The idea of admitting me into a madrassa had come to my father’s mind after he returned from his four month Tabligh, a missionary tour. I had learned the Holy Koran during his missionary tour and he was excited very much on hearing this news. On the very same day, he announced that he will admit me into a madrassa for religious education.
The next day he told my uncle about the decision and said, ‘Now it is your duty to find a madrassa for him’. My uncle, also a missionary, was living near a city called Temargara which was my favourite place. I was fifteen years old and it was always my pleasure to go to new places.
Then came the day I left home and went with my uncle. My mother bid me farewell and gave me everything she thought I was needed. Reaching my uncle’s home, my grandmother gleefully received me as always. She baked special breads for me, bought me new clothes and gave me extra money when we left for madrassa.
Although I had not attended any school, yet I was able to read Pashto books and sign boards because of my fluency in the Holy Koran and that my father had taught me how to read and write letters and join them to make words of. Thus my uncle and family were proud of me.
The madrassa was some 70 kilo meters away from my uncle’s. It was located on a hill top where hundreds of religious students were coming and going. We went straight to the office of the in-charge where we learned the name of the madrassa and other details. The name was Madrassa Le Isha’at-e-Tawheed Wa Sunnaha (Seminary to teach and preach the belief of oneness of God and Sayings of the Prophet).
The in-charge told us that I had to accommodate at a mosque as hundreds of the students were staying at the mosques of the near villages. According to him, the madrassa could afford to provide accommodation to only 50 students. And they had given admission to more than six hundred students. The remaining students had to live at the mosques of the near villages where they would collect their food from houses and, in return, the senior student of every mosque had had responsibility to lead the five times a day, every Friday, funeral and other prayers. Some times people of the villages would give money and their products to the madrassa and the students.
My uncle requested for a place in the madrassa but the in-charge firmly said that there was no place remained. It confused him. I learned later that he was confused due to my young age. Then he inquired about the mosque I was supposed to live in. The in-charge checked his register and then gave us address of the mosque. It was called Tanki Mosque. We visited it the same day and found out that nearly twenty other students were living there. We met the senior student of the mosque who was now acting as the head and Imam.
This mosque was built on another hill top in centre of the village. Between the madrassa and Tanki Mosque and its village was laid a road, flew a river and populated two other villages.
We stayed at the mosque that night and went again to the madrassa next morning. On the way to the madrassa, my uncle had decided to admit himself, too, for one year. The main aim of this decision was to be as guard with me but he pretended to study some important books. Anyway, the in-charge gave us admission and then told us the strict rules.
‘Never play or anything with village’s boys, never bath in the river, never come late to your lessons, never disrespect elder students and teachers and never go anywhere without pre-permission of the head of the mosque’ he warned.
It disappointed me. I had made many plans in my heart for having bath in the river, playing with village’s boys and particularly to have runs on the swinging bridge which was built over the river.
Back to Tanki mosque, I learned that I was the youngest of all the religious students living in the mosque. Still my age was a bit over to be Chanai, the youngest student (usually two or three in every mosque) who collects meal and other things the Talibans need from the village’s houses. The head, whom we were supposed to call Ameer Sahib, told us that I have to do the duty of collecting meal three times a day until they find a Chanai.
It was strange and a new experience for me. I had seen the small innocent children who would have dishes at their hands going to every house and beg for meals. When they would come to our house, I would go and give them something good to eat. Now it was me who has to go to homes and beg for meal.
The same day lunch time, I took two dishes and a chador and went to the village. I felt I was in a new world. First, it was difficult to go every door of the village and beg but then I overcame on the shyness and collected meal from some ten or twelve houses.
As the village was located on a hillside and the houses were not built close to each other, it enervated me and I returned to the mosque. The Ameer Sahib checked all the breads and meal I had collected and said that it was insufficient so I have to go and collect from more houses. I went and collected more until it was enough to fill their stomachs.
I did this job almost three months. Then they brought two other small boys who were younger than me and the duty shifted to them. Though very young and innocent, they were very expert in collecting the meal. The Ameer Sahib gave me the duty to accompany in the evenings because they were too young and could not go to the village alone.
I found them very cunning. They were really good in their business. They would even ask for a few rupees (Pakistani currency) after someone give them meal. They told me that they earn nearly one thousand a month each and a big part of it goes to the Ameer Sahib.
It was my second with them when I saw them eating something. I looked closely and came to know that they were eating the small balls of pounded meat a girl from a house poured in the dish.
‘Why do you eat it?’ I asked.
‘We only check it to confirm it is not poisoned. We do it because if it is poisoned it will kill the Ameer Sahib.’ As every good meal was only for Ameer Sahib, they would eat half of it in ‘checking’.
Our study routine was that every student of our mosque has his own class. Some were learning the Holy Quran, others were studying books of Ahadith (saying of Prophet), jurisprudence, Arabic grammar, etc which had different categories.
I had learned the Holy Quran at my home and was studying initial five books in the Madrassa, most of them were in Arabic.
(To be continued)
First published on Quazen