Imam Bashir Ahmad Rafiq’s Biography
Chapter 11: Giving Up Smoking
In 1945, when I was in my eighth class, I devoted most of my time to studies. I was not inclined towards outdoor games. Once, a friend suggested that we should go out into the open fields and enjoy the open-air surroundings. I agreed and after school, we both went out of the township into an open environment where the crops in the fields, green trees and flowers flourished and we enjoyed them all. Suddenly, my friend took a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket. I was extremely surprised and shocked at seeing a packet of cigarettes on him. He lit a cigarette and gave a discourse on the benefits of smoking. In support of his claim, he said that smoking sharpened ones intellect. He quoted the example of Winston Churchill who, in spite of being a foremost politician, smoked with great passion. He also gave examples of other politicians and doctors who smoked on a regular basis. He argued that had smoking been harmful why these people would smoke.
Although I listened to him his speech had no effect on me whatsoever. The matter ended there. A little later, the same friend suggested that we should go out of the village for a picnic. Carrying with us some food and drink, we went to a well on which there was a Persian wheel. It was situated in the midst of huge trees. The running water and the sweet-smelling crops presented a most striking image. After our meal, my friend brought out a packet of cigarettes and lit one with a match. He inhaled deeply and began his speech on the benefits of smoking. I began to be influenced by the enemy who had appeared to me in the garb of a friend. I began to falter in my determination to keep a distance from smoking.
After a short conversation I began to be of the same opinion that there really was no harm in smoking. I said to myself that if I did not like smoking I would never touch another cigarette. Holding a cigarette in my hand, I inhaled deeply. My eyes popped out and I had a bad bout of coughing. I felt unwell beyond description and I began to see stars dancing before my eyes. I threw away the cigarette and lay down. I began to blame myself for having paid attention to an imprudent friend and for having handled a cigarette. After a while, I recovered a little and had a drink of water. I begged forgiveness from the Almighty and started my journey home. Somewhat embarrassed, my friend accompanied me. To comfort me he said that it is never easy at the start but that on the second or third occasion one begins to like smoking. As I had not yet fully recovered, I started reproaching my friend and cursing cigarettes. I warned my friend that if he ever mentioned the word cigarette again he would have me to contend with.
A few days later, the barrier that had cropped up in our friendship vanished. Two or three of my friends chalked out a plan for a picnic. With great eagerness, we cooked our meal. We had taken some fruit with us. The group happily moved out to open surroundings for a picnic. We chose the bank of a stream for this occasion. Every member of the group started attending to the duty assigned to him. One of us lit a fire, another started cooking, another spread some sheets on the ground to sit on and yet another neatly arranged crockery on it. After running around and playing for a while, we polished off the food. When the meal was finished each one of us, in turn, told a joke. At that point in time the same old friend brought out a packet of cigarettes and presented one to each one of the party. With apparent gratification, apart from me, all others started smoking. Considering me old fashioned they asked how I could hope to make any progress in this world if I did not even smoke, which is a sure sign of being up to date. Finally, I wavered in my determination and my willpower gave way. Following the others, I held a cigarette in my hand and inhaled. I felt unwell; I felt a little sick, but to avoid being ridiculed by my friends I persevered and continued to smoke.
That first cigarette became the foundation of my smoking habit that continued for fully 10 years. This bothersome malady tightened its grip and despite repeated variety of efforts, I could not rid myself of it. Gradually my smoking grew to 40 cigarettes a day. During my college days, the cost of the cigarettes that I smoked began to exceed my pocket money. To meet the extra expense, with one excuse or another, I would ask my father for more money. This bad habit continued from 1945 to 1958. Like a termite, it scoured my spirituality and, from within, it adversely affected my health. In 1953, during the Martial Law Regime in Lahore, we were confined to the College premises. During a one-hour break from the curfew, other students rushed out to buy provisions but I was only concerned about the stock of my cigarettes. In 1948, I served as a volunteer on the Kashmir Front. We were shelled throughout the day and at night as well we had to attend to duties assigned to us. Food was strictly rationed but I was least concerned about food; my only worry was procurement of cigarettes. In the battlefield, sometimes, I paid as much as Rs.5 for a packet which could have been bought in Lahore or Peshawar for only Rs.1. Thus, my hard earned money was sacrificed for a bizarre article. I continued to soothe my mind with a smoke. As time passed, the measure of my smoking became greater and greater.
In 1958 Huzoor’s Private Secretary advised me that Hadhrat Khalifa tul Masih II wished to see me. I was aware that Huzoor’s sense of smell was exceedingly sharp. Therefore, before meeting Huzoor I scrubbed clean the yellow coating of nicotine on my fingers. I further washed my hands with soap and spirit. I wore freshly laundered clothes and even wore some perfume. I thought I had made sure that Huzoor could not possibly detect any whiff of tobacco from my clothes or from my body. In those days, Huzoor used to receive visitors in his office on the first floor. I climbed the stairs and presented myself. Huzoor kindly gave me some general directions. At the end of the meeting when, after shaking his hand, I was about to leave, Huzoor asked me to wait a while. I sat down and all of a sudden, Huzoor asked me:
“How many cigarettes do you smoke in a day?”
For a moment, I thought my spirit had flown out of my body. I was extremely apprehensive. After all the enormous efforts that I had made to hide my secret it came to me as a shock that it was no longer a secret. I had never imagined that an exposure would occur in this way. I said:
“Huzoor, I smoke a lot.”
He asked how many and I responded by saying that I smoked 40 cigarettes a day. Huzoor was very surprised and he repeated two or three times:
“Do you really smoke 40 cigarettes a day?”
Greatly ashamed and with my head bowed with shame, I said:
“You hold a B.A. Degree and also a Shahid Degree and I believe you are an intelligent young man. Surely, you must have seen some advantages in smoking. Please, tell me some of them so that my knowledge may be enhanced.”
With my head hung in disgrace, I said:
“Huzoor, there is no advantage in it whatsoever.”
“Then why do you remain involved in such a worthless habit which, apart from being absurd and without any benefit, is patently harmful. How can we expect that an educated young man knowingly commits a weird act and thus ruins his own health?”
Then he said:
“I recently read an article in the ‘Reader’s Digest’ that a member of a European Mountaineering team who had set out to conquer the highest peak in the Himalayas died merely because his stock of cigarettes had exhausted and he just could not bear the shock.”
Again, he said:
“I was taken aback that one who was so proficient in mountaineering that he was attempting to conquer a Himalayan peak should meet his end only because of unavailability of cigarettes.”
Again, he said:
“The use of cigarettes, apart from ruining one’s health, invites the risk of Cancer. Smoking damages one’s heart and one’s mind. In any case, it imposes an unbearable financial burden. If only one tenth of what one spends on tobacco is used for a balanced diet, not only will money be saved but one’s health would also improve.”
After this conversation, Huzoor asked me:
“Are you seriously prepared to give up this habit?”
“Huzoor, I am seriously desirous of giving up tobacco. I have made earnest but unsuccessful attempts to rid myself of this worthless habit.”
Quoting an Urdu verse I said that this Kafir (bad habit) is extremely difficult to give up and that on-repeated occasion my determination faded away. Huzoor said:
“If, with a firm resolve, truthfully, accompanied by prayers, you promise to do what I tell you, if God so wills, you can be permanently rid of this bad habit.”
I promised that I would act in accordance with Huzoor’s instructions.
Then he said:
“Those who decide to give up smoking often think that they can be rid of the habit even if they begin to abstain after having finished the packet in their pocket or by gradually reducing the number of cigarettes they smoke per day. However, these methods always remain ineffective. It is my advice that when you go downstairs, you should crush under your feet the packet of your cigarettes that you may have hidden somewhere. You should go downstairs with full determination that you will never touch a cigarette again.
The second part of my advice is that for 40 days you will not go near the shop from which you have been buying your cigarettes. You should not even pass close to it.
The third part of my advice is that, if possible, you should refrain from meeting those friends who smoke. If that is not possible you should, today, go and openly declare that, in accordance with my instructions, you have stopped smoking. Tell them that he who persuades you to smoke will become guilty of disobedience to my instructions and that you will yourself tell me the name of such a friend.
The fourth part of my advice is that, as generally the urge to smoke crops up after a meal or after eating something, you should keep some roasted gram in your pocket. When you feel the craving for a smoke, eat some gram and this way the want of a cigarette will be substantially reduced."
At the end, Huzoor said:
“You must follow these instructions for 40 days. After 40 days, report to me and truthfully tell me what came to pass.”
Before I left, I promised to act 100 % in accordance with Huzoor’s instructions.
For the first few days I was miserable; I was restless and fidgety all the time. I could not devote my full attention to any matter. However, I remained 100 % firm in my determination to keep my promise. After 10 or 12 twelve days, slowly, the desire of a cigarette began to subside. After 40 days I had totally forgotten that I ever smoked. On the 41st first day I went to see Huzoor. As soon as I entered, Huzoor asked:
“Was my prescription a success?”
I answered by saying:
“Huzoor, 100 %.”
Huzoor said aloud:
He asked how, having given up smoking, I felt. I said that I had put on some weight and I could not understand why. Huzoor said:
“As tobacco diminishes the sense of taste food intake diminishes. Now that you do not smoke, your sense of taste has improved. Your improved food intake has been responsible for the additional weight. This is only natural.”