In a world preoccupied with the ephemeral, it is easy to forget that within our soul there is a place where the timeless ideals of steadfastness, strength, sacrifice, honour and loyalty resonate and move us. Who can fail to feel inspired and awed by the sheer determination and courage of those who struggle against all odds, and then only to do the simple things of life we take for granted everyday? Who has not been brought to tears or cheered through movies such as Radio, Rabbit Proof Fence or the Power of One? And who has not felt ashamed of their own pettiness afterwards?
Six months after Nizar was born, the last of ten brothers and sisters, sickness paralysed the right half of his body, a condition that he has suffered with ever since.
I often see Nizar leaving his home, and after he struggles to make his way down the one step between home and the world, I can not fail but notice the serene gaze in his eyes as he pauses briefly to survey the compound before setting off for the day; one can only watch in admiration for words are meaningless to express that moment. But that is today, for that peaceful look belies 66 years of heart wrenching struggle and determination. I have had the pleasure and privilege of knowing Nizar Hussien Ghulamhusain Harji for about a year now and this is his story — in his words as he wished it told.
Six months after Nizar was born, the last of ten brothers and sisters, sickness paralysed the right half of his body, a condition that he has suffered with ever since. Ironically, before he was born, Nizar’s mother, Kulshum Harji, had had the premonition that “the child would not survive and would die.” Instead, and tragically, his mother died at his birth. However, with the prescience of a mother, she had also said that it was her wish that should he survive, he be taken care of by her sister, Fatmabhai.
And so it came to pass that Nizar was raised by his Masi and Masa, whom he says “were very kind to him” and of whom he speaks with love and respect. Unable to have children of their own, five years after Nizar came to them they had their first child, Yasmin. Without any doubt whatsoever, Nizar tells me that this “was a gift from God for keeping him.” Tragically, Yasmin was run over by a lorry and killed as she came home after her final Form IV exams.
By His kind grace Mowlana Sultan Muhammed Shah replied [his family’s letter] and said “It is my prayer that after the age of 10 he will start to improve a lot.” Nizar repeats the words as though they were told to him yesterday. From his love and faith he selflessly proclaims “It is because of these prayers I am always improving and in good health.” He continues, “Only the Imam’s prayers gave me strength.”
During those early years, Nizar was given many treatments, but all to no avail. He explains that because of his sickness he used to get “tensions and shakiness” and that this “broke part of his nerves and damaged his brain.” The result was that he was helpless, unable to walk till the age of 15 and even unable to talk. He describes himself as completely “absent minded.”
When Nizar was 6, Mowlana Sultan Muhammed Shah came for his Diamond Jubilee and Nizar’s family offered a letter to the Imam with their Memani. By His kind grace Mowlana Sultan Muhammed Shah replied and said “It is my prayer that after the age of 10 he will start to improve a lot.” Nizar repeats the words as though they were told to him yesterday. From his love and faith he selflessly proclaims “It is because of these prayers I am always improving and in good health.” He continues, “Only the Imam’s prayers gave me strength.”
Nizar still has difficulty speaking and, sometimes when I fail to understand a word or two, the frustration, as he struggles to get the words out, is evident. Yet there is a calmness and intelligence in his voice, a clarity to his thoughts, a silent maturity that helps you understand. And then all of sudden, when you least expect it, he’ll catch you off guard, crack a joke and, with a twinkle in his eye, his whole face beams.
At the age of 10 Nizar started to try and stand by himself as well as try to start talking. Eventually he was able to attend school till Standard 7, learning English and Gujrati, however due to his speech he “could not study more so failed to go further.” Up to the age of 15 he needed help with all aspects of day to day life we take for granted, such as even grooming himself. However, with his good hand he tried to become more independent and struggled to walk with a stick, but kept falling has he “didn’t have balance,” he explains.
Allah, he says, never left him. “Allah sent Mehboob and I got my chair and became independent.”
During our conversation Nizar repeatedly tells me how he is constantly improving and that just last month, for example, he’s even noticed improvement in his speech. And again, without the slightest hesitation, he says this is due to the ginans he has been reciting every day in Jamat Khana for many years and that “Jamati prayers and the Mukhi and Kamadia’s du’a” is what has helped him. He then gives thanks to God that though he is now 66 he has no sickness and only one operation in his life — for his appendix. Here is a man whose measure of success and accomplishment puts my own “failed expectations” and “disappointments” into proper perspective.
Until 12 years ago he had remained dependant on the kind graces of others to help him even move, but then his friend, Mehboob Pirmohamed, made for him his unique “wheel chair.” With it Nizar has been able to walk and so became mobile and independent. Nizar tells me that many friends have been kind and given him help when he was sick, but as life sets in, they moved on, either due to marriage, or leaving the country, or sickness; however Allah, he says, never left him. “Allah sent Mehboob and I got my chair and became independent.”
With his “wheel chair” he has been able to travel on holidays with friends to India, Pakistan, Canada, South Africa and last year to Zanzibar. Proudly, and rightly so, he shows me his photo album and explains he paid for these trips from savings from sales of sweepstakes tickets.
Nizar passes his time walking to keep fit and meeting people on his daily rounds through the Aga Khan Hospital and neighbouring sports grounds — even engaging in a spot of gardening there.
Today, when he’s not reading Gujrati books or making his way through the Qur’an, Nizar passes his time walking to keep fit and meeting people on his daily rounds through the Aga Khan Hospital and neighbouring sports grounds — even engaging in a spot of gardening there. And the sound of him bantering and joking with Mary, the housemaid, is always a refreshing sound.
As we get up to leave, Nizar says that we should “tell the young people to stay occupied, not to be dependant on others — to do what you can on your own,” just as he does with one hand. He reminds me again that he’s getting better everyday. Then out of the blue, his face beaming again, he jokes “Allah has made me in reverse. I’m getting younger every day and by the time I die I’ll be a child and running.”
About the author
Mohib Ebrahim is the Editor and Publisher of the NanoWisdoms Archive of Imamat Speeches, Interviews and Writings. An honours graduate of Simon Fraser University in Computer Science and Mathematics, Mohib has been involved in software development and the IT industry since the ’80s. His religious interests lie in understanding the intersection of faith and reason: validation of faith and the nature of truth.
Photos and article: Mohib Ebrahim (With permission)
Photo: Zanzibar, Nizar Harji (With permission)
Originally published in Ismaili Africa Magazine 2006; republished with permission.