Abbu (my father, Dr Qazi Ashfaq Ahmad) arrived in Australia early 1971 after going through the trauma of being terminated as a youngish Professor and Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering in Kashmir with an uncertain future.
Apart from being a brilliant student topping with gold medals during his engineering studies in India and US and becoming a full Professor and Head of Department at the young age of 36, he studied Islam and comparative religion, philosophies and ideologies through original sources after mastering in various languages including English, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu.
Abbu subscribed to the ideology of the Islamic reformative movement, Jamaat-e-Islami propounded by its founder Syed Abul Ala Maudoodi, its core message being Islam as a comprehensive way of life.
However, endowed with a brilliant intellect, broad mindedness, critical thinking, dynamic personality, pragmatic approach and practical wisdom, Abbu did not slavishly follow any one and was a fiercely independent thinker.
With great inner motivation, unlimited energy and multitasking capacity, soon after his arrival in Sydney, apart from his professional preoccupations, he engaged himself with the budding Sydney community of diverse ethnicity and idiosyncrasies.
With an extremely high self esteem, first hand knowledge of Islam from direct sources and the ability to fight like a soldier general on multiple fronts at the same time, he engaged himself with various groups of Muslims and people of other faiths and no faith.
These would include Sunnis and Shias of all shades, Christians and Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and even Qadianis, Bahais and Agha Khanis as well as agnostics and atheists, exchanging ideas and developing cordial relations with their leadership on the basis of human brotherhood.
He initiated many activities and founded many projects, institutions and organisations not only strictly religious ones, but social, educational and welfare bodies to serve students and the general community and involved his whole family and those around him fitting them in like cogs in a machine.
I arrived with the rest of the family late 1971 with my mother, three sisters and three brothers including myself just after the war between India and Pakistan ended with the creation of Bangladesh.
As a young 18 year old, I subscribed to Abbu’s ideology, you could say, by way of inheritance and shadowed him during most of his engagements.
However I must admit that I at the time, in contrast to Abbu, lacked the art of multitasking and had the capacity to do only one thing at a time, do it for the long haul and excel in it.
Sydney had a very small Muslim population with no mosque or centre where five times prayers were being offered. There were barely a few properties owned by Muslims community or rather ethnic Muslims.
The place where Lakemba mosque exists today was owned by Lebanese Moslem Association and was a coffee house with a stage where I was told belly dancing had just stopped a couple of years before.
Zetland (current AFIC property) was a coffee house of the Turkish Cypriots while the place where Wollongong mosque exists was a coffee house for the Turks.
Surry Hills had two houses where Mr Afif ran the Islamic Society of NSW, the only “Muslim” organisation where the only Friday prayer with a congregation of hardly 20 people were being conducted.
While still struggling in acquiring professional education, job, housing and settlement in this new country of ours that we had decided to call home and had burnt our boats with a decision not to return back to India, we embarked on a mission of Islamic Daawah and community building fighting on a large number of fronts.
Saving our identity as Muslims, our first line of defence was to develop the Muslim community with viable institutions. This included community organisations, daawah organisations, mosque associations, educational circles, social and recreational activities, student, youth and women’s bodies etc.
Our second line of defence was to develop a strong extended family with the idea that if the community failed then we had a family set up to fall back on.
Personally I had many worries and a lot of uncertain questions to think about. If my young brothers and sisters would subscribe to our ideology while living in the Australian society with its own peer pressures and trends.
Would my sisters identify themselves as Muslims by complying with the Islamic dress code including hijab that was non-existent in Australia?
Would our spouses, who we have had to import from overseas, support us in our mission of living Islam in Australia?
Would my would be wife abandon the traditional burqa or dupatta by donning the hijab?
Would the Muslim community largely consisting of semi skilled migrants, very busy in earning a living, say yes, labbaik to the call of Islam?
Well, alhamdolillah, Allah showered His mercy on us and the answers to all these critical questions have been in the affirmative over these long years.
Without taking all the credits to ourselves, we did put our humble efforts and Allah gave us much much more than we could even imagine at the time.
Abbu did not give us time to relax and indulge with the negatives in the Australian society. We would study and work in the weekdays and engage in multiple Islamic activities during the weekends as well as in weekdays.
All extended family members as they joined us over the years became part and parcel of the Australian Integrated family (AIF) sharing the dream of living Islam in Australia, a well oiled fighting force, men and women together to initiate and implement innovative Islamic projects from the humble Study Circles (Usrah), Sunday Schools, newsletters during the early days to Insight Magazine, Australian Muslim Times Newspaper, Multicultural Eid Festival and Fair and IFEW for daawah work.
We constructed a purpose built very large house in 1986 as owners builders with 12 bedrooms, in-house Musallah, large meeting rooms, library and large garden around the house for comfortable living, family gatherings and community work running all our projects with self sufficiency.
Working with the community, we established student and youth organizations on local (SUMSA) and national (AFMSA) levels, streamlined community organisations on local (ISNSW), state (ICNSW) and national (AFIC) levels, conducted most successful AFIC youth camps, helped establish a network of Mosques (Surry Hills, Lakemba etc), founded daawah organisations (Jammat Daawah Islamia (Australian Islamic mission AIM), conducted Family Usrah, Senior Usrah (Islamic Unity Forum), educational classes, seminar and national and international conferences, developed interfaith, dialogues with Christians, Buddhists and Jews, founded Aligarh Muslim University Alumni of Australia, and Anjuman Taraqqi Urdu.
Almost all organisations and institutions we established were not for profit volunteer based and self sufficient where we contributed our own money and its a record that we never asked for nor accepted donations, be it IFEW, MEFF or Seena, the current publishers of AMUST.
It is great to see the fruits of our humble efforts and blessing from Allah in the form of a young generation of Muslim Australians within the family as well as in the community showcasing their commitment to live Islam at MEFF and now during a range of events and gatherings throughout Australia.
These are our future hope and they need to know our history and the story of Sydney should be told to them and its in the making.
I am looking with the point of view of “the glass is half full”. The “glass is definitely half empty” and we had our share of disappointments, occasional family crisis in the form of health, death etc, community bickering and fighting, but hey, isn’t this what the life of this world all about?
The main thing is and our hereafter is dependent upon how we manage our life in this very world, during good times and during crises, in accordance with Allah’s wishes.
Ye na dekho ki chiragon ki laven hain maddham
Ye to dekho ki kiya ham ne chiragan kaise
Sitaron se aage jahan aur bhi hain
Abhi ishq ke imtahan aur bhi hain
I am grateful that ISRA and Charles Sturt University have embarked on the Dr Qazi Ashfaq Ahmad Biography Project which aims to document Abbu’s contribution to society throughout his life. The research team has been working for the last two years preserving our history through preserving/scanning documents, publications, intensive video interviews, audio recording, photography and writings that will be released through papers, books and documentaries in the near future.