Al Haj Ghulam Abbas Sajan was born on September 25, 1939 in Kampala, Uganda to a pious lady by the name of Roshanbanu and to Abdulla Sajan who was a humble and generous servant and recognized by all the communities that knew him.
Marhum Ghulam Abbas Sajan, who passed away in Toronto on September 11, 2014, will be greatly missed by family and worldwide communities. "And those who, when affliction visits them say, indeed, we are from Him and unto Him we will return" (Glorious Qur’an; 2:156).
Marhum was the husband of Zarin Sajan, father of Sabrin, Shaheen and Fatima. He was the brother of Marhuma Fatmabai Sajan (Karachi), Marhuma Rubab Khimji (Switzerland), Nargis Pradhan (UK), Marzia Datoo (London, ON), Mohamed Sajan (Toronto), Zinat Salehmohamed (Minnesota), Makbul Sajan (Milwaukee), Nasira Remtulla (Montreal), Parin Hemani (Wales), Nasim Manji (Vancouver), Nazmul Sajan (Birmingham), Husein Sajan (Birmingham), Tahera Gulamali (Milton Keynes), Naznin Mohamedtaki (Toronto), Sabira Fazal (Birmingham).
Marhum Ghulam Sajan was an iconic person who dedicated his life to serving the community and will always be remembered for his selfless efforts.
After being forced to leave Uganda in 1972, with his wife, 11 month old daughter and only the belongings they could carry, they settled in Canada in 1975 after spending two years in the United Kingdom, where he successfully completed his accounting degree with the Chartered Association of Certified Accountants.
He called the exodus a relatively tame affair. He quoted: "I wasn't a refugee. I was exempt as an accountant .But for others it was rough. But of all the religious crises that have happened (worldwide), we were one of the luckiest. We lost our assets but there was no wild slaughter. Two or three people were killed, which is still too many."
In 1972 in Canada, there were only 10 Shia families in the GTA and nearly 250 by 1975. With the increasing need for a space, it was determined that a permanent centre was required. After creating a vision and raising funds, a centre was born in 1979. Marhum Ghulam Sajan was the president at that time and has been President of the Islamic Shia Ithna-asheri Jamaat of Toronto (Jaffari Islamic Centre) (ISIJ) on four occasions. Most of the improvements and progressive strides were achieved during his tenures as President. This includes the initiation of purchase of 28 acres land on Bathurst Street, Thornhill. Today this centre serves more than 1600 Shia families in the GTA.
Marhum Ghulam Sajan founded and was the first chairperson of the Federation of the Shi'a Muslim Communities of North America, also known as NASIMCO. The organization was created to give Shia Muslims a common voice across the continent and has supported projects around the world for over 20 years.
In 1993, Ghulam formed another national Shia organization - the Islamic Shia Assembly of Canada, uniting Shia communities across Canada.
He was heavily involved in interfaith activities, including acting as co-Chair of the group MOSAIC, for over 30 years, which represents and promotes dialogue between various groups including Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and Zoroastrians.
One key initiative of the MOSAIC Interfaith group was the York Region Out of the Cold program providing shelter and meals for the homeless. In Marhum’s words, “While on the one hand this gives one satisfaction of serving humanity, on the other it has the humbling effect of serving the less fortunate faction of the Canadian Community.”
Marhum Ghulam Sajan was instrumental in creating opportunities for York Regional Police recruit officers to attend his mosque where they were given the opportunity to learn about Islam and to ask questions. This program was so successful it has spread to several other faith and cultural communities within York Region.
In 1991, Marhum Ghulam was actively involved in securing approval for an affordable housing project in Richmond Hill, Jaffari Islamic Housing Corporation (Crescent Village), comprising 170 rental units. He was the Vice-President since it’s inception.
Marhum Ghulam initiated the launch of the Zainabiya Child Sponsorship Scheme with the mission of eradicating poverty through education. Over the last 35 years, thousands of students have benefited from the scheme. Currently the Scheme sponsors over 14,000 students. The vast majority of the students are in India, but students are also educated in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand and Uganda.
Marhum Ghulam initiated formation of a Muslim organization, “Al-Shura - Muslim Consultative Assembly of Toronto (Al-Shura)”. The membership comprised 52 Muslim organizations (Shia and Sunni). Al-Shura’s purpose was to foster unity, overcome sectarianism and take a common Muslim position in issues affecting the Muslims of Canada, particularly the ones in the Greater Toronto Area.
Since 2001, Marhum Ghulam was a director of the Association of Progressive Muslims of Ontario (APMO). APMO aims to develop relationships with various governmental departments, Members of Federal and Provincial parliaments, municipal representatives, media and others. Ghulam also actively encouraged the Muslim community to vote in municipal, provincial and federal elections.
In 2005, Marhum Ghulam was appointed as Commissioner with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Marhum Ghulam strongly believed in giving to the community in any way he could. As a testament to this, he donated more than 70 units of blood. In 1964, Ghulam initiated a blood donor clinic in Kampala, Uganda, which encouraged community members to donate blood at least once a year on the Muslim holy day, Ashura.
Marhum Ghulam was an avid fundraiser. In this capacity, he sold roses door to door for Tsunami victims and participated in walk-a-thons for disaster relief and community projects. Most recently, after he was diagnosed with cancer and was awaiting a life-saving surgery, he completed his commitment to participate in the CHAT’S walk-a-thon. Participants were to take 10,000 steps and raise funds for seniors programs. Marhum Ghulam completed his steps in his living room despite his ill health and managed to raise $2,500.
In 2009, Marhum Ghulam visited a school and orphanage in Tanzania where he set up their financial reporting system to ensure accountability and transparency. He also pledged to raise $60,000 annually to help pay for tuition fees for Tanzanian students. In 2012, once he recovered from his surgery, he did it again as well as in 2013.
In the wake of an earthquake in India, Marhum Ghulam initiated a fund raising campaign with a goal to raise $500,000 from North America for redevelopment and rehabilitation. The target was surpassed.
Professionally, Marhum Ghulam served as a senior management auditor with the Management Board Secretariat of the Ontario government from 1975-1999, where among other things, he was responsible for audits and investigations in the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. Prior to that service, he was employed by KPMG in Uganda and the United Kingdom. Despite his significant professional success, his greatest occupation was service to Islam.
At 65, Marhum Ghulam had no intention of slowing down and joked with his family, they should think something is very wrong if they ever catch him at home doing nothing. "I don't want a quiet retirement. Since childhood, I've always been an active, healthy person. I will like to be active 'til I kick the bucket," he laughed. Remarkably, he did just that, working through arduous approvals processes to secure charitable status for one of his organizations and finishing up accounts for another. In a true show of willpower, all of this was done from his death bed just days before he passed away and all the while he was suffering from the intense pain of his illness.
Marhum Ghulam was humbled by the support and recognition he has received from the community for his years of service. He received Lifetime Achievement Awards granted by:
- the Quarter Century Club;
- Universal Muslim Association of America (UMAA);
- Islamic Shia Assembly of Canada (formerly Islamic Ahlul Bayt Assembly of Canada);
- International Volunteer Award from Government of Canada on the occasion of proclamation by the United Nations; and,
- Medals on the occasion of the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee on accession to the Throne.
- Mosaic Interfaith award on him stepping down from the position of Co-Chair – a first award from Mosaic.
Please recite Surah Al-Fateha for the benefit of his soul.
To read “The Last Speech” by Marhum Ghulam Sajan visit www.ghulamsajan.com