Up close and personal . . .
The following questions were sent to us from a student who had travelled to Toronto from another country to observe our group in order to do research for her Master's thesis. She observed us for about four months. We thought our readers might be interested in our answers to her, because from time to time readers will request more detailed information about us. Our Web master (Rabia) responded..
>>1) What is the name, the interviewer, the general audience and the channel of the interview Syed Mumtaz Ali recorded for a television program (and you kindly recorded for me)?
Channel 36 (Cable 9 CTS). Interviewer's name was: Bashir Khan. Program was: Islam Today. The program airs every Saturday at 3:00 p.m. here in Toronto. Three more interviews were aired on that program and they plan to re-run them from time to time.
>>2) What is the "Society for the Understanding of the Finite and the Infinite"? Is it the same as the present group, your Chishti branch, established in Toronto by Dr. Baig?
The Society for Understanding the Finite and the Infinite (S.U.F.I.) group is the Sufi Study Circle that you were attending on Wednesday nights. That is its legal official name with the Canadian government, although we mostly go by "The Sufi Study Circle of the University of Toronto" because that is the name that is official with the University of Toronto and which was established by Dr. Baig, r.a. (He was once a professor at the University of Toronto in the department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies).
By the way (BTW), Dr. Baig, r.a. also established the Society for Understanding the Finite and the Infinite (acronym S.U.F.I.) group and the Sufi Study Circle (for practical purposes, both are the same thing, and they are differentiated by the fact that S.U.F.I. is the official name under which a Corporation was formed under the Corporations Act of Ontario and the other, The Sufi Study Circle, is the official name registered with the University) and we all belong to it, as well as the Canadian Society of Muslims. Although, not all people who are members of the Canadian Society of Muslims (I believe you went to a function once didn't you?) are members of the S.U.F.I. group. The Canadian Society of Muslims holds these functions in conjunction with the Sufi Study Circle on those occasions of anniversaries of our Shaikhs in the Gudri Shahi branch of the Chishti Order of Sufis, so there are some ties there, because the people, while not desiring to set foot on the path, do revere and respect the particular Sufi saints (Shaikhs) in the Chishti line so there is also a connection there. Some have even gone to Ajmer personally in order visit the tomb of Khwaja Gharib Nawaz Moinuddin Chishti, r.a. although at the same time, they are not interested in following the Sufi path themselves.
I remember that at one of our meetings, you wanted to learn a little more about Dr. Baig's, r.a. work in the Muslim community. I think you might be interested to learn what follows. At the time when Dr. Baig, r.a. and Mumtaz Shah came to Toronto, there were no Islamic centres or mosques here except that the Albanian Muslim community had a small basement beneath a store on Dundas St. This basement was used generally for social gatherings, Eid celebrations, and was also used for prayer purposes as and when the need arose, but it was not used on a regular basis. I am not completely sure, but I think that the name of the man who established this centre was a Mr. Asim. So Dr. Baig took the initiative to do something about establishing a proper place of worship for the Muslim community. In the early 1960s, at his own initiative, he became instrumental in purchasing a small church on Bousted Ave. which had been put up for sale. The small size of the Muslim community and the lack of financial resources at that time, left him with no other choice but to buy a property which came with a heavy mortgage. Al hamdu li Allah (all praise is due to God), he took a small delegation of new Muslims for a tour of Muslim countries and pilgrimage to the holy places of Mecca and Medina. Those same people had said their Shahada i.e. accepted Islam, and also took bayat (initiation into the Gudri Shahi Chishti Order or Sufis) at his hands afterwards. Being the head of the delegation, he was able to arrange an audience with reigning King of Saudi Arabia and managed to persuade him to make a substantial donation/grant in order to pay off the mortgage. Dr. Baig, r.a. was the first elected Imam of the Bousted Ave. mosque which was called the 'Jami Mosque' of Toronto. 'Jami' is an Arabic word meaning 'principal' or 'main' mosque. He became quite well known and was very popular for his activities not only as a leader of the fledgling Muslim community in Toronto at the time, but also as the first Imam.
He is still fondly remembered for his successful campaign for the removal of objectionable and discriminatory material from Ontario school textbooks. The demonstrations, public meetings as well as a protest march to Queen's Park (the Ontario government legislative building) gained overwhelming global support from practically every Muslim country and this became a memorable and electrifying experience for the whole Canadian Muslim community here in Toronto. This was the impetus for many other similar activities in the future.
As a recognized authority on Sufism, as well as a practising Sufi Shaikh, he was instrumental in establishing many traditional Sufi practises. He was the first person to hold Milad-un-Nabi celebrations in the Bousted Ave. mosque. The Milad functions were later held in larger places, such as the O.I.S.E. (Ontario Institute of Studies in Education) Auditorium, Harbourfront, etc. to accommodate the ever increasing crowds. Al hamdu li Allah, that tradition has now made the Milad-un-Nabi so commonplace that nowadays, dozens and dozens are held almost everyday throughout the entire month of Rabi-al-Awwal as well as throughout the year both inside and outside of the city of Toronto. In fact it has now become quite difficult to decide on which one of several Milads to attend -- especially on weekends. Similarly, Dr. Baig, r.a. was the first person to establish the celebrations of the anniversaries of the holy saints (Sufi Shaikhs) and other great Muslim personalities in Toronto.
He was also the first person to establish traditional dhikr sessions on a weekly basis (which were held privately). Masha Allah (may it please Allah) the dhikr sessions of several individual Sufi Orders, as well as joint dhikr sessions (dhikr halqa) in the Imdadul Islamic mosque, Noor ul Haram mosque, among others are now being held throughout the city. To get an idea as to how Sufism has developed in Toronto click here. (As you know, he established the weekly seminars for the The Sufi Study Circle on Wednesday evenings that you went to. He was also the first professor at the University of Toronto to give an advanced course on Sufism in addition to his regular courses on Islam, which were hugely popular and had a large attendance.
He founded and became the first President of The Canadian Society of Muslims. At that time he became the main spokesperson for the Muslim community on the whole so that when a person in authority was required to safeguard and defend Islam and the Muslim community from all kinds of assaults from the media and other sectors of society, inevitably Dr. Baig, r.a. was the one who everyone seemed to call on for help. In those days the mass media did not seem to be as considerate about Muslim sensitivities as they are now. There used to be a great deal of innuendo as well as inflammatory and prejudicial stereotyping of Muslims back then. It still occurs, but it is not as severe as it was then. But still there is a long way to go. The Canadian Society of Muslims used to be the main organisation which defended the Muslim community against the media through all available means such as letters to Editors, appeals and complaints to the Media watchdog - the Ontario Press Council - and even the Ombudsman. Now, al hamdu li Allah quite a few Muslim organisations have taken over this role.
Dr. Baig, r.a. was also the first person to take the initiative to submit a request to look into the possibility of incorporating Muslim Personal/Family Law into the Ontario legal system. This request was put before the Ontario Commission, which had been set up to revise the laws of Ontario. His campaign has continued to the present day under the direction of his successor Mumtaz Shah. For more details about this campaign you will find a subtitle on our Contents page called "Our Canadian Campaign for Personal/Family Law provides many links which will discuss the campaign.
>>3) When S. Mumtaz Ali wasn't retired, did he work as a freelancer or for a company? I presume he was guided by Islamic Law, but, how was he able to reconcile both Canadian (secular) law and Islamic Law? Which kind of lawsuits did he work with?
Mumtaz Shah worked in Ontario, Canada as a lawyer (Barrister and Solicitor). In fact he was the first immigrant from India/Pakistan in Canada to have taken his legal oath on the Holy Qur'an, as opposed to a Bible, at the ceremony when he was 'called to the bar' (that's a term meaning he passed the bar admissions course of the Law Society of Upper Canada here in Ontario and was subsequently allowed to practise as a lawyer in this province.) Here are two links that mentions a few things about Mumtaz Shah's past ... one | two. Prior to living in England and then in Canada, he practised Pakistani law as a lawyer (Advocate). However, he is very educated and is considered to be a Muslim Scholar. Here are a few of his degrees:
B.A. - Islamic
Studies (Theology) (Osmania University, Hyderabad, India) (1946)
*** He did not obtain the degree of LL.M. but he did complete the course. At the time he had to make a crucial decision between letting an immigration deadline (to Canada) expire or to forgo the examinations completely and emigrate to Canada instead. Had he written the exams, he would have been able to complete his LL.M. as well as a Chartered Secretary's (Corporate Accounting) course. Mumtaz Shah was also enrolled with the London School of Economics for various studies in Company law as well as International law of the Sea. He was also associated with University College of the University of London for his studies in the International Law of the Air. Once he emigrated to Canada, he successfully began a law career in Ontario after taking the Bar Admission course (he was able to complete this in a year and a half and this consisted of one year articling and 6 months theory and then exams). This special privilege of being able to complete this course in so short a space of time (1-1/2 years) was granted to him because of his previous 5-years practice as an Advocate of the High Court of Sind, Pakistan.
Interestingly, Mumtaz Shah and Dr. Baig, r.a. were both graduate students of The School of Oriental and African Studies (S.O.A.S. - University of London) at the same time for their studies in Muslim Law and Sufism respectively. Although they did not meet each other until they were both in Canada.
It is also noteworthy that Mumtaz Shah's education at Osmania University was exemplary. He was awarded various scholarships which were based on merit throughout both his high school and university career. Instead of going for an M.A. (with a scholarship) in Muslim Scholastic Philosophy, he instead chose to take up law (LL.B. & later an LL.M.) for his career choice. Back then Osmania was THE university to go to. Osmania became famous for two reasons: (i) its curriculum catered to a dual education both in Religious studies as well as with Western/British university education. (ii) instruction was in the native language of Urdu, rather than in the prevailing language of English which was the standard in India at the time.
With regard to his subjects for his B.A., he studied the Qur'an (exegesis), Hadith (collections of the Prophetic Traditions) Usul-e-Hadith, Fiqh (Islamic Law), Usul-e-Fiqh (principles of law), Kalam (Scholastic Philosophy), Logic, Arabic Literature, English Literature as well as other Arts subjects and so on. For his LL.B., in addition to Muslim Law and Hindu law, he studied the usual British law curriculum such as British Constitutional law, Roman law, Civil and Penal codes, Company law, Contract law etc. For his LL.M. he studied Muslim Law as well as Company law and International law of the Air and Sea (although he did not obtain degree in this).
After taking his oath of allegiance in Ontario, he worked as an employee for the Government of Ontario, Department of Justice and Attorney-General, as a lawyer (legal counsel) in various capacities from 1962 until he retired at age 65. During that period of government service, he practised Canadian (secular) law and specialized in Civil Litigation (lawsuits) as well as in Commercial and Corporate Law.
In his private life, however, he governed himself according to Islamic law (as far as it was possible and practicable) as well as according to local Canadian law. That is, without breaking the laws of either system. However, if any conflict arose between them, for example, if Canadian law would not permit or allow him to do a certain thing, which Muslim law permitted him to do, like taking a second wife, he would refrain from doing that. The Muslim Law itself requires that when living in a non-Muslim country, one must not disobey the local laws of the country of residence. In other words, since the Islamic Law is so sound and sensible and so very practical and realistic, as well as so beautifully flexible and easy to follow (because repeatedly the Holy Qur'an itself makes it abundantly clear that Allah does not make His servants bear more than they can take) therefore Muslims are required to follow the Islamic Law only to the extent that they are capable. That is, without undue hardship which could then endanger their life, and so on. This injunction is NOT for the purpose of avoiding such bearable hardships which human beings are bound to face in everyday life. For example, in the case of "extreme necessity" (zururat) in order to protect one's life or honour, a Muslim is permitted (even commanded) by Islamic law to refrain from declaring his Islamic testimony (shahada) (i.e. the verbal declaration of la ila ha illa Allah Muhammad-ur-Rasul Allah -- There is no god but God and Muhammad is His Messenger) and instead to hold his or her faith internally in his or her heart rather than express it verbally. During the oppressive regime in Russia, Muslims interiorised Islam in this way for that very reason, i.e. to save their lives. Similarly, if a Muslim must eat or drink forbidden food or drink (i.e. pork or wine) as the ONLY means to save his or her life at that moment (because no other food or drink was available) he or she would then be required by Islamic law to consume those forbidden (haram) things only to the extent that would make it possible for them to save their life. Yet in normal circumstances, although refraining from pork and wine may cause some hardship (i.e. in terms of social embarrassment or otherwise), then Muslims MUST refrain from their use. In short, this is the general principle for Muslims to follow and they do resolve all kinds of conflicts between Islamic and secular law, by applying this basic principle to individual circumstances as and when they occur in their lives.
>>4) When did Dr. Baig and Syed Mumtaz Ali immigrate and why?
Dr. Baig came here to work at the University of Toronto as a professor (1962). Mumtaz Shah came here after first considering emigrating to England. I am so glad he didn't. Mumtaz Shah met Dr. Baig here in Toronto. Back when, when Mumtaz Shah emigrated here, Canada was actively seeking immigrants ( ~ 1960) and he responded to that. He was forced to leave Hyderabad in India after the partition of India back in (1949) as it was too dangerous to live there at that time. . . they were killing the Muslims back then and had also lost his job in the second revolution when the state of Hyderabad was taken over by India. When a person does not leave their home country by choice, it is often very difficult for them to be driven away from their homeland. Although he has been away from India for close to 50 years now and has settled here in Canada for nearly 40 years, I would guess that he still misses the culture and lifestyle of his homeland.
Abdul Rahim was appointed as our Secretary and is in charge of our weekly Wednesday seminars of the Sufi Study Circle. He graduated from Mt. Allison University in New Brunswick and he received a B.A. in Religious Studies (which included Comparative Religious studies), as well as English and Philosophy there. Mumtaz Shah's information has already been mentioned. I myself graduated from Lakehead University with a B.A. in Psychology back in 1976. Being part of the 'baby boom' generation, I was never able to obtain work in my field of study and instead worked with computers and design in order to satisfy my mechanical inclinations and also to 'put food on the table' (i.e. earn an income) and also did volunteer work with people who were dying or who were severely disabled in order to satisfy my non-mechanical inclinations. For my death counselling, I studied under Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, who is a world-renowned Psychiatrist, who created the field. I was one credit short of a second degree in Sociology at the U. of T. and also at one point studied Physics, but dropped out due to some tragic life events at the time. Azim graduated from the University of Toronto with a B.Sc. in Microbiology. I don't know about Martin's background or Ian's.
>>6) Did Syed Mumtaz Ali have a scholarly production? Does he have any contacts with the Dept. of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies of the University of Toronto (or any other university)?
Mumtaz Shah's only contact with the University of Toronto was through Dr. Baig, r.a. and so he hasn't done any research or academic work for the U. of T. However, in his capacity as the President of the Society for Understanding the Finite and the Infinite (S.U.F.I.), and the Sufi Study Circle, as well as President of the Canadian Society of Muslims, his lectures and seminars have been on-campus. All his other research and work, such as for the campaign for Canadian Muslim Personal Law, Minority Rights, etc. have been off-campus.
>>7) Which are the respectful ways of referring to Saints, Shaykhs, prophets, the Holy Prophet? I know only that of Allah (SWT), but I don't remember what it means...
(i) When the name of Allah
is pronounced, a Muslim can show his or her respect to God by saying Subhanahu
Wa Ta'ala (S.W.T.). Translated this means: May He be Glorified
and Exalted. You might also see or hear a shortened form: Allah
Non-Muslims, for the most part, do not use these terms since these are expressions that are used by Muslims to show respect and reverence for these great people and the form of respect depends on their status and relationship to the Prophet Muhammad p.b.u.h. However, if a non-Muslim happens to feel this kind of respect for these individuals on a personal level, then I don't think there is anything wrong with using such expressions.
At the moment Abdul Rahim does not have an e-mail address, but I told him you wanted to contact him, so I gave him your e-mail address and Insha Allah he will try to contact you. In our group, I am the main computer geek and I have had the very good fortune and privilege to be drafted to serve as the Web master for all three of our Internet Web sites. In fact, I'm on the computer nearly 10 hours a day and on the net for close to 8 hours a day . . .
I hope I've answered your
questions xxx. Mumtaz Shah has proof-read this letter and a portion
of the answer to your question #3 re: question of reconciling between Islamic
and secular law was actually dictated to me by him. He has also asked me
to publish this letter on our website because from time to time people
do want to know about who the people are behind the scenes and this would
be a perfect vehicle to do that. . . .
For our main Who We Are page click