Profiled by: Sr. Tasneem Vali
Dr. Ezzat Ibrahim, is a professor, research scientist and an entrepreneur all in one. He is well-respected and a recognized leader in the Manitoba’s Egyptian, Islamic and business communities. Throughout his life, he has championed social justice and is an ardent advocate for human rights. Not only is he devoted to supporting Manitoba’s new immigrants, he has also been a sponsor for refugee families for over 40 years. Dr. Ibrahim has helped to welcome and integrate over 200 refugees and new immigrants to the Province of Manitoba. Brother Ibrahim is an excellent role model for our community. He demonstrates the ideals of leadership, entrepreneurship and engaged citizenship that our youth should strive for.
In 1966, Dr.Ibrahim arrived in Winnipeg from Egypt to complete his PhD at the University of Manitoba in Agriculture and Dairy Nutrition. Thus he is familiar with the challenges that many new Canadians face upon their arrival in Manitoba while raising a family. Since then, Dr. Ibrahim has been creating bridges to assist new Canadians and refuges when they arrive in Winnipeg to ease their transition in their new home.
Dr. Ibrahim contributes his time and effort to more than 30 organizations including his work with, Manitoba Islamic Association, Canadian Foundation for Islamic Education, Canadian Arab Association, Chemical Institute of Canada, Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, Welcome Place, Egyptian Canadian Community, The Canadian Ethnocultural Council, The International Centre, advisor to Aboriginal communities and Immigrant Ethnic Communities, Citizens for Crime Awareness and volunteers at Victoria General Hospital, Winnipeg Police and Winnipeg Schools. He has served on the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council Board, Manitoba Ethnocultural Advisory and Advocacy Council, Richmond Kings Community Centre and The Wildewood Club.
When Dr. Ibrahim came to Winnipeg, there were only a few Muslim families here. “You could count us on your fingers,” he recalls. We started to meet and pray at the Unitarian Church (Sargent and Banning) whenever the opportunity presented itself. In 1968-69 we started to develop an organization to meet the needs for our pioneer Winnipeg community. We selected a constitution committee that consisted of Dr. A Malik, Dr. Musa Khalidi, Dr. Ameer Ahsan, Mustafa Jamal and Iqbal Junaid. Alhamdulillah, in July 1970, the official creation of the Manitoba Islamic Association Inc. (MIA) became a reality. The community elected its first Board of Directors and three Trustees; Malik was elected as the President and Dr. Ibrahim was the first Vice President. Two sisters were elected on the board; Mrs Audrey Ahsan, Second Vice President and Mrs Dennis Usmani as Secretary. It was an inaugural three year term for the members and the Trustees who were Dr. Asad Khan, Dr. Farouk Chebib and Musarrat Naqvi.
The following year Dr. Ibrahim was elected as the President and he moved MIA’s activities to the International Center on Williams Avenue. It was then the MIA started the first Islamic Arabic School for Winnipeg’s Muslim children. The MIA was fortunate and privileged to utilize Wasi Rizvi as the principal. He was devoted, enthusiastic and hard working. He gave our community the benefit of his experience and developed an outstanding program. Mr. Mohamed Inayatulla spearheaded the task to register MIA with the Province of Manitoba as a charitable organization.
Around this same time, this energetic core group realised that they must move toward buying land and building the community’s very first Masjid. The MIA purchased land in St. Vital with donations from the local Muslims to give credence to their dream. The dream was huge and it seemed unattainable due to finances, but where there is a will Allah makes the path easy. Dr .F. Chebib and Dr. Ibrahim wrote a letter to the Late King Faisal of Saudi Arabia (God bless his Soul) soliciting a contribution and asking for assistance to build the first mosque in Winnipeg – this was 1971. They outlined their plans and dreams and then waited. Sure enough King Faisal sent a check for $29,000 and then another for $20,000 that helped give concrete shape to the Masjid dream. The first masjid in Winnipeg was built in St. Vital and is the Hazelwood Masjid. Dr. Ibrahim has no doubt that this donation made the construction of the first Islamic Centre and mosque in Manitoba achievable.
During this time, with Dr. Chebib’s help, he started the process of acquiring burial grounds for Muslims. Dr. Chebib and Dr. Ibrahim arranged with Cropo Funeral Home and Memorial Gardens to prepare deceased Muslims for burial and provide peace of mind and less stress to the family at a time of loss and grief. We were successful in facilitating and making funeral arrangements through MIA (1971). When a Muslim lost a loved one, the MIA and community took care of the arrangements by providing clarity during this difficult time.
In 1976 Dr. Ibrahim approached the Egyptian ambassador to provide a scholar for reciting Quran and leading Taraweeh prayers during the month of Ramadan. Since then he is very pleased this tradition of a visiting Islamic scholar is continuous. During his over 40 years of solemnizing marriages as a Marriage Commissioner, Dr. Ibrahim was successful in convincing the government authorities and agencies in allowing a Muslim bride to have the choice of keeping her maiden name after marriage.
Dr. Ibrahim reminisces about how close the community was then. Everyone cared and worked to help each other. They were united and participated in the Masjid and its affairs. The Muslims were a successful growing community. I asked Dr. Ibrahim, “Why do you think the Muslims achieved so much when they were so few, what united them?” He thought and said, “We welcomed everyone into our organization, but only people who were citizens or residents here could vote. The logic was that they were committed to the community and so would know what was best for it to flourish.”
When he came to Canada the Muslim community had several questions in their minds that required logical and clear Islamic answers to new issues that they had not faced or dealt with before. Many newcomers volunteered to provide personal answers based on their experience and habits. “The problem I faced was, either the answers were confusing, incomplete or based on erroneous information. Therefore, Dr. Ibrahim decided to engage in study and search for the facts according to Islam to deal with these new issues. It was also imperative to consult with competent and knowledgeable scholars and authorities. “Islam is simple and there is no ambiguity or obscurity present”. Dr. Ibrahim increased and improved his knowledge and information and he is much more informed now than when he came to Canada.
I concluded with three questions.
Q: What is your favourite ayah from the Quran?
A: “When you ask God will give.”
So simple, yet so profound. I see how this ayah has motivated him to achieve so much in such a short time. Things others can only dream of.
Q: What advice would you give the community?
A: To be thankful, thank Allah, be grateful you are living in Canada, be thankful you can practice your deen without fear of prosecution and in general be grateful and humble.
Q: Are you a better person/Muslim for having lived in Canada?
A: When I came to Canada all the information I had about Islam was from TV, my parents or teachers. Since I have been here, I have self-educated myself, researched and succeeded to enhance my knowledge. I feel that religion is a way to appreciate and help others. I have developed a better understanding of all the problems of living in a non-Muslim country and appreciate that it has helped me be more devoted to the community and contribute positively.
I end with this personal thought. If a person can do so much in such a short time, Dr. Ibrahim also has only 24 hrs. in the day, why can’t we? We, who are younger, should be more motivated and active. He serves as an inspiration to us all to make our communities stronger and better. Thank you Dr. Ibrahim for helping us all.