I accepted the Bahá’í Faith in 1974 when I was 14 years old. Although I was born in Pakistan I was brought to this country by my family when I was 7 and lived in Newport, Gwent. In the YMCA in Newport I used to go and play pool with friends, including John Griffiths, who is now a Labour Welsh Government member for Newport East. One day, during the summer holidays, I was drawn to music being played on a floor above so I went upstairs to see what was happening. It was a Bahá’í meeting, Viv Bartlett was playing a 12 string guitar, and a lovely lady invited me in. The Bahá’ís changed my life. During that meeting Viv asked, “Do you think God could have sent a new Messenger.” My reply was, “Yes.” Then he said, “He has, and His Name is Bahá’u’lláh.” I knew instantly this Man was from God and I accepted Him straightaway. Several people there heard the same music and the same message but I was the only one to become a Bahá’í.
Of course there were incidents that happened up until then that had prepared me for this. I am from a Shia Muslim background and was raised as a Muslim up to the age of 14. My father, Muhammed Fazal, came to the UK in 1970 because he wanted a better education for his children, four sons and two daughters. He had been a professional wrestler back in Sahwala, Lahore, and earned a good wage, but with no English language he became a labourer. One day, around 1975, I was watching television with him and a young singer was on. My father pointed to him and told me that he had worked on the same labouring site with him. It was Tom Jones.
Many times I had to go with dad to be his translator, even to the bank. We experienced racial prejudice at that time. I remember going to the bank to request a loan of £700 for dad to buy a house. It was refused! Some of his friends suggested getting together as a co-operative so that he could raise enough cash but still the bank refused to give him the loan.
I attended St Woolos School in Newport for five years and was very friendly with a Catholic girl. One day she told me we couldn’t be friends anymore because I was a heathen and wouldn’t be going to heaven. Her mother had come into the school to complain and to ask for her daughter to be moved away from me. My teacher would not agree, saying the school was open and non-prejudiced and the lady should consider taking her child elsewhere. It didn’t happen but the damage had been done. Nevertheless I am grateful to that girl because it started my journey of search. I sought the truth and the Christians would say “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” My father would say the Christians were wrong and they would be going to hell. So I rejected the Christian, the Muslim and also the Jewish way of thinking.
The year before I became a Bahá’í, I had bought a guitar, and by the date of the meeting with Viv I knew 3 chords. Viv taught me more. The Faith inspired me and I began to write songs. I loved John Denver’s music, although he hadn’t yet become famous and his songs were sung by others until he came on tour to the UK. My songs were inspired by his music. In the mid 1970s, Viv, Rita and I went travel teaching to many places including Hereford, Abergavenny and Usk, and sometimes we would sing with Geoff and Midge Ault too. During one visit to Usk, a very white and middle-class town, I was walking down the road carrying Leila Bartlett, who was then a baby. One handlebar-moustached gentleman came up to ask me what I was doing with the baby. I think it was a shock for him to see a Pakistani male carrying a white baby. Once he saw I was with friends he calmed down and we were able to talk about the Faith.
As it became known to the Pakistani community that I had become a Bahá’í, a lot of pressure was put on my family. At first they thought it was just a passing phase but later they realised I wasn’t going to change my mind. My father was told to try ‘by whatever means’ to bring me back into the fold. I was considered to have the face of a Muslim but the heart of an infidel. One day, in the street, I was approached by three young Muslims who beat me up. When I told Viv about it he said that they couldn’t have been very courageous if it took three of them against one. He said if I saw them again perhaps I could suggest they first come to a Bahá’í meeting and if they didn’t like it they could beat me up afterwards! Many years later I happened to be in hospital recovering from a heart attack. The father of one of these lads was in the same ward. He was dying and I went up to him and gave him a drop of water. A nurse had noticed, and when the son came in later she told him what I had done. There is a tradition amongst the Muslims that the son of a dying man should be the one to offer the last sip of water to his father, which the lad had been unable to do. From then onwards, that son always treated me with respect.
As my family realised I wasn’t going to change, when I was 17 they decided it was time to invite me back to Pakistan for ‘a two week holiday’. Once there I found that a marriage had been arranged for me. I was too young to deal with what was being forced on me and so I was married to a staunch young Muslim girl. We had six boys and one girl during our marriage but eventually my wife divorced me as I would not return to Islam. All my children except one have accepted Bahá’u’lláh. To my delight, my son Nowaz declared his wish to join the Bahá’í community at the Welsh Summer School in Llangrannog in 2015. It was the first time any of the Fazal family had been to a summer school.
At a later date I was to return to Pakistan with my younger brother for about 3½ years and our passports were taken from us. My ex-wife and eldest son came over and spent three years in Pakistan too. I was arrested twice because someone told the authorities that I was a Zionist spy. I believe relatives were responsible. One of the people who came to arrest me was Muhammed Ali Shah, a friend of Mansur Shah, a Bahá’í who for many years had lived in Wales. He told everyone to leave me alone. He happened to be a Siyyid too. Eventually I was able to get away to Rawalpindi where I met up with Baba Flatchi at 77E Block, Satellite House, the Bahá’í Centre. Once again I was arrested on one occasion for ‘polluting minds.’ Fortunately I was assisted once again and it came to nothing. Over the years my father has come to accept my decision and even told people that I was worthy in his eyes.
I would like to go on a Bahá’í pilgrimage someday in the near future, and I want to play and sing my songs to inspire others and bring people closer in unity.
Newport, Wales, July 2016