“Know that what has come to you could not have missed you, and what has missed you could not have come to you,” these words spoken by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, were often repeated by Mohammad Gaddafi in sharing his story. Gaddafi is a refugee from Afghanistan now living in San Diego, and has what he described at the start of our discussion as “a very interesting story”. Gaddafi, a native of Kabul, Afghanistan, begins from there.
“A very interesting story”:
“I had been sent on assignment to the police academy at the head of a group of 12 trainers from the Special Force unit of the Afghan National Police. We were there to train a group of 1000 officers including corporals, sergeants, and lieutenants. I had been working for the Special Force unit for 9 years, and in these 9 years we were never given Special Forces uniforms. I showed up on this Saturday, the morning of the collapse (of previous Afghan administration to the Taliban), and I see all 1000 officers with brand new Special Forces uniforms on. They looked so nice; it was a stunning scene. When time for the morning sessions came many were absent from training. I don’t know if they had been tipped off or what…but by about 10 AM everyone had taken all their uniforms off…everyone… saying hurry the Taliban are coming. In the meantime I was waiting for instructions to come from my commanders. They never came. By 12 PM I took my uniform off put it in my bag and kept it with me. I wasn’t scared. I always used to say I’ve been truthful to this homeland nothing will happen to me. I headed home. The streets were packed, and there were no taxis available. Everyone was going everywhere; it was so chaotic a dog would have lost his owner…
After riding on a bus, which seemed to be packed with hundreds of people I finally made it home. I spent the next couple days, pretty typically, giving lessons at my local boxing club. In the days after the collapse I had turned in my weapons, and went to retrieve my belongings from the station. My brothers were angry with me for turning in my weapons saying, “Everybody kept them why did you turn them in”. I told them that those weapons belonged to the country and I wouldn’t steal from its people. I wasn’t allowed to take many of my own personal equipment and uniforms, but did retrieve some pictures, awards, and boxing championship belts of mine.
Gaddafi, a former Afghan national boxing champ in a post fight interview
On the third day, after returning from a task, a student and neighbor of mine informed me that they (the Taliban) came asking about me and my whereabouts. I didn’t fear harm from them, except that some of their lower level members maybe ignorant and act irrationally. So I went to a family member’s house, and after spending a couple nights there my brother suggested that we go to the airport to leave. We went to the airport that day, but it was too crowded so we returned. The next night my brother called me to go again, but my wife wouldn’t let me. She said, “If you’re going to go there, go in the daytime. Why go at night!” By the end of that week, I went to the airport with my brother again. My brother was in the Special Forces too. He’s still there. He’s in a bad situation, God help him. He has 5 kids, no job, and he’s in a lot of difficulties.
So later that week when I got to the airport, I seen people wearing our Special Forces uniforms, and I assumed they were from our unit so I wore mine along with my rank on it too. There was a good Taliban member there who was a good person, and he told me, “hurry take the uniform off, if they find out…” So I took the uniform off and went to a different section of the airport where people with documents were being admitted into the airport. I showed my documents and the guard told me to come. When he told me to come I jumped forward like 4 meters, and the American soldier was looking at me baffled.
We stayed in the airport for a few days. I could have tried to bring others too, but “what has come to you could not have missed you, and what has missed you could not have come to you”. The airport was a mess, a very bad situation. There was one bathroom for 300-400 men and one for 300-400 women. We ended up digging an area out to use for the second day… It was freezing. We slept in plastic that kept us warm… We finally made it to a tent, but some women came so we let them have the tent… Finally they said lets go its time, many other members of my unit were there too. They split us into two groups, and we later found out that the other group was turned away back to the city.
We entered the airplane and went to Kuwait. We spent 4-5 days there. Then we went to Germany where we spent 13 days. After that we came to America and spent a little more than 4 months in a camp in Virginia. At the camp I first met Bilal, my roommate now. Its interesting that even two brothers were unable to stay together, but Bilal and I came to San Diego from the camp together. We’re currently roommates in the hotel, and the social worker just found a place for us to rent. It should be available for us in a few weeks, God willing.
After a few days, I met Hajji (a title of respect…referring to Bashir Saleem (my father), an Afghan refugee himself who came here in the 80’s) at the mosque, God bless him. He took us around sightseeing, showed us the bus system, and advised on many things to do. He also helped with some things back home. The whole Special Forces unit had been working with no pay for about 4 months in Afghanistan, and even when I was getting paid it was only enough to live month to month. Everybody had debts, may God make things easier. We didn’t realize all the games that were being played, and foreign manipulation, but we were true to our soil and our nation.”
Gaddafi also shared when I asked him about his family background, “ Myself, I have my wife and 4 children, my youngest a girl who was born a month after I left Afghanistan. They’re in Pakistan with their grandparents now, but soon, God willing, they should be returning to Afghanistan. My brothers say that my family could return to Afghanistan, but we’re still deciding. We’re 7 brothers, and I’m the youngest. My father died when I was one year old, and my mom worked hard to care for us. We were young and she put a lot into raising us. She passed away about 6 years ago, God bless her.”
Cowles Mountain: Not quite the height of the mountains in Afghanistan, Gaddafi says they remind him of hiking in Afghanistan
Having been here for a little over 3 months now Gaddafi remarks about San Diego, “I love its weather, God showed us love by bringing us to a place with beautiful weather and beautiful people like Hajji and like Harun (a good friend of Gaddafi’s, a exemplary member of the community, and a Somali refugee himself). Harun is a very good person. I’m amazed at his patience, character, and the level of his religious devotion as a Muslim. When he’s off, he spends the whole day with us, we eat, and he takes us around. The hardest part is being far from family. May God make a way for us. I really miss the soil of Afghanistan. Sometimes I find that even when I talk to family, I feel constrained. It helps me relax when I exercise and train hard…
After a boxing session in San Diego
However my favorite things about San Diego are the weather, and the good people that I’ve met. I’ve learned a lot about my faith Islam too. I feel like it’s more of a choice than just culture to me now. I’m really amazed every time I meet an American Muslim who wasn’t raised into a Muslim family, but embraced it I find it inspiring. I feel like my faith has increased. I find rest in knowing that what has come to you could not have missed you, and what has missed you could not have come to you.”
Title reads in Dari “A world (of thanks) to Hajji Bashir Saleem taking us to see the beauty of God’s Earth”
Gaddafi making the call to Friday prayers at the mosque
I would like to thank Gaddafi for taking the time to share his story, and allowing us to learn from his experience. It changed the way I view a lot of things including my own father and family journey. If anything it made me realize that the journey of a refugee is not only from one land to another, but the journey through life.