On Thursday afternoon 2 April, I came to know that Saadath Sultana Hussain, who I have had the pleasure and honour of calling Aunty for most of my life, passed away into the hereafter, aged 84, to be with her Maker (Al-Khaliq) and her beloved husband, Kazim Hussain, who had passed away in June last year.
This piece, whilst it cannot do her the justice she deserves, is to try to capture and share, shortly after her passing, a glimpse into her life and contribution with those who did not know her or, as I have learnt myself, didn’t know her enough.
I thank those who have provided me with their insights, including our families and friends, for this article.
Sultana Aunty, as those of my generation knew her, loved and was loved dearly.
She was born on 10 October 1935 in the famed city of Hyderabad, India, famous for its cuisine which, as I can attest, was demonstrated at every visit to the house of the Hussain’s!
The third child of five siblings, Sultana’s parents were Begum Fatema Sultana and MD Rahimullah, a Judge Advocate General and lawyer by profession. Unfortunately, her father died suddenly of a heart attack when she was just 12 years old, leaving her mother with the responsibility of raising and educating five young children. Given the circumstances, Sultana was able to complete her 10th class matriculation exams at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
In March 1955, Sultana married Kazim Hussain, her to-be life partner for almost 65 years. He was a Science graduate and held a Master’s in Physics from Osmania University, working as a scientific officer at the Government of India Laboratory, lecturer at medical colleges and as a physicist at the Cancer Hospital in Hyderabad.
They then, together with their four children, Zaki, Safinaz, Azra and Fahmi, all aged under five at the time, travelled to Africa in 1961 where Kazim pursued his career as a pioneering educator. Their fifth and last child, Gazi, was born in Nigeria.
As a mother, she put her five children first, taught them the value of hard work, independent religious commitment, and being active members of the community. During this time, she also took care of her mother-in-law. She led by example on how to undertake challenges in all walks of life and the importance of remembering Allah in all they did.
But it wasn’t just about supporting her husband and looking after her family.
Sultana was also an entrepreneur and despite not having any formal qualifications in business, she set up one of the first Indian restaurants in Zambia, which she managed for over four years, ran food stalls at agricultural shows, catered for events and developed a menu which was a unique blend of Indian food that catered for the local Zambian taste.
Indicative of her independence and self-reliance, at a time when Indian wives did not drive almost as a rule, she obtained her driver’s licence.
From the early 1960’s, Sultana and her husband brought the South Asian Muslim families together holding functions, dinners and religious gatherings, all the while ensuring that her children were involved and learnt how to deal with people from all walks of life. Her parties and functions which included arranging weddings, birthdays, and Eid functions set the benchmark that to this day are followed by those communities. And she did this without event planners, facilities and rulebooks – a true trailblazer.
She became a trendsetter and a community leader. She supported her husband in his critical community work to set up foundational Islamic institutions, including the establishment of the first major mosque in Kitwe, Zambia in 1970.
This continued after their family’s move to Australia in 1973. Temporarily residing in Maroubra, Maribyrnong in Melbourne and Green Valley, before settling in 1974 in Bass Hill, an address well known by the fledgling but growing South Asian and Muslim communities at the time.
Our family, Mrs Jamal Ara Ahmad, Dr Ashfaq Ahmad and their children, who had settled in Sydney in 1971, became fast friends with the Hussain’s and my mother, Jamal Ara, was a constant companion of Sultana for many, many years.
As children, we would visit each other’s houses and embark on long road trips constantly, enjoying each other’s hospitality and company.
Our two families, with much support from others in the community, were heavily involved in the establishment of key Australian Islamic institutions.
Sultana continued to support her husband in his activities with the Islamic Council of NSW and Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). She understood the importance of this work, as it was key to cementing the Islamic foundation for not only her children but Muslims new to Australia.
She heavily supported the hospitality aspect of the pioneering Muslim Youth Camps, from where many Australian community leaders emerged. This included designing and stitching a unique branded prayer hijab for girl participants and operating the kitchen that catered for meals for Muslim youth, a role she committed to for over 12 years.
Amid all this she also managed a catering and take-away business in Bass Hill!
In 1982, the family moved to Normanhurst, in the northwest of Sydney where they lived until very recently.
Her ability to adapt to changing circumstances was her strength, she accepted every challenge and actively encouraged all her children to play key roles in various community organisations, the results of which are apparent in the projects undertaken by the extended family to this day.
During the last few years, I have had the pleasure of reconnecting with Sultana Aunty a few times, especially through her visits to Canberra where her two daughters live. Even in her delicate old age, she immediately brought joy to me personally and we would talk about the old times as friends, even though I was a child in those days.
Her infectious laughter, mischievous look and cheeky jokes brought out the child in all of us.
I have photos of the last time I saw her at Canberra Hospital with her daughter, Azra and my wife, Sumaiya – all of us grinning from ear to ear after she had made some remarks about my childhood. It is a private, joyous yet, now, poignant moment that I will treasure forever.
Those who know her, genuinely and fondly recount stories of the support and advice she offered and of course mention how they were drawn to her magnetic personality. They remember her for her loving, joyous nature and for how she joked with them regardless of who they were; they felt an instant attraction to her. She was always welcoming of all regardless of their background or ethnicity and on reflection she encapsulated the essence of being empathetic, compassionate and a believer in being inclusive and multicultural.
To us and to countless others be they relatives, friends or just acquaintances, she was a mother figure who touched people leaving them feeling happy and very special.
She leaves behind her five children; her sons- and daughters-in-law: Syed Raziuddin, Suhail, Rabiah, Ameena and Souha; 11 grandchildren: Farah, Saba, Ayesha, Sharaf, Sama, Aziza, Zareen, Sabreen, Adam, Aleeya and Zaid; and two great-grandchildren: Danyal and Amira. A family who lost their father, grandfather, great-grandfather last year and now their much-loved mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.
May Allah bless her, forgive any mistakes she may have made and give her loved ones the strength to persevere, remember her fondly, pray for her and continue to learn from the life she lived and loved. Ameen.