A Quarter of a Century Ago

by Dr. Khalid Zaheer


My father, Syed Fasihuddin, died a quarter of century ago, on February 21, 1977. With him ended one phase of my life. And another began.

I was a few months away from my nineteenth birthday when it happened. His influence on me was as profound as a father can have on a son. During his life I couldn't imagine doing anything without keeping him in my plans. Despite the deep attachment I had with him, I was able to survive the shock of his death, even though for a few months after him, I was wondering whether there was really any reason for me to live any more. The one quest that obsessed me during that period was to know where my father had gone. In other words, I wanted to know whether he got transferred to another world, as the traditional wisdom would make me believe, or whether he had perished into nothingness, as my own teenage philosophical understanding influenced by Bertrand Russell and the likes would lead me to conclude.

Prior to the death of my father, I considered myself an atheist. I had stopped praying for quite sometime and had quietly concluded on my own that it was primarily the wishful thinking of some noble men that had led to the creation of traditional religion. It was a casual conclusion drawn partly under the influence of the forceful writings of authors like Russell and partly because that view enabled me to pursue my teenage ambitions with carefree abandon.

My father's death however forced my intellect to question the basis of the philosophy, which had earlier influenced me because I had questioned the roots of traditional religion. It seemed to me that the kind of reality my father's death had thrown across at me to confront, my Godless world-view was incapable of handling the questions my mind was raising as a consequence of it. Surprisingly the line of thinking I had admired for years for being intellectually superior to the traditional wisdom all of a sudden seemed completely baseless and bereft of any shred of sanity in it. It dawned upon me then that I was helped by some intelligent but misguided intellectuals to build a splendid structure on the foundation of my desires, which was blown into pieces by the reality of my father's death.

The only other source to look up to for overcoming my anxiety was the Qur'an, the book I had hitherto only read to complete the traditional formality in the Muslim families of reciting its Arabic text once. Thanks to my teacher's overwhelming propensity to sleep while I used to read out the text to him, I was able to conveniently skip many pages without getting noticed. I had thus not read even the original Arabic text of the Qur'an from cover to cover. However, when I approached the book with a view to find answers to the extremely pressing questions that my wretched mind was raising after my father's death, my spiritual and intellectual satisfaction was unbelievable. Even my initial attempt at understanding the meanings of life and death was so richly rewarding that the thirst it created for more knowledge has not been quenched as yet. In fact, it has only increased. It's amazing how such a relatively brief text could manage to retain its freshness for me despite being read over and over again on numerous occasions in the last twenty-five years.

I came to realize that the only reason why I am getting the kind of response from the Qur'an which many others complain they don't get is that I was able to satisfy the most significant condition the book demands from its reader for getting proper guidance from it: honest yearning to know the truth. That yearning was forced on me by my circumstances. It was as if I had no choice but to seek answers to the pressing questions I was struggling with. Because of that temporary phase in my life when I was able to completely reject all forms of worldly ambitions, I was able to make myself fully available to the Qur'an for guidance, and what I got was -- and still is -- like the unstoppable flow from the font of Zam Zam, the immense wisdom of the Qur'an. It is amazing for me to imagine how privileged I have been in getting introduced to the Qur'anic wisdom despite not deserving it. But then that's how God's mercy is: boundless.

The truth is that if you approach the Qur'an with strings of conditions attached to your probing, you are bound to fail in your quest. However, if you surrender yourself to that greatest treasure of knowledge unconditionally, its marvellous wisdom will never disappoint you.

I owe my guidance to the Almighty, Who despite my numerous shortcomings considered me worthy of coming close to His Book, which is unquestionably the greatest blessing one can pray to get in this worldly life. I also owe it, even though indirectly, to the deep attachment I had with my late father, whose death took away from me the obsessive love of worldly life and thus the way was paved for me to learn the Qur'an. May Allah Almighty forgive him and shower His mercy on him.


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