Hajj Mustafa Ali
by Muhammad Sayed (Terry) Fry
of reticent nature, I admit to having had mixed feelings regarding
the display of my feelings to the reading public. Mine is such a
peculiar story. At times I felt akin with the witness of an
extra-terrestrial object full of little green men who is too
embarrassed to relate to the fact. But at the risk of arousing old
nightmares I will try to detail what happened to me during the
spring of 1983.
end result is that my world changed and life took on new meaning
through these events, though I may never know all the details this
side of Judgment Day, nevertheless what took place was a divine
intervention holding no earthly explanation. May Allah guide me in
the task of explaining this phenomenon.
was born in 1930 into an English-Catholic family; my fathers
Irish background mixed with mothers evangelical Protestantism
producing offspring with more than their average share of
life was happily secure in the religious ambience of church and
school, firm in the tenets of Catholic doctrine with its routine of
mass, rosary and unshakeable faith.
grew to manhood and marriage secure in the Faith that I loved,
comfortable in its sacramental system and ritual, serving on its
alters and holding membership in many of its associations, and of
course never once doubting that anything would change my outlook and
that I would serve my God through His Holy Church for as long as I
lived. In short I was as enthusiastic a Catholic as you would find
with occasional aspirations even for the priesthood.
became an engineering draftsman, married with a good wife and was
soon blessed with two children boy and a girl. In 1965 we all
immigrated to Niagara Falls, Canada, where we have resided ever
the early months of 1983, I took a contract with a Maltese company
in the Libyan oil fields. This is where my story begins.
landed in Malta on March 7 and was soon ensconced in a hotel
overlooking the sea. That same evening my boss took me out for
dinner. After the meal he mentioned something, which like nothing I
had ever heard before, impacted on my senses and attained such
profundity that it swept all cynicism to dust.
he said, Is too beautiful an experience, just to end by dying.
This sentence was to act on my being like a catalyst and its essence
remain for a long time.
that night, in my hotel room, while dwelling on this phrase, indeed
it would not leave my mind; I felt quite distinctly a religious
imagined initially that I was dying, so deep and poignant was the
emotion. I can remember moments, during this trance-like condition,
when I forgot how to breathe. I was completely overwhelmed but in a
pleasant way-by the strongest feelings of approaching a wall or
barrier, the other side of which was the truth, beauty, light and
reality. I had found a glorious continuity to life by discovering
the certainty of life after death. I had approached the veil
separating out two existences and felt how simple it was to pass I
even felt a sensation, I can only describe as the unscrewing
just a turn, of the top of my head, a subsequent of which was a
novel surge of strength both in my body and intellect.
do not know how long this lasted, I was totally outside the limits
of time and space, but eventually I remember gathering my wits and
reflecting that death need hold no fears, everything returns to Him
from whence it came and over all a wonderful peace.
immediately wrote my wife that I had found renewal in God. She later
owned to amazement on receiving this letter.
next ten days in Malta while awaiting visa processing, were lived at
such a frantic pace and on a different level to what I had been
accustomed as to appear irrational. I had never felt so fit, so
joyful, so intelligent in my life. My eyes seemed to possess
visionary power; my mind piercing acumen and my energy was
unbounded. I wondered if this feeling was identical to what Paul
felt on the road to Damascus or Bernadette at Lourdes, or any of the
Christian mystics and visionaries on receiving divine revelation.
afternoon I took a tourist boat outing around the many harbors of
historic Valetta. All the passengers except for myself were sitting
out of cover in the bow, enjoying the late winter sunshine. I was
alone amid ships under the awning listening to the guides voice on
the public address system, describing the various sites. Here was
the site where the British aircraft carrier, Ark Royal,
sheltered safely under the cliff during the dark days of the second
world war, while above it the town was devastated by enemy dive
bombers attempting to hit the carrier. I felt the vibrations of the
dying throes of the town, heard the bombs and metallic shrieks of
carnage and tasted the obscenity of war.
as the guide intoned sagas of the Knights of Malta resisting the
Turks during the great siege, and describing how prisoners were
beheaded and their heads fired from cannon at the enemy positions, I
sought shelter from a rain of heads and foothold among skulls. This
latter presentiment was to later prove significant.
did God want of me? The age-old question was heavily pondered upon.
I felt the answer was somewhere in Valetta. Each visit to the old
city gave me strong psychic senses. Valetta was old and haunted by
the blood-drenched past. I was reluctantly drawn to the magnificent
cathedral of St. John the Divine. Something I knew awaited me there.
I passed through the main doors a verger pointed to the famous
paintings on the ceiling of the nave. I was tremendously impressed
by the artistry exhibited by the virtually unknown Calabrian painter
and wandered down the aisle craning my neck at the brilliance of the
to glance downward at the floor of the nave, I found I was walking
on the marbled graves and epitaphs of the Knights of Malta the
patrons and builders of this baroque cathedral. With a sickening
shock I discerned that each epitaph was bordered by a depiction of
skulls fulfilling my premonition of tiptoeing among skulls. Not
wanting to see more, I fled.
passed and I was concerned about this episode in the cathedral. I
felt more strongly there was some message for me there, and I must
drum up some courage and find out more. I determined once again to
visit the cathedral.
that every move I made could prove significant I entered the doors
and went to the spot in the nave where I had received the trauma of
the skulls. At this spot I felt a strong urge to move to another
grave close to a supporting pillar. I read the epitaph, thinking
perhaps, with not a small amount of vanity that the remains were
some titled ancestors. A stronger attraction pulled to the pillar
itself. On it was a tablet commemorating the painter of the ceiling.
Then I knew that whatever it was I had come to find out was in or on
the ceiling. At this point I had found a chair in which to sit and
take stock and ponder my next move. I had a pencil and paper and
wrote down what had happened till then. I walked to the pillar with
half-closed eyes, scarcely daring to look closely at anything for
fear of confusing the reception of any message. I stood with my back
on the pillar and my eyes followed the line of the soaring vaulted
arch to the pillar on the other side of the nave. I quickly walked
to this other pillar, stood with my back to it, closed my eyes,
placed myself in the presence of God, turned my face to the ceiling
and read: A MESSENGER MUST BE PUER.
dimmed my vision, a lump rose in my throat and with joy hardly
contained I rushed outside.
or other on the ceiling written in English for me to read, (where of
course there was no writing, and if there was it would not be in
English), there was a phrase with a word spelt dyslexic ally. My
wife is dyslexic and suffers from this impairment to reading and
that is the way she would spell pure. Also, it had connotations of
the Prophet, which I would only come to recognize later .I knew now
for certain that I had been prepared for a test; something of moment
was to happen to me I felt sure in North Africa.
with the strength of a newfound faith I knew would overcome, with
Gods help, whatever situation may arise.
visa eventually arrived and I left Malta on March 18 in the highest
of spirits and flew to Tripoli, Libya. There had been many such
journeys of this kind over the years. My marriage had endured many
such partings for the sake of job advancement and financial reward.
These journeys usually made in a state of depression with the
prospect of facing long separations from loved ones. Yet what a
contrast my feeling on this short flight. No holidaymaker ever flew
with happier anticipation and buoyancy of spirit than myself.
in Tripoli I was soon on my way by taxicab to an overnight stop in a
downtown hotel. It was soon on my way by taxi that my ordeal began.
No matter how hard I try to recapitulate the events in the taxi, and
wherever it was the taxi delivered me, the issues became obfuscated.
I can only surmise and make suppositions, reality and dreams are
indistinguishable. I was drugged, anesthetized, words became slurred
and unintelligible, like talking in ones sleep. Vivid
dreams of epic proportions; drug induced-galaxy-shaking
dreams, in them I am cast in heroic mould.
my final dream on earth, dimly discerning against the false dawns
light a veranda roof and a stone wall, a courtyard; only it isnt
a dream, it is reality. I am in a bed, in a courtyard surrounded by
wards. My legs are chained to some kind of block at the foot of the
bed; a strap fastened to each wrist passes under the bed. How long I
have been like this. I will never know; but consciousness is
returning with the daylight. I can hear movements, sounds of people
stirring from restive slumbers. Now shadowy figures emerge about the
yard. I am largely ignored-perhaps I have died.
are now performing ablutions, it is sunrise and there is a quality
of eeriness. Some are definitely imbecilic, some are mongoloids with
abnormally sized heads, others are low browed, villainous looking,
some bare hideous scars, still others are watching like wardens.
are now noticing me and addressing me in Arabic.
am given more pills and relapse into oblivion again.
my bonds are released and I can, move slowly around the yard. I find
a broom and set myself to work, what the psychologists would call a
displacement activity, it gives me time to collect my thoughts.
transpires that the secret police have been too heavy-handed with
their drugs and were forced to bring me to this place to recover.
The inmates appear heavily sedated but the atmosphere is still one
of dementia with high explosive potential. Somebody is constantly
berating me, why you make all this trouble? The problem is, in
this place one cannot tell the mad from the sane.
find out that my awakening in the ward occurred on March 29. There
were eleven days missing in my life since the air flight on the 18th.
They can be accounted for only in a faintly remembered surfacing
from numbing depths of oblivion. Awakening in filthy cells, between
nightmares, I do remember trying to kill myself by beating my head
of the wall of a cell.
Easter Sunday, April 3rd, I am called into the doctors
office and informed, you are better, and can go, and I am
released into the hands of two gentlemen of the secret police. I am
interrogated but nothing is making any sense. They want to blame me
for something, and make me admit to some enormity of which I am
interview over, I am driven somewhere outside Tripoli. We turn
off the highway into some bush, no road, and arrive at an unmarked
building. It is surrounded by trees and invisible from the road. I
had noticed, peeping under my blindfold a plainclothes armed guard
at a barrier.
was soon to become terribly familiar with this place, a clandestine
is no doubt in my mind; the worst of cruelty that can be inflicted
on anyone is solitary confinement.
I ever forget that cell? Tiled floor, about eight-foot square, very
high walls, with an opening, not a window at the top. A light that
was kept on during the night, a blue steel door with barred grille
and a small door covering the grille. Complete isolation. A length
of thin foam rubber, the only furnishing.
messages on the walls in their despair did little to raise the
spirits. Smears of excrement hardly enhanced the paintwork. The only
sounds the course shouting of the guards, screeching of door hinges
and clang of drawn bolts.
visits depended on the whim of the guards and were at their
convenience but limited to two visits per day. One was quickly reduced to animal status, and I thought
the kindest that could happen was to quickly go mad and not be
burdened by the mental ability to fret on ones condition. Of
course one cannot go mad to order, it could take time but banish
these thoughts. God help me I recite rosary using my fingers as
beads. Interspersed in my prayers I hear Adhan from a distant
mosque. I am soothed by the Moslem call to prayer.
try hard not to think of my family.
through it all I am conscious of a new fortitude, a special pride
that I am coping with a very strange situation, and most of all I
feel Gods guidance, and a surrendering to His Holy will.
am four days in solitary confinement with total deprivation, before
being transferred to a civil prison in Tripoli. This was a large
complex, housing many wings with radiating cellblocks from a central
yard. I remember a statue of a black horse standing outside the
through the gate, which was then locked behind me, I find myself in
a yard surrounded by the high walls of adjacent cellblocks. A line
of washing flapped in the breeze and I was soon surrounded by
had never before experienced such a warm outpouring of affection at
this my first contact with a group of Moslems.
are interrupted by Adhan, one of the men explaining that it
is prayer time and they are
all Muslims. A voice speaks through my mouth, I have always
wanted to be a Muslim. Well, he replies, There is no
time like the present. There and then, after being only five
minutes in the place, I am ushered into the presence of two
ample-girded prisoner-Imams both. One a huge man put me in mind of
The Big Fisherman, St. Peter
himself, the other Imam was blind. Kneeling before them, with the
rest of the inmates as witnesses, I made Shahadah.
overflowed my eyes as the brothers embraced me.
they listen to that which has been revealed unto the Messenger,
though seest their eyes overflow with tears because of their
recognition of the truth. They say: Our Lord, we believe.
Inscribe us amongst the witnesses (Qur`an 5:83).
the next month I was able to observe within that prison, such
examples of brotherly love and charity, which I quickly came to
comprehend how Islam was the manifestation of all that Christianity
tried to teach.
of the brothers were in prison because of politics. Many had
suffered torture. Some were martyred.
our cell were 84 men. The prison was old and the concrete crumbly
but we worked to keep the place spotless. There were only two
toilets and consequently always a queue to use them, but always
there was politeness and an insistence on the other going first.
due to the drug effects or as a result of struggling against my
manacles, I had lost feeling in my hands. As a therapy, and having
been given writing material, I copied the introductory commentary on
the Holy Quran by Yusuf Ali, and to my increasing wonder found
therein a scholarly work that by its own right should be recognized
as an English literary classic for the introduction alone.
settled into an Islamic routine; and at times the yard resembled an
early university with the study groups settling issues. I taught
English to a small group in between reading Quran. Chores of
washing clothes by hand, mending, sewing, things utterly alien to a
westerner were undertaken cheerfully and Islamically. As strength
returned so did longing for home.
decided to fast one day. The next day I beseeched Allah to reunite
me with my family. The day after I was released.
Terry, you are free. The guards voice came through the yard gate.
A stunned assembly around the gate let the words slowly sink in and
gathered about me in mounting excitement. Mr. Terry from Canada
is free, the guard repeated.
brothers pressed gifts on me, bars of soap, bottles of shampoo, the
little money they had. I ran to the main cell to collect my few
things, including my writing book. Many embraces.
will meet in heaven, Brother Mohammed. I am sure all of you merit
that great reward dear brothers. What a communion of saints you
made, what a great Masjid. From different various cultures and back
grounds Palestinians, Italians, Turks, a Welshman doctors,
Imams, lawyers, a dentist, army officers, a shepherd, you taught me
the true equality of man under God, the realization that the
Christian love taught by Jesus (PBUH), was Islam all the time. The
true Judaism as taught by Moses (PBUH), was Islam all the time. That
life lived on this earth by every animal and plant is Islam
and Islam. Ameen.
pray two rakahs with my brothers for the last time on this
earth, and I am ushered out of the gate and into the prison office
still not fully aware of what is happening.
plain-clothes officers drive me through the streets of Tripoli and
suddenly with a sickening realization, I deduce from the
surroundings, where it is I am being driven.
to the secret police HQ and its grinning guards.
after all this is the end. A quick bullet in the head, a push into
the acid bath. Who knows? Such is my despair I can hardly pray.
am taken back to that dreadful building this must be the end.
Forced back down the same corridor and flung into a cell. As my eyes
grow accustomed to the light I recognize it as the very same cell in
which I spent solitary confinement. Gradually the same familiar wall
scratching come into readable view, even my own attempt at calendar
I been dreaming the events of the last month?
I soon find out as I hear the now familiar Adhan coming from
a near-by village.
recall the last time I prayed in this cell was as a Catholic
reciting the rosary on my fingers; now a month later make ready for `Asr
prayer as a Muslim, and the whole purpose of my past is made plain.
I am no longer a victim of circumstance, but an instrument of
Gods Holy Will; it is so patently clear, I have been divinely
guided full circle back to the bosom of Allah , from whence I
by my prayer, I submit my confinement to Allahs will and
intermittently pray and sleep till Fajr.
morning I am roughly blindfolded and bundled into a car, driven to
the airport and put on a flight to Malta.
days later I am reunited with my wife and family in Canada. It was
May 11th, 1983.
reasons were given for detention and release. No charges were made,
and the affair viewed from a pragmatic angle remains a mystery.
here we are, both my wife and myself, feeling as if we have been
Muslims all our lives; perhaps unconsciously we have.
have found in Islam the fulfillment of the basic Christian ideals.
Indeed now that we are Muslims we feel that as ex-Christians, the ex
must stand for extra.
hope dear brother that Allah blesses you and your project.