I would not, in the ordinary course of events havewanted to come to England, that Spring of 1966. I,Gulshan Fatima, the youngest daughter of a MuslimSayed family, descended from the prophet Mohammedthrough that other Fatima, his daughter, had alwayslived a quietly secluded life at home in the Punjab,Pakistan. Not only was this because I was brought upin purdah from the age of seven, according to thestrict, orthodox Islamic code of the Shias, but also because I was a cripple, and unable even to leave myroom without help. My face was veiled from men,other than permitted kinsfolk, like my father and twoolder brothers, and uncle. For the most part, duringthose first fourteen years of my feeble existence, the perimeter walls of our large garden in Jhang, about250 miles from Lahore, were my boundaries.
I am doing what every Muslim childbrought up in an orthodox family does fromearly childhood—reading through the HolyQuran in Arabic.
It was Father who brought me to England—he wholooked down on the English for worshipping threegods, instead of one God. He would not even let melearn the infidel language in my lessons with Razia,my teacher, for fear I should somehow becomecontaminated with error and drawn away from our faith. Yet he brought me, after spending large sums ina fruitless search for treatment at home, to seek the best medical advice. He did this out of kindness andconcern for my future happiness, but how little weknew as we landed at Heathrow airport that early Aprilday, of the trouble and sadness that waited round thecorner for our family. Strange that I, the crippled child,the weakest of his five children, should have becomein the end the strongest of all, and a rock to shatter allhe held dear.I have only to shut my eyes, even now in maturity,and a picture rises before me of my father, dear Aba-Jan, so tall and lean in his well-tailored,high-necked, black coat trimmed with the gold buttons,over the loose trousers, and on his head the whiteturban lined with blue silk. I see him, as so often inchildhood, coming into my room to teach me myreligion.I see him standing by my bed, opposite the picture of the House of God at Mecca, Islam's holiest place, theKa'aba, erected it is said, by Abraham and repaired byMohammed. Father takes down the Holy Quran fromits high shelf, the highest place in the room, for nothing must be put on or above the Quran. He first of all kisses the green silk cover and recites the
. (I begin this in the name of Godthe Compassionate, the Merciful.) Then he unwrapsthe green silk cover—he has first carefully performedWudu, the ritual *ablutions necessary before carrying
or touching the holy book. He repeats the Bismillahand then glues the Holy Quran on a rail, a specialx-shaped stand, touching the book only with his finger tips. He sits so that I, propped on a chair can also see. Itoo have performed Wudu, with the help of my maids.With his finger Father traces the sacred writings inthe decorative Arabic script, and I, anxious to please,repeat after him the
, the Opening, words which bind together all Muslims, everywhere:
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Creation,The Compassionate, the Merciful, King of Judgement-day!You alone we worship, and to You alonewe pray for help.Guide us to the straight pathThe path of those whom You have favored, Not of those who have incurred Your wrath, Nor of those who have gone astray.
Today we are reading from the Sura
Allah! There is no God but Him, the Living, the Ever-existent One. He has revealed to you the Book with the truth,confirming the scriptures which preceded it: for Hehas already revealed the Torah and the Gospel for the guidance of men and the distinction between right and wrong.
I am doing what every Muslim child brought up in anorthodox family does from early childhood—readingthrough the Holy Quran in Arabic. It can only really beunderstood in the Arabic in which it was written. WeMuslims know that it cannot be translated, as if it were just any book, without losing some of its meaning, because it is sacred.When I shall have finished reading it through for thefirst time—around the age of seven, regarded as theage of discretion—there will be a feast to celebrate— we call it the "ameen of the Holy Quran"—andmembers of the family, friends and neighbors will beinvited. In the central open courtyard of our bungalow,where the men sit separated from the women by a partition, the mullah will recite prayers to mark myarrival at this important new stage of life, and thewomen, sitting in their part of the courtyard, will hushtheir gossip to listen.
My name, Gulshan, means in Urdu, "theplace of flowers, the garden."I was a sicklyplant to bear such a name.
We have reached the end of the Sura. Now comes mycatechism. Father looks at me with a smile hovering