Interviewed by Sr. Nusraat Masood*
I had the opportunity to sit with Hassan Ayed and Nariman Ayed recently. Both are elders of our community who have been living in Winnipeg since 1966. They graciously accepted my request for a profile interview. Here is the full interview.
Nusraat: I believe you were both born in Palestine. How did you end up in Winnipeg?
Hassan: I graduated from high school in Jericho in the West Bank and moved to Jordan. When I was 24 years old I went to Germany to work. I sent money back home to support my parents in the refugee camp. I was in Germany from 1960-65. In 1965 I came back home to Jericho and got married to Nariman.
Nusraat: So you both grew up in a refugee camp. If you’re willing to talk about, could you describe it to me?
Nariman: It was a very difficult life. We lived in a tent, we had one meal a day and we did not have tap water. We would have to haul the water. We would need to get food and medicine from the United Nations. We left Palestine quickly; we left our farms and ran for our lives so we had very little from our past life with us in the refugee camps. Our parents suffered the most I think.
Hassan: Nariman’s father died very early when he was only 27 and Nariman was only one year old.
Nusraat: So how did you two end up in Winnipeg?
Hassan: We got married in Jericho and then Nariman came back with me to Germany. From there we applied for Canadian citizenship. I did galvanizing work in Germany and there were similar opportunities in Winnipeg so that’s why we relocated here.
Nariman: I was 19 years old when I came to Winnipeg. How old were you Hassan?
Hassan: I was 29 or 30.
Nusraat: What was it like for you in Winnipeg?
Nariman: I really enjoyed it actually. We were so young; -40 degrees Celsius didn’t bother us. We struggled, we worked hard, we wanted to learn and do new things. We came on July 29, 1966 and there were about 100 Muslim people here. It was good.
Hassan: At first we prayed in a Church basement and then in 1972 Hazelwood masjid was built.
Nusraat: Tell me about your kids.
Hassan: We have four children and they were all were in Winnipeg. Our first daughter, Ayeda, has a PhD in Chemistry, Nahlah our second daughter has two Master’s degrees in Journalism and Science and an honorary PhD in Law. Ayeda-al-Amin our oldest son is a Geologist and Abdullah is an Assistant Hotel Manager.
Nusraat: It seems that you made education a priority. Why is that?
Hassan: Nariman and I didn’t have that opportunity because of the way we grew up. We wanted to make sure our kids had an education. If we had stayed in Jordan our kids wouldn’t have had the chance to get as far as they did. In Canada our kids were able to do a lot. In this world you need an education.
Nustaat: It’s interesting to me that you gave as much emphasis on your daughters to have education as your sons. I’ve met other families where they’ve decided to prioritize their sons. Why did you make education a priority for your daughters as well?
Nariman: If you ask me, it is a mistake not to give your daughters an education. You must make sure your daughters have as much education as they want. They need it more and they can do better with it. I am very blessed and I have a wonderful husband. However, you cannot have your daughters rely on a good husband. Not all husbands can be good.
Nusraat: Your kids have succeeded in a wide variety of different careers. It seems as though you two were very open in terms of what they could pursue. What made you two so open? You could have easily told your kids that since you were financially supporting them they all had to go into fields you chose for them.
Hassan: No, our kids did well because they found things that they liked.
Nusraat: In general, you two seem very open and resilient. I have seen many newcomers, particularly those who have come under difficult circumstances view many things to be haram and close themselves and their children off from the larger community.
Nariman: You cannot live in a cage. You cannot be afraid. If you want to close yourself off then why come here?
Nusraat: What did you two do to help your kids maintain their own culture and traditions?
Nariman: In our house we spoke Arabic. I also taught the kids on a small chalkboard in the basement how to read and write Arabic. We also spent seven years in Jordan when the kids were little and Hassan came back and forth to see us. Our kids are very grateful for this; this is how they kept their language.
Nusraat: What advice do you have for people arriving in Winnipeg?
Nariman: Work very hard. Respect other people and other faiths and you will find respect in return. God made all of us. You cannot insult others; you must have tolerance for all human beings.