By: Ismael Mukhtar
When I first visited the Pioneer Mosque on 247 Hazelwood Avenue, following my arrival in Winnipeg, I found a a study group that meets every Sunday for Quranic exegisis “tafseer” sessions. The instructor was Dr. Waleed Izzat -from Iraq-, then a PhD student at the University of Manitoba. Most of the attendees were also PhD students. Among this group, there was a man who looked different. He was well groomed, older in age, calm in demeanor and gentle in manners. He listened attentively, asked questions and sometimes made insightful comments. He caught my attention from the moment I saw him and he left on me a positive impression. After few encounters, I came to know that he was a family doctor and his name was Dr. Mujibur Rahman! From that moment on, I had the honor of befriending this great man and working with him on many community projects.
Dr. Mujeeb -as he was referred to by in the community- was a man of many accomplishments. He was a successful physician, great husband, loving father and a visionary community leader. Once my young friend, Dr. Jawad Shah, told me that Dr. Mujeeb is an exemplary doctor. He cared less about the number of patients he saw per day, but he cared most about the quality of medical care he provided to them, even if that meant less patients and less income. Dr. Mujeeb was a family man. I saw him everywhere accompanied by his wonderful wife Sr. Firdous and his wonderful daughters. They all volunteered and worked together as a team in serving their community. Dr. Mujeeb’s busy professional life and his deep commitment to his family didn’t prevent him from serving his community and leaving behind an impressive history of community accomplishments; here is a preview:
1- Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA) president:
In 1986 Dr. Mujeeb was elected as MIA president for one term. As president he served his community with sincerity and dedication. He brought the community together, he welcomed feedback, he initiated many good programs and enriched the pool of community volunteers by bringing with him his whole family to volunteer and serve MIA. He was a well-liked and regarded president. He graciously ended his term and stepped down to pave the way for other leaders.
Dr. Mujeeb’s end of term as MIA president wasn’t the end of his community involvement, but rather a transition to a new undertaking. Shortly, he became a member of the MIA Board of Trustees when the board was assigned a major undertaking of our community, the establishment of a New Center. I had the honour of serving on this project with Dr. Mujeeb and this is where I came to know him closely. Dr. Mujeeb passionately worked on this project with his peers and I remember him actively driving through the neighbourhoods searching for suitable lands for sale. He was constantly coming with new ideas and proposals. In the process of his search, Dr. Mujeeb came across a huge piece of land outside of Winnipeg, available at a cheap price. Dr. Mujeeb strongly advocated for buying this land, offering from his pocket $20,000. The committee, however, disagreed; the committee felt the land was too far. In retrospect, perhaps, Dr. Mujeeb was thinking of something bigger. A potential investment whose value might appreciate significantly in the future or a possible future camp site or a cemetery. Dr. Mujeeb was disappointed that his proposal was rejected, but still continued to work passionately as a team member. By the grace of Allah the 13.5 acre land our community owns today at Waverley was purchased after years of hard work. Certainly, Dr. Mujeeb will be remembered as one the pioneers of this great project that culminated in the establishment of the Grand mosque.
3- Co-founder of Al-Hijra Islamic School:
Dr. Mujeeb’s term as MIA trustee came to an end. He stepped down, again not to withdraw from community service, but to undertake another project. Dr. Mujeeb had a strong passion for education; for the longest time he spoke about the need of establishing a full time Islamic school. His vision was of a school with the highest distinction, open to Muslims and non-Muslim (similar to some of the top Catholic schools). In 1996 the MIA Executives, following a brain storming meeting, established a committee with the mandate of establishing an Islamic school. Dr. Mujeeb passionately joined this committee. The committee included members such as Dr. Al-Otaibi, Br. Abdu Eltasee, Sr. Shahina Siddiqui, Dr. Ahmed Sultan and others. The committee worked hard and within a short period, the first Islamic school opened in a rented facility on Pembina Hwy with 34 students! Dr. Mujeeb became the chair of the school board and he brought along with him his daughter Sarah who had a degree in Education to serve as Principal for a relatively small pay. The first 3 years were very difficult years. Dr. Mujeeb along with other board members worked hard on fundraising to make the school successful. Once the school was in decent shape, Dr. Mujeeb decided to step down from the board. Interestingly, Dr. Mujeeb wasn’t in favour of “Al-Hijra” name, he preferred a generic English name, consistent with his vision of an inclusive school that attracts both Muslims and non-Muslims and provides high level academic learning within an Islamic ethical frame work. The Alhijra School was a milestone in the history of our community, Dr. Mujeeb along with other esteemed members of our community will be remembered as its pioneers.
4- Founder of Winnipeg Central Mosque (WCM):
Dr. Mujeeb stepped down from the Al-Hijra School board, not to withdraw, rather to venture into another community undertaking. People living and working in down town area had difficulty finding a place to pray Jumma. The Pakistani Association offered a building it purchased on Ross Avenue for Jumma purposes. The place was in bad shape. With efforts of Dr. Ahmed Al-Saghier and MIA, the place was fully renovated. However, within a short period of time, the place was running out of capacity. Dr. Mujeeb who used to occasionally pray Jumma at the Ross location, saw the need for a bigger space. He took the initiative of looking for a larger space in downtown. With his leadership and his generous contribution and help of few others, an abandoned restaurant building was purchased on 715 Ellice. The place was in bad shape and needed a lot of work. For a full year, weekend after weekend, Dr. Mujeeb, his family and other volunteers worked relentlessly to fully renovate the whole place and make it ready for the community. The WCM project was perhaps the most difficult for Dr. Mujeeb, not only the financial and physical efforts it required, but the unfortunate attacks directed at him by those who failed to see his far reaching vision. Some questioned his motives and some felt he was diverting community’s effort from the New Center project on Waverley. It didn’t take long to prove them all wrong. Dr. Mujeeb was a selfless man whose primary motive has always been to serve and help his community. The mosque he established has become a beacon in our community for over 10 years; a place open for all, a place that provides much needed space and service to all community members in downtown. WCM will always be remembered as a lasting legacy of Dr. Mujeeb and his family.
5 – Teacher and mentor:
As Dr. Mujeeb was getting older, his undertakings of major initiatives slowed down, but his commitment to the community service didn’t wane. As much as he loved to learn, he also loved to share his knowledge. He continued his community service by regularly lecturing at Manitoba Muslim Seniors group meetings and talking about various health and wellbeing issues. This passion of sharing knowledge goes back to much earlier times in his life. I remember he used to conduct sort of “Islam 101” classes in his clinic on weekends for clients who were interested in learning. He also used to deliver regular reminders in Pioneer mosque.
One of the projects Dr. Mujeeb spoke passionately, but couldn’t complete it was “a Waqf” –endowment- fund. At one time he put forth a proposal of creating a waqf investment fund with a seed money of at least $100,000 to be invested and managed by experienced investment managers. The revenue generated to be used for MIA and community projects. He was willing to put cash from his own pocket; I remember he spoke to a number of professionals. His proposal, as visionary as it was, somehow didn’t gain momentum. Perhaps as we bid farewell to Dr. Mujeeb, this could be an initiative we can revive to honour our esteemed elder. When Dr. Mujeeb made his proposal of $100,000 seed waqf, our community was small and had limited resources, but today our community is much larger and more resourceful; with strong will we can even go much bigger!
Dr. Mujeeb was much older and more accomplished than myself. However, in his typical humble way, he treat me with great reverence and respect. When we both became members of the New Centre project committee, I was a bachelor university student living in downtown with meager income. I didn’t have a car. Regular Committee meetings were held in Dr. Usmani’s home in Linden wood. Transportation was a challenge for me. Dr. Mujeeb, out of his generosity, he committed himself to pick me up from downtown. He would drive from his clinic to downtown, then to Linden wood, then back to downtown and then back again to where he lived far in the South. For a man with a busy schedule and family commitment this was a daunting task, but he adamantly did it, not for few occasions, but consistently week after week.
When I became MIA president, he was very supportive and encouraging. After every khuttba -Friday sermon- I deliver, he would come to me, either to ask a question or gives a suggestion or compliment. On Eid days, Dr. Mujeeb and his family regularly organized open houses. Attending these open house and chatting with Dr. Mujeeb was a joyful moment that I will certainly miss in future Eids!
The last time I visited him at home, he was very ill, but his heart and mind was with the community. Less than 24 hours before his death I visited him in hospital, he wasn’t talking, but his face was still shinning with his benevolent demeanors.
Balancing professional life with community work:
By the will of Allah, Dr. Mujeeb has departed to a better place, but he has left a permanent mark on our community. Our community lost a pioneer, a founder, an elder, a wise man, a man of character and principle. Dr. Mujeeb never spent his time on negative energy –such as frictions and rivalry-, he wisely focused his energy on value added positive work.
Dr. Mujeeb has demonstrated to all that you can perfectly be successful in your professional and family life and at the same time serve your community well. He broke the shackles of ethnicity and chose to embrace the universal Islamic fraternity. If anybody believes that professional life takes people away from community work, Dr. Mujeeb has proven them wrong.
To the wonderful family of Dr. Mujeeb, the mother of all Sr. Firdous, to his wonderful children, as much as you feel sad, you should be proud to be a family of this great man. As I offer my sincere condolences, I humbly say, the best way you can honor Dr. Mujeeb is to continue carrying the torch he carried throughout his life and be pioneers in good work. May he rest in peace with the righteous and the blessed.
(Reproduced from Manitoba Muslim Magazine, June 2018 issue, with minor modification)