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Non-Fiction: Hope and faith

Reviewed by Aliya Anjum
Sunday, 09 May, 2010 | 07:14 AM PST |

Watching TVSuleman Ahmer has penned down his experiences as a relief worker, an assignment he took upon himself after quitting graduate school in US to go in aid of suffering Bosnians in the midst of the Balkan war. What could be considered a quixotic gesture became a decade-long passion.

In a daring attempt Ahmer arrived in Vienna to take the train to Zagreb in Croatia from where he crossed into Bosnia through the only possible route of entry open at the time. .

After surviving the Slovenian border patrol, who inquired if ‘jeet-had’ (jihad) had prompted their arrival, he and his friends were prepared for more of the same from the Croatian patrol.

To their surprise, they were met with handshakes and smiles at the sight of their Pakistani passports since Pakistan was one of the first countries to recognise Croatia as a sovereign state in 1991.

In Croatia, the heartbreaking misery of homeless Bosnians was being relieved in bits by volunteers from Egypt, Sudan, Saudia Arabia, Yemen and Algeria. Surrounding them were the living victims of the horrors of war.

Survivors of concentration camps, children who’d lost both parents and destitute helpless Bosnians awaited Ahmer.

The book consists of short chapters which are reflections of events in the course of the relief work that took the author to the Balkans and Tajikistan, where the tragic fallouts of the disintegration of the Soviet Union manifested themselves on the Muslims.

There are innumerable touching anecdotes in Ahmer’s account which will pull at the reader’s heartstrings. The kindness, compassion and service of absolute strangers from faraway Muslim countries in aid of Bosnian Muslims affirm one’s faith in the goodness of the human spirit.

In the spring of 1993 a group of Bosnian refugees were eking out an existence in a small Croatian village called Bashka Voda along the Adriatic Sea.

Displaying a remarkably resilient Muslim identity which even years of Communism could not crush, the youths among them showed great enthusiasm for learning the basic tenets of Islam and its rituals. The author managed to arrange for a class, but finding no suitable teacher took it upon himself to fulfil the task.

The existence of God itself was a new discovery for children who were taught in school that there was no God.

As they learnt about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his struggles in Makkah, a young boy innocently asked if it was as difficult to be a Muslim in those days as it was for them now. Tears flowed in the classroom and later in the author’s eyes too when he drove home. .

The strength of faith in overwhelming adversity was, however, witnessed a few days later when the Croatian government announced the shifting of the refugees to a Serb border town unsafe from shells and where rumour had it that Bosnians prisoners were likely to be traded in exchange for Croatian prisoners.

When this news was conveyed to Ahmer during class, the elders broke into tears followed by children.

In a desperate bid to offer hope — the means of which he had few — Ahmer offered them to choose between being an American who had everything and a Bosnian who had nothing but the promise of a place in paradise on Judgement Day.

The unanimous choice was to be Bosnian, a testament to the indomitable human spirit aided through faith.

There are many stories contained in this book where sacrifice and compassion is epitomised by those who ultimately gave their lives for those they had come to save.

The Embattled Innocence
By Suleman Ahmer

ISBN 1-58820-806-0
Presslenders Publishers, US
87pp. Rs395