The Twain Shall Meet
01 December 2001

Idrees’s cousin, who was studying in London, tried to deter me from going to Pakistan by quoting ‘East is East and West is West and ne’er the twain shall meet’.

Waving my husband, Idrees, goodbye as he flew off to his country of birth, Pakistan, after the tragic terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, I had mixed feelings. He was going to visit his family and, in particular, his brother who had suffered a severe heart attack. I had planned to accompany him but cancelled my trip on Foreign Office advice.

I recall travelling to Pakistan to get married in 1966. I, a Christian, had met Idrees, a Muslim, four years earlier in Cardiff where I worked as a secretary at the University. He was working as an operations research engineer.

Idrees’s cousin, who was studying in London, tried to deter me from going to Pakistan by quoting ‘East is East and West is West and ne’er the twain shall meet’. And a kindly professor of music, married to an Austrian Jew, quietly suggested that a good place for us to live would be ‘anywhere in Scandinavia’.

But we lived in Pakistan for three happy years before moving to Teheran, Iran. By then we had our daughter, Sarah.

One summer we went by car to Pakistan. The journey took us through the Elburz mountains, east to Mashhad, the Shia holy city, and on through Afghanistan. Sometimes we would pass a rickety bus laden with people and animals. At the appropriate times the buses would stop and everyone would tumble out to say their prayers.

During the month of Ramadan Muslims fast during daylight hours. I remember my first Ramadan in Pakistan. Idrees and his brothers used to finish work early so that they could break their fast at home. They would play badminton on the lawn and the excitement would build up as the sun set and the time for Iftar came near.

The fast draws Muslims together all over the world. In their hunger and thirst they are reminded of people less fortunate than themselves. When people meet they ask one another, ‘Are you observing the fast?’

On the 27th night of Ramadan Muslims observe the ‘Night of Power’ in commemoration of the Angel Gabriel’s command to the Holy Prophet Mohammed to recite the Qu’ran.

This year Ramadan will fall before Christmas. Muslims have a great love of Jesus, and Islam is the only religion apart from Christianity which talks about Jesus and his ministry. The miraculous birth of Jesus and the virginity of Mary are in the Qu’ran, which also states that Jesus and Mary are sinless. Jesus is referred to as the Spirit of Allah and Mohammed as the Apostle of Allah. Muslims see Jesus as the bridge-builder between Moses and Mohammed.

In 1992 we attended a conference in Panchgani, India, on ‘Reflection, healing and reconciliation’. We were deeply moved when we met a Hindu couple from Kashmir who had been abducted by young Kashmiris. Mr and Mrs Wakhlu spoke of their terrifying experience before the Kashmiris released them and were themselves captured by the Indian army. I realized that my husband, whilst sympathizing with their plight, would have torn feelings about the Muslims in Kashmir.

That evening a Muslim woman from Bangladesh gave a talk in which she castigated Pakistan. I thought this would be a further blow to Idrees and half expected him to say that we should leave. But, instead, he went to speak to the woman. She did not want to let go of her hurts—but that was her decision. We just have to trust the process and let go.

Each day at the conference we supported each other by prayer and quiet times together. When it was our turn to speak Idrees described the point in his life when he had overcome his resentment towards the British, the Hindus and the Sikhs for the bitterness and feelings of loss and hurt he had felt as a young boy during Partition, when his family lost their home. He then apologized to the Hindus and Sikhs in the audience for the suffering that some Muslims had caused their communities. He asked for their forgiveness.

There were tears and handshakes all round. Suddenly the conference was alive with people expressing feelings of regret. For the first time we felt we belonged. By dealing with his own need for healing my husband had something to give to others.

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