Glimpses into the life of a Global Nomad – Part Seven

(A look into the life of Rafiq A. Tschannen – Associate Chief Editor, The Muslim Times) – back to Switzerland and on to Thailand – and into polygamy).

My wife was not all that keen that I should look for another job in the Caribbean. Our daughter’s school ended at the GCE ‘O’ level and she could not continue in Antigua for the advanced level. My wife was not keen that she should leave our house. And of course she recalled our nice house in Zurich.

When I looked for a job in Switzerland I got two job offers, one from Geneva and one from Zurich. In a way the Geneva one looked more interesting, however, as our children spoke German and not French and as our house was in Zurich not Geneva I accepted the Zurich offer.

I was to work for Mr. Felix Matthys. He owned in Switzerland Mathys Kies AG (gravel), a road construction company, a real estate company with about 100 apartments in Zurich (this was owned together with his brothers), a cement factory had just gone to a brother during inheritance distribution. In Nigeria he owned the largest Civil Engineering Contractor, which projects such as the Central Mosque in Lagos and the Central Bank in Abuja. He offered me the job due to my Nigerian experience. During my stay with him I traveled to Nigeria every three months or so for the Financial Statements of the Quarters of the year.

Mr. Felix Matthys in a way was the exact opposite of Dr. Erhart. While Dr. Erhart did not want to have anything to do with banks and consequently did not want to have any bank loans at all Mr. Felix Matthys, when I told him how we can save 50’000 Francs his reaction was ‘that is a Million’. His thought was that if I save him 50’000 Francs he will be able to pay the interest on one million that he could get from the banks.

For him a loan was ‘just a signature’.

Personally he was very polite and nice to me. He also gave me a BMW 525. Therefore I cannot complain.

Matthys Group of Companies sounded nice. With loans rising I calculated that all his wealth was worth between Zero and about twenty million Francs (only), depending on whether he needed to sell his assets ‘in a hurry’ or whether he could sell it ‘at leisure’.

At one time he did make an additional twenty million or so, when he got a good order from SHELL in Nigeria to construct a whole village for the workers plus office compounds etc. He could theoretically have given it to me to take to the Bahamas, however, he decided instead to invest it in a European Satellite Business Channel. Well, you can say he was a bit ahead of his time. He had some other investors, however, the other investors signed up for a million Francs each, which they could easily loose without blinking an eye. He signed up for ‘the rest’. (Remember: it is just a signature). And the twenty million were gone (again).

Well, you guessed it:   I had itchy feet again.  This time however I did have a good reason. I did not think Mr. Matthys could last much longer. The good deals did not always come exactly at the time he needed it.

My dear mother-in-law was somewhat addicted to Paan (betel leaves) eating. My brother-in-law used to send it from London. Of course the post office did not always work equally efficiently and one day she run out of Paan. We were told that a Thai shop on the other end of town did have betel leaves from time to time. After office work therefore I drove there to find the betel leaves. They had not arrived yet. I should come back in a couple of days.

I looked around the shop what was available and I saw a ‘Bangkok Post’ Newspaper. I bought it to see what was going on and there it was: ‘Finance Director wanted’. I applied. That was in April 1988. In December 1988 I got the contract to start work in Bangkok on 1st April 1989.

Temporarily we sent our mother-in-law back to London, until we were settled in Bangkok, then she joined us there.

Poor family: Again they had to leave our nice house and pack up all our stuff. I did feel a bit sorry for my wife, but my ‘itch’ was just too strong.

But at the same time it was a blessing, because my boss in Zurich bought another company. Theoretically it was a good buy: The Company had just vacated a prime real estate area in Zurich town and moved the production of windows and doors out of town. The real estate in Zurich could be ‘re-zoned’ and developed. It would take some time but there was a good potential of a good profit. In good old ‘Felix’ method however he immediately mortgaged all the real estate and spent the money on the Euro-Business Satellite Channel. The new company was unable to pay for the interest and had to file for bankruptcy. And so the whole Group came down.

It was most kind of Mr. Matthys that this happened after my departure. It does not sound good on a CV when you say that ‘the boss did not take my advice’. But the boss did not take my advice.

(It seems that the Real Estate Company with the 100 or so apartments survived. Mr. Matthys junior seems to be running it now. Good for them).

During this my second stay in Switzerland I consider that a ‘small miracle’ happened to me.

Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV, Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, visited Switzerland again. We again had the honour and pleasure to welcome him in our house for a lunch and again I had the honour and pleasure to go with him privately for a walk in the nearby forest.

And the next day the Imam of the Mahmud Mosque in Zurich had invited only Hazoor and his entourage from London to a picnic. I was not invited, but thought ‘let me go to the Mosque to see off Hazoor’. When Hazoor came out of the Mosque to go to the car he said ‘Ah, Rafiq, are you also coming with us?’ and the Imam could not refuse but told me to get moving immediately.

We went first to the Rhein Falls in Schaffhausen. It was raining. Hazoor was not really impressed. He had recently visited Niagara Falls and who knows what other falls. The Rhein Falls were nothing special comparatively (especially in the rain). Now Imam Sahib told me: ‘You lead the way and find a picnic spot’. Me? Find a picnic spot in the rain?

I did not really know that part of Switzerland at all. Even below a tree we would not be saved from the rain!  Anyway, I drove out of town and prayed for Allah’s guidance.

And He did: (give me guidance). I saw a new farmer’s shed on the side of the road and the thought came to me that this might be a suitable site for a BBQ. I stopped the car and told Hazoor that I will check with the farmer. I went to the farmer’s house and told him my predicament. I had a famous guest and his entourage with all the BBQ equipment, it was raining, and I saw his beautiful new shed and was just wondering whether we would be able to find shelter.

The farmer responded: give me five minutes and I will drive the agricultural machinery out of the way and then you are most welcome.

When we entered the shed can you imagine our surprise: There were benches and tables and even BBQ equipment all ready for us. The Farmer explained that during the last weekend he had invited his neighbours for a party to celebrate the opening of the new shed and during the next weekend he was planning to invite his extended family and that is why all the tables, benches and BBQ equipment is all ready!

The farmer joined us for lunch. He was having a magazine on horses. Hazoor, who also likes horses and who also was a farmer, glanced at the magazine also and mentioned to the farmer that ‘I have the grandson of the horse featured here!’ And they went on ‘talking shop’ about farming in Switzerland versus farming in Pakistan.

And that is why this BBQ will of course always remain in my memory as my ‘private little miracle’.


 I took up my job with Rehau Ltd. in April 1989. The first month I worked in Rehau, which is located in the corner where East Germany, West Germany and the Czech Republic came together.

The company is owned by Mr. Wagner, who resided in Bern, Switzerland (and who gave up the German nationality and obtained the Swiss nationality). The ultimate holding company therefore was located in Switzerland. I call him an ‘income tax refugee’ (taxes being lower in Switzerland than in Germany).

Some details on this company:

Being a private, family owned company, it had its own individual philosophy. Mr. Wagner for instance was strictly against trade unions. He said that it was not necessary, as he would listen to all worker’s wishes. He would arrange ‘audiences’ wherever he travelled in his empire, sit in a private room and give time to any worker who wished to speak to him.  (or delegate some of his directors to do so on their inspection visits here and there).

Another special thing was that if someone resigned he would ban him from re-hire. He would consider a resignation just like a ‘unfaithful partner’ and treat them accordingly.

In Thailand (as in other locations) there was not really a Managing Director. We were three Directors, the Marketing Director, the Production Director and myself as the Finance Director. We were to manage the company as a ‘triumvirate’.

At first our office and production facility was in Bangkok Town. Soon after my arrival

I was told to look for a larger production facility and we found a plot of land in Latkrabang Industrial Estate. We constructed new offices and production facility in that location.

Of course from the professional point of view it was also interesting and challenging to be part of the team that built up a new facility.

Work went well, although it was sometimes frustrating. The frustrating part was the new communication technology.

In Nigeria for instance with Panalpina World Transport the internet did not yet exist, neither did the FAX machine. We had a full time telex link to the head office, but the communication via telex was still a bit cumbersome.  Now with the fax it was possible to refer matters to the Head Office for their approval.

In Nigeria for instance we would inform the Head Office of our actions, but the only time I can recall that our Managing Director asked the Head Office for approval was when we purchased 100 Mercedes Lorry at a time. Now in Thailand we had to submit all details to the Head Quarter for approval. What we used to decide in five minutes during a meeting between the Finance Director (me) and the Managing Director would now take days of explaining to people who did not have any clue of life in Thailand. In the end of course we would get the approval needed, but it would be more stressful.

Of course private life in Thailand was nice. Food in Bangkok was great, besides the local Thai cuisine one could easily find Chinese, Japanese and European food. During the early years of my stay there it was also still very cheap.

It was also easy to drive out of town and visit this beach and that or drive up North into the mountains.

Madame had good friends among the Pakistani and local Muslim community and therefore had a satisfying social life as well.

From the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community point of view it was also interesting: From London I received two addresses of Ahmadis. One was a Thai lady doctor, who had studied medicine in Pakistan and converted to Islam there and became a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. A second name I received was the name of an Indian origin man living in Chiang Rai, at the far North, near the border with Myanmar. I went to visit him. He had left India before independence and went to Myanmar. From there he went on to Thailand, where he married and settled down.

He had kept in touch with an Imam of the Jama’at in Kerala, but lost contact with the community after that Imam died. He had invited his wife and his brother-in-law to the Jama’at.

I suggested to our beloved Khalifa, Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul-Masih IV to send some Missionary to Thailand. Hazoor instructed Indonesia to send someone. As the first Missionary who came was a bachelor we arranged his marriage to a daughter of the Chiang Rai Jama’at member. Hazoor kindly appointed me as Amir of the Thailand Jama’at to keep guiding the Missionary in his activity.

Later on Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos were added to my responsibility. Further missionaries came for these countries. While in Laos we did not manage to keep a foothold (during my stay in the region), the Missionaries for Vietnam and Cambodia were more successful. Hasan Basri was in-charge there, the same guy who was with me in Afghanistan during my ‘experience’ with the Russian cosmonaut.

Many converts were made in Cambodia and Vietnam from a Muslim minority tribe called ‘Cham’.

We were living in a nice apartment on Sukhumvit Soi 55. There was a swimming pool in our garden. Most other tenants were Japanese. In the meantime our son Mahmud was in Zurich University and our daughter first attended also Zurich University, but after a couple of years transferred to a University in London.

During my time in Bangkok I was a regular writer to the Bangkok Post. I got to be well known among the expatriates. In school the teachers used to say to my son ‘your father is in the paper again today’. I hope I did not give them too much embarrassment. I usually wrote about equal treatment for all, and not the selective justice that the US is practicing. Quite a lot of people actually agreed with me and used to defend me when I was attacked by other writers.

And now life became complicated.   Well, ok, yes, it is entirely my fault. I created the complication myself. And therefore I do not ask for sympathy from the readers and expect none.

I married a second wife. I am not really good in remembering wedding anniversaries and such, but I suppose it was in 1995.

 I dreamed about having more wife than one ever since my youth.  As I have outlined in another chapter this was not the reason for me becoming a Muslim, after all, if I was not a Muslim the number of wives, or ‘partners’ as they call them these days, would be unlimited and I would not need to strive so hard to treat them equally.  It was just due to my nature.

I married my wife, who is now my first wife, when I was 21 1/2.  It was an arranged marriage in Pakistan.   An arranged marriage has many advantages, first of all that one can choose the family one marries into.  One can ask around for a description of the bride while still not ‘blinded by love’.  Consequently a much better choice can be made.

How did it happen?    I asked my very good friend and my spiritual advisor and my Ameer-ul-Momineen (Commander of the Faithful) Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad,  Khalifa-tul-Masih IV., Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community for advice.  He advised me to pray the prayer of Moses, Holy Quran, Sura Al-Qasas, verse 25 “My Lord, I stand in need of whatever good Thou mayest send down on me”. I regularly included this sentence in my prayers.

When I came close to getting married the second time,   I got very scared, because I dreamed that a snake bit my (first) wife in her breast.  I wrote to the Khalifa for advice. His answer was that I cannot advise you, you need to know yourself whether your need is larger than the hurt that you will no doubt cause to your first wife by your second marriage.  He also stated that the bite of a snake does not usually last too long.

There were and are of course plenty of beautiful girls in Thailand, however, I wanted to marry a Muslim with connections to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and consequently I wrote to the Ameer of Indonesia for help in identifying the right young lady. At first he did not react, however, when I sent him a letter from our beloved Khalifa enquiring whether I made any progress in my search the Ameer did pass on my request to one of his Imams, who himself had just married a second wife.   I did not take him very long to find one for me. He sent me 3 photos of proposed brides with family description. I chose the one I considered the sweetest of them.

I traveled to Jakarta and stayed over in the Mission house in Jakarta for one night.  While everyone was getting ready to travel to Subang I opened the Holy Quran and glanced at the page where it said:

Sura 30 verse 22:    ” He has created wives for you from among yourselves that you may find peace of mind in them, and He has put love and tenderness between you. In that, surely,  there are signs for a people who reflect.”

Ijust came across the passage, which I read when I was on the way to the house of my second wife when I was getting married (I had not met her before), during transit in Jakarta:

Consequently I was not so worried about my future.   Naturally, during an arranged marriage, there would be apprehension “are we going to suit each other”,  “are we going to love each other”,   “is everything going to be all right” ?   Allah in His kindness has relieved my worries and shown me this verse…   Alhamdolillah he rabbil alameen! All praise is due to Allah, master of all the worlds.

We performed the Nikah (Islamic marriage ceremony) privately in the house of the bride.  We tried to register it, however, ‘official’ Government Nikah registrar was unable to register our marriage due to missing papers. The papers he needed would have been impossible for me to obtain, such as permission or “no-objection” from the Swiss Embassy. Consequently the marriage was just a verbal religious marriage without legal validity.   In the case of a Swiss man this was of course even better as it meant that I would not get into trouble with Swiss laws.  In my eyes of course it is valid, if it is valid in the eyes of Allah surely it must be valid in the eyes of all believing Muslims!  Better a validity in eternity than a validity only in this world.

Within a week we had a new passport for the wife and travelled to Thailand.

I had naively hoped that I would be able to bring my second wife into our existing household, however, this was not the case. My first wife would not hear of it.   Life changed and the first I noticed was when my I was packing my suitcase (for the first time myself).  I wanted to pack our camera, but my wife said “this is my camera”.    It was never hers or mine for the last 28 years!    All of a sudden the camera became hers! Generally speaking everything that was ours became now ‘mine’. (= hers). You better get prepared for that, dear potential ‘colleague’.

Consequently when we arrived back in Bangkok I needed to rent an apartment. I rented one nearby, within walking distance, and from now on would sleep one night here and one night there.

The mother of my first wife stayed with us in Bangkok.   I must say she was a real Lady.  Of course she did not like what I did, however, she told her daughter:  He is your husband, he remains your husband, be nice to him.   I can only advice anyone who is planning to marry a second wife:   Choose a mother-in-law as noble as the one I had, may Allah bless her soul.   In fact I probably miss her more than her daughter does (sorry, that is not fair to say, but you know what I mean).   After she has gone to the next world there is no-one to tell my wife:   Be nice to him.

All our relatives were shocked, because in fact everyone thought that we were the perfect couple, an example for others.   Well, I feel we still are, however, my first wife I am afraid does not quite agree anymore.  I am very sorry about that.

After a few days in Bangkok my first wife wanted to see my second one.   I took both of them to town for an ice cream.  It was quite an interesting meeting, even amusing.    Why do I say this?    Well, my first wife automatically put into my mouth the biscuit of the ice cream, because she is not so fond of it and she has been doing that for 28 years.   My second wife of a few days became jealous when she saw this act of intimacy.   This just goes to prove that jealousy is also just human nature, everyone is born with it to some extend or another.     Well, the intention of my first wife for this meeting was mainly just to show that she is still smart and beautiful.   Consequently she achieved what she wanted, the second one said when we returned home:  “why did you marry me, when you have such a smart and beautiful wife?”

I replied: I need you both. And that is what polygamy is all about. Allhamdo lillahi rabbil alamin, All praise is due to Allah, master of all the worlds.

After informing Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IV., of the new marriage and after I requested him for prayers he advised me to pray : “May Allah grant us mutual understanding, love, happiness, peace of mind, satisfaction and health”.



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