Book Review: Citizens of Two Worlds, United

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Written by C. Naseer Ahmad

On December 7, 2015, an erratic candidate with racist tendencies called for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the country. This is so un-American that would make the founding fathers turn in their graves and great American legends like Justice William O Douglas and Lowell Thomas cringe from their resting places in the Heavens above. Scores of senior US diplomats have also spoken out against such dangerous rhetoric.

citizen_of_two_worlds_amazon-clean-cropAs global citizens, we are in search for inspiration, particularly in the troubling times we live.  We need inspiration that will elevate our thoughts and actions for the greater good of humanity. “Citizen of Two Worlds,” by Col Ata-Ullah over 60 years ago provides the kind of guidance needed now. This book brings out the greatness of America in ways you might not have seen or heard before.

In writing the foreword for this book, Thomas prepares the readers about the fascinating journey they will take through time and about the education of a young boy growing up along the railroad tracks in India with his beloved father. Through this journey you will discover that the young boy becomes a famous physician who served with distinction in wartime and then scale the heights of the killer mountain in Pakistani side of the Himalayas called K-2. From the foreword, the reader will once again discover the boundless optimism in the American spirit because Thomas’s words communicate the inclusive America yearning to connect with the world across the oceans.

In his review, published in the New York Herald Tribune, Justice Douglas wrote: “Ata-Ullah … ended like his father, extracting from the Koran a philosophy of life that extolled virtue in man and service to humanity. The warmth and sincerity of this philosophy permeates every page, as does the exciting and enduring love between Ata-Ullah and Qamar his wife…The essence of this book is not in the events but in their telling… He touches common strands of humanity in every episode. The love between him and Qamar makes this book enduring literature.”

When Justice Douglas wrote about “every episode” covered this magnificent book, he was speaking judiciously as an American whose experience and life embody all that is great in America.  After all, as a jurist, Justice Douglas has a unique place in American history so his words matter and mean so much because they come from the wealth of experience which includes serving as the longest serving member of the United States Supreme Court.

The book starts with the story of Col Ata-Ullah’s “Father and the Cobra,” then discussing “Mother’s Death,” to be followed by “My loss of Faith,” and then onto “Europe” where he discovered his love for music – Mozart and other great artists. Like Justice Douglas, the reader will certainly find something to relate to.

When the readers come upon the chapters discussing the disease stricken hungry and tired Polish refugees pouring into Tehran from Russia during World War II, it might help them understand the plight of the refugees in the current Syrian crisis. These chapters also reveal the glorious past when American Red Cross, US Generals and doctors along with allies medical officers like Col Ata-Ullah as well as other US governmental officers collaborated to creatively meet public health challenges and solving problems like a bread crisis in the city of Tehran.

These chapters alone should convince the naysayers about the power of positive thinking and that United States is not an evil empire but a force for the good of humanity.

And, the pleasant surprises like the letter from Dr. Charles Houston of the American Alpine Club – requesting Col Ata-Ullah to accompany the mountaineers – will make it hard for the readers to put the book down. These chapters will reveal what convinced towering figures like Justice Douglas and Thomas to write such glowingly about this book.

In the “Korea,” chapter but also throughout the book, Col Ata-Ullah has some golden nuggets of wisdom that many Muslims can also benefit from. For instance, he wrote: “my emotional attitude to other people and distant lands comes from happy starlit evenings of my childhood through mother’s bedtime stories. These were more about everyone’s common humanity than about wars and conflicts. She never talked about the Crusades, but often talked with love and reverence about Jesus and the Hebrew prophets.”

Following his retirement in 1958, Col Ata-Ullah started an engineering firm – Indus Valley Construction Company (IVCC) which continues to thrive for almost forty years after his death in 1977.

Through this wonderful book – as well as his exemplary life – Col Ata-Ullah paved a shining path for citizens of different origins and faiths to search the common ground to bring out the best of humanity. The piano remained an integral part of Col Ata-Ullah’s life and the good doctor prescribed music as a therapy to connect with the soul. In doing so, he proved that faith was a pillar in support of and not an impediment to modernity.

In these troubled times, this book might also serve as a reminder about what makes America such a great nation that brought together people like Justice Douglas, Lowell Thomas and Dr. Houston as friends of Col Ata-Ullah.