Today in Regina, you can buy skinless, boneless halal chicken thighs or even halal pizza. There is a thriving mosque and plans to build a new one. More than 5,000 Muslims crowded into the Agribition Building to celebrate Eid at the end of Ramadan in August, and they get along uneventfully with their non-Muslim neighbours.
Some of the credit belongs to a physician who, over 43 years, took the trouble to build bridges both within the ethnically diverse Muslim community and with the general population. Muhammad Anwarul Haque died on Aug. 18.
Haque (pronouned "hawk") was born near Naogaon in what was then the middle of Bengal, British India, on June 6, 1935, the eldest of eight surviving children of Messuriddin Mondal and Nurjahan Begum.
Facing limited opportunity in what had become East Pakistan, upon graduation from Dhaka Medical College in 1958, Haque took an internship in Minneapolis, Minn. He sent most of his small stipend back home, setting a lifelong pattern of sacrificial support to family and community.
After further training in Wales and Montreal in medical and surgical otolaryngology, Haque spent a year in Buffalo specializing in cancer surgery of the head and neck. He moved to Saskatchewan in 1969 to join Regina's Medical Arts Clinic, later adding an allergy practice to his surgical work.
He returned to East Pakistan in January, 1965, for an arranged marriage to Nilufar Begum, and looked into opening a practice there, but learned that his advanced training would not be recognized. So he settled in Canada. When the Haques arrived in Regina, there were so few Muslim families they met in each other's living rooms. The war that divided East and West Pakistan in 1971 divided many North American immigrant communities as well, but not for Haque. He raised money for his stricken compatriots in the newly created Bangladesh; he also performed careful surgery on a West Pakistani friend's ear.
He sought to formalize the unity of Regina's Muslims. It was in Haque's living room that the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan (IAOS), Regina chapter, was born in the early 1970s. Haque registered to conduct weddings for his community, a service he continued until this year, and regularly hosted the IAOS annual dinner.
Muslim observance in Regina was not easy in the 1970s. There was no place of prayer, no religious instruction, no source of halal food. For years, the Haque family made annual trips to nearby farms to conduct their own ritually correct slaughter: 100 chickens, which they would bring home to de-feather and freeze; or a cow, whose carcass they would cut and wrap in their basement. They had three large freezers to accommodate a year's supply of meat, as well as garden produce.
With successive waves of immigration, the Muslim community outgrew its members' living rooms. They began renting space for Eid, then for potlucks and eventually for Friday prayers. Every weekend saw family study circles at the library: the children would research some aspect of Islam and prepare a presentation, which everyone discussed.
Haque would come home daily at noon to pray with his sons; and he took all his children on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Yet he also raised them to be Canadians, never creating any impression of "us" and "them," and never holding his children back from participation in mainstream society. Delighted when his daughter chose to wear the hijab, he equally supported her when she did not.
In 1982, Haque, as IAOS president, oversaw the purchase of a small commercial building. The ground floor was rented to a hair salon, and the upstairs suite used as an Islamic Centre, affectionately called "The Mosque Above Murphy's." Seven years later, Haque sought financing from the Islamic Society of North America for a larger building.
Haque's daughter Sabreena recalls all the Muslims in the early days as very hard-working and forward-thinking, but few would have rivalled her father. A man of disciplined, regular habits, he maintained his full-time medical practice, the five daily prayers plus an optional middle-of-the-night prayer, regular exercise, extensive gardening, and community leadership, all while keeping up with the news and getting enough sleep. He also became active in Muslims for Peace and Justice, an organization seeking to cultivate understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim Canadians.
And he studied. He taught himself Arabic and memorized large swaths of the Koran. He researched better ways to help his patients; and when his wife became chronically ill, he learned all he could to help and advocate for her, while shouldering her transportation for care.
At the end of 1999, Haque retired from surgery, but maintained his allergy practice. Moving to a new home the next year, he invited the neighbours over to get acquainted, just as he had often invited school principals, the mayor, and others.
Those bridge-building efforts served well after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Although a jumpy neighbour called police when a van came to Haque's garage (one of his children was moving), there was no backlash and he lost no patients.
Haque had one last dream: to take all 11 of his grandchildren on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. He planned it for years, and by last spring, all the tickets and white pilgrim garments were bought, ready for the June hajj.
But in early April, one of his granddaughters noticed, "Dadu looks yellow." Haque immediately went for blood tests, and learned he had liver cancer. Metastasized. Inoperable. By June, he could not get out of bed.
His final illness coincided with the holy month of Ramadan, a time when every effort of faithfulness carries extra blessing. As if in consummation of a lifetime of prayer, he slipped away on the 30th of Ramadan, at the hour he always got up for his predawn observance.
Muslim custom prefers that people be buried by sunset on the day of death, but city regulations delayed burial until the next day, which happened to be Eid. So, immediately after Eid prayers in the Agribition Building, 5,000 Muslims offered funeral prayers for the man in whose living room so much had begun.
Muhammad Haque leaves his wife, Nilufar, his children Sami, Sabreena and Munir and their families, and a thriving Muslim community.