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Selma Cook







Osman's sense of adventure led him beyond his studies of Arab history at St. Andrews University, Scotland, to explore exotic regions of the world, meeting 'the kindest of people'. But most of all it led him to greater self awareness and the discovery that he had a talent; he can perceive beauty and express it in a tangible form bearing witness to its imprint on his mind and heart. Even at the beginning of his journey the many observations he was making would, in future years, be translated onto canvas.


Hitchhiking Through North Africa

At eighteen years of age he hitchhiked through North Africa trekking through Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, often finding himself stuck at the side of the road for days on end. With no colloquial Arabic, no money, and no idea of what to do Osman was touched by the kindness of people. One time in a remote village, some children, who had been watching him for days, emerged from a house and brought him food. He was indeed the poor foreigner; hungry but also searching for something he felt sure he would recognize when he found it. The generosity he experienced first hand in North Africa was one of his first contacts with Muslims. His travels continued.


Fascination with Ancient Scripts

Frustrated at seeing incomprehensible Greek letters on ancient Greek walls, unfathomable ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, and then the elegant lines and shapes of Arabic script in North Africa, he longed to know what it all meant. He was very much inclined to Arabic and although he admits he was not very good at it, he had a good memory. So when studying classical Arabic he easily memorized Sura Yusuf – pages of it. Parrot fashion. At that time, he did not understand a word but he was intrigued by the beauty of the letters.


Traveling Again

Despite dabbling in Arabic at university and having adventures in North Africa, he finally graduated as an art teacher. Osman had enjoyed the lively fun of his homeland, Scotland. But after living in London for only six weeks he felt physically and emotionally cold and isolated, disconnected. He was attracted to job opportunities in Egypt that he saw advertised and stopped off in Sudan on his way to Cairo.


He found Sudan a huge desert, with warm and friendly people. Osman remembers, "Everybody was Muslim. They were praying and had good manners. The people were uncomplicated and wore traditional dress; the Sunnah gear." Osman soon experienced the warm hospitality of the Muslims and was continually invited to people’s houses and made to feel at home. He compared this to Europe and remembered feeling continually on his guard and reserved. He observes, "In Sudan, the people's good manners create an openness that embraces you and there is no threat; you feel safe."


Osman went to Jabal Mara (a mountain range) in Darfur in 1984 for a five-day-lorry journey. Up in the hills, a few hours between villages, he saw astonishingly beautiful scenery. He had been to Iceland and had witnessed first hand its amazing beauty and he found that Darfur was just as magnificent. But he found that the beauty was contained in more than just the landscape; he comments, "In the middle of some desolate area you would see a farmer praying on his own. It struck me that this person is not showing off." Osman describes Darfur as a very powerful place; awesome.


Prayer in the Middle of Nowhere

He, and fifty other travelers, went on a lorry up into the mountains in Jabal Mara. When the sun was going down, everyone piled off the lorry and he was left behind wondering what was going on. The men lined up and someone called to prayer. Osman remembers, "I was the foreigner with a camera so I took lots of pictures. These I kept and they were little seeds for my heart." Getting off the truck and praying in the middle of nowhere was all quite simple; it was what every adult sane male was doing. There was no compulsion, no fuss; the people prayed because they wanted to. Osman watched. Every morning during this five-day-lorry journey, he would hear the wind blowing against his sleeping bag and with his eyes closed he would hear the people praying.


One time on Jabal Mara he was eating at a remote bamboo coffee shop in the middle of nowhere and one of the people, a stranger he had been eating with, gestured to him to follow. The man gave Osman his bed in his hut to sleep on while he slept on the stone floor. Osman clearly remembers being half awake at Fajr watching peacefully while the man prayed. These memories became a background for him; like water dripping on a very dense rock.


"Life there was carefree. You plant food, grow it, and eat it. That's how the people lived," observes Osman. But soon his time in Sudan was over and for the next four years he taught English, painted expressionist abstract paintings and hung out in Cairo. He also bought a motorbike and notes, "The angels were working hard to protect me on the road! It was like I feared nothing." This was a time for Osman to gather his thoughts.


Quran in Cairo

During this time, he came in contact with Muslim reverts who suggested he attend gatherings where the Quran is recited and the people make Thikr. At first, he did not pay much attention to this suggestion and a whole year passed until he finally agreed. He had withdrawn from the world and was busy thinking and painting. He tried his hand at yoga, focusing on meditation and reading. But still feeling as if he did not really belong anywhere, he spoke to a friend on the phone who again suggested that he attend the gathering, adding, "They take anyone!" After this, Osman remembers, things started to accelerate.


He recalls, "The timing was right for me. I discovered that they gathered together just down the road and had done so all the years I’d been in Cairo." Feeling a little nervous, Osman knocked at the door and saw two big guys with turbans, wearing shawal khamis and pointy hats. He was welcomed in and has not looked back since.


About his first visit, Osman recalls, "It took some time to greet all fifteen men and then I heard the call to prayer and quietly got into the back row. Standing next to an Egyptian doctor, I just copied the movements of the prayer." When he heard the beautiful recitation of Quran and Thikr he felt as if he was hearing things that he had always known. He remembers, "I knew it without possibly knowing how I could know it." It sounded like one voice and had a very strong visual impact on him. Osman notes, "It was beyond description; astonishingly beautiful and colorful. Even in the silent parts I still experienced the spiritual light show. I wanted to go back for more."


Osman did go back for more and from this group he turned his attention to calligraphy. This has become his passion; his bliss. It is a way to express the beautiful thoughts, feelings and ideas that have become a part of him. He notes, "My heart was plugged in from the very first Quran gathering." As he discovered Islam, he discovered himself and his growing ability to create beautiful calligraphy.