“Service to humanity is service to God.”
As a young scout, Amjad Syed had that famous motto inscribed on his heart and soul. The son of a loving teacher and Scout Master, he carried that ideal with him across continents and for a lifetime. From Bangalore to Mississauga, Amjad has demonstrated service to humanity as a vital and active volunteer in the Muslim community from the time he arrived in Toronto in 1965 to this very day 51 years later.
From the edges to the core
The Muslim landscape in 1960s Toronto would be unimaginable to today’s Canadians. No mosques, no halal shops, and no general awareness of Islam. Against this background, Amjad and the very small population of Muslims offered salat in a small building which would then be known as the Islamic Centre of Toronto. There, they sowed the seeds of a vibrant Islamic community that transformed Toronto into a significant Muslim centre.
Amjad served as one of the first members of the Islamic Foundation’s Board of Directors, from 1965 to 1970. The mosque, located on Rhodes Avenue in Toronto’s Little India district, was ultimately sold to the Turkish Muslim community. Funds from the sale were used to establish the Islamic Foundation mosque on Nugget Avenue in Scarborough, the first purpose-built, large-scale, multi-use Islamic facility in the area.
At home in Mississauga, Amjad’s work continued. He and his wife Malika started an Islamic school in their basement, teaching Deeniyaat to their three young kids and to dozens of Muslim children from the neighbourhood.
Amjad helped transform the visual identity of Mississauga by tirelessly working to bring ISNA Canada’s headquarters to life. The formerly unremarkable industrial building now has a powerful profile, signifying a clear focal point for the region’s and nation’s Muslims. For almost six years during its construction he organized Friday prayers for the local community. Today, the reborn building greets almost a million travelers every week along the Queen Elizabeth Way, one of Canada’s busiest highways. Years of hard work culminated in a community-wide invitation on April 21, 2000 to attend the first Jum’a salat, making history for both ISNA and Ontario. Alhamdulillah, Amjad received the ISNA Canada Community Award in 2002 for his contributions.
Innovations in Muslim patient care
Amjad studied agricultural science in Bangalore, India. His brother-in-law encouraged him to immigrate to Canada, so Amjad switched his profession to clinical chemistry and worked in the Biochemistry department of Sunnybrook Hospital for the next 30 years. He established a musalla at Sunnybrook for Muslim staff and guests. Amjad has done the same at Mississauga Hospital and Credit Valley Hospital, where he has volunteered since retiring from Sunnybrook in 1995.
During his time at Sunnybrook, Amjad noticed a significant gap in patient care. Muslim patients were often alone and unaware of their rights and responsibilities in the Canadian health care system. Many were not able to speak enough English to converse with the health care staff. He visited Muslim patients of his own accord, giving them the gift of connection with a fellow Muslim. He pleaded to Allah to allow him, after retirement, to continue this service to patients. He was very successful, and expanded the service to three other hospitals in Mississauga and Oakville. Amjad says “inshaAllah, I will keep going as long as possible.” Amjad and Malika are still hard at work 21 years later, comforting patients and educating health care providers about Muslim patient care.
Amjad is the creator and first Coordinator of the Muslim Patients Hospital Service at ISNA. He has trained and guided volunteers from Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, and Scarborough to provide this much-needed hospital visitation service. Amjad has been an executive on the Spiritual Care Advisory Committees of Mississauga Hospital and Credit Valley Hospital for the past 20 years. During this time he introduced prayer rooms and the supply of halal meals for patients.
One of his most valuable contributions is a series of medically-oriented phrasebooks to help patients and health care providers who do not share a language. The phrasebook allows patients to point to a phrase/question in their native language; the health care provider sees the English translation on the same line. The health care provider can point to the English phrase/answer, which patients read in their own language. The phrasebook was so successful it has been translated into 41 languages since its initial release and won an award from Mississauga Hospital.
Knowing that spiritual health is a key component of physical health, Amjad continued to promote harmony between patients and health care providers by co-authoring the Religious & Spiritual Care Orientation Reference Guide (published by Mississauga Hospital) and the Multifaith Prayer/Meditation Book (published by Credit Valley Hospital). He also established the Multifaith Committee of Credit Valley Hospital’s Spiritual Care Department, which took a very active role in the opening ceremony of Credit Valley Hospital’s Carlo Fidani Regional Cancer Centre. May Allah SWT comfort, protect, and heal the people who use it.
Amjad drew upon his years of knowledge and experience in this area to publish his first book, the President’s Gold Leaf Award-winning Islamic Perspectives on Prayers & Coping with Sickness (Amazon.ca, Islamic Book Services) and many short brochures on services for the sick. The book and brochures are highly recommended for those tested with afflictions by Allah SWT, and every hospital library. The brochures, and often his first book, are presented to all Muslim patients in Mississauga Hospital and Credit Valley Hospital during his patient visits.
Audiences for Amjad’s lectures and presentations have included Healthcare Conferences Canada Inc., George Brown College, Saint Elizabeth Care, Mississauga Hospital, Sunnybrook Hospital, Credit Valley Hospital, Trillium Healthcare Centre, and Halton Healthcare, among many others.
From God we came and to God we return
A young Muslim community, working to create its roots and flourish, doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about death. Until it happens. Practical information, from cemetery affordability to body preparation and burial training was critically – and immediately – required. Acknowledging the inevitable, and seeing the rate of confused, suffering Muslim families increase due to the passing of loved ones, Amjad and Malika began an education service and a funeral committee, which Amjad chaired from its inception in 2000 until 2013. Decades of experience, research, and hands-on seminars led to the writing of Amjad’s second book, Textbook of Muslim Funerals in the West (see New Releases). Literally answering the call at any hour of the day or night, Amjad and Malika help bereaved families and others with every aspect of the funeral experience.
A partnership made in heaven
No one stands alone. All of Amjad’s accomplishments are possible only because of the full support and joint effort of his dear wife Amthul Malik (aka Malika), who was recently recognized by the Governor General for her community service as a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal.
Appropriately, Amjad and Malika have been jointly recognized for their work in many ways. For example, in 1999, the Saudi Arabia-based Muslim World League awarded them a Hajj trip for their community service. The Canadian Islamic Congress awarded them the Lifelong Community Service Award in the category of Husband and Wife Team in 2004.
Amjad was recognized in 2012 with a Certificate of Recognition for Long Term Volunteering by the Mississauga Muslim community and the previous Mayor of Mississauga, Hazel McCallion.
May the Almighty Ghafoorur Raheem bestow blessings upon this energetic 80-years-young man and his wonderful wife Malika, that they may continue their service.