Educationist and theologian Mustafa Hatipoğlu (5): I spent the best years of my life in Pakistan

A colourful Eid ul-Adha memory from the village Bamabala
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December 16, 2021

Educationist and theologian Mustafa Hatipoğlu (5): I spent the best years of my life in Pakistan

Mustafa Hatipoğlu (second from left) is at dinner with his friends during his first years in Pakistan.

In the last part of our interview with Mustafa Hatipoğlu, one of the first Hizmet-inspired volunteers who migrated to Pakistan at a young age to provide educational services there, we give place to his unforgettable memories. Hatipoğlu tells about the support of businessmen, whom he met in synchronicity, to the PakTurk Schools, and his contracting a grim disease which evaded diagnosis for some time. Hatipoğlu, who lived in Pakistan for 18 years, says, “I always wish to retain good memories of Pakistan, that’s all.”

-You lived in Pakistan for many years and said you wept as you left there. Can you tell us about the people and events you cannot forget?

There are so many people and memories I cannot forget. I would like to share my experiences, especially those I had while suffering a life-threatening disease. While I was in Karachi, I also kept in touch with businessmen and tradesmen. Around the beginning of 2004, we opened an exquisite guesthouse in a high quality and posh neighbourhood. We had meticulously refurbished the interior. I met Turkish-speaking Pakistani businesspeople and entrepreneurs who had graduated from the Middle East Technical University (METU). We met regularly with these gentlemen. We named our meetings ‘one dish party’. Everyone would bring a different dish of food and we would socialize. Another METU graduate, a gentleman living in Canada, visited Karachi. “There is a club where I am a member. Let’s meet there,” he said. We met for the first time at the club he mentioned with about 50 families. It was like a convention of METU-graduate Pakistani professionals. There was even a family who had graduated in 1974. Imagine how many people of different ages got together. They met 30 years after graduation. Some said, “I hadn’t seen friends for ten years. It was very nice to meet you, thank you very much!” There was even a bowling area in the club. It was my first time playing and I got a high score. That was such a sweet memory. We used to meet with these brothers once a month. Later, we met on weekly basis.

2006 marked the 50th anniversary celebrations at the METU. The university invited its graduates to Turkey for the celebration gala. We planned a trip to Turkey with Pakistani brothers so we could both participate in the gala and tour the country. We would go with 10 families from Karachi to that summer program. I was busy making travel reservations. Meanwhile, I felt a chill running through my body. It is not normal to feel cold in the scorching summer in Pakistan. There was something wrong with me. I kept shivering and running high fever. A few days later, I was taken to the emergency ward at the Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi. We waited there for half an hour. They gave me an antipyretic and took me to a room for rest. They also ran a blood test. The doctors could not diagnose my illness because they took a blood sample after my fever subsided. They suspected malaria. I left the hospital for home two hours later. Yet, I was still unwell.

I shivered and shook for almost an hour at the same time every day. A few days later, I went to the airport and bought the tickets. Again, at the same time in the evening – I never forget, between 4:00 and 4:45 PM – I had a severe spell of shudders. That day passed the same. The next day we took our flight and landed in Istanbul. I kept on shivering at the same time of the day. The gentleman in our group told me to visit a hospital. I went to a medical centre in a neighbourhood. Since I had never worked in Turkey, I did not have insurance. It was evening, already. The staff there were furious because I had checked in just when they were about to close the place. Meanwhile, the 45-minute spell was up and my shivering was gone. That day, I sat in the car while the guests visited the Hagia Sophia and the Sultanahmet Mosque. We crossed to the Anatolian side of Istanbul. The guests would get on a domestic train from the Haydarpaşa Train Station and go to Ankara where they would participate in the METU gala for three days. We would meet again later. Meanwhile, they told me to have some rest in my hometown Kayseri for three days. I agreed.

I went to Kayseri with my wife. When we arrived at my father-in-law’s house, we learned that my father had passed away. He had passed away on a Friday. The funeral would be held in Develi district. We went there. Rushing from the Friday prayers to the funeral prayers, receiving condolences and attending the burial, at the same time in the evening, I started shivering again. We went to a private hospital in Kayseri on Saturday morning. There they ran blood tests. At 4:00 PM, when the shudders started, the medics took blood again and confirmed that I had malaria.

-How were you treated?

The chief physician of the hospital said, “I have been working as a doctor in Kayseri for 15 years. I have never come across someone with malaria.” A drug named ‘Kellin’ was used in the treatment of malaria. It was not available in pharmacies. It was only prescribed from the hospital for the tuberculosis patients. It was closed for the weekend, too. We had to wait two days. The shudders repeated at the same time every day. I felt so bad. I was weak and I could not eat. It felt as if I was living my last moments. When I visited the tuberculosis hospital on Monday, the medics admitted me right away. They had heard about my condition. They gave me my medicines and I used them for about a month. I also requested a friend to accompany the guests on my behalf. This was how the trip to Turkey ended for me. When I used all prescribed medicines, they ran a test and confirmed that I no longer had malaria. Here’s how I was saved. Alhamdulillah, I survived even though our Turkey tour for Pakistani businessmen ended in disappointment for me.

An acquaintance story with much synchronicity

It was 2003 or 2004. In Karachi, we were just getting to know Pakistani businessmen and tradesmen. The more I kept in touch with businessmen coming from Turkey and showed them around in the city and its businesses, a circle was formed. During one visit, we met Mr. Iqbal, the owner of a denim factory. Like himself, his seven siblings also dealt in denim and were in textile business. Wealthy people, they all were. Pakistan’s business life is busiest in Karachi. There are numerous factories and commercial outlets. Think it the same as Istanbul. One day, a Turkish businessman who wished to buy denim came to Karachi. He said he especially wanted to visit Mr. Iqbal’s denim factory. I also wished to ask my Pakistani friend Mr. Suha, who lived near our school and worked in the textile industry, if he knew anyone in Mr. Iqbal’s denim factory. Mr. Suha simply said, “I am the general manager of that factory!” It was pure synchronicity (tawafuq). Allah prepared everything, maybe we just had to make a little effort. We took an appointment from Mr. Iqbal for 3:00 pm the next day. I never forget that time because it also has a meaning. We reached the factory five minutes before 3:00 pm. Mr. Iqbal welcomed us as he looked at his wristwatch at exactly 3:00 pm and said, “Oh, you’re on time!” There are times punctuality is not observed by some in Pakistan. If they say they will arrive in an hour, it can be two hours… If they say today, it can be tomorrow…

Later, we toured the factory together. While the Turkish businessman chose denim in a small office, Mr. Iqbal kept asking me questions to get to know me better. I said I taught at the PakTurk Schools and helped businessmen as a translator and interpreter. He asked about students. Whenever we talked about our “Turkish schools”, some thought we only educated Turkish students. I explained our schools’ objectives for educating Pakistani students. Mr. Iqbal turned to Mr. Suha and called out to him, “Look! These gentlemen came from Turkey. They are teaching our children and we do not help them. What a shame!” I was surprised.

We kept in touch in the days that followed. We grew close. He asked me one day, “How much does it cost?” I thought he asked me about a student’s tuition and other costs to school, so I told him a general amount. “No, I’m asking about the expenses of the school,” he said. I said our monthly expense was around 10 thousand dollars. He said, “Alright, I’ll meet that.” I said, “Sir, I can’t take that money from you. Let’s talk to our school manager and our accountant about that.” He accepted. Afterwards, we went to the school together and talked to the administrators. Mr. Iqbal helped our school up to $2,500 per month for a few years, even though he did not pay a lumpsum amount equalling the total. That was a huge amount. Someone who did not know us, who met us for the first time, helped our school that way. Mr. Iqbal was such an exquisite person.

I visited him at his house on an Eid al-Adha. I told him we, as the school, had a tradition of distributing meat packets on Eid al-Adha. He had reserved a sacrificial cow for us. We went to pick it up with a flatbed mini-truck. The truck visibly sank under the weight of the meat. It was that heavy. Mr. Iqbal told me, “Whenever my father used to visit the sacrificial animal market before Eid al-Adha, he would choose the best one there. That’s what I had done for you. I had chosen the best animal and sacrificed it. You distribute the meat to the deserving, now.”

In those days, I had also gifted Mr. Ali Ünal’s English book ‘Advocate of Islam’ to Mr. Iqbal. He said he had read the book and even said, “I learned much about you.” I was much surprised.

A visit to Turkey with Mr. Iqbal

Mr. Iqbal suffered from lower back pain. One friend, Mr. Murat, recommended a specialist in Istanbul. I said to Mr. Iqbal, “I want to take you to that clinic for treatment.” He accepted. He bought our plane tickets from the Business Class throughout the trip. We landed in Istanbul and took a connecting flight to Izmir. He was a very respectable person. I took him to one of our sister colleges in Istanbul. He joked, “I know your intention. You wish to have a similar school in Pakistan, right?” I quipped, “Yes! You are a smart person, and I knew you would understand.”

We had made an appointment with the clinic Mr. Iqbal was to have his treatment. While registering, the secretary said the treatment cost an equivalent of $1,500. I was surprised, because I had not expected such an exorbitant fee. Mr. Iqbal eyed me at first, but later said, “We have come this far, it would not be nice if we returned without treatment.” He paid the amount and received treatment. Soon, he regained his health. He thanked me a lot after he got rid of the pain. He even referred his brother to the same clinic for treatment later on.

Mr. Iqbal was such a nice person. He visited our school once and sat with us for half an hour. We had such an exquisite acquaintance with him. I remember he helped our schools (at least until the day I left Pakistan) with $2,500 a month for years. May Allah bless him forever.

-You left Pakistan about ten years ago. Do you still have aspects you bear from your life there? If you started by saying, “Here’s what’s left in me of Pakistan…”, how would you finish it?

Pakistan means a lot to me because I spent my youth in Pakistan. I spent 18 years there. You know, as patriots say, ‘If you cut my arm, my blood will flow red’. Just the same, my blood would flow green and red equally in feeling and reflecting that patriotic attachment with Pakistan through the colours of the national flags. I do not regret at all that I spent the best years of my life there. Pakistan made us acquire an indelible experience. It would not be an exaggeration if I said ‘We opened our eyes there’. We started life there and we planned our future there. Our first students were from Pakistan and our children were born there. All these memories will remain with us for the rest of our lives. I’m in England nowadays but I proudly and without hesitation say to every person I meet, “My children were born in Pakistan.” I say to every Pakistani I see, “My children are also Pakistani”. I do not despise or belittle anything or anyone related to Pakistan. That’s why Pakistan left so much in all of us. Even when they asked me “Would you go to Pakistan again?” while we were to leave Albania in 2017, I said “yes” with no hesitation. We still love to eat Pakistani food with our children. When we smell Pakistani food, we like it as if it is from our own homeland. Whenever I see a Pakistani, I rejoice as if I saw a friend or a brother. I already know their language. I want to talk to them right away and have dialogue.

These left a good impression on me. There are still people I keep in touch from Pakistan. There are those who text or call me on the phone. I too call them and ask them how they have been. Pakistan has a special place in my life. It is our first place of migration. A country where we shed tears… a country where we experienced true brotherhood and friendship. Of course, we are human; all of us may experience negative things in our lives. And yes, we experienced negative things, but I do not even wish to revisit those occasions. I do not even wish to talk about them. I always wish good memories to remain in my mind, and that’s all it is.



Part Four: Mustafa Hatipoğlu (4): I wept as I left Pakistan

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