Captain Abdus Salam Khan (19 december 1926 – 27 september 2016)

My most beloved maternal uncle Abdus Salam Khan passed away on the 27 September 2016 after suffering from diverse ailments in Rancho Cucamonga, a small town in San Bernardino, Los Angeles, California. We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return. He was born at Ahmadiyya Buildings, Brandrath Road,  Lahore Pakistan on 19 December 1926. His father Mohammad Yakub khan hailed from a remote hamlet Pirpiyaee, which lies in North West Pakistan, an area now known as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or KPK. The dwellers of Pirpiyaee belonged to a pathan clan called The Babers. Both his parents had a highly learned background and were deeply religious. His father had seen The Promised Masiah Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian in India; however, it took him several years before formally joining the Ahmadiyya Movement by taking an oath of allegiance at the hands of the first caliph of The Movement Moulvi Nooruddin. His mother Zubeda Begum was the daughter of the illustrious Dr Basharat Ahmad widely known as the writer of a collection of books entitled Mujadid Azam, which gave a detailed account of how the Promised Masiah Mirza Ghulam Ahmad spent his life. Both her parents were settled in Sialkot in the British India. Dr Basharat Ahmad went to the famous Scotch Mission College there and had the honour of being a class fellow of great Sir Allama Iqbal, an iconic figure who conceived the idea of a separate Muslim state i.e. Pakistan in the British India. Dr Bashart Ahmad was quite a wealthy person.
Uncle Abdus Salam Khan had six siblings, five brothers and a sister (my mother). He completed his early education between 1935 and 1941 at the Muslim High School, Lahore, securing top first division in the matriculation exams. During the following four years between 1941 and 1945 he attended the Government College Lahore, Forman Christian College and Diyal Singh College graduating from the later.
In 1946 All India Navy Regular Commission Test was conducted by the British Government throughout India to select a few successful candidates aspiring to join the British Naval College at Dartmouth in England. He was among the few who passed the test and received a commission as a midshipman in the Royal British Navy. During his training at Dartmouth he was posted on the aircraft carrier H.M.S Illustrious for some time. Uncle Salam took after his father in many ways – attachment to religion was one among several others. During his training period at Dartmouth Naval College, England, he visited the Woking Mosque quite often. The visitor’s diary at the Woking Mosque, Surrey, England shows his hand-written impressions intact even today and can be seen by visiting the following link:

Woking Mosque visitors book 1948-1954


His father Mohammad Yaqub Khan

The whole Khan family had a special relationship with the Woking Mosque at 149 Oriental Road, Woking GU22 7BA, United Kingdom. His father Mohammad Yaqub Khan was among the first missionaries of Islam in the West. He was posted as Imam several times between 1921 and 1962 and during this period several thousand indigenous Britons embraced Islam. For him visiting the Mosque afforded him an opportunity of meeting his beloved father.
A new chapter in his life began in 1948, when due to some personal reasons, he opted out of the Dartmouth Naval College training programme and began a sea-career as a merchant navy officer. Between 1948 and1955 he began working as second navigating officer onboard the British merchant navy fleet followed by another stint as Chief Navigating Officer onboard Mohammadi Shipping Company of Pakistan. In 1956 he reached the zenith of his profession when he passed all the examinations leading to the certificate of Master Mariner from Aberdeen in Scotland. In addition, he attended many courses in London qualifying as Surveyor of Ships and Cargo and served with Lloyds of London for some time.

In 1947, great changes occurred in India when the British decided to leave the sub-continent and give independence to Indians. It led to the creation of the twin nations of India and Pakistan. Both the nascent states began mustering their most learned and skilled citizens from around the world.  Many belonging to the respective states began arriving home from abroad. In 1957, Uncle Salam left the UK and joined Pak Bay Company at Narayanganj in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). He headed the company as a Marine Officer taking charge of over two hundred small and large cargo ships along with overseeing 1200 personnel. In the same year, he married a lady from Chittagong. In 1961, he was offered a job as a Pussur River pilot by the Government of Pakistan. He was posted at Khulna, a big town by the River Rupsha. His job was to bring in large cargo ships through the Pussur River (70 km) from Hiran Point in Sundarbans to the Mongla Port and back. The banks of Pussur River were covered with thick forest and mangroves and offered breath-taking views of the passing cargo ships. As a Pussur River Pilot he knew every inch of the Sunderbans like the back of his hand. He spoke Bengali like a native and therefore many local fishermen and loggers had direct access to him. The villagers would often come to him with complains of attacks by man-eating royal Bengal tigers for help. Uncle Salam, who had inherited game shooting skills from his father, almost always readily accepted any such challenge. Whenever such incidents increased to an alarming level the Central Government used to issue directives to all Pussur River Pilots for support in dealing with the problem. On many occasions the Government would hire professional shooters like illustrious Tahawar Ali Khan, who was greatly admired by all for his services in dealing with man-eaters of Sunderbans on several occasions. However, even a professional shooter like him could not know the maze-like creeks and estuaries of Sunderbans and was therefore totally dependent on Uncle’s practical knowledge of the area. So, whenever Tahawar Ali Khan came to Khulna he invariably stayed at uncle’s house. It was here that they used to plan details of any expedition to kill the threatening animal. My memories from the time I stayed with Uncle are still quite vivid. Once the son of a serving president of Pakistan, Gohar Ayub khan, visited Uncle in Khulna to participate in a similar expedition to Sunderbans. Uncle Abdus Salam was a very generous person who would always take the initiative to serve friends and making new ones. (In 1963 I joined Uncle´s family as a seven-year-old boy and went to a local school in Khulna). Uncle Salam used to take me with him on Pussur River sailings quite often. In fact, it is there that I became familiar with sea life by watching uncle navigate huge ships through the narrow Pussur River to the Mongla Port and back. I watched every aspect of his life very closely and became familiar with both the perils and the opportunities of the seafaring profession. In an accident at Uncle´s home, I fell off the roof of the double-story building, while we children played at night, in which my left knee got injured seriously. This proved to be a turning point in my childhood. Uncle and aunt decided to send me back to my grandfather in Lahore in West Pakistan.

In 1967 a serious incident took place in his life when his wife suddenly disappeared in Khulna. He had five children with her, all boys, still being taken care of by nannies. With time it became increasingly difficult for him to work and take care of minor children without a mother now. He decided to move three of the boys to Lahore in West Pakistan to join his father Mohammad Yaqub Khan, who was by then leading a retired life at home. Uncle kept the youngest and the eldest sons with him onboard the cargo ships that he commanded. In 1968 one of his cargo ships called at the port of Baltimore, Maryland (USA). He met an old lady there who expressed her desire to adopt his eldest son Ayub for the sake of giving him a good education and upbringing instead of letting the lad just keep wandering around oceans along with his father. He let the old lady keep his eldest son in Baltimore, hoping for a better future for him. The youngest son kept sailing together with him.
The government of Pakistan had allotted him a huge house in the poshest area of Khulna called Khalispur, which was a stone’s throw away from the River Rupsha. Khalispur was mainly a residential area for several Pussur River Pilots who were always in contact with each other and the Port Authorities. After serving as a Pussur River Pilot between 1961 and 1969 he was subsequently given the post of Harbour Master of the Mongla Port by the Central Government towards the end of 1969. In 1970 he got married for the second time to a lady in Lahore, West Pakistan and returned to East Pakistan soon after the wedding. He worked there until the civil war broke out in 1971 leading to the independence of Bangladesh. He had to flee for his life from Khulna together with his family. He subsequently joined the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation in West Pakistan as a captain and worked there between 1970 and 1974.
Soon after joining the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation he got elected as the President of the sea-going Officers Association and remained so until he left PNSC in 1974 to join Arya National Shipping Lines, Iran as a sea captain. The Arya National Shipping Lines was completely dominated by British, French and German Captains and officers in those days, which seemed to be the general policy of the man in charge in Tehran King Raza Shah Pehlevi. All the lower level crew hailed from Iran. Uncle Salam asked the Tehran head office for a review of this seemingly discriminatory policy and asked for permission to recruit senior level ship crew from Iran and Indo Pak Subcontinent who would replace the Westerners. Consequently, the Shipping Lines head office in Tehran gave him the task to recruit senior level crew members to begin with from Pakistan. Uncle Salam set up an office in Pearl Continental Hotel Karachi, and began recruiting after advertising in a local newspaper. He recruited around 150 officers and engineers for Arya National Shipping Lines and subsequently returned to Iran to take command of a newly bought cargo ship Lucie Delmas from France. The ship was renamed Arya Sara under his command. All the ship’s technical data and instruction manuals were in French. He personally translated all the manuals into English. In June 1976 he asked me to join Arya Sara as an ordinary sailor. I had just taken my F.Sc intermediate exam in Lahore and awaited the results. I accepted the offer gladly. Subsequently I received a telex from the head office in Tehran to prepare to join Arya Sara, which was about to call at the port of Ras Tanura near Dhahran in Saudi Arabia. I made it to the ship without any difficulties. At the end of 1976 he requested the head-office in Iran for a third navigating officer for Arya Sara, and as a result, the first Iranian officer Mohsin Argai joined Arya Sara. I could see the jubilant Iranian seamen who were now for the first time, witnessing an Iranian national as an Officer of the Watch (OOW). Mohsin Argai had studied in London and had passed all the required tests there before qualifying for the Certificate of Competency (CoC) as Third Navigation Officer. Uncle Salam loved the Persian language and spoke it like a native. I can still recall him making announcements over the ship´s public address system – all in Persian. He had set up a small Persian language learning library in a room next to the navigating bridge of the ship. During early 1977 Uncle Salam left Arya National Shipping Lines to join another Iranian Company “Maritime Co. Ltd” as Port Captain of Bandar Abbas, where he worked until 29 March 1979. Subsequently as the brewing Iranian revolution looked imminent he left Bandar Abbas together with his wife crossing over to UAE by boat and finally headed home to Lahore. This was the second time in his life that he had lost all his belongings including his job and had to flee for his life – his resilience knew no bounds!

During the 1980s, while touring North West Pakistan near Murree the minibus that he was travelling in along with his family fell into a ravine after the driver lost control over the vehicle. Many passengers died in that accident but luckily Uncle Salam survived it sustaining serious injuries to his back and right leg. His wife and children survived the accident with slight injuries. The accident had a colossal effect on his life – he had now become physically unfit to command a ship or do any other job. At that time all the five children from his second wife were still schooling in Lahore. With a total end to the only source of income things now began to fall apart for him. But as they say, “it never rains but it pours”. In 1988 he developed a polyp in his bowels and had to undergo an operation – a costly one. It deteriorated his financial position further but thanks to a brother in Lahore he somehow managed to overcome the difficulties. Uncle Salam had five children with his first wife – all boys. He had another five with his second wife, three boys and two girls. During the early 90s one of his sons, Dr Mubarik Ahmad khan, moved to the USA after getting married. Subsequently Uncle Salam too moved to USA along with the remaining family members and settled in Cucamonga, San Bernardino near Los Angeles for good. He was now out of all sorts of financial difficulties and kept himself occupied by writing intensively. The Ahmadiyya Movement in the USA gave him many assignments to translate the Urdu books of the Promised Messiah Mirza Ghulam Ahmad; something he loved to do. He loved writing Urdu, Persian and English poetry. During the last few years of his life he composed many poems in English sending me some of them for formatting on the computer. The vast distance between Gothenburg(Sweden) and Los Angeles(USA) never mattered because of high speed internet services that both ends had access to and a deep mutual love that we had between us. I met Uncle Salam for the first time when I was hardly four years old and lived at 17-G, Model Town in Lahore together with my grandfather Mohammad Yaqub Khan. My father had left my mother and an elder brother soon after my birth. My grandmother Zubeda Begum looked after all of us despite being paralysed and bedridden for most part of her life. According to the late beloved Uncle Salam his father Mohammad Yaqub Khan had received the house at 17-G Model Town Lahore, an evacuee property, by the Government of Pakistan after grandpa took over the famous newspaper The Civil & Military Gazette after F.W. Bustin who had left it in 1953, as Chief Editor. Among the notable staff of the The Civil & Military Gazette were the illustrious British author and poet Rudyard Kipling who referred it as his “mistress and most true love.” During 60`s Uncle Salam worked as Pussur River Pilot in East Pakistan. He used to visit us in Lahore regularly. It took me no time to develop a father-like relationship with him. He liked playing tennis in a local club about 2 km from 17 G Model Town in an area called Club Chowk. I used to caddie for him. He was very keen on physical fitness and played tennis for couple of hours every day. At the end we used to go to a nearby fruit shop where we used to drink fresh juice of chilled “mithay” (a type of Persian lime). The fruit had a bitter quinine-like taste but according to medicine practitioners it detoxified the whole-body system. Uncle Salam was very health-conscious, he never liked spicy food, never smoked or went near coca cola drinks – which had just entered the Pakistani market in the 60s. Playing tennis used to be a ritual for the afternoons that he followed strictly even when he sailed as a sea captain (Whenever his ship called at Karachi Port he would play tennis at a local club regularly in the afternoons). During the forenoons he used to spend most of the time with his mother sitting on her Charpai (a light bedstead). She had got bed-ridden in 1929 soon after the birth of her last baby boy (Humayun Uncle) due to a paralysis attack and remained bedridden for the rest of her life. I used to watch Uncle Salam and his mother talk with each other endlessly and grandmother would often break into laughter. None of grandma’s other sons ever sat on her Charpai and none had ever got so close to their mother as Uncle Salam had done. He was her darling and a great source of joy, happiness and strength. Grandma, despite her afflictions had an indomitable spirit. Both the mother and the son had lots of similarities including that both had their place reserved in paradise for the life hereafter.

Uncle Salam & family lived in a huge manor-like house situated in a very posh area of Lahore called New Garden Town. The house had been built by his father late Mohammad Yaqub Khan during the 60s. The Master Mariner used to sit in the front veranda of the house (as if sitting in a chair inside the navigation bridge of a huge ship) every day and helped the ailing and the destitute who visited him in their droves, many unable to make it to the hospitals on their own. His son Mubarik Ahmad Khan had almost completed his education as a doctor in Lahore and upon his father´s wishes would take the visiting patients at home and helped them with free diagnoses and medicine. It was all due to one incredible sea captain who had great respect and love for the humanity at large. All his life he looked after his parents in line with the true teachings of Islam. Like his mother, who had got bedridden while still young, his father too got paralysed towards the end of his life. A group of servants were employed to look after him for a great number of years which meant huge costs, mostly assumed by Uncle Salam. During hot summers in Lahore special arrangements would be made to move both the parents to Abbottabad, a beautiful heaven-like hill station situated in the northwest of Pakistan. That meant huge costs which were mostly assumed by Uncle Salam. He undoubtedly played a key role in alleviating the sufferings of his parents. Whenever he visited Lahore during his annual vacation he used to bathe his father, change his clothes and bedlinen; the unforgettable scenes that I have been witness to. It was thanks to his unfathomable love for his parents. His two brothers late Colonel Mohammad Aslam Khan and Mohammad Yousaf Khan in Lahore too contributed towards the household expenses of their parents. All of them were reasonably affluent and were always willing to help in every way.
I enjoyed a special relationship with Uncle Salam ever since I was a four-year-old child. Once I began to understand things I looked around and couldn´t see my father anywhere. I used to ask my grandmother about my father´s whereabouts but she would not say a word about it. Then I saw Uncle Salam and began regarding him as my father and took no time in getting close to him. During the 60s he lived permanently in Khulna (East Pakistan). He used to visit his parents in Lahore (West Pakistan) every year. At the end of each tour Uncle would empty his money pouch in front of me by turning it upside down. As coins dropped on the floor I would pick them up one by one but at the same time I used to have tears in my eyes knowing that the time for his departure for East Pakistan had come. Then came the unforgettable period of almost a year which I spent with him in Khulna; this was all according to his understanding and planning with grandfather and grandmother who hoped that I would get a better education and upbringing by joining uncle´s family in East Pakistan.
Uncle Salam´s profession as a sea captain had a great impact on all of us. Following his suit, I joined another shipping company based in Hong Kong as a marine cadet and completed a four-year hard and long training programme. Likewise, three of his sons Ayub, Asif and Farhat took up seafaring professions. Upon completing my apprenticeship in 1987, I successfully passed the third navigating officer (Liberian version) exam in Karachi. While I was still in Karachi, Uncle wrote me a letter asking for my consent to my marriage arrangement with my present wife in Sweden. Upon hearing from me, he made all the arrangements and asked me to come over to Lahore. At that point Shahida (my wife) was on a visit to Pakistan. Her parents were in touch with Uncle Salam. Everything worked out perfectly and my wedding took place in Lahore. All thanks to Uncle Salam whom I remain highly indebted to for his father-like support for me ever since my childhood. He cared for all of us, my elder brother, my mother (his elder sister) and even those who were not even directly related to him. The house in Lahore where he lived functioned as a haven for poverty-stricken individuals. A young boy Abdul Hakeem, whose parents could not afford to hire a place for his stay in Lahore or pay for his food or fees to attend a college, begged Uncle Salam for help. The young lad, Abdul Hakeem, became his family member until he completed his education and succeeded in getting a reasonable job in Lahore. Likewise, Bashir Ahmad (the private secretary of the present Caliph of Ahmadiyya Movement based in England) joined Uncle Salam´s family for education until he completed it and even secured a fine job. Uncle Abdus Salam was a kind-hearted and an incredibly generous person, who always went out of his way to help people in need. He suffered many a turmoil in succession. He lost his wife, his job and all his belongings in Khulna, East Pakistan. Then, once again in Iran he lost his job and all his belongings and finally a fatal accident in Murree rendered him unfit for a sea profession; nevertheless, his spirits remained indomitable.
Another quite unique aspect of his person was that he never made any enemies. Instead, the circle of his friendship widened with every sunrise. His father late Mohammad Yaqub Khan wrote many books in English, which became highly popular particularly among Ahmadiyya Movement circles. He was a prolific writer and a highly acclaimed editor of a newspaper and several magazines. He took great pains to coach Uncle Salam in the English language right from an early age, which was why Uncle Salam´s writings reflected the same level as that of his father´s. He translated many of the Promised Messiah´s books, written in a high level literary Urdu language, into English. On one occasion while he was translating Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad´s book “Tiryaq-ul-Quloob” into English, I had the opportunity of typing directly as he held the book in his hand and translated it into English almost effortlessly, as if he had written the book himself. He had a great knowledge of the person of the Promised Messiah because he had read many of his more than 80 masterpieces, and as a result, enjoyed complete command over discussions on his person. Likewise, he had a deep understanding of every aspect of the life and purpose of the Holy Prophet Mohammad(pbuh). He wrote many poems in Urdu and English paying great respect and homage to the great Prophet of Islam.
During his last few years in the US he wrote many articles and poems in English which were published in the local newspapers in Los Angeles.Uncle Salam was quite rich throughout his life, but one could never tell from his simple lifestyle that he was wealthy. During his sea profession, he would regularly vacation with his parents. The personal clothes he had in his suitcase, both formal and casual used to be few in number. Many of us saw his shoes had repair patches everywhere, something which spoke volumes about his person. We, children at home, never saw him purchase any clothes from any high-end shops in Lahore. His frugal attitude was totally due to his commitments towards his parent. He showered his parents with love, comfort and money, returning all that they had done for him during his childhood and remained always incredibly humble.

While I was writing the eulogy on him my mind flashed back to an article which his father late Mohammad Yaqub Khan had written in a periodical “The Light” in 1941 upon the death of his sixteen-year-old son Salim (Uncle Salam´s sibling) in which he wrote (excerpt):
Salim was more than a son to me. He was a personal friend, a private secretary, an A.D.C., all in one to me. He had just passed the 16th year but I never had had the occasion to upbraid him or accost him with a harsh word. This was all due to him. He was all care and sympathy for me. The slightest shade of feeling on my face had a repercussion on his mind. And he lost no time in attuning his mind accordingly. In Salim I have lost my duplicate. It was Salim who shared with me the burden of my daily life. It was he who would see all sorts of little house-hold needs. It was he who would keep the mess account, do shopping for the household, keep by the bed-side of an ailing member of the family.Uncle Salam was another duplicate of his father. His simple lifestyle, habits, favourite pastimes and religious fervour, all looked very similar to his father´s. He was as learned as his father. To the children he was their darling. He remembered all the children´s stories that his mother had told him during his childhood and he in turn would tell those stories to his grandchildren in the US.

For me he had literally held my finger, guiding me throughout my life, and kept holding it until he breathed his last. He was my father and mentor; both in one. During the last few years of his life he wrote English poetry but faced problems with sitting in front of the computer for a longer period due to his weakening health. He scribbled many poems by hand and would send them to me in Sweden by scanning them. I in turn would call him up and we would ensure that no misunderstanding existed about the wordings of the poems. Subsequently I would format the poems using colourful backgrounds and returned them to him. He then used to circulate those among family members and friends worldwide. This ritual continued for several years.
Uncle Salam left behind a rich legacy of how his numerous progeny, spread all over the globe, could lead their lives. Ayub Khan, his eldest son in Australia, Farhat Abbas in Canada, Asif Khan in Norway, Iqbal khan in Lahore, Mahmood khan, Ahmed Raza Khan, Bashir Khan and Attia Khan in Los Angeles, Aisha Khan in Karachi and this humble writer in Sweden, who remains highly indebted to Uncle Salam for the love and deep affection that he showered on me, my late brother Zubair and my late mother (his sister) Zahida Begum.

May his soul dwell in paradise. Ameen.

Sajjad Ahmad Dated: 21 October 2017.
Gothenburg, Sweden.