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The Bond of Nightmares
By Rafi Mustafa

After all these years, the memory of my mother running for her life along a dirt road still haunts me in my nightmares. I was desperately running behind her but could not keep up. I was only six years old and could only run so fast. She had tied all our belongings in a bundle that she carried on her head. She stopped from time to time and looked back to see how far behind I was. "Hurry up, son!" she would scream, but I could not run any faster. My father was left behind somewhere and I kept looking back to see if he was anywhere in sight. I could see a long line of people - men, women and children running and walking with us. I knew that my father would eventually catch up.

We were running for our life to cross the border from India into Pakistan. I was told that Pakistan was our new country. We were Muslims and did not belong to our homeland anymore for some reason. We had spent terror-filled days and months, seeking refuge and spending sleepless nights. People stayed up all night guarding their homes and being on the look out. We heard about trainloads of corpses entering Pakistan, stories of massacres of Muslim communities in neighbouring villages. We were always on edge.

As I am turning sixty, that dirt road is still a part of my life. I am still
running desperately to get hold of my mother. In my nightmares I am always six years old.

I came to Canada as a student about 35 years ago. When I returned to
Pakistan after my studies and joined my old teaching job at the university, I found that it was not the same country any more. I could not understand what had gone wrong in the four years I was away. The country was taken over by madness. People were killing people. They called it the language riots. The campus was taken over by rioters. They wanted to kick out every professor who didn't speak the right language. I was on the run again to save my family but there was nowhere to go. Several days later I managed to visit the hospital in which many colleagues and their spouses lay with cracked skulls and broken limbs. My father told me I should go back to Canada.

Several months later, as we were going through the security check at Karachi airport my son asked me why grandma and grandpa were not coming with us. I stopped for a moment and looked back at my parents. I could not leave them. They were old and needed my help. I wanted to turn back but then I saw my father waving goodbye. His long white beard was covered with tears. He could see my hesitation. He gestured with his hand asking me to go. I didn't know then that it was the last time I was seeing him.

That was the time when new nightmares were added to my stock. It is always pitch dark and I am running away from rioters. Sometimes I am on a runway, chasing a plane that is leaving us behind. My wife and children are following me. I turn back and ask them to hurry up and then start running again. I am always missing flights, getting lost in a maze at an unknown airport or not having enough money to buy airline tickets for my family.

The other day my wife asked me if there was a possibility that we may have to leave Canada one day. Hatred is in the air. I remembered a conversation in which someone said, "These Muslims are a cancer for humanity. They must be wiped out if humanity is to survive". I did not tell them that I was a Muslim. The anger and frustration over the recent events is natural. But as a Muslim I refuse to accept any blame for it. I have accepted Canada as my country only for one reason. I am tired of being oppressed for who I am. I cherish my freedom and value it over everything else. This is where home is and will continue to be until I die. I am too old and too tired to start a new life one more time and I don't need any new nightmares.

As I watched the World Trade Center come down, I was horrified to see the panic of those who were fleeing death. I know that they will relive this event again and again in their nightmares for the rest of their lives. I also tried to visualize what was happening on the ground as we had watched the bombing of Baghdad ten years ago. At times I see an Israeli settler running for cover with his child under his arm. Are his nightmares any different from mine or from those of a Palestinian mother carrying the lifeless body of her baby and crying with despair? I see images of a mother in strife-torn Africa carrying her child whose life is coming to end due to starvation. I wish I could find out what kind of nightmares she has.

I once met a holocaust survivor, the grandmother of someone I knew. I wanted to ask her about her nightmares. Then I remember the face of an Iraqi woman running on a deserted street in Baghdad during a bombing run. Her mouth is wide open and her eyes are bulging with terror. Does she have the same nightmares as that little Vietnamese girl with napalm burns, running naked on a street in Saigon, crying for help?

At times I feel that all these people are related to me. We share a common bond - the bond of nightmares.


Your Comments

theresa, minneapolis - wrote on 10/10/2010 5:34:40 PM
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Comment: My heart is aching for all the walking wounded.. I am alhamd ul allah a muslim .. My nephew is an American Iraqii war Vet. This weekend was his 4th suicide attempt. He wanted to ask us from the VA hospital lock down unit; "What is Islams take on what I did over there.. He still won't say more than that he killed people... How do I help him fight his demons..


Compash, UK - wrote on 7/21/2003 5:17:31 AM
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Comment: When I read this, I had tears in my eyes. So true. So distressing. Scary.... but it shows it is life, life is full of tests. Isn't? Today, I did dream of myself running for my freedoom, it was so horrible, cuz there was many people trying to stop me to escape.... to imrprison me into world of controls..... and when I saw this article, I can kinda relate it....... but mine is small compared with yours. We all just have to learn to accept each other for peace. Isn't?


Sana, USA-GA - wrote on 6/6/2003 6:23:47 PM
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Comment: Assalamu alaikum: beautiful article relating all mankind. We all cry the same tears.


shezana, london - wrote on 6/6/2003 4:06:42 PM
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Comment: salaamz u r alwayz in my duas now.i would like to say it is natural to feel alone in this world, but remember allah is alwayz there.just keep busy in ur salaah and the dhikr of allah. insahallah allah will grant u peace. u wil be remembered in my duas . may allah take away ur fears and grant u peace and wisdom.and give you jannah in the akirah (ameen)


Ouissam, Hong Kong - wrote on 5/21/2003 2:50:50 AM
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Comment: Assalamu alaikum: I was in the public library when I came across this article, people were all staring at me as I couldn't stop my tears. I do feel related very much to this person to whom I pray that Allah will give peace and strangth. You see nightmares just because you feel alone, if only you knew how many muslim people are feeling for you and at this very moment are praying for you, you will never see nightmares any more.


lubna, newbedford - wrote on 4/12/2003 10:39:54 AM
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Comment: as salam alay kum wa rahmatullahi barakatuh i would say that duas is gonna keep u peaceful and always remember allah bcoz where there is allah there is a way may allah give u a good life in here after (aamin)salam


Zamzam, MN / USA - wrote on 3/30/2003 10:36:02 PM
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Comment: Asalamaalykum,just want to say that article is very emotional and it discribes what majority of us have undergone and Allah is always testing our Iman, the person who called the Muslims "Cancer" was ignorrant and needed to be educated about ISLAM.


Syed Abbas, Toronto - wrote on 3/25/2003 7:49:15 PM
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Comment: A magnaficient piece of writing and touching. i am also doing a project on this essay and i am very touched by it.


suaad valli, leicester/england - wrote on 3/5/2003 11:41:44 AM
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Comment: it was a very interesting piece of writing!


KALSOOM, U.K. BRADFORD - wrote on 3/5/2003 5:43:00 AM
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Comment: i just wanna say that this article is a very emotional piece and there is not 1 person who hasn't been touched by it. I have 2 say that i cant feel or understand what you've been through but all i can say is be proud of the individual Muslim you are. If someone criticises or insults Muslims, then defend us as we are one ummah. Inshallah Allah will help you in your difficulties. After all, life is a test


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