It was the winter of December 1992, the extremely deadliest winter of India ever. On the sixth day of this unforgettable month, Hindu extremists raided the 16th century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and demolished it brick by brick, leading to a chain of events that forever changed the country. That day’s events would lead to pogroms against Muslims in which 2,000 Indians got killed.
During that time, the American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin was conducting its Annual Convention to in Delhi in order to recognise high achievers in 10th and 12th grades in Indian schools.
The education of Muslims was the central theme of the Convention, but the reference to the demolished mosque was inevitable during that time at the gathering.
The first day sessions focussed on the general plight of Muslims. One of the speakers gave a comprehensive talk on conditions leading to the demolition of the masjid. He broke down several times describing the illiteracy, poverty, powerlessness, and persecution of Muslims in independent India.
Concluding his speech, he asked Muslim leaders and intellectuals, “why did they let this happen? And asked their counterparts in the Hindu community, “how long will you continue to let it happen.”
The audience was mesmerised and speechless. After the speech, there was absolute silence, which still rings in my ears until this day.
This speaker was Dr Qazi Ashfaq Ahmad, an Australian citizen of Indian Origin. A caring man, a dedicated community leader, a humanitarian in its real sense, a Quranic scholar, a passionate patriarch of a large family, and a compassionate intellectual, whom Australia recognised this year worthy of Order of Australia (OAM).
I had heard of him and had met him in our home in Delhi where he often visited my father, a close friend with whom he would spent hours discussing issues relevant to Islam, Muslims, and India.
He always appeared as a loving and compassionate person for young and old and I have kept in touch with him and his family over the past few decades. I wish to convey my congratulations to him for his high achievements and recognition by the community and the government of Australia.
Dr Qazi Ashfaq Ahmad OAM, 90, is a retired professor of mechanical engineering. A Quranic scholar and long time community leader received on Tuesday 8 September 2020 by Margaret Beazley, the NSW Governor.
The award was announced on 26 January earlier this year. The investiture ceremony, delayed due to the pandemic, took place in September at the Government House in Sydney under COVID-19 restrictions.
Dr Ahmad, professor and head of the department of mechanical engineering in Kashmir, was forced to leave his job and arrived in Australia in 1971 and has been at the forefront of building Islamic institutions, founding community organisations, and promoting interfaith harmony for almost half a century.
He is a close family friend. His son, Zia Ahmed, runs Australia’s most famous Muslim newspaper, the Australasian Muslim Times AMUST.
“I feel very honoured but also glad that the tradition of recognising community leaders and volunteers is alive and well because they are the backbone of a cohesive society,” Dr Ahmad said.
“Community-based ventures can’t survive without the passion and dedication that volunteers bring.”
“While government services are essential, community-based delivery of some of those services achieves a lot more than throwing lots of money can ever do.”
“This is a value that I sought to instil in my family – that while excelling in their profession is important, they aren’t complete without the free time, effort, and money they contribute for the betterment of the community.”
Some of his most significant achievements have been working with like-minded people to establish the national bodies for Muslims in Australia and Papua New Guinea, student organisations, interfaith groups, and the annual Multicultural Eid Festival & Fair.
The 90-year-old said he had loved living in Australia since he arrived in 1970.
“When I came to Australia to do my PhD at the University of Sydney, I was overwhelmed by the support and friendship shown to me by Australians, including our original inhabitants and owners of the land, those with European ancestry and more recent migrants,” he said.
“I knew very early that Australia would be our new home.”
Dr Ahmad said he didn’t know who nominated him for Order of Australia award.
“The person has not revealed themselves to me, but I can still be and am grateful for their acknowledgment and effort for making the nomination,” he said.
“So I would like to say thank you.”
“Initially, I was perplexed, and I inclined to withdraw. However, the history of Muslims in Australia and their efforts to establish themselves within the wider community must be better known. Through this recognition of my humble efforts, I feel this will help in that objective.”
Dr Qazi Ashfaq Ahmad is a retired engineer and academic by profession, having earned his degrees at Aligarh Muslim University, India, University of Wisconsin, USA, and University of Sydney, Australia.
He is the founder of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), Islamic Foundation for Education and Welfare (IFEW), Multicultural Eid Festival and Fair (MEFF), and many other community organisations and institutions.
He is a pillar of the interfaith communities in Australia and internationally in India, Malaysia, UK, USA, and Saudi Arabia.
Born in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, in India on 12 December 1930, he lost his father when he was two years old, and was four when his mother passed away.
In his young age, he got involved in India’s freedom movement. He met and worked with Mahatma Gandhi, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Maulana Abul Kalam Azaad, first education minister of India, and Dr Zakir Hussein, who became India’s President. He is a cousin of former Vice President of India Mr Hamid Ansari.
Ashfaq Ahmad and his wife Jamal Ara have six children, three boys (Zia, Najm, and Manar) and three girls (Fauzia, Sadia, and Najia). All of them were born in India before they migrated to Australia.
In 1959-60, he obtained MS in engineering from the University of Wisconsin and later completed his PhD while on a University of Sydney scholarship.
For eight years before migrating to Australia, Professor Qazi Ashfaq Ahmad, served as Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and acting Principal at Regional Engineering College in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Due to political interference, he was suddenly terminated from his job in 1969 and threatened with anti-national charges. Therefore, he left India for Australia in 1971.
Dr Ahmad, 90, now has an extended family of over 70 people, the majority living in Sydney, Australia, and is a father, grandfather, and great grandfather.