GhulamabbasSajan grew up in a house with 12other siblings, yet he managed to complete four out of five parts of his accounting degree by studying at night. 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.
Administrative Work at the Local Mosque
In 1972 there were only 10Shia 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. Ghulam was the presidentat that time and has been President of the Islamic Shia Ithna-asheri Jamaat of Toronto (Jaffari Islamic Centre)(ISIJ) on four occasions. It can proudly be stated that most of the improvements and progressive strides were achieved during his tenures as President. This includes the initiation of purchase of 28acres land on Bathurst Street, Thornhill. Today this centre serves more than 1600 Shia families in the GTA.
Interfaith Activities and Advancing Pluralism in Canada
Adjacent to ISIJ was Temple Har Zion, which was also built in 1979. Under Ghulam’s leadership, the two religious organizations built peaceful relationshipsand coexisted until ISIJ moved to its new location.In 2005 the Harmony Movement gave awards to the two centres, as they were well known for “Sharing the Parking Lots”.
Ghulam has been involved in interfaith activities since 1980. Until 2013, he was co-chair of Mosaic Interfaith, which represents several faith groups such as Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Zoroastrians. The purpose of the interfaith gatherings is to create understanding between various faith groups in the GTA so that we live in harmony with each other under the Canadian concept of multiculturalism.
As a result of Mosaic, leaders of four religious faiths – Christians, Jews, Muslims and Zoroastrians – came together to participate in the Out of the Cold Program for the homeless people of Toronto. This program has been going strong for over twelve years with dual benefits for the participants. In Ghulam’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.”
The Government of Canada honoured Ghulam with a Golden Medalfor his involvement in the Out of the Cold Programon the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the accession of Her Majesty, The Queen Elizabeth II to the Throne.
Ghulam 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.
Making Affordable Housing a Reality
In 1991, 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 has been the Vice-President since it’s inception.
In the 1960s, Ghulam initiated a project in Uganda with the goal that no member of the community should live in rented premises. At the time of expulsion of the Asians from Uganda, less than 10% of thefamilies in the capital, Kampala, from the community were in rented houses.
Child Sponsorship Program
Ghulam initiated the launch of the Zainabiya Child Sponsorship Scheme with themission 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.
Establishing Blood Donor Clinics
Ghulam strongly believes in giving to the community in any way he can. As a testament to this, he has 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.
Following the success of the blood donor clinic in Kampala, Ghulam helped establish one in Karachi, Pakistan in 1973, which marked the beginning of the very well organized Husaini Blood Bank which today is a proud non-profit organization. This service has been acclaimed unique in the whole of South Asia and has grown to 60 branches in Pakistan.
In 1999, Ghulam was invited to become a director of Reh’ma Community Services. Over the years, he has also served as a Treasurer and President. Reh’ma provides services to seniors and also addresses “Family Violence”. Reh’ma received funding from the OntarioTrillium Foundation, Office of The Attorney General, federal government and City of Toronto.
In order to create its own source of income, Ghulam was instrumental in helping the Reh’ma obtain charitable status, which was granted in March 2007. This has encouraged private donors to contribute to Reh’ma, thus taking Reh’ma towards a path of self-reliance Encouraging Voter Participation.
Since 2001, Ghulam has been 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, mediaand others. Ghulam also actively encourages the Muslim community to vote in municipal, provincial and federal elections.
A big believer in microcredit, Ghulam has been pushing for religious alms to be spent locally. As a personal initiative, he has supported women-led small businesses to help marginalized women attain self-sufficiency.
In the 1980s, Ghulam developed the Burial Expense Scheme, to help make the funeral and burial process affordable for Canadian Muslim families. It also relieves grieving families the burden of having to make financialarrangements on their own.
Ghulam is an avid fundraiser. In this capacity, he has sold roses door to door for Tsunami victims and has 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. Ghulam completed his steps in his living room despite his ill health and managed to raise $2,500.
In 2009 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, Ghulam initiated a fund raising campaign with a goal to raise $500,000 from North America for redevelopment and rehabilitation. The target was surpassed.
Ghulam initiated formation of a Muslim organization, “Al-Shura –Muslim Consultative Assemblyof 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.
Ghulam alsoformed two Shia Federations. In 1980, he founded “Organization ofNorth American Shia Ithna-asheri Muslim Communities (NASIMCO)”, which aims to have a common voice for the Shia across North America.
NASIMCO has been active both in North America and elsewhere in many projects. In India, it was involved in providing houses to the needy. In North America, NASIMCO has been active in providing capital funding for Islamic centres and many community-related projects.
In 1993, Ghulam formed another national Shia organization – the Islamic Shia Assembly of Canada, uniting Shia communities across Canada.
Drawing upon his extensive experience in the non-profit world, Ghulam organized risk management forums and developed a draft of Policies and Procedures manual for the Islamic Shia Ithna-asheri Jamaat of Toronto. This addresses issues of risk and effective governance. He now intends to develop a generic Policies and Procedures manual which can be of help to all non-profit organizations.
Ghulam has volunteered his services for several charitable organizations and received several appointments:
In 2010, Ghulam was diagnosed with both esophageal and lung cancer. As the cancer cells progressed to the 3rd stage, he could no longer eat or drink, and lost 56 pounds in a few short months, yet he still remained very positive and as a source of strength and optimism.
He spent the days leading up to his major surgery, with the family and tying up loose ends of the various ongoing volunteer projects he was working on, from accounting to making sure someone would be able to continue his work. It was due to his positive and strong willed nature that he was able to complete all his tasks that he was involved in two days before his surgery.
As a token of his appreciation for the wonderful care he received in hospital, he wanted to help in some way and pledged to raise $10,000 for medical equipment for the oncology unit. By the time he had his follow up appointment with his surgeon, he already had raised the pledged amount.
Awards and Recognition
Ghulam has been humbled by the support and recognition he has received from the community for his years of service. He received Lifetime Achievement Awards granted by:
Most recently, he was recognized by community leaders and friends with a banquet titled, “A Tribute to our friend Ghulam Sajan”.