clustered around her, shrilly talking about me. They called her 'Api'. She warmly thanked the doctor for coming and he said, "I wouldn't have done this for anyone else. If this boy had died, I would have lost my medical licence. This should be a police case."
Only then did I realize that these people had taken a considerable risk for me and I felt warmth and thankfulness towards them all. The doctor took his leave shortly afterwards and I was left lying in a strange bed among strangers.
For a while they plied me with questions, but I am afraid I was too sleepy from the injection to answer them clearly. I was dimly aware of a man's voice, but I did not see his face. And then I slept ....
When I awoke it was getting dark and I felt much better. My head was clear and I was able to take note of my surroundings. I was lying in a large cool room, tastefully furnished, and the thought came to me that perhaps God had allowed me to begin to die on the doorstep of these kind people so that they might find me and restore me. It was a good thought and whereas before I had longed for death, I now gave thanks for life.
Since I felt so much better I got up off the bed. Two men, hearing me, came in and introduced themselves. One of them was the owner of the house, Mr Qureshi, and I thanked him warmly for his kindness and goodness to me. He smiled when I asked him when I should leave and said that we would talk of that later.
"For the time being, Masood, you must stay and get better. If you are all right, perhaps you can leave tomorrow."
That night we talked for many hours. I told the Qureshis much of my sad story and I heard the others talking about me in hushed voices as the story was passed around the house. When I spoke of my searching for the true God and his followers, they were astonished. The women put their hands to their faces and spoke rapidly to each other. I think it must have been that which decided Mr Qureshi, for he spoke to me before we went to bed. "Masood, our home is open to you. We will be glad to have you here and you can stay as one of our own children. We are Muslims and we are proud of it because the truth is Islam, as you will discover. Only Islam can bring you joy and satisfaction. Here you can forget your pagan [Ahmadi] background and here you will discover the truth."
He looked very pleased as he said this, and Api [Mrs Qureshi] agreed with him.
"That's right, Masood. You must search with faith and diligence and not be afraid. You're lucky that here God has shown you the true way to life. You have come out from among the pagans and there will be no boundaries to your research here. And now, let's all get to bed. It's quite late."
A boy servant showed me to my room. I had been moved from the place where I had been lying before and for a moment I stood at the doorway, amazed. I thought I must be dreaming. The room was like a luxury hotel to me. It had a soft bed and a table where I could read and write. It even had a bathroom en suite. Once more my thoughts flew to God. How unpredictable he was! Before, I had almost been a dead dog on the road; now I was living in comfort and luxury, beginning a new life....
In the cupboard along one wall, I noticed to my joy a number of books. Quickly, I crossed the room and bent to look at the titles. They were all Islamic books, expensively bound. Qur'anic commentaries jostled with books on the Hadith, and there were more volumes of biography and many other titles besides. I rejoiced at the thought of spending hours studying them. My eyes filled with tears and in my heart I said a prayer of thanksgiving that the all-wise God had not let me die but had introduced me to a whole new life.
Next day I was up with the dawn. I bathed in my own bathroom and the black thoughts of the day before had all gone. I ate with the family and after Mr Qureshi had gone to work, his wife said to me, "Today, Masood, you must come with me to the bazaar. We must get you some new clothes if you're going to stay here with us."
I was touched by her kindness and the thought crossed my mind that this, too, was God's doing. When he is kind to us, the whole world becomes kind. When God honours someone, no one can dishonour him. I could not understand it, but what I did understand was that, for some reason, God had begun to look upon me kindly and now he was showing me how much he cared for me. Then another more disturbing thought touched me: he had really been kind to me all along, but only now was I beginning to understand his ways! I followed Mrs Qureshi, dazed with happiness. Everywhere in the crowded noisy bazaar, people seemed to smile on me. When the shopkeepers understood that I was with this good woman, they took special care to please her. By the time we returned home, I felt that I was clothed like a king.
I was accepted by the Qureshis from the start. No one objected to my research and everyone was kind and helpful. Today, when I think about that time, I thank God that he provided for me, step by step, just what I needed. Clearly, what I required then was a stable, loving environment to pursue him, and in that home I found it.
In Rabwah, I had really only read Ahmadi books. Even the Qur'anic commentaries I read in those early days were written with an Ahmadi bias. Now I had the opportunity to study from the other side, and I made the most of that time. Every day I spent long hours at the desk in my room studying, comparing, analysing, making notes. In the evenings I would often discuss my research with Mr Qureshi and I found him to be a learned man, though very dogmatic. And all the time, my heart was being drawn to God.
In this agreeable way, about two months passed. The Qureshis accepted me completely and even loved me. They would not even allow me to work in the house to help pay them for all their many kindnesses to me.
"Oh, no, Masood," said Api. "You're welcome to stay as long as you like to study the truths of Islam. There are others who can work for us and besides, you are more a son to us than a servant." And she smiled at me kindly as she said it.
One day, Mr Qureshi called me to speak with him. "We have completed our enquiries about you, Masood," he began, and as he said this my heart sank. Did this mean I would have to leave? I waited painfully for him to continue.
"I've warned your parents, Masood, that if they have wronged you, they will have to face the consequences. I hope you don't mind my speaking to them this way, but I thought it best for your future."
I could breathe again! He noticed my tenseness and reached out to touch my arm.
"That's very good of you, Apa," I said. "And now, if you don't mind, I'd like to find a little job for myself."
He frowned at that. "What's the matter, Masood? Do you need money?"
"It's not that so much," I replied slowly. "I'd like to stand on my own feet and not be a burden to you."
I think he appreciated my desire to be independent and his voice was warm when he said, "OK then, Masood. That's settled. I'll find a job for you."
In that year, 1971, tensions between India and Pakistan over the status of East Pakistan came to a head, leading to war in December and the setting up of the state of Bangladesh. For many months before this, there was great strain in the city and people went about with concerned faces, aware that there would be fighting before long. I went off to work regularly and all my spare time was spent in study and dialogue with Islamic scholars to whom Mr Qureshi introduced me.
As the year lengthened into winter the fighting began in earnest. Almost every night there would be air raids and the sirens would sound, sending everyone scuttling for shelter.
One night I sat under the stairs at the house, listening to the 'crump' of the bombs not far away. The Indian fliers seemed to be very courageous, I thought, and I stuck my fingers in my ears to block out the sound of the explosions. As usual, I was praying, reciting the familiar Arabic words of our Muslim prayers. On this occasion I was reciting the Iman-Mofasil, the Exposition of Faith, and for once I stopped after each phrase to ask myself about the words of the familiar cadences.
"I believe in God," I recited aloud. "Is it really so? Do I really believe?" In my soul I knew that I did believe and I passed on to the next part of the text.
" ... and his angels," I said. "Of course I believe in them."
"... and his books. Yes," I said with conviction as I recalled the creed from my schooldays.
As the sounds of the air raid died away in the distance and the sirens sounded the all-clear, I thought further about all this. I came out from the safety of the staircase, my mind full of deep thoughts and made my way to my room. There, before I turned on the light, I covered the windows with blankets so the light could not be seen in the event of another raid and only then did I lay down on my bed. But I could not rest and so I got up and switched on the table lamp, covering it with a towel go that the light was directed onto my desk. Sitting down, I opened the Qur'an.
Idly I turned the pages at random and there it was written:
"0, ye who believe: Believe in Allah and His Messenger and the Scripture which He hath revealed unto His Messenger and the Scripture which He hath revealed aforetime. Whoso disbelieveth in Allah and His angels and His Scriptures and His Mesengers and the Last Day, he verily hath wandered far astray (Sura 4 verse 136)."
I paused at these words, my heart racing. What did they mean? I knew that it was because of the word of God that I had first got into trouble with my own people back in Rabwah. They said they believed God's Scriptures, but in fact they did not really want to believe them all. For all practical purposes they held that some of these things just did not apply. But I knew, beyond doubt, that God had said that these books, books that included the Injil, were a 'light and guidance for mankind' (Sura 6 verse 92; Sura 40 verse 53) and that they were 'the clear Scripture' (Sura 37 verse 117). Then, what of the word in Sura 5 verse 46, 'We bestowed on Him [Jesus] wherein is guidance and a light, confirming that which was [revealed] before in the Torah - a guidance and an admonition unto those who ward off evil'?
The air-raid siren interrupted my feverish thoughts and reluctantly I turned off the light. Sitting on the chair in the dark I thought of how many times I had recited those words like a trained parrot, but today when I concentrated on them, the words of these verses touched my conscience to the depths. Suddenly, I had a great desire to read the Bible again, to start with a new attitude, a new beginning. Yes, I was aware that they said it had been corrupted and changed. I knew Muslim scholars had warned me that studying the Bible would corrupt and dissolve my faith. But in my heart I knew differently.
If my faith was worth anything at all, then it would survive. It was not like a piece of brittle sandstone that would crack and shatter into a thousand pieces if it was dropped! If you really trust the true God, I told myself seriously, then you will be all right. There and then I resolved to read and study the subject further for myself I would compare the Qur'an and the Bible.
After all, I reasoned as the anti-aircraft guns resumed their lethal barking, if the Qur'an admonishes me to have faith in the Bible, then clearly it could not have been changed in Muhammad's time. If then I say that it was changed afterwards, then I am really disobeying God and refusing to believe him. After all, if God knew that his word would be changed later, he would never have endorsed it in the first place. Or so I reasoned. In any case, I was determined to get hold of a Bible again.