By Dr. Sajjaad Suhail Khalil.
As I begin my 26 hour journey back to Manchester, England, I feel there’s enough time to reflect on the last 260 hours I have spent in Pakistan. Travelling always opens the mind but travelling to Pakistan is a priceless educational experience that only improves every time.
In 1947, having defeated the humiliations of colonialism, a country nurturing the independence of Muslims was born. Pakistan, the Land of the Pure, was founded by true legends on the principles of equality, solidarity and freedom. As I sit in seat 17 on a coach en route to Rawalpindi, I impatiently ask myself what the key to achieving this accomplishment was. Empowering the disempowered to stand up and believe collectively in human equality; the right of human beings to dignity, justice and freedom. A year after independence in his speech to the State Bank of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, expressed a key message, ‘we must present to the world an economic system based on the true Islamic concept of manhood and social justice. We will thereby be fulfilling our mission as Muslims.’ It is elements of this compassion that Jinnah emphasised so highly that has been evident in my trip.
Landing in Pakistan is always an exciting affair. Instead of the usual flight to Lahore, this time we began our adventure in Islamabad, and rather than being greeted by the beeping of rallying rickshaws, we witnessed the sophisticated infrastructure the capital had to offer. Home to one of the largest mosques in south Asia and some of the most prestigious universities in the country, Islamabad really does hold a special rank in terms of academic excellence and architectural design. The outstanding view from the top of Margalla hills was a fitting welcome to our beautiful country.
Many people prior to travelling, just as in life, make plans and have ambitions to achieve those plans. What we must remind ourselves is that in travel, just as in life, Allah also has a plan for us. That does not mean we should limit our ambition but instead we ought to show versatility if the plan changes. It was Allah’s decision that our plan to explore the beautiful Pashtun heartlands of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were put on hold for this trip. Just as food and drink is appreciated even more after a day of fasting, our increasing thirst to see one of the world’s most awe-inspiring places is yet to be quenched. Insha’Allah when the time is right.
Badshahi Mosque Lahore, Pakistan.
Lahore – the energetic city. The city that just keeps going. As Islamabad sleeps, Lahore takes over, like a tireless nurse providing the continuity of care through to the morning in an exceptionally well-functioning hospital. Again, a manifestation of what made and makes Pakistan so special. The constant determination to keep going and not give up. The determination of those involved in the Lahore resolution when trying to gain independence. The determination of the Tigers of 1992 and of course the determination of every school child on a daily basis to seek knowledge despite atrocities that have tested this special nation.
Many had prepared me. Lahore is to Pakistan, as London is to England. The concept I understand. Housing a humongous number of people from all walks of life in a city that entertains, has gorgeous food and runs like clockwork. I see the similarities. However, like two strangers that look alike, both can learn from each other. London with its awesome atmosphere yet cold demeanour can take a sweet lesson from the warm hospitality and user-friendly interface the people of Lahore collectively form. Densely populated cities in essence will be more polluted than everywhere else. However, the people of Lahore along with the whole of Pakistan (including parts of Islamabad) can take heed from the likes of people in cities like London in preserving its own streets by simply not littering. After all, it is a country that many have sacrificed so much to have, that many hold so dear to their hearts and land over which Allah has appointed us as custodians.
Sadiq High School, Bahawalpur, Pakistan.
Bahawalpur bazaar is always a phenomenal experience. Being greeted by the incessant buzzing of passing rickshaws, donkeys pulling fruit-filled karts through crowds of bargain-searching customers and the smell of samosas as they sizzle in a nearby frying pan. Meeting the cheerful shoe-maker sitting cross legged outside a makeshift shop that was selling handmade utensils. A lesson that smiling and happiness are essential ingredients to help deal with the duties of work and to leave a lasting impression on those around you. I recall meandering further through the market and being enveloped by a wave of people, two motorcycles skidded to a halt as a donkey kart carrying a neat heap of aromatic mangoes emerged. My favourite fruit. Clothes shops loaded with enough cloth to clothe the entire global population dominate Bahawalpur’s market, but it’s the warm hospitable atmosphere that filters its way through the narrow alleys of the city in which my father was brought up, that reminds me of the principles Pakistan was founded upon.
Just as landing on a Pakistani runway ignites an excitable thrill, leaving Pakistan is always difficult. All praise and thanks are to Allah for allowing us to visit yet again and We ask Him to bless this country and it’s people with good. Bahawalpur is usually the last notable stop before a brisk journey like this coach ride to Rawalpindi, and a flight from one of the country’s airports, takes us back to reality. England.
On every street corner, in every shop, and living room the same topic comes up in conversation. A discussion that’s usually had over a bottle of coke with an overhead fan and television set broadcasting the country’s political drama. The topic of ‘take me to England’. The palpable desire to leave Pakistan and chase ambition in Britain has existed for years. The same empire that initially through the East India Company and later through the British Army controlled the land held so dear to so many for much of the nineteenth century. The grass is always greener on the other side.
Dear people of Pakistan, thank you for the amazing experience in a country that is so full of potential, passion and perseverance. The potential to develop further, to revolutionaries industries, to nurture talent. The passion is present in every individual to improve the state of affairs of the country. The perseverance is evident in those who struggle so hard on a daily basis to keep things flowing.
Dear people of Pakistan, recognise the beauty of this land, appreciate the blessings of Allah and unite in order to surpass those that wish to see the end of you. May Allah protect you.
Dear people of Pakistan, let’s remind ourselves that it was Allama Iqbal himself that considered pride in one’s lineage or caste to be one of the major reasons for the downfall of Muslims. Accept that there is no hierarchy or aristocracy in Islam and let us treat each other with kindness so that we can become united to achieve our collective goals.
As my journey continues through the night, my ramblings are becoming more and more illogical. My du’as for the Muslims of Pakistan and all around the world. May Allah guide us all and allow us to succeed in this life but most importantly the next. May Allah accept and reward the incredible individuals who made our adventure so memorable. Before I finish and head back to my window seat to peer out at the world outside, I leave you with this ayah in the Qur’an:
‘Hold tight to the rope of Allah and do not become divided.’
Sajjaad Suhail Khalil ( writer is a young doctor based in Manchester )