France, Holland and Belgium (July 1992)

  • Post category:My Travels

On a Thursday evening in July 1992, accompanied by 2 friends, Ḥāfiẓ Āsif Choudhury and Ḥāfiẓ Imrān Khonat, the three of us left Blackburn in a rented estate car heading for Newhaven, for an early morning crossing to Dieppe (France). It was the start of an exciting and adventurous 7 days. Driving down the M6, we stopped at Corley Services to pick up our fourth travel companion, the one and only, Ḥāfiẓ Rafīq Shaikh.

The car was stocked with enough goodies to last us a month, and munching away, we arrived at Newhaven. After boarding the ferry with our car, we took our seats in the cabin during what felt like a long crossing to Dieppe. Some four hours later we were in France. It was coming up to midday, and although we drove as fast as we could, being in a foreign country and not knowing the routes too well, missed our JumuꜤah Ṣalāh.

Stopping at a Masjid in Paris to offer our Ẓuhr Ṣalāh, we met some locals who guided us to the local Tablighi Markaz, where we met with some more brothers who were very happy to meet with us. After ꜤAṣr Ṣalāh an old Arab man came to ask if any one of us was an ꜤĀlim (scholar) who could assist a Frenchman wanting to revert to Islām. This was indeed an honour, so I happily volunteered. The Frenchman drove me and the Arab to a nearby house.

I explained everything to this Frenchman in English and after a little while he took the Shahādah, سُبْحَانَ الله; what a blessing! The Arab then requested me to perform the Nikāh of this revert as well, which took me by surprise as it wasn’t mentioned before, but went along with the flow. Asking about the bride and her family, I was told that she was present in the house, upstairs, and that I had the permission to perform her Nikāh with this revert. When I asked who was the wakīl (representative) of the bride, the Arab brother volunteered.

The wakīl and I went upstairs. In the presence of her friends, I explained the whole procedure to the bride, an Arab girl by the name of ĀꜤishah. She was very happy that her husband-to-be had accepted Islām, and consented to her Nikāh being performed. We had some refreshments after the Nikāh, then I was taken back to the Masjid where my three friends were waiting for me. I apologised for taking so long and off we went.

By this time we had formed a friendship with a young Arab student who happily agreed to show us around Paris. He took us to see the Eiffel Tower, The Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées. We had a lovely time with our host. As it was getting late into the night, we went to a few nearby hotels and to our amazement all hotels were fully booked.

As we had planned to visit the newly opened Euro Disney Resort (now called Disneyland Paris) the next day, we decided to head there late into the night. A few other cars had arrived there already so we parked up, joining the queue near the entrance. There were some 7 hours to go before the gates opened and we were so tired that, after making ourselves comfy, we fell asleep in the car.

A knock on the car window woke us up. It was Saturday morning and the attendants were guiding cars into the car park. Besides Ḥāfiẓ Rafīq Shaykh, who was not too fond of rides, the three of us paid the entrance fee (around £25 each) and enjoyed a very good seven hours in Euro Disney. As the resort had opened very recently, it was packed with visitors and we were lucky to get five to six rides in the time we spent there.

While coming out, we planned the next part of our journey. Our intention was to drive to Córdoba, so we set off in the direction of Spain and after some seven hours of driving, pulled into an Aire de service (motorway service station, with a lot of facilities). Again, as it had been a very long day, we just fell asleep in the car.

We awoke early in the morning and continued with our journey. After some four hours of travelling, it was nearly midday and we were still very far from Spain, so after mashwara, decided that as it would take us too long to get to Córdoba, we should change course and head for Holland instead. Ḥāfiẓ Āsif had recently spent time in JamāꜤah, and had become very good friends with a Muslim family there.

We turned our car around, retracing our tracks back to Paris, crossing into Belgium some eight hours later, and entering Holland in the early hours of Monday morning. We had almost run out of fuel and the first petrol station we arrived at only accepted card payments at night. Having no option but to wait till the morning to pay cash, we just parked up and, for the fourth night running, slept in the car.

It was Monday morning when we arrived in Den Haag (The Hague), Holland’s fourth largest city and seat of government (but not the constitutional capital, which is Amsterdam). Ḥāfiẓ Āsif phoned the family he had met in JamāꜤah and we were so happy to learn that they were only half an hour away. We arrived at their house to learn that the man of the house was away for a few days but his sons and wife were very happy that we were visiting. Another family friend came along and took us to the nearby Masjid. We rested for a while and had a delicious home cooked breakfast, the first decent meal in four days. Our hosts made us feel really special.

We made plans to stay two days in Holland. The rest of the day was spent sightseeing, and in the evening, we offered our Ṣalāhs at the local Masjid, where we enjoyed the company of the locals. Arrangements were made for us to spend the night in the Masjid, the first proper sleep in 5 days.

The tiredness must have truly knocked us out, as it was way past sunrise when we awoke. However, we just couldn’t believe we’d missed Fajr. Later on, the locals said they saw us fast asleep in a corner of the Masjid, and didn’t bother to wake us up. This was hard to believe but gave them the benefit of the doubt. To this day, I don’t think anyone turned up for Fajr that day. Allāh knows best. 

We had made very good friends with a local brother and he was instructed by the Amīr of the local Masjid to show us around the whole day. We had another lovely day in Den Haag visiting tourist attractions and shopping areas. Tuesday night was spent at the house of this brother.

After breakfast, we decided to head back to Paris. On our return, we had to pass through Belgium again, where we stopped for a short while in a nearby town, then continued our journey into France. Upon arrival in Paris late into the evening, we phoned our friend who had shown us around Paris on the first night. He turned up, and we did a full tour of Paris at night again. Once again, we slept in the car.

On the next day, Thursday, after spending the morning in Paris, we headed for Dieppe. Our ferry booking was on a late night crossing, which would have arrived in the early hours of Friday. We managed to convince the English speaking lady at the ferry terminal to put us on an earlier ferry. She had a bit of an argument with her French counterpart, but in the end she had her way and we reached Newhaven close to midnight. A five hour drive later, we arrived back into Blackburn safe and sound, and very tired, at 5 am on Friday. A truly remarkable and memorable seven days.