Allah Bakhsh

[Pakistan, 1991]

“Hey Paagal (crazy one), what are you doing here?” A patient called out from the bench in the waiting room.

The skinny 15-year-old stepped off the dusty street into the TB (tuberculosis) clinic and surveyed the scene, people waiting on two benches, a desk with equipment, and two missionaries treating patients. “Just wanted to look.” His head twitched to the side.

Rod finished taking the weight of one patient and said to the boy, “Assalaamo alaikum (greetings).”

With another head twitch the boy answered, “Waalaikum assalaam (Peace to you)”

Rod said, “They call me Dr. Rodney. What’s your name?”

“Allah Bakhsh.”

Another patient called out, “His name is Monkey. Don’t pay any attention to him. He wanders around the bazaar all day; doesn’t do anything useful – too stupid.”

Ian looked up, “I’m Dr. Ian. There’s space to sit over here.”

Allah Bakhsh made his way over while his head twitched to the side revealing a white patch in his dark hair. He quietly listened as Rod examined a new patient. “Do you have a fever, cough, lack of appetite? We need to do a test. In the morning when you cough, spit the phlegm into this little pot, close the lid and bring it back so we can analyse it.”

Ian spoke to another patient. “You have TB. I know people think that’s a death sentence, but you can get better with these medicines. We have world-class medicines. If you take them for six months, you will be well again.”

He had to give hope to patients quickly as these people could not afford expensive treatments and would certainly slowly decline till death would snuff out their lives. Sometimes relatives ended the patients’ lives earlier, particularly on a Thursday night, believing that Allah accepted people into Paradise more easily then.

When Allah Bakhsh’s turn came, Rod found him very pleasant, reasonably healthy, but mentally and physically handicapped, earning him the term ‘crazy’. He had no desire to go elsewhere and hung around till closing time. Just before leaving he said, “I can remember your names because of the cricketers, Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee. You are Dr. Rodney and Dr. Dennis.” As he stepped out, he lifted the sleeve of his qamiz (long, baggy shirt) and wiped his nose.

He took a few paces, then stopped to watch the blacksmith pumping the bellows in his makeshift workspace between the clinic and the busy road. Another man came up and pushed Allah Bakhsh to the side, “Out of my way, Paagal. I need to get my scythe sharpened for harvesting the rice.” Allah Bakhsh stayed pleasant, oblivious to the insult, and walked off, joining the flow of humanity, their sandals stirring up dust as they went their various ways.

Ian and Rod saw the people as Jesus described them, sheep without a shepherd, (Matthew 9:36): vulnerable people easily influenced by those around them, unaware of the deceitfulness of Satan that tells them to reject Jesus, who is the Good Shepherd and can rescue them from their sin and give them a glorious future. Allah Bakhsh too, was a precious soul, made in the image of God, stung with the effects of sin in our fallen world; a soul for whom Christ died. For this reason, the two men had come with their families, to treat the sick and share the good news of Jesus.

So began our friendship with Allah Bakhsh. Ian couldn’t figure out how his disabilities had come about, whether genetic or from injuries. Either way they left him unable to go to school or play games like other boys. He wore magic charms around his neck to ward off any evil influence from jinns (demons).

Locals hardly tolerated Allah Bakhsh, mostly giving in to their fallen, human inclination to marginalize the disabled. Their prophet, Muhammad, 1400 years earlier showed the same nature when he turned from a blind man, giving preference to influential leaders in Mecca, for which Allah rebuked him (Quran, 80:1-4). So, Allah Bakhsh’s uncle, a poor man himself, provided food and shelter for his nephew. Ian and Rod too, had to check their natural tendency to give him less value, remembering Jesus’ example and teaching, to love others as you love yourself (Mark 12:31).

Harmless and pleasant, Allah Bakhsh had roamed the streets, sometimes going to the mosque to recite his prayers. But he struggled with the Arabic, the only valid way for Allah to accept him. Now, he started coming to the clinic and shyly sat on the bench enjoying the refuge from the relentless sun, sitting under the fan (when the electricity worked), and drinking the chai or cold drinks the foreigners shared with him. Bit by bit his story came out. When still an infant, someone shot and killed his father for stealing. His mother died a few years later and his uncle took him in.

One time when patients were few, Ian said to Allah Bakhsh, “Come look at this.” Ian lifted a small cassette recorder off the desk, especially designed by Language Recordings International, in Sydney, to aid oral learners in areas with poor electrical supply. Ian started winding its handle to generate power. Allah Bakhsh sat in rapt attention as he listened to someone telling a Bible story in Sindhi, his mother tongue. Whenever Ian stopped winding, the speaker stopped. “Here’s a picture book that illustrates the story. You turn the page every time they play a musical prompt. Would you like a turn?”

Allah Bakhsh practised and quickly got the hang of it. Each day when he came into the clinic, he’d pick up the cassette recorder, sit up straight, start winding and smile, looking around to see if anyone noticed how clever he was. He’d periodically turn the pages of the book even if he couldn’t get the right picture. As people dropped into the clinic, they’d see him and say something like, “Hey Monkey, move over. Let me look.” They’d take it from him and turn the handle, listening to the Bible story with the booklet. After finishing they’d put the audio machine down and talk to the doctors. This scenario was repeated many times over for years. Allah Baksh never tired of the stories and became the means that many others heard. Who would have considered his valuable contribution to spreading the good news of Jesus. This verse came to mind: God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong (1 Corinthians 1:27).

Over and over Allah Bakhsh heard stories of how Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and then suffered and gave his life as a sacrifice to rescue people, and then conquered death. He told others how amazing Jesus is, above other prophets. The Quran also praises Jesus for his purity and power to heal and raise the dead, but to say that Jesus is the Son of God is to commit the unforgiveable sin. Allah Bakhsh wanted to follow Jesus, but faced a backlash. One day he came to the clinic and with a pale face said, “My uncle and others are going to beat me up if I don’t stop talking about Jesus.” They got the desired result of their threats. Allah Bakhsh went silent.

This illustrates why many Muslims stay in Islam. They are held in fear of losing family, culture, everything, if they leave, even life itself. Every form of Sharia Law calls for the death penalty for anyone leaving Islam. But to those who threatened Allah Bakhsh, the warning from Jesus applies: If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea (Matthew 18:6).

Allah Bakhsh continued to love Ian and Rod and started visiting us after hours. He came to our simple duplex on the edge of town and said, “You’re my best friends.” Protocol in this Muslim area said that male visitors must stay separate from the family’s women folk – a tradition from Muhammad’s example. Since both our families had a teenage daughter, Allah Bakhsh had to stay in the baittock (separate male visitors’ room). Ian and Rod usually had other work to do, but some of our boys would spend time with him. We also got him to wash our cars once a week and paid him a ‘wage’. When he received the money, (higher than anyone should get), he’d smile, “I’m saving up for a watch.” We thought he’d have trouble reading it, but it would give him status. Otherwise, he just sat in the baittock, enjoyed some food, and browsed Australian Geographic and other such magazines. When most of our children left for boarding school, he said, “I’m so sad, so sad. I miss them. We used to be fifteen, now only six.” He included himself as one of the six back home.

One day Ian broke some difficult news to him. “We are going back to Australia to visit our family and friends. We’ll be back at the end of summer.”

“Oh, please take me with you. Please adopt me. I want to join your family. Just take me as a son.”

“You ask a difficult thing. The Pakistan government doesn’t allow a Christian to adopt a Muslim.” Allah Bakhsh’s head dropped. And we felt so bad. We were so glad that in God’s family no government can forbid adoption, as Jesus said: Everyone that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I certainly will not cast out (John 6:37).

Months later when we returned to Pakistan from home assignment, he was one of the first at our door. We spent many more years in Pakistan, but in a different district, and now live in Australia. Allah Bakhsh somehow managed to learn how to use an old smartphone, and often contacts us using WhatsApp.

Our experience with this disabled man reminded us of our magnificent God who sees our suffering, and stepped into our world, suffered, died and rose again and conquered our greatest enemies: death and Satan. He promises complete restoration and eternal life in his kingdom, for those willing to turn from their own way and follow Jesus. It also reminds us how tough it is for anyone to leave Islam. Our prayers remain that the Lord may release many slaves from the house of Islam to be born again through the Holy Spirit to trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection and be received into God’s family.

–  Dorcas Denness