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Feather's Miscellany: The Teachers - Part 1 - Many Roads To Allah

John Waddington-Feather tells of a man in his fifties who decides to teach in Africa.

John bases his story on his own experiences in the Sudan in 1984-85. This is the first of four episodes. The second episode will run in Open Writing next Sunday.

Ustaz Mahmoud was a quiet gentle man, a scholar and retired Professor of Islamic Law from the University. He was a devout Muslim and, of course, was well read in the Qu'ran and Islamic Scriptures. As a result he had a sect of loyal followers, both men and women.

Yet, though he was so mild and gentle, saintly, he was passionate about justice; and when the General declared his version of Shari'ah Law in a Country where more than half the population was Christian, Mahmoud opposed it fiercely and found himself in prison as a result.

To impose Islamic Law and beliefs on non-Muslims went against everything Mahmoud believed in and had taught. "There are many roads to Allah among the sincerely religious," he once said, "for Allah has made it so. For Muslims the way is through His holy prophet, Mohammed, may his name be blessed. For Christians that way is through Jesus Christ, and for the Jews through Moses and the Law. No man must impose his beliefs on others. Faith comes from the heart, from experiencing Allah, honouring Him and living in peace with all."

Mahmoud was outspoken against the imposition of Shari'ah and that rankled the radical foreigners. In fact, all the evils of the country had come from abroad: the secret police, armaments - and corruption in high places, which bled the country dry. The General and his ineffectual officials lived in luxury, propped up by the army. Around them millions lived in poverty and were dying from the greatest famine in years to ravage the country.

Ustaz Mahmoud had many followers in the university and elsewhere. They lived simple pious lives, meeting secretly in prayer and singing psalms, secret because the General had banned their sect and his police were hunting them down.

Indeed, the General's police arrested anyone who contradicted him. He had his own football team and woe betide any team which beat it. It finished season after season unbeaten at the top of the league.

Jack Pedwar was already in his early fifties when he volunteered to teach in the country. In England education was in upheaval as the old grammar schools were replaced with large comprehensives. A lifelong grammar school master, Jack Pedwar was not happy in the new system; in fact it depressed him so much he was near a break-down and was offered early retirement.

When he recovered he began looking in an educational paper for jobs; now he could begin planning his own life and work in a system he believed in. Though he was ordained, he didn't feel called to parish ministry. He was a born teacher, but he helped in his parish church and also in the local prison.

He fancied a spell of teaching English as a foreign language in one of the well paid colleges overseas: Switzerland, the south of France, Italy, Greece, with long holidays and a place in the sun where his wife could join him. His family were grown up and he had only his wife and himself to care about now.

His eye skimmed the Overseas Jobs page. There they were, all those plum jobs abroad he dreamed about...till he saw a small advertisement at the bottom of the page: "Teachers urgently needed for Africa. Only the dedicated need apply."

Something within him responded and on impulse he applied for the job despite his wife's reservations. His reason told him he would be too old (and he hoped his reason was right!), for it was for the young, the newly graduated; not middle-aged old-fashioned teachers like him who had been made redundant.

Before he knew it, he had been called for an interview in London, got the job despite his age and was sent on a course to learn basic Arabic and familiarise himself with the way of life he was about to enter - a very different way of life he was to discover; a way of life in which Jack Pedwar found his real self.

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