Lives Lived: Mohamed Merchant

Husband, father, brother, friend, mentor. Born July 1, 1936, in Trichur, Kerala, India, Died Dec. 17, 2006, in Malton, Ont., of esophageal cancer, aged 70.

After about two years in college preparing for medical school, realities of life caught with Mohamed Merchant and forced him to earn a living. Starting out as a driver, he went on to become a doctor’s assistant and then a pharmacist before coming to Canada in 1972. Like many of the newcomers he later helped, he initially entered the job market as a security guard and then did a stint as an old-age home nurse. The last 20 years of his working life were spent as a chemical plant operator. Sadly, the cancer diagnosis came within three years of his retirement.

It was Mohamed Bhai’s (Bhai is a term of endearment meaning older brother), as he was affectionately known by all who knew him, selfless willingness to help that struck people. His enthusiasm and open arms in receiving countless new arrivals and easing their settlement endeared him to many. It was common knowledge within the Malayali (someone who speaks Malayalam which is the official language of Kerala) Muslim community that his support improved the lives of hundreds.

My family was blessed to have been deeply touched by Mohamed Bhai. Both my father and father-in-law benefited immensely from their friendship with him from the early 1970s. I remember him as a six-year-old when I arrived in the country in 1975. His presence and demeanour were comforting and reassuring.

Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that no Malayali Muslim could land at an airport in Canada without Mohamed Bhai arranging or being involved in co-ordinating his pickup, accommodation and settlement needs.

At a prayer meeting, a gentleman spoke of his arrival in Canada without knowing anyone. Five days in, feeling hopeless and lonely, he called Mohamed Bhai (after someone passed his number) in desperation. Mohamed Bhai showed up immediately, fed him, found him a place and helped him get settled. He was treated like family and assisted even though he was a “nobody.” He remarked how Mohamed Bhai could expect nothing from him and did not expect anything other than a prayer; a prayer this gentleman did in public.

Some of us used to joke about how nothing can happen in the community without his knowledge or blessing. So it was only natural that Mohamed Bhai was the lead catalyst and organizer of the first official Malayali Muslim meeting, which planted the seed for the Kerala Muslim Association of Canada.

His concern and hospitality even extended beyond his cultural or religious community. About five years ago, a young Christian couple came to my law office in Scarborough and sang the praises of Mohamed Bhai. Evidently, his role as a mentor and one-man immigrant settlement agency knew no bounds.

Those gathered to mourn his loss recounted stories of being sheltered by him not only during their first days in Canada, but also during transitions. I remember six members of my family staying in his two-bedroom apartment before our final move to Toronto from Montreal.

The prophet Mohamed taught that there are two types of people. One from whom others expect and experience goodness, and the other from whom people fear harm or evil. Mohamed Bhai was clearly of the former category. He was indeed a great man as he indelibly left his mark by making this world a little easier for many.

He leaves behind his wife Fauzia, a daughter and a son and their families as well as extended family here and in India.

Written by Faisal Kutty

[Faisal Kutty, a Toronto lawyer and doctoral candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, is also vice-chair and counsel to the Canadian Council on American Relations. Faisal is the Vice-Chair of the Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN), a board member of the Islamic Social Services Association of North America, and he serves as the General Counsel for the Canadian-Muslim Civil Liberties Association. He also serves on the Board of Advisors of Children of Hope. Faisal Kutty is a friend of Mohamed Bhai. This article appeared on Globe and Mail and at http://www.faisalkutty.com]

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