This is a speech I delivered at the launching of the book 'Silent Struggle' by Irfan Hafiz at Dargha Town on the 19th of February 2012. Irfan Hafuz iu suffering from an uncommon and incurable disease called Duchene Nuscular Disease (DMD). This book is a collection of poems that young Irfan had penned in so poignant and moving manner.
Faith over Fate
Hameed Abdul Karim
‘For us Allah sufficeth and He is the best disposer of affairs’
It’s hard to tell your own story. It becomes harder still if that story is one of pain and anguish as is the story of young Irfan. Reading his poems one can’t help but believe that his story has been wrenched from his heart with the noble purpose of transferring it, ever so gently, into the hearts and minds of men blessed with good health and inspiring them to think thoughts of life and its grueling trudge, thoughts that might have otherwise eluded them as they recline in the joy and comforts that Allah subhanahu wa ta’la has provided them. But every once in a while comes a story that jolts our souls, shatters our thoughts and bring us back to the reality of life in its very essence. This is the balance that Allah provides for us so that we can reflect on the actuality of this earthly life.
This is the impact that I had when I went through Irfan’s poems, narrated so poignantly, that reflection on life becomes compulsory.
Irfan’s debilitating disease, of which I had not heard before, reminded me of a striking verse in the noble Qur’an which says ‘Allah does not test a person more than what he can bear’. And of course of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jailani (RA) when he said ‘Be content with straightened circumstances and steadfastly persevere therein, until the prescript of destiny expires and you are promoted to a higher and finer level. There you will be comfortably installed and made secure, with no worldly or otherworldly problems, no persecution or harassment. Then you will progress beyond this stage to something more delightful and wholesome’.
But how do you expect a child, as young in age as Irfan, to grapple with the depth and enormity of such spiritualised statements when all he wanted to do was what other children his age loved to do? Like playing cricket in the park with his brothers and friends? Like wanting to study and become a man in life?
It’s hard not to be moved to tears when Irfan says that he loved to play cricket but couldn’t because of his devastating disease. It seems he loves cricket with a passion – a passion I share with him. But all he could do was to be satisfied with the role of an umpire wobbling around the stumps and taking joy when players accepted his decision without questioning him or abusing him with the usual slangs that are associated with ‘picnic’ cricket. Wouldn’t he have loved to run in the in the wide expanses of the open fields in his hometown screaming and shouting, flailing his hands in the air with hoops of joy like I did when I was his age? Wouldn’t he have loved to have his laughter locked in time and stored in space over the land he grew up in, like mine is? What wouldn’t he have given to make memories of his childhood, memories that he could draw upon and savour in times of solitude? These are the thoughts that crowd my mind and crush my spirit. Why couldn’t Irfan have the same bliss that I had in my youth, the joy of learning, the pleasure in making new friends and the ecstasy of growing up?
Understandably Irfan cannot control his feelings when he describes in such agonising turn of phrase the passing away of his brother. Death came surreptitiously like a thief in the night and snatched away his brother. As your read Irfan’s poem on his brother your heart wants to leap out of your breast to reach out and whisper in his ear a word of solace that hopefully might console the poor lad. But such expressions of sympathy are hard to come by. What can mere words, if you actually can find them, do to reduce the grief of an ailing kid who treasured his brother so? A brother who was at his side at every turn in his moments of need? A companion and friend so hopelessly devoted to his ailing brother? A brother who sacrificed so much to ensure that he was at every beck and call of his ailing brother? And yet it was the brother who went first. How cruel could fate be?
Spare a thought for the family. One can only imagine the trauma they must have experienced at the loss of someone like a brother and a son. Yes, we can only imagine, but we’ll never be able to comprehend the enormity of the grief.
Take Irfan’s father. Here he is tending for his ailing son and then finds out his older boy is afflicted with a disease for which there is no cure. Can we imagine the thoughts that must have tormented him as he went about his daily chores, or when he slept at night? Can we feel the pain that must have broken his heart as he looked upon his ailing son trying to push aside the nagging thought that very soon he’ll be gone forever?
This incident reminds me of a trying experience that I went through when my little daughter was afflicted with the Dengue fever. I was beside myself with grief and broke down and cried like a child when I heard the dreadful news. A lot of children had died of the disease then and as I cuddled my little girl in my arms a frightening thought struck me. Would she die? And I cried out ‘Ya, Allah! Please don’t take my girl. Take me instead. I will not be able to live a single moment if she were to die. This is how all fathers feel about their children. And it is absolutely natural. Ponder awhile, then, on the dilemma of Irfan’s father – a father who had to bury his own child. It does not seem fair. I pray to Allah that no father be put to such a tribulation.
This takes us to the poem Irfan has dedicated to his mother whom he describes in so touching a manner and with such eloquence that you would be hard put to hold back your tears given the circumstances under which the words are penned down. He pours out his love and affection for her in such reverent terms that makes you wonder how such expressions of devotion could enter a mind of a child as young as he. Consider also the fact that he was untutored in the English language. I read the poem over and over again trying to fathom this puzzle. Eventually I came to the conclusion that a mind enveloped in loneliness can go into its deepest recesses and discover words that initially would have been hard to find.
The curious thing about Irfan’s poems is that you can connect yourself with his poetry instantly. He describes his mother as a ‘true definition of patience’ and goes on to say ‘though your life is piled up with trials your face is always beaming with smiles’. I found that very inspiring. She is putting up a brave face for her son. Poor mother! I am sure tears must roll down her cheeks in moments of privacy as she prays with her head buried in her chest for her Irfan whilst grieving for her departed son. ‘Your bowing down to Allah’s decree when you lost your beloved son was so amazing’ says Irfan. ‘And never did I notice a frown on your face’ as you took care of me and as you fed me meals that you cooked so lovingly. How much more can a mother take, before she breaks down and cries, a forlorn cry, to Allah to shower His mercy on her family!
To be sure Irfan’s poetry is not all grief. There are moments of joy. Take the one when, when from out the blues, came a glimmer of hope. Irfan was despondent and resigned to his fate when came a letter from Dr. Elizabeth Vroom taking note of his condition and inviting his father to a conference which is designed to find a cure for DMD. Now there was fresh hope.
Then there was the incident when Irfan says his ventilator had packed up and that he was sorely in need of a new one to keep going. We experience his moments of despair as he struggles to keep body and soul together whilst illustrating the need for a new ventilator. Then when all hope is lost, comes a call telling Irfan to send someone over to an office in Colombo to collect a brand new ventilator which had been gifted by a company called BREAS. You can almost touch Irfan’s delight; feel his joy as he received this unexpected gift from a Marie Nygren in Sweden. Whilst reading this bit of the story I couldn’t hold back a celebratory whoop of elation like as if I was living the story. Humanity is not dead. There are people who care for the well being of those of us who are in dire straits. Indeed Allah says in the Qur’an ‘do not despair of the mercy of Allah’. For ‘certainly with hardship there is ease’ as Irfan reminds us quoting a verse from the noble Qur’an.
If you think young Irfan’s dreadful disease has sapped his energy or crushed the spirit of youth in his heart you would be sadly mistaken. The guy is quite plucky. He says he’s courageous and proves it by learning English so that he could learn more about the world. He’s also quite active on the computer reaching out to many friends he has made on the internet and he goes on with his life with daring aplomb. His unshakeable faith in his Creator, he says, has helped him construct a strong will power which enables him to accept his fate with self-confidence. Many of us, I think, would have been crushed by the terrible fate that has been Irfan’s lot. But then Irfan is quite an exceptional lad. He is firmer in faith than many of us. And if ever you wanted to know of a victory of faith over fate, you wouldn’t have to go too far. Irfan provides you with the best of examples.