Mohammed Ramzan obituary

Staff Correspondent | Published: 20:22 pm, 06 Jan 2017, Fri

Mohammed Ramzan obituary

My father, Mohammed Ramzan (“Abu”), who has died aged 79, was a community activist and religious teacher in the Sufi tradition. In 1969 on a trip to Pakistan he met Barkat Ali, a former British Indian Army officer who had renounced the world, vowing to live the life of a fakir. Barkat Ali began a movement, Dar-ul-Ehsan (“House of Blessings”) with three aims: selfless service to all without discrimination, zikr or the rhythmic chanting of the names of Allah in communal worship and the active communication of Islam in what he considered its true form. Abu became his murid (disciple) and was appointed Barkat Ali’s representative in the UK. Abu was born in the village of Babyam in Kashmir, then part of British-controlled India, to Alma Bi and Mohammed Hussain, who were subsistence farmers. In 1960 his region was submerged and populations displaced to enable the development of the Mangla Dam, a major hydro-electric project. Young men were offered visas to Britain to help fill the labour shortage. Abu arrived in 1962 and drove buses in Newcastle upon Tyne. However, early bouts of ill-health made him question his migration, and his search for meaning eventually led him to Barkat Ali. In 1973 he moved to Watford, Hertfordshire, where his mission really began. He campaigned for a mosque for the small Muslim community. His profile led to a racist attack while he was working as a local station ticket collector. Undeterred, he continued conveying the teachings of Barkat Ali and introducing Islam to local authorities, schools, prisons and interfaith groups. Since Sunni Islam has no priesthood, in the pre-internet age Abu’s pastoral mission changed lives. Many second-generation British-born Muslims, increasingly alienated by their parents’ values and finding no solace in mosques, turned to Abu for spiritual guidance, counselling and religious instruction. He had charisma and, unusually for his generation, he spoke fluent English without the subcontinental twang; young people felt a connection. Advertisement   The front-room of our small terraced house was the centre of Abu’s life. On its carpet he would sit, patiently listening, rolling his tasbih (prayer beads) in silent zikr, as individuals talked through their problems. Often we would host groups of people, of all sorts, and Abu would engage them in discussions on diverse topics. This would be followed by a meal of freshly baked chapatis and dahl, washed down with tea (all prepared by my mother Walit). While he was firmly within the orthodox Sunni tradition, Abu differed from other Sufis in seeing no use in retreating from the world, thriving instead on robust discussion and frank, good-natured exchange. He had an ecumenical streak and was inspired by and sought to build bridges with the Shia branch of Islam in particular. From 1980 until his retirement in 1998 he worked as a bus driver for the local college and was a familiar sight in Watford with his distinctive long beard and khaki prayer cap. His job suited him, he often said, because his appearance was a great conversation-starter. Abu is survived by Walit, whom he married in 1965, their daughter, Tahira, and three sons, me, Azeem and Omar, and seven grandchildren.