It is three years since our Imam departed from this world in April 2005 to live in the ever-lasting world. Below is an article written by one of his students highlighting some aspects of Hafiz Sahib's life:
Shaykh Professor Hafiz Fateh Muhammad Sahib, affectionately called Hafiz Sahib by all those who knew him, (May Allah have mercy on his soul) was the great Imam of Madina Masjid from 1984 – 2005 and of Makkah Masjid from 2003 to 2005. He passed away suddenly on the evening of 25 April 2005 (17th Rabi ul-Awwal 1426) whilst reading a biography of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). His sudden departure from this world was a tragic loss to the Muslim community of Leeds which he had ardently and diligently served for over 20 years of his life.
All those who had the honour to meet him will testify that Hafiz Sahib radiated love for the Holy Quran and our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He dedicated his life to gaining knowledge of Islam, living in accordance with its principles and encouraging others to do the same.
Hafiz Sahib was one of very few distinguished Ulemas who excelled in both worldly and religious knowledge and understanding. He first came to England from his native Pakistan in 1984 to undertake a Masters degree in English Language Teaching and Linguistics. He had previously held the esteemed post of head of the English Department at the International Islamic University at Islamabad. He returned to Pakistan for a short while, before permanently settling in England in 1988 and taking up the post of Imam and Khateeb of Madina Masjid and spiritual guide for the community he served.
Hafiz Sahib – an ideal Imam
Hafiz Sahib was not only a religious instructor but had also been a professor at one of the most prestigious Universities in the Muslim world. He was therefore passionate about ensuring that religion was accessible to second generation Muslims in the UK. He reminded Muslims that they had not come to the UK as Pakistanis, Indians etc, but as Muslims. He advised Muslims to leave aside cultural issues and concentrate singularly on the cause of living Islam as it was given to them by the Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Hafiz Sahib was always mindful of the numerous examples in the life of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) of living peacefully alongside those of other faiths, whilst not loosing one's own faith and identity, and he strived to follow these examples.
He emphasised that Muslims should earn their place in society and win the hearts and minds of the host community by showing that the values taught by Islam are the same values that all human beings hold dear. For this reason, a long before there was any wide-spread recognition of the fact that there was a danger of youngsters losing touch with their religious identities as a result of the fact that most religious sermons were being held in Urdu, Hafiz Sahib was preaching in both English and Urdu. He attached great importance to ensuring that youngsters had access to Islamic knowledge in their first language, English. Thus his professionalism enabled him to pursue and resolve intricate issues and challenges faced by the second generation with clarity and conviction, always preferring debate and discussion whilst observing the Islamic etiquette rather than just demanding that youngsters did as told.
Another issue close to Hafiz Sahib's heart was ensuring good relationships between people of different faiths. To this end, he was an active participant in the Leeds multi-faith forums, which saw him recite the Quran at inter-faith events and welcome those of other faiths into the Masjid.
Hafiz Sahib and the Quran
Hafiz Sahib led a simple life which revolved around his role as Imam. His first love was the recitation of the Quran, which he did alongside whatever other task he was doing. Those who had the honour of hearing him recite the Quran know that his pronunciation was impeccable and his voice was melodious and full of emotion. The hearts of his listeners could not help but be moved, and through him his audience felt closer to Allah.
Hafiz Sahib was also passionate about ensuring that Muslims did not blindly follow what they were told, but had a real understanding of the principles of Islam. His aim was to fill the hearts of the Muslims in his community with a love for the Quran as immense as his own, and instill in them a desire to understand the Quran as he did. Over the last 10 years of his life, Hafiz Sahib held daily study circles after prayers. During these study circles, he provided detailed analysis and commentary on almost half of the Holy Quran in a combination of both English and Urdu. His daily classes were attended by both old and young.
Hafiz Sahib's distinguishing trait was his unpretentious appearance and remarkable simplicity. Despite being well-versed in religious and worldly matters, he never promoted himself or tried to seek fame. Instead, he followed the way of his predecessors who worked behind the scenes, displaying profound insight and solicitude for the Ummah andshowing exceptional acumen for resolving the challenges presented by modernity.
Despite being a great scholar and leading a very busy life, Hafiz Sahib never shied away from doing mundane tasks. He used to say that given the fact that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) assisted his wives with household jobs, it could not be a stain on one's status or masculinity to following his example. He was also proud to clean the mosque, saying that not everyone is given the honour of cleaning the house of the Lord.
Hafiz Sahib and Makkah Masjid
The biggest aspect of Hafiz Sahib's legacy is without doubt Makkah Masjid, which was his vision and which only came into being as a result of his tireless efforts. For many years, Hafiz Sahib was deeply concerned that the converted terraced houses which formed Madina Masjid were not adequate to cater for the growing Muslim populations of Leeds 3, 4 and 6. His vision was that the community should have a Masjid of which it could be truly proud, which was not only aesthetically pleasing but which would also meet the practical needs of the Muslim community it would serve. He talked about a Masjid that would elevate the spirits of all who saw it and symbolise the beauty of the religion of Islam.
To this end, Hafiz Sahib worked assiduously firstly to help find the perfect location in which to build his dream Masjid, and then to raise the £1.8 million required to fund its construction. The passion with which he talked about the new Masjid encouraged the local communities to donate the staggering sums needed; very few individuals have the charisma and zeal to convince others to donate so generously. He reminded everyone that if they contributed towards building a house for Allah (swt) in this life, then, as is promised in the Holy Quran, Allah (swt) would build a house in Paradise for them in the hereafter.
Following years of hard work, Makkah Masjid opened its doors in June 2003. Without doubt, it would never have come into existence without Hafiz Sahib firstly having the vision of a magnificent Masjid located in Headingley, Leeds and secondly having the dedication to make his dream a reality.
Those who knew Hafiz Sahib as their Imam, their teacher and their spiritual guide are only too aware that he was a truly unique individual, who cannot be replaced. He was a very inspirational and dynamic person. He wanted to see the learned and professionals work together to advance the position of the Ummah, and reach mutual understanding and respect throughout the world. In a life span of 63 years, he will be remembered for, among other notable things, being a great scholar of Islam who practiced what he preached and instilled love for the religion in those who came into contact with him. His entire life was dedicated to steadfastly serving Islam and Muslims.
There are too many details about his life to cover in such a short article. However, to note a few, Hafiz Sahib emphasised greatly – and showed us practically in the way he lived – the following matters :
1. Love of the beloved Prophet and the Quran,
2. Love for seeking knowledge and displaying love for the people of knowledge;
3. Simplicity in our whole way of life
4. The importance of making an effort in one's life to improve one's status in the world and the hereafter.
We pray to Allah (swt) that He grants Hafiz Sahib the highestplace in Paradise, and makes the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and the Holy Quran his intercessors on the Day of Judgement. Ameen.