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