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  • Writer's pictureAslam Abdullah

Spread Your Wings of Mercy upon Your Parent

Each one of us has inspirational stories in our lives. They live in our memories and, most of the time, are untold. They are inspirational. They tell of our history, culture, and way of life. In this article, Mohammad Yacoob, a naturalized US citizen, captures the lives of his parents to give us a glimpse of the Muslim culture in Hyderabad. He is a professional engineer and philanthropist.

By Mohammad Yacoob

Los Angeles, California

My father, Mohamed Abdul Khader


My mother, Amina Begum

Not a day goes by when I don't think of my mother and father. I love them; the acronym FAMILY says it all—Father And Mother I Love You. Very few human beings have been inspired by both parents. I am one of the lucky few.

Each parent cared for me and my siblings in their own way without having to say it. My mother knew her rights and responsibilities as a strong Muslim woman and used them very effectively to protect the family and children. Her advice and concerns to me were not only from a woman's perspective, but she informed me how to protect the female members of the family and warned the male members how to behave. My father gave me advice not by giving lectures but by using a few words. He discussed politics with me, made me read editorials on current topics from the local newspaper, and encouraged me to excel by employing unique methods available at hand.

There are hundreds of reasons to thank Almighty God for giving me such a good and strong mother and father. I would first like to talk about my mother. Her actions reflected my family's traditions at the highest level of decision-making. As a Muslim, my mother knew the rights Islam gave her. She was a decision-maker and never shied away from expressing her opinions, occasionally using very powerful words, a rare trait among women.

In the 1940s, my family lived in Poona, now known as Pune, approximately a hundred miles from Mumbai. One day, she sent me back to our hometown, Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad Deccan, south India. I was angry at my mother. With time, I became very much attached to my grandmother. Almost fifteen years later – ten years after the partition of the Indo-Pak Sub-continent – my grandmother told me the truth as to why I was suddenly shipped to our hometown, Secunderabad, from Poona. My uncle, Major Iqbal, a distant relative of my father, was the Municipal Commissioner of Sialkot. Since he was a retired army officer, my granduncle asked him to join him and his two nephews in Poona. Our granduncle, my father, and my uncle (Taya Abba) were in the construction and supply business for the Indian army.

Major Iqbal and my aunt were charming people. They loved children, perhaps because they did not have their own. One day, my aunt mentioned to someone that she was thinking of adopting me and was making plans to make a formal request to our granduncle, the family patriarch. If the family patriarch consents to such a request, then it is hard for any family member to refuse his decision. Hearing this from a very reliable source, my mother knew that my father would agree with his uncle for my adoption and shipped me to Secunderabad. I have no idea what transpired after I departed from Poona because I never saw my aunt and Major Iqbal again. My grandmother never gave any details.

Our family business was in Poona, Devlali City, Secunderabad, and Bengaluru (Banglore). My father moved from Poona/Devlali to Bengaluru, and my parents stopped in Secunderabad for a few days on their way and took me to Bengaluru with them, along with my other siblings.

My father was also a very outspoken man. He was interested in his children's welfare and wished us the utmost excellence in life like any other father. Yet he used his assertive and do-it-now style to make us do things. Since he spent most of his life with military personnel as an army contractor, I believe the military traits rubbed off on him. I still have one of my father's business cards printed over 85 years ago in 1935. It has a beautiful pink colored rose flower with four buds and a few rose leaves on the top left-hand corner, and next to it is his name: Mohamed A. Khader, R.I.A.S.C. Contractor, an acronym for Royal Indian Army Service Corps Contractor.

In addition to the construction and supply business, our family also ran an eatery, 'Supper Bar,' in the Military Complex and built houses for our extended family. Being a smart child, he learned to speak English, but even later in life, he deliberately never spoke fluently to avoid being told to read or write something because he never learned to read or write English.

My father was ten years old when he went to the Supper Bar in the evening. The cashier asked him to stay at the cash register for a few minutes and went to the bathroom. An army private approached the register and asked my father for something. He told him to wait. After a few minutes, the private got impatient and turned to my father. Looking directly into his eyes, he cursed him, saying, "You bloody chap!" After hearing those words, my father got upset; he placed his left arm on the counter, leaned on the left side, raised his right hand and hit the army private on the jaw, dropped to the ground, turned to the other side of the counter, crawled under it, stood up and ran. The private gave a chase. Spying an army officer nearby, my father ran and stood next to him. The private and the officer had a brief conversation, which ended with the officer telling the private to leave the little "chap" alone. My father, a brave kid, may not have been thinking about the consequences of his actions, but at the same time, he could not stand insulted, even as a young boy.

The military contracts were managed by our granduncle Shaikh Mohammad Ibrahim, my uncle Shaikh Mohammad Younus, and my father Mohamed Abdul Khader, in many cities in India, including Poona, Devlali, Sholapur, Nasik, Bangalore, and Mysore. My father and uncle supervised the construction of our Marredpalli locality house in Secunderabad, two identically looking houses on each side of the street known as 'Kingsway' and a commercial building rented to the Punjab National Bank. (The Marredpalli house, where I was born, known as the Ibrahim Mansion, became a poster house for the Associated Cement Company because our construction company used their cement for the first time.

As a man, he was adamant. Acutely conscious of time, he believed in punctuality, another military trait. His association and dealings with the army made him a very time-conscious person. My father would hire masons and day laborers to start work at 7 am. If a laborer showed up to work at 7:15, he would send him home and tell him to return the next day. Later in life, when he was sick and bedridden, he told my mother that he was suffering from all these illnesses, including emphysema, because of the curse of the poor laborers whom he had sent home for showing up late to work.

One day, in 1946 or 1947, when we went to the Mosque for Friday prayer, he told us to be ready by noon to leave the house. At around noon, I entered our parent's room. My dad looked at me, then looked at his watch and remarked, "Still one more minute left." After uttering those words, he sat on the corner of the bed. After a minute or so, he stood up after looking at his watch, saying, "It' s time to go." This incident had a profound effect on me on time management. Much of his advice that I never forgot includes:

"You must work hard in your studies. Do this with joy and enthusiasm."

"Beta (son), never be afraid of anybody." He said this without adding that you must use decency, etiquette, and good manners while talking to others or presenting your viewpoint.

"Polish your shoes very thoroughly; you should see your face when you look down while wearing them."

He was greatly interested in politics and often discussed newspaper editorials and the finer points of current events with me. He would ask me to read the editorials from the English "Deccan Chronicle" and the Urdu daily "Rahnuma-e Deccan" and talk about the glorious days of Hyderabad during the reign of H.E.H. Mir Osman Ali Khan Bahadur, Asif Jah Sabih, the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, one of the top ten wealthiest men of all times.

In the 1930s, the Nizam was one of the richest men in the world and king of the largest State in India. On February 22, 1937, the Nizam was on the cover of TIME Magazine, labeled the richest man in the world. I am an alumnus of Madras-a-Aliya High School, and it makes me happy to know that Aliya High School boasts alumni like Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan.

In 1955, the Government of India formed a Commission to restructure and reestablish the boundaries of various states in India. Nizam's State had three significant divisions or counties: Marathwada, Karnataka, and Telangana. The Commission recommended breaking up the Hyderabad State into three parts and giving them to three states. The people living in the Telengana area, where the capital of Hyderabad was located, started an agitation for a separate Telengana State. I studied physics, chemistry, and math in junior college. The university students were at the forefront of this agitation. One day, while I was reading one of the editorials for my father from the newspaper, he told me, "Beta (son) Mohammad Yacoob, go with the students, the protestors, and demonstrators. But pay attention to your studies. Telangana became part of Andhra, and the State of Andhra Pradesh existed. The Marathwada went to Bombay State, and the Karnataka division went to Karnataka State.

My father wanted his children to become engineers or doctors, and at the same time, he insisted that I learn typing and shorthand. "This is going to help you in life; you can take shorthand notes in the class during the lecture," he would say. How true it is today about typing in this age of personal computers! At that time, I resented learning typing and shorthand because most people who knew typing were male clerks in private companies or government offices in Hyderabad Deccan. My father's decision was final. Also, the high schools in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad did not offer any courses in typing and shorthand. He enrolled me in a nearby private typing institute.

The digital movements of the fingers and the rhythmic strokes of the keys caused pain in my fingers, but after a while, it became manageable. I started to like typing. In addition, I was learning shorthand from an instructor and finished the book Sir Isaac Pitman wrote after several months. After completing each exercise, the class would take dictation from the instructor. It would be news items or editorials from the 'Deccan Chronicle,' a newspaper published in the city of Secunderabad. The most amusing word I found during dictation was the name of the Indonesian Prime Minister in the 1950s' s, Ali Shastru-me-jojo. Every time the instructor uttered the name from the Deccan Chronicle editorial, I would smile or start laughing. I have now completely forgotten shorthand, but I do type every day and remember my father while sitting at the desk in front of my Personal Computer.

My father had a vision for me. He did not just say to me typing would help you do typing of college reports. He backed up his statement with a gift. He bought a petite portable typewriter for me. In this 21st century, we know hundreds of Hyderabadis and Indians are getting personal computers and cell phones from their parents. How many of us from the earlier generation got a typewriter in the 1950s from our parents? I don't know anybody.

My father was a chain smoker and developed emphysema. It became worse in the early 1980s. He developed audible wheezing while breathing, which often became unbearable. In the 1960s, he followed the doctor's orders to cut down on smoking in a very peculiar way. He would break a non-filter cigarette in half, smoke the first half, and pick up the second half from the packet immediately after finishing the first half. Thus, he continued his chain-smoking cycle. Then, he told the doctor that he had cut his smoking by almost 25% to 50%. Still, this did not help and he ended up contracting emphysema.

In the 1950s and 1960s, he used to walk eight miles a day, two miles each way, twice a day. In 1976, when he visited us in California, he got ill. The doctor examined him, prescribed medication, and later told me, "Your father's heart is as strong as a 10-year-old's."

We believe that his strong heart prolonged his life even though his lungs became weak. In the 1980s, the doctors told my older brother, "If we operate and remove one of his lungs, your father is going to die because the other lung would not be able to carry him through; however, because of his strong heart, his brain is getting enough oxygen. We should leave him alone."

He was a person who could have been more easily impressed. I remember he showed amazement at only two ordinary things during his stay in California in 1976. He would look at a bottle in the supermarkets and love the shape, color, and beauty. He showed interest in taking many empty bottles with him but later decided to drop the idea because of the heavy luggage he and his mom were carrying back to Hyderabad. He also showed amazement at the clocks in the house and said, "I am surprised at the number of clocks and timepieces in your home, including bathrooms."

I miss three books, which I inherited from my father in 1952. One was "Who' s Who in India - 1935". This extraordinary encyclopedia listed the names of all the freedom fighters of the British subcontinent, including those who, 12 years later, in 1947, became the leaders of India and Pakistan. I used to go through this book whenever I saw the name of a leader in the newspaper to see if he was listed in Who'd Who. The other book was a blank diary 3 ½ x 4 inches of 1942 that my father never used. This diary was printed in England and perhaps given to my father by one of his military friends. It was a beautiful diary with a leather jacket and onionskin light blue paper. On each page, there was a proverb. Two sayings are still in the recesses of my memory: "One man's experience is knowledge for others," and "You can do anything with a bayonet but sit on it". The third book, written in Urdu, entitled "Tears of Blood" (Khoon kay Aan-soo ), listed human shortcomings and weaknesses and suggested how human beings can improve their lives. The book's author was very straightforward and used strong words to describe the mistakes human beings make or the activities they indulge in, and later make excuses or produce rationale to justify those mistakes and indulgences. In the preface, the author's very first sentence was, "Don't pay attention to who is saying it; pay attention to what he is saying."

The only time I saw my father crying was at the death of our granduncle, Shaikh Mohanad Ibrahim, his uncle and guardian. He was a callous man, yet he cried like a baby. I can't forget his face, tears, and sobs while holding his eyeglasses in his hands. This indelible image always sends shivers through my spine.

May Almighty God give him a high place in the heavens (Firdous-a-Aala in Jannah). Ameen.

Our granduncle later sent my father to Bangalore to manage the business there. Our family came to Secunderabad from Poona, and I already lived there with my grandmother. My parents picked me up and, along with my older brother and two younger siblings, went to Bangalore. Later In Hyderabad, in late 1945, after our family returned to Hyderabad from Bangalore, my mother would read to us stories of Hatim Tai, Ali Baba and Forty Thieves, Aladdin and his marvelous Lamp, and other fables from "One Thousand and One Nights" – Alif Laila O Laila - in the mornings or evenings. Her favorite book that made her a strong woman and a decision-maker was a thousand-page book entitled "Bahisti Zevar" ( Heavenly Jewelry) written in Urdu language for Muslim women by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thaanvi, a Muslim scholar, on the Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence), Islamic values, and responsibilities of Muslim women in Islam based on the teachings of the Qur' an and the life of Prophet Muhammad.

In the early 1950s, one of my teachers commented on this book to show how Islam had liberated Muslim women more than 1300 years ago. He said, "If your wife is the owner of two houses and you live with her in one house, then you don't have the right to tell your wife that you would collect the rent of the other house. She has the right to conduct her own business". This is one of the finest statements about women 's liberation in the 20th century.


Our granduncle did not have children. In the early 1940s, he told my older brother Mohammad Yousuf that he would send him to England for higher studies. This was related to us in the late 40s and 50s. We both dreamed of going to England and, if possible, to America. After marriage, I continued to pursue my dream and finally got admission to Northrop University in Los Angeles. My parents supported me, and I came to California in 1962. My wife and my two children joined me four years later, in 1966, after I graduated from the university.

My wife brought me the book Bahisti Zevar as a gift from my mother. She indirectly told me how to respect women by referring to this book. Of course, I had read this book, my mother's copy, in the early 1950s, even before my marriage. I belong to a joint family. My uncle and father raised their children in a big house. We were so close that the fourteen first cousins were like siblings. We would fight, remain friends, break friendships, play games, and enjoy school days, even snatch homework from each other 's hands to read.

One day, my mother saw me and said, "Just don't touch the girls." In the U.S., we tell our children not to talk to strangers or allow anybody to touch them. From a woman's perspective, my mother in the 1950s was telling me that naked physical hostility against women starts with simple actions like touching them. She advised me in 1962 about meat and flesh when I came to the United States. She used the Urdu word 'gosht' twice, telling me to stay away from them; this word has two meanings: meat, and flesh. Eat Halal beef, and, as a married man, stay away from the flesh; in other words, stay away from other women. She said that realizing that no halal meat was available in the U.S. in the 60' s. She said, "Make omelet often and eat vegetables and fish." In addition, she dispensed additional advice and said, "If you feel you are missing your wife and your children, drop whatever you are doing and go to sleep." My mother gave me advice, face-to-face with a married son, reminding me about Islamic values, family values, and ethical values.

In the late 1980s, my mother decided to visit California after performing Hajj. Ten days before departure for Hajj, she had a mild heart attack. In the hospital, she heard about the death of another patient. She mentioned this to her doctor, who avoided talking about death, seeing that my mother quipped, "Doctor Sahiba, mai yahaan apney marzz kay elajj kay liye aayee hoon; mout kay elaj kay liye nahi.n" (Doctor Sahiba, I have come here to get medication for my disease; I have not come here to get medication against death). My older brother brought her home the next day without filling out any discharge papers or obtaining any release authorization. It was a classic case of kidnapping. My older brother went to the hospital later and completed the paperwork. Our family members accused my brother of trying to kill our mother. He said, "It is my mother's command, and I could not disobey her wishes. Her wisdom, determination, courage, and faith are so powerful that she would never have changed her mind about not going to Hajj." After performing Hajj, she canceled her trip to California and returned home much healthier. She lived for another three years before going to her eternal abode.

My mother always received requests for money from relatives and close friends. Many times, distant relatives would come to our house and ask my mother for a loan. She developed a unique way of enquiring about people's intentions. Whenever she was informed that a relative had arrived and was waiting for her in the living room, she would immediately ask, "What does he/she want?" Once my married younger sister came and stayed with us. Two weeks later, my brother–in–law came to take her home. My younger brother went to tell our mother about the brother-in-law's arrival. As usual and without much thinking, she enquired, "What does he want?" My younger brother turned to her and said, "What does he want? Mom, he wants his wife."


Now, I remember her every day. It is excruciating because, as soon as I think of her, the first word that comes to my mind is 'speechless' and the day of her passing. This whole affair, I feel, is incredible. Sometimes I think it was a dream or a scene from a movie when she passed away. I kept dreaming about my mother during the last week of April 1992. My older daughter Bilquis got married on April 18, 1992, and our mother wanted to attend the marriage and come to California but was too weak to travel. I think this is the reason that I kept on dreaming about her. I called her. She picked up the phone and said, "Who is bothering me so early in the morning?" and hung up. I wanted to talk to her, tell her about those dreams, and enquire about her health.

On Saturday, May 2, 1992, I called Hyderabad late afternoon to talk to my mother. My older brother picked up the phone. "I want to talk to 'Dear Mother' (Ammijan)." I said. "You don't know, Abdul Rubb didn't call you. She passed away two hours ago", he said with a choking voice. It was a big jolt and a shock that rendered me speechless for a few minutes. Was it an E.S.P. (Extra Sensory Perception) from her side that kept me restless for a week? I don't know. It seemed my older brother called me within five minutes of her passing away. All lines were busy for an hour. Our younger brother Abdul Rubb went to the telephone exchange to make a 'lightning call' (memorable call lines available at the telephone exchange) to me. He was still at the telephone exchange, waiting for his turn to make the call, when I called home.

Our mother passed away in peace. May Allah Mighty God shower His grace on her and give her the highest place in Jannat - paradise.

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