THE IMAM WHO PLANTED TREES | WORDS BY KIERAN LIVETT (KES)
This stone clad, smog stained town was built on the servitude, graft and duty that it’s past is famed for. At one point the blueprint for the empires jock off production line. Still to this day recognised by merchants in New Zealand as a proper wool town. Whilst intrinsically linked, it is not this aspect of our history that I wish to dwell on. Nor is our history the story of which I am about to recount. But without a historical culture so diverse, fraught with hardship and yet celebratory of its own wretched existence, such a tale could never occur.
My introduction to life was idyllic. As a young Bradfordian growing up in a small but genuinely multicultural and progressive community you couldn’t escape from the idea that life was, and would continue to B-RAD. At the age of 7 that illusion would be turned on its head. My family had moved to the moor side suburbs - the backdrop of an enlightening encounter to come fifteen years further down the road - and I began to experience for the first time, the intolerance, racism and hate that brought our wonderful city to it’s knees.
Thankfully, throughout the rest of my youth I was able to turn away from the shit-storms that humanity was throwing up and head out into the moors. These vast, grouse beaten peat bogs were once to me the romantic wuthering heights so often celebrated. Yet the moors to me now harrowingly represent the humble attitude of a lost tribe. That of workmen, maintained in a denatured state in order to entertain the “rights” of a more worthy tribe that sit higher up the food chain.The dome shaped hillock that sits above Asdale, allows a glimpse of the national park wonders that lie thirty miles further north.
Scalped by medieval coal mining, the hilltop often ploughs the glum weather that beats down on the heather shooting ranges over yonder and the terraced, tarmac tundra down below.
My early memories of the moor are of trudging up the hill, past the golf course and into the steep banks of bracken. Excited to see the view from the trig point that spanned West Yorkshire in its entirety.
There were always sheep; sheep hiding in the bell pits, sheep acting as driving range targets, sheep chewing away - especially on new shoots - as sheep so aimlessly do.
In 2001 the sheep would be seen no longer. Foot and mouth hit the ruminant population across the country and masses of livestock were culled. As for the Moor, we children lapped up the tales of snipers roaming in the night taking out every last purposefully ignorant sheep. Their life of free roam grazing shawn even shorter for the benefit of the greater good. Unlike sheep, we humans are capable of the worst and the most dignifying actions. The good of one individual can cancel out the wrong doing of many others, or vice versa.
As I had been pondering my existence as a young man, some other dude had been sewing the seeds of a revolution.
Nowadays as a dedicated and obsessive runner, I trudge up the same hill, via the golf course to reach the trig point. The bracken is thicker; the puddles are deeper and the sheep are gone. In their place stand the pillars of life. With a tingle in my belly, I am deeply moved to tell you that trees have returned to our Moor. Inspired by the re-birth of small but significant woodland, my love affair with the Moor was being restored. The chance of a rare encounter had greatly increased.
He sat with a meditative expression upon his face. Staring at and beyond the airport in the distance. Clearly a man of wisdom, for the fact he wore muck boots, despite his Friday attire; clean cut black salwar kameez, and an earthly green topi atop his head. As I entered his gaze amongst the thinly grouped oak and ash, his attention bounced my way, throwing an embracing smile. I felt drawn to him, the way you can be drawn so easily to a close friend that you haven’t seen often enough.
Shamefully I had never - until this moment - greeted any Muslim with a salutation on his/her terms. I stumbled nervously into the opportunity.
Wa’laykumu s-alam”. He replied with a smile.
I nailed it.
“ I’m gonna be honest, you’re the first Muslim dude I have ever seen on that bench, let alone in a pair of wellies!”
“ I’m here checking on me brothers and sisters.”
“What d’ya mean?”
“Those Trees” raising both hands and shaping a bowl, Whole world in his hands style. “They're mine but I thought I’d leave ‘em to God, ye’know, help him out a bit.”
“ ‘in sha’ allh” I replied, sheepishly.
He chuckled, Okaying my attempt at Arabic - potentially blasphemous - humour.
I took a pew alongside him and we began to natter. He explained that in 2001 he had returned from his grandfather’s funeral, the last member of his family to shepherd in the Kashmir. On his return from Pakistan he was out of luck. His brother had been caught up in the riots and faced an overly heavy prison sentence. To add insult to injury his own father had been diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease. A bombshell I can more than easily relate to. So our brother in the wood threw in the towel on his medical degree and turned to the cloth. God’s Own County, Yorkshire was more than set up for it. He could turn to God wherever he be.
It was on this bench 15 years ago that God came to him. The bare moorland had just lost it’s only mammalian resident. The sheep were gone. He felt it was his duty to commemorate those who had left this earth and to shepherd those yet to come. 400 saplings of oak and ash later, he found a moment of purpose, inspiration and a little bit of disobedience.
Until our meeting his efforts were kept solely between he and the tree.
As I left him, my trudge became a trot and my imagination became deeply rooted in a mystical possibility of what our moors should become. His parting words will be etched into me forever.
“It is a shame, the things we do to our world. You got to love it more than ever; you see we’re more than the action of many trees we are yet to fell. Love is God. God is Power. But he has no county. Power isn’t knowledge but knowledge knows of Love. Brother, Love is? That’s a question that cannot be answered, even in the forests of time.”