Moulana Khalil Ahmed Sufi R.A
“Indeed, Allah does not take away `Ilm (Knowledge) by snatching it from the people (their hearts). Rather, He takes it (knowledge) by taking away (the lives of) religious scholars. Until no religious scholar remains. Then the people will take the ignorant ones as their leaders, who, when asked will give a ruling without knowledge. So they will go astray and lead people astray.” [Narrated in Saheeh al-Bukhaari.]
Moulana Khalil Sufi was a man who needed no introduction in the Toronto Muslim community. Moulana was born in Lajpur, Gujarat, India, in the 1940s, where he grew up and studied in the illustrious Dabhel Madressa. There, Moulana studied the various Islamic sciences, including Fiqh and Hadith. Upon completion of his studies, he began teaching madressa in Dabhel before being offered a position as Imam and teacher at the “nalli masjid”(small mosque) in his hometown of Lajpur. In 1972, his brother-in-law invited him to immigrate to England. In Moulana’s retirement ceremony, Marhoom Faruk Desai mentioned that Moulana visited his Shaykh and told him that he’s going to England, his Shaykh told him “no, you’re going to Canada.” Moulana was confused, said okay, and left. Lo and behold Moulana ended up going to Canada. When Moulana recalled this at his ceremony, it made his evening and had a radiant smile on his face, masha’Allah. When he arrived in England, he found a job teaching madressa. He stayed there for a couple of months before getting the paperwork done to come to Canada. He immigrated to Toronto where he initially lived on Gerrard Street for a couple of years with other Gujarati men. During this time, a friend of his joked regarding his duties around the house, “ghar Ma kaam Karu pare, bahar jay tyaare molsaab, par ghar ma waahar dhowu parhe.”(At home you have to work when you go out you’re Moualana, but at home you still have to wash dishes) Moulana enjoyed living with his friends at the time, working and going to a government-sponsored English school while also being a spiritual leader when needed. In 1974, after gaining his landed immigrant status, Moulana Khalil went back to India and considered returning to live there. He paid $300-400 for the trip at the time, which would have been a couple of months worth of earnings. However, upon visiting India, he decided it was best to come back to Canada, start a new future, and expand the Islamic outreach in this country. Much like his friends at the time, in 1974, Moulana was able to sponsor his wife and family, whom he left behind 2 years earlier, to come to join him in Canada.
Moulana rented an apartment above a shop on Gerrard street, near the unit where the Muslim community was hosting prayers when possible. At the time the prospect of being a full-time Imam wasn’t financially feasible so Moulana continued to work to support his young family while leading prayers whenever possible on evenings and weekends. After years of living in East York, In 1976 after a friend moved to the 70 Stevenvale apartment building in Scarborough and Moulana joked, “ tu Taa hukarwa rewa jawaano, gaamra maa?” (Why are you going to live there in the village). To which his friend replied, “Ame Ghaamra chorine Canada awla.. aah toh kayni keyway.” (We left the village to come to Canada, this is nothing compared to that). That seemed to be all the convincing Moulana needed. As with most immigrant families, saving money was essential and jobs were hard to come by. The rent was much more affordable at the time, and months later, in 1977, Moulana Khalil and his family moved to their humble 3 bedrooms, 4th-floor apartment.
Upon moving to Scarborough, Moulana was faced with a longer commute to the Lily Cup factory on Leslie street where he worked. And as many people know, Moulana never drove, so every day he would wear his pressed shirt and pants, put his lunch in his signature leather briefcase, and walk to the bus stop to commute to work. Some family friends recall, “At the time we could see Moulana walking home from the bus stop and we knew it was him because of that briefcase. He never left without it.”
Throughout these years, from 76-81, the Muslim community faced many tough problems. One issue was the lack of religious scholars and another was the lack of a permanent physical space to perform daily salah in and to provide madressa for the children. Unlike today where most Muslim children attend a structured madressa system, at the time, Islamic learning was done at home – but oftentimes this was overlooked due to parents balancing multiple jobs and dealing with financial disadvantages. However, the community stayed diligent in its efforts to solidify the basics of Islam for future generations.
During this time, the prayer hall moved many times: from Gerrard street, to behind the 711 on Danforth, to the Madina Halal Pizza unit. In 1981, Moulana and other pioneers in the community saw land on sale, where Madinah Masjid is today. The price, $700,000, was simply unimaginable at the time and many people were very hesitant about purchasing it. Many feared bankruptcy and were very financially unstable themselves, raising young families in this foreign land. However, Moulana was adamant that the property was needed. When people suggested the property was too big, Moulana had the vision to say that there will be a time when it will be too small. Subhanallah. One night, in Ramadan 1981, with the help of Mufti Shabbir Patel from England, the Muslim community came together and raised $85 000, the equivalent of $245 000 today. The women sold a lot of the gold they brought from India and many people donated all the money they had saved to buy homes to instead build a house of Allah. This was the final push needed to secure the land to build the masjid.
Once the building was attained it was apparent that there was no one better fit to be Imam than Moulana Khalil. He was always looked to for advice in all matters of Islam and from the day he landed in Canada, he was insistent on ensuring that Muslims stayed vigilant on their deen. There was a time when the Muslims in Toronto used to pray Jummah on Sundays, simply because it was the holiday afforded to them from their jobs. Moulana corrected that and guided them to change and follow Islam’s teachings. With the masjid in place, Moulana now had the time to establish the basis for everyday life for the Muslims in Toronto.
At a time when international calling and information sharing was very sparse and limited, Moulana took on the task of sorting out a prayer timetable. People were praying according to the sun’s movements as prescribed in our deen but the formal daily timetable that we all follow today was not established. Moulana worked closely with Valli Bhai to calculate and gather information on the sun’s movement and thus they created the Toronto prayer timetable, which was then printed and published onto that melamine green plaque that some of us still have to this day in our homes. At this time, Moulana was also instrumental in founding the Hilal Committee, working with Muslims in different regions to confirm and verify the sightings of the moon, and communicating the start and end of Islamic months.
Before Madinah Masjid became its namesake, the organization that bought the masjid was named the Gujarati Muslim Association of Canada. Moulana knew and recognized that in a country with such diversity and being a visible minority community, it was not right to distinguish our masjid by our respective backgrounds. He received some backlash but insisted that the name of the organization be changed to Jamiatul Muslimeen of Toronto and that the masjid be named Madinah Masjid. As part of starting the masjid, Moulana was fundamental in establishing the constitution and the political policies that were necessary to maintain control and a strong foundation for the masjid. It was this constitution that Moulana was very crucial in forming which many masjids have based their constitutions on. Many masaajids would consult him on altering constitutions, expansion projects, and even managerial disputes. Once, Moulana was flown to Vancouver to serve as a mediator between two different Muslim organizations. The Muslim community valued his opinion and his word. May Allah reward him for guiding so many who have built masjids all across North America.
Another issue the Muslims faced at the time was the issue with Janazah. As many people may recall, it was only in the early 2000s that most masaajid built their ghusl facilities. In the early days, Moulana was often asked to bathe the deceased bodies in the rented morgues of Christian funeral homes, where oftentimes there were displays of crosses and other un-Islamic imagery. Moulana made sure, when purchasing the land, that a ghusl facility was created and he guided others on the process of bathing a Muslim body for Janazah. Madinah Masjid, with Moulana Shiraaz’s help, served for many years as the funeral home for many Janazahs ranging from Kingston to Niagara Falls. Many of us have prayed many Janazah salaah for loved ones in the small hall on the left of the old masjid prayer hall led by Moulana himself. Moluana Khalil led over 1000 janazah salaah during his time as Imam. May Allah accept our prayers and forgive those who’ve passed Ameen.
Moulana Khalil was also ahead of his time in terms of Islamic advocacy in our Canadian education system. It was brought to his attention that there was misinformation about Islam in school textbooks. Moulana spoke with textbook publishers and school boards to rectify and correct this. As well, Moulana would often be called to provincial and municipal courts to act as an expert witness on Islamic issues. He had a calmness about him that made people feel comfortable about bringing their issues to him. Oftentimes, Moulana would be consulted on matters of personal finance, domestic issues, and Islamic issues. Moulana never turned anyone away. He never gave a response right away when asked a question because he wanted to give firm answers with the right citation. If he didn’t have the answer, he wouldn’t hesitate to consult his books and contact other ulema before giving an educated answer to those in need. There were times where he would take up to 2 months before responding to questions. Goes to show how his work ethic was and his mindset to serve the deen the right way.
During these early days, Moulana Khalil was just one of the very few aalims in Canada so it was fitting that he would be consulted on many matters. However, until he retired, and even until the day he passed, even with the hundreds of ulema in Toronto, he was always held in the highest regard.
When researching for this interview, I asked many people what Moulana was like outside the masjid, to get more of a sense of his personality. The responses I got were all very similar. A close friend eloquently stated, “Moulana Khalil was the heart of the masjid, and Madinah Masjid was in the heart of Moulana Khalil”.
Moulana was a very simple man. Time and time again when asking others about him, this was often their first response. After all those years of being Imam, until the day he retired; rain, shine, or snow, Moulana would walk through the parking lot of his apartment building to the bus stop on Markham road. He would carry his lunch in his hand, wearing his white kafni and topi; never another colour, always in flawless white. A family member said, “He loved to wear white in this world and wore white when he met his Creator.” He would take the 102 bus to Warden Station, and then take the subway over to Donlands Station for Dhuhr every day. He would stay at the masjid until Isha, leading salah and holding court in his office. In the summer months, he wouldn’t come home until midnight and insist on taking the bus, despite people offering rides home to Scarborough.
He would help every person that walked through his door and oftentimes shared his lunch with the congregants who joined him. He was selfless in his service of others. During Ramadan, he would bring his home-cooked meal for iftar every day, and ask his wife to also bring food to share with the congregants who broke iftar at the masjid. Moulana enjoyed eating and sharing company with others. His neighbourhood friend Hafiz Dawood said, “Moulana enjoyed a hot chai tea from Tim Hortons, and in the summers he liked having an iced capp.” He also enjoyed the social aspect of eating with others, as Br. Dawood explains, “he didn’t like drinking in the drive-through, we would sit down and chat while we enjoyed Tim Hortons or a nice falooda from Gerrard street or Iqbal kabob.”
Moulana retired after serving the community for 30+ years. He still lived in that same apartment from 1976, where his family resides to this day. Many people offered him help in buying a home, even giving him a home, vehicles, and cell phones. But Moulana just wasn’t one inclined towards the pleasures of this world. He preferred the simplest of lives. After retiring, he often spent his time at home reading books and going for walks around the neighbourhood. He could be seen at the building musallah for salaah and he spent his evenings walking and doing dhikr. Moulana spent his last years enjoying life and in the worship of Allah. He stepped away from his formal title as imam but was still a leader for everyone.
On August 13th, 2015 Moulana Khalil was called back to his creator. The outpouring of grief and celebration for him and his life’s work was overwhelming. His Janazah salah was attended by thousands, people travelled long distances to be there to pay their final respects to Moulana. He affected so many lives it was only fitting for the person he was. When the van doors opened at Pine Ridge Cemetery, it started to rain, as the coffin approached his final resting place the rain picked up until the coffin was lowered. And it rained extremely hard near the bottom of the qabar (grave). Once the coffin was at rest and soil was being placed over the coffin, it got extremely sunny. Those who were there to experience this knew Moulana Khalil was a special person and had this gut feeling that Allah accepted him. May Allah ease the troubles of the grave for him and may his work in this world be a means of easing his life in the akhirah.
During his 25 +years as Imam, his loud voice would ring through the prayer hall at Madinah Masjid. His short and quiet stature didn’t quite match his loud voice when reciting Quran or giving a talk. But His voice has left a lasting impression on the hearts of thousands of Muslims in Toronto and around the world. From Aqeeqah to Nikaahs to Janazahs, Moulana Khalil has been a part of so many of our lives. And we are grateful. Some will come, and some will pass, But Hazrat Molauna will remain in our hearts forever.
We thank Allah ﷻ every day for blessing us with his presence in this life and we ask Allah ﷻ every day to reward him for his efforts and to shower mercy on him and his family. May Allah ﷻ grant him the highest of levels in Jannah, May Allah SWT give us all the ability to benefit from these inspiring stories regarding Molauna Khalil RA. May Allah SWT unite the Muslim ummah. We ask Allah that he protects the lands of Palestine, its muslims and the muslims throughout the world. May Allah SWT accept all of Moulaunas efforts for his religion and let his effort and his students be a form of sadaqah jariyah for him. May Allah SWT accept all of our efforts in this month, and give us the ability to take lessons from all of the stories we have posted yet far and continue to post. We ask Allah SWT that he gives us the ability to maximize our good deeds tonight and throughout these last couple of days of Ramadan. Ameen!