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November 18, 2014

Canada's lost Ghulam Sajan

Scott Stockdale

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Looking back over his remarkable life, it's no surprise that his daughter Shaheen Sajan would focus on Ghulam Sajan's dedication to civic service as a major motivating factor in his life. In 2001, he was honoured with a Government of Canada award for outstanding service and contribution as a volunteer.

A certified accountant with over forty-nine years of professional experience - including in financial and management audits and investigations in the public and private sectors - Mr. Sajan was Senior Management Auditor with the International Audit Division of the Management Board Secretariat. But it's his 55 years of volunteer experience he will long be remembered for. During his fifty-five years of volunteer work he served as Vice-President of Jafferi Islamic Housing Corp., Director with the Islamic Ahlul Bayt Assembly of Canada, and Treasurer of REH'MA Community Services. He served as Vice-Chair of the Markham Race Relations Committee and he was a Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Ms. Sajan said her father made a commitment to be involved in the political process to try and build relations – particularly at the municipal and provincial levels.

“He wanted to give a voice to different communities he was active with, to increase the number of visible minorities sitting at these tables. Often he was the only one.”

Long before arriving in Canada, Mr. Sajan was actively trying to help the less fortunate around him. Ms. Sajan said that after Mr. Sajan was expelled – along with all people of South Asian origin - from Kampala, Uganda, by Idi Amin, he started a blood bank in Karachi, Pakistan, in the 1970's - where at that time, people had to pay if they needed blood.

Today the Hussaini Blood Bank, with over 60 branches - all run by volunteers – is one of the best known in Southeast Asia.

In the early 1980's, Mr. Sajan founded ZAINABIA – now under World Federation – which is devoted to giving girls in developing countries the right to an education. Ms. Sajan said the organization, which started with 13 children in the early 1980's, now has 13,000 children in school.

When he arrived in Canada in 1975, Ms. Sajan said her father's vision was unity across North America in different communities. In the 1980's, his efforts in building bridges between the Shite and Sunni Muslim communities in Canada led to life-long friendships. Ms. Sajan said he brought people together, regardless of sex, race or religion.

“It was about people coming together to gain an understanding of one another.”

In 1993, Mr. Sajan was one of the founders of The Ahlul Bayt Assembly of Canada, a federation of Shi'a Muslim organizations in Canada, which includes 80 Shi'a Islamic centres and mosques across the country. A registered charity, the name has been changed to Islamic Shia Assembly of Canada. Ms. Sajan said her father stressed the need for good governance at the board level.

“He encouraged people to ask questions, to be critical thinkers. In the Prophet's time, there was dialogue with the people.”

His daughter Fatima said no task was too big or too small for Mr. Sajan, whether it be serving Crescent Village – an organization to provide affordable housing to newcomers – or doing substantial fundraising for an organization set up to give marginalized children in Tanzania a right to education.

“After the tsunami (in Thailand) he went door-to-door selling roses to raise money for the victims. It was the middle of February and he was out there for 12 hours.”

Despite his deteriorating health, Mr. Sajan's spirit remained strong to the end. Not only was he still doing accounting from his hospital bed days before he died, he invited a social worker in to discuss microfinancing projects so newcomers to Canada could get seed money to start businesses.

Ms. Sajan said that although lying on his death bed, Mr. Sajan wrote a letter to Canadian government leaders expressing his disappointment about how complacent the Government of Canada was toward the suffering of the people of Gaza.

She said he helped so many people throughout his life and seldom talked about it, such that her and her sister had to “piece it together” as best they could.

“Many people came up to us and said, 'Your father helped us when we first came to Canada or 'when we were going through a divorce.' “

And they got so many inquiries from people in the community about Mr. Sajan's eulogy – which he wrote himself – that they posted it on the website www.ghulamsajan.com.

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