Mohammed Merchant dies on December 17, 2006 after a short bout with cancer which lasted a little more than a year. We pray, “We belong to Allah, and unto Him we all must return”. With his death, ISNA, many of its affiliated associations and Muslims of the greater Toronto area lost an active worker and well-wisher. To those who interacted with him on a personal level, they lost a clear friend who could always be counted upon in times of need.
My close friendship with Mohammed Bhai (as he was known in close circles) dates back to the early seventies, soon after I arrived in Canada. From the first day of our meeting, we developed a close friendship that lasted decades. He was a most charming personality, ever-caring and considerate. He epitomized the words of the Prophet (upon whom be Allah’s blessings and peace), “A man of faith is affable, jovial and easily reconcilable.”
Mohamed Merchant’s traits set him apart from others, earning him a reputation among the new immigrants both Muslim and non-Muslim. He would often go out of his way to help others get settled in their newly adopted homes, driving them around, offering them all kind of tips and tidbits of wisdom that he himself learned the hard way. He even went so far as to accommodate others, often times strangers, in his own modest home until they were able to find one of their own. Sometime this arrangement would last for months!
Mohamed Bhai’s generosity and hospitality are legendary. He would never drop by for a visit without something in hand, whether it be a case of mangoes or donuts. While I had always thought that only I was privy to this special treatment, I later learned that he never walked even into the ISNA office without something in hand!
Thanks to his spirit of hospitality, he would frequently invite others to feast with him and his family. One could expect to be treated to all types of savoury dishes that one could only dream about from back home in Kerala, India. He would be the happiest at such times; entertaining others with news bites, political commentaries, or opinions he had formed from his voracious reading of newspapers and by watching television commentaries. He would often formulate strong opinions on many a current event and could debate with anyone who disagreed with him. His passion made him a tireless speaker and advocate for whatever cause he believed in.
Though his ability to communicate diminished as the cancer took a toll on his energy, he nevertheless struggled to communicate until he was rendered totally unable to.
A harder challenge for him as his cancer spread was his inability to entertain others to gourmet meals. It was evident that the sight of his friends leaving his home without being invited to a feast bore heavily on his mind. During what would be his final Ramadhan, while leaving his him after a short visit, I saw my wife carrying a parcel. I was surprised to hear that Mohamed Bhai had prevailed upon his wife to prepare a special Kerala dish for us to take home for iftar. I could not hold back the tears.
I will never forget the memory of my final good bye to my dear friend. I advised him to be comforted by his faith in Allah’s mercy and surrender peacefully to His will. After making long supplications together, as I prepared to leave, he kissed my hands as if saying a final goodbye. Out of my mouth, for a reason I cannot understand came these words: “Insha Allah, we shall meet in Jannah”. I never knew that these would be my parting words to him until I received a call a day later from his son-in-law.
Mohamed Bhai had surrendered his soul to the Almighty and left behind all those whose hearts had been touched by this peaceful, generous and loving man. I cannot but recall the words of the Prophet upon whom be Allah’s blessings and peace, “People are either keys to good or keys to evil, so blessed are those who serve as keys to good and are locks to evil!”
May Allah help us to be united with Mohammed Bhai in Jannah. And may He keep us all away from the travails of this transient world and be comforted by the mercy of the Infinitely Merciful One – Ameen.
Written by Shaikh Ahmad Kutty
[Shaikh Ahmad Kutty is a prominent North American Islamic scholar. Shaikh Ahmad has served on the Fiqh Council of North America, the pre-eminent Islamic law body on the continent. He has served as Imam and resident scholar at various institutions in Montreal and Toronto, including Toronto’s Jami Mosque and the Islamic Foundation of Toronto. He is currently a resident scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto. This article appeared in April – June ISNA Canada Newsletter]