Childhood & Upbringing
Tareq was born in Hayy al Wasat, an area of Kuwait that borders Sharq and Qibla, opposite Seif Palace. Although no official birth records were kept in those days, according to his mother, Aisha, he was born in Sanat Al Haddamah (the year of destruction), which was 1934 and was the year in which torrential rains brought much destruction to the old town of Kuwait. Tareq’s father, Sayid Fakhri, was a businessman and agent for Singer sewing machines in Kuwait and Iraq. However, he died when Tareq was only five years old and was, in turn, brought up by his mother and grandfather while retaining only a few vague memories of his father. Tareq’s grandfather, Sayid Omar Asim, was the headmaster of Kuwait’s first school, Al-Mubarakiya, and kept a watchful eye over his grandson. His brother Hashem Rajab and his two older half-brothers, Ibrahim and Farhan Al-Farhan, also took Tareq under their wing and were also his guardians.
Tareq was fortunate to grow up in a scholarly household, thanks to his grandfather, who was also an avid book collector. His brother, Farhan Al Farhan, was also strongly influenced by his grandfather. He became an author, writing one of the first compendiums of Kuwait children’s stories, rhymes and folk tales. Unfortunately, Tareq suffered from congenital arthritic spondylitis in his knee, which would plague him for his entire life. This often meant that despite wanting to play outside with other children, he was unable to and, instead, was forced to stay indoors and entertain himself with his grandfather’s books. It was not until going to school at Al-Mubarakiya, that Tareq discovered his great interest in history and geography, spending much time in both the school library and the town library, the only one of its kind in Kuwait at the time. So frequent were his visits to Kuwait’s first bookshop, owned by Mohamed Al Ruwayih, that he was allowed to borrow any book free of charge before exchanging it for another once he had finished. He was also very fortunate to be taken under the wings of three well-known Kuwait scholars, who took a particular interest in his upbringing and education, serving as major role models at that time. These scholars were Sheikh Ali Al-Jassar, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Jarrah and Sheikh Abdulrahman Al-Duaij. A few years later, aged thirteen, Tareq became particularly interested in religion and decided to move into the mosque near his house for a time. During this period, the three scholars took exceptional care of him. They encouraged his learning, which included memorising the Quran by heart and learning about Islamic history.
At this time, Sheikh Abdulrahman Al Duaij encouraged Tareq to pay a visit to Baghdad, the old capital of the Abbasid Empire that Tareq had read so much about, to see if he could find and buy some old books and manuscripts. And so, Sheikh Abdulrahman gave Tareq a fabulous sum of 100 rupees and, with further encouragement from Ali Al-Jassar and Mohammed Al-Jarrah, made the arrangements for the trip. At just fourteen years old, Tareq set off on the adventure of a lifetime.
A Trip To Baghdad
At fourteen years old, Tareq set off alone to Baghdad. In those days, people left Kuwait through the gate at Naif palace and headed for the old Ottoman fort at Safwan in Iraq. Once Tareq had reached Basra, he bought a ticket for the fourteen-hour overnight train to Baghdad. He always described his emotions at seeing thousands of trees and river water for the first time in his life. Once he arrived in Baghdad, his first objective was to find Souq Al Warraqin, the famed papermaker and book market of the Abbasid Empire. Upon leaving the train, he began asking people for directions to the market. However, he often described the amused looks on people’s faces. Unbeknownst to Tareq, the market had been destroyed during the Mongol invasions seven centuries earlier. However, he did find many other old souqs. He bought over thirty manuscripts from pavement vendors, all for 30 rupees, beginning a lifetime of collecting.
After staying in Baghdad for a short while, he returned to Kuwait, taking the train back to Basra. He had always been fascinated by the story of Sinbad the sailor and the great tales of Ibn Battuta, so he decided to take the sea route back to Kuwait. However, finding a boat that would take him proved to be much more complicated than he thought, and he was turned away several times, perhaps for being too young. Following some advice, he made his way to Fao, where some people had links to Kuwait. In fact, many people who lived there were Kuwaitis themselves and cared for the orchards and farms of Kuwaiti Sheikhs and merchants, including his late step-father, Rashid Al Farhan. After staying at the guest house of Sheikh Mohammed Al-Khalad, the Mufti of Fao, a car took him to a village called Fao Al Janoob, where Sheikh Isa Al-Abdulaziz hosted him. The following morning, he was woken up early and taken to a small boat that ferried him to another boat that was no longer than 10 metres. From there, he began the fifteen-hour journey to Kuwait, passing Failaka island, where he was able to see the houses of Al Zor and the shrine of Al Khidr. Tareq arrived back in Kuwait in the late evening, ending a journey he called “the adventure of my life”.