By Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan
01 May 2015
When I was president of the Ottawa Muslim Association, we installed a table tennis table in the basement hoping such facilities would attract youth for recreation, learning and prayers. Some Muslims were opposed, however. When I refused to remove the table, they chopped off its legs. That was that.
Imam Anver Malam of Ottawa, however, doesn’t give up. He tries to convince opponents by reasoning and then by getting results that show that his vision produces results.
So Imam Malam built Ottawa’s largest mosque, befriended officials of the church nearby and wooed neighbours who had been alarmed that a noisy mosque would dominate their backyard. He altered mosque plans to address their concerns. Now the mosque is built and he invites them to its functions and encourages them to use its gymnasium. Former mosque opponents now welcome their friendly neighbour. Many in his congregation had also felt a big mosque was too ambitious. He won their support by building a mosque that will also have a library, a school, gymnasium and a community hall.
The church was different. It not only allowed Muslims to park on its property, it invited them to offer their Friday prayers in the church hall when the mosque was being built. Now churchgoers get the same right - they park on mosque property. Malam says such relations are possible because Canadians are friendly and helpful.
The Jamiatul Muslimeen (Omar) Mosque is the first in Ottawa to have a gym. It is used by men and women at different times. The mosque will also have classrooms for a school Imam Malam expects will reach Grade 12, teaching the provincial curriculum along with Islam and Arabic.
If Malam has his way, the mosque will also be the first in Ottawa to build an assisted-living facility for the elderly. With children busy or away, Muslim seniors are often lonely and isolated. It also costs a minimum of $2,500 per month per person to live in a facility. The Omar mosque facility will offer them companionship, suitable food, a library and prayer hall at a reasonable cost.
Omar Mosque was the first in Ottawa to provide bathing and burial services in 1997. More than 550 burials have been arranged. For ten years it was the only mosque to offer this facility. More than 250 Nikahs (marriages) have also been performed, Imam Malam often providing both services.
Imam Malam encouraged the Ottawa Council of Imams to assist the Ottawa Food Mission and the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). For three years, the imams have provided a meal once a month at the Mission which provides the poor free food. Last year, the imams gave CHEO $44,000 and $43,000 the previous year to renovate its prayer room for all faiths. Now the imams hope to raise three million dollars to provide the hospital with an MRI machine and to add a day surgery unit to cut down the waiting time which can be from six months to a year for the 2,500 children on the waiting list. The imams are copying Muslims who donated a million dollars to the William Osler hospital in Brampton, Ontario. The Embassy of Kuwait is showing interest in helping with this project.
Though Imam Malam is following Islam’s teachings of helping humanity, his passion for CHEO is also personal. A genetic disorder blinded his daughter Salma and son Atif after birth and left them disabled.
“Up to three million Canadians are affected by rare genetic diseases,” said Dr. Kym Boycott, who along with other doctors is involved in gene therapy research. The Malam children were selected for CHEO’s world-famous Care for Rare Program which seeks to find the genetic roots of hereditary disorders. Boycott said the Malam children could recover if research uncovers the cause of their blindness and complications in other organs.
Imam Malam came from a religious family in South India and had memorized the Holy Qur’an by the time he was 10. He moved to Canada in 1978 and studied engineering at the University of Windsor. He came to Ottawa in 1987 and works as an engineer. One of his sons is also a hafiz.
Malam supervised all phases of construction of the mosque, saving about three million dollars in his estimate. The building has cost seven million dollars and Malam says he was not late even once in paying the contractors.
Imam Malam was the only imam in Ottawa who was not an employee. He led the daily and Friday prayers and the Taraweeh prayers, managed the finances, controlled the administration and programs and helped with Nikahs, bathing bodies and burials. He received no salary.
Imam Malam has submitted a business proposal to the provincial government for the assisted-living facility and is hoping the project will go through. He is now president of the Masjid Omar shoura while an eminently qualified Canadian-born youth took over as imam on May 1 to bring a fresh approach.
Imam Malam is now 55 and his family needs him too. He provided the Muslims of Ottawa with a leadership that was visionary, practical, dedicated and reassuring to neighbors. What he has built will serve Ottawa for generations to come.
?— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge. ?