News and views of Bangladeshi community in Sydney

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Remembering Dr. Abdul Haq
Mostafa Abdullah

It has been almost three months, on 27 August 2016; Haq Bhai left all of us, all on a sudden. It seemed so unrealistic of the way he left us, but also for a man who dedicated all his life in the service of others, shunned to be even served by his closest ones at the time of his passing away. He did not put anyone in any hardship that he always endured himself for others’ sake. This was our Haq Bhai, a person who kept on serving without ever expecting to be served in return. A man who did not run after name and fame for the work he undertook, but indeed Allah in all His glory, awarded him the acknowledgement that he so deserved. For the first time ever, a first generation Bangladeshi migrant to Australia has been acknowledged for his services to his adapted country, by so many quarters, so profusely. He has given us all a reason to proudly proclaim ourselves as Bangladeshis among the culturally diverse multicultural nation of Australians.

I feel fortunate that I could become an acquaintance of Haq Bhai, though not for as long as I would have loved to. Most of his acquaintances have known him for longer times. Most know him for his dedicated service and commitment to so many causes. Since Haq Bhai left us, I have sat most evenings trying to write about him. I plundered over the thought that what could I write that others do not know about him or has not been written as yet? I really could not find any. He was an open book to all. Called or met everyone personally whenever it required. He bore absolutely no ego. How could someone like him bear any ego? A devoted believer, an ardent practitioner of faith, one who helped build mosques, Muslim graveyard, orphanages, madrashas, stood up for the needy and so many more. Indeed, he must have had taken to heart the Hadit of our prophet: "One does not enter Jannah who has in his heart a mustard seed's weight of Kibr (ego)" & "Kibr (ego) is rejecting the truth and belittling people."

As I have mentioned earlier, we can proudly proclaim ourselves as Bangladeshi because of Haq Bhai’s contribution. What about our next generation? Could they also claim Dr. Haq to be as theirs’ as we proudly claim him to be ours’? I suppose not, because there is not much written about him in a language that they would understand. How and where would they find out about our contributions for their home land, that their ancestors chose to adapt for them? All of the writings so far are only in Bangla. That’s fine with us. But don’t we owe it to them to document those in a language that we have imposed upon them, by uprooting them from their ancestral land, for which they had no say. I felt it would be our historic obligation to write about those persons, in English, so that our decedents are also able to claim the pride as we do now. In my humble way, I have decided to write this piece in English about Haq Bhai so that our decedents can also claim him to be theirs’.

Though I have met and known Dr. Abdul Haq for some time due to my frequent visits to Australia, I really became an associate of him only in the last few years. He invited me to work with him in a project that he had been after for a long time; a residential enclave for the retiring & senior Bangladeshis. Since I do not have any working knowledge of how to go about materializing such an undertaking, I relied completely on the dedication and experience of Haq Bhai for this. Almost every other week Haq Bhai, Bhabi, I and my wife would go around looking for suitable site. In fact the last block of property that we inspected was on the Wednesday prior to the Saturday morning he passed away. The intended project has not made any headway since then. I am hoping that those who are familiar with similar undertakings would come forward to join hands to take it forward.

In course of this association, Haq Bhai and Bhabi would visit us almost once a week. I believe he liked our company and I took the favor of him to sometime say that he need not jump up on his feet and get into action every time somebody or someone approaches for some kind of help or other. I told him that because of this, he is misunderstood by some who often talk behind his back. He would smile and say that he is aware of all that. He believed that those who talk behind the back never come forward to do the work themselves. As such he decided to ignore those and continue to do the work that he considered to be the right thing to do. It was interesting to note that he never held any malice against any of them. In fact he considered most of them to be very capable of achieving good things for the community, only if they made some efforts. He firmly believed that when one has the honest intention or the "Niyat", Allah lends a hand to make it happen.

A few weeks prior to his passing away I called him one evening to tell him that I wished to write a nomination for him for a candidature for the "Australian of the Year", for I thought who could be a better candidate than him among the Bangladeshis in Australia. He modestly declined my offer saying he wasn’t there for the limelight. On the retrospective, when I come to think of it, If Haq Bhai ever sought any nomination for the Australian of the year, among others, the Blacktown Council, Cancer Council, number of federal and state MPs would have been too happy to nominate him.

At his Namaz-e-Zanja at the Quaker Hills mosque, the Mayor of Blacktown City Council, Councilor Stephen Bali sent a personal emissary to read a very emotional message of condolence. Hon Ed Husic, Member Federal Parliament informed the House of the sad demise of Dr. Abdul Haq and spoke about his contribution towards the Australian society. Federal MPs Hon Tony Burke, Hon Matt Thistlethwaite, Hon Michelle Rowland and State MPs Hon Zihad Dibb and Hon Sophie Cotsis, Chairman NSW Cancer Council, Chairman Rotary Australia, President Dhaka Ahsania Mission and many more sent personal messages of condolence acknowledging the contribution of Dr. Haq. HE Imtiaz Chowdhury, The High Commissioner for Bangladesh in Australia sent a message in honor of Dr. Haq on his remembrance day. Mr. Anthony Khouri, Honorary Consul General of Bangladesh, Hon Matt Thistlethwaite, Hon Sophie Cotsis, Mr. Jack Elliot, AOM, Ex.Treasurer of RotaryWorld Community Service and many more spoke on the occasion of Remembrance Day honoring Dr. Haq. Dr. Haq was featured in the cover page of 2010/2011 Annual report of the NSW Cancer Council. His photograph had been on display at the hall of fame of the Cancer Council, Sydney.

Dr.Abdul Haq was born in 1949 in a respectable Muslim family of Manik Gonj. His father, Md. Abdul Hamid retired as the Senior Personnel Officer, Bangladesh Railway, Chittagong. Dr. Haq is the second of the nine brothers and sisters. The eldest, Shaheed Md. Abdul Halim was killed by the Pakistani army during the war of liberation. There is a street named after him in Chittagong; Abdul Halim Sharak. One of the younger brothers, Md. Abdul Hakim is a Justice of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Two other brothers; Md. Abdul Hannan and Md. Abdul Jahangir are business men in Chittagong. The youngest, Md. Khurshid Alamgir lives in Sydney and works for the Sydney Waters. He also owns Sydney’s first Halal Thai restaurant; Thai Waterfront, Bella Vista. When Haq Bhai was diagnosed with terminal kidney ailment, Alamgir donated a kidney to his brother at the age of 17 in 1984. One can only wish to have such brothers, one for the other, in life and hereafter!

Dr. Haq completed his schooling in Chittagong and obtained the degree of Bsc Engineering from the Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET) in 1971. He did his Masters and PhD at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Bangkok. Thereafter, he took up a teaching position at the King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1981. The Haq family moved to Australia in 1991.

Haq Bhai & Laila Bhabi was married in 1973. They are blessed with a daughter and a son. Rubaiyat Shahreen Haq (Shathi), mother of two, is a Telecommunication Engineer and works for the Optus. Ashfaqul Haq (Rana) is a professional accountant and has his own accounting practice. Rana’s wife Farhana Meem is a devoted wife, mother of three kids and a great daughter-in-law. The son-in-law Tanveer Shaheed is a Regional Director at the Macquarie University. It is great to see that Tanveer has taken upon himself to carry on with the mantle of the Good Morning Bangladesh. Rana, Haq Bhai’s son led the Zanaja prayer of his father. I do not know of many father and son who could claim to be so fortunate and blessed.

Bhabi has her handful with five grand children in and around the house. Those who know Laila Bhabi know very well that her hands are always full, be it at the Good Morning Bangladesh or any other social welfare event. She had been a rock solid support for Haq Bhai all along. Without her, one may be forgiven to doubt, if Haq Bhai could have achieved all that he had done. She had been his constant companion, a soul mate, a comrade in arms in whatever Haq Bhai did. Haqs have been very fortunate to have the complete support of their entire family in all of their endeavors. It is our earnest hope and prayer that the family will endeavor to continue with the activities left behind by Haq Bhai by Allah's permission and with the community's support.

Soon after Dr. Haq arrived in Australia he realized the importance of engaging with the local community. Towards this goal he participated in various activities of the Blacktown City Council. And it facilitated the linkage between the Bangladeshi communities with the various arms of the local governments. His activities slowly moved into other parts of Sydney too. Among other activities, he organized a concert at the McArthur Girls School to raise funds for the Westmead Children Hospital. He even organized a concert of Kumar Bishayjit in a church at Blacktown to raise money for such other causes.

From early on Dr. Haq felt the need for his community’s need to assimilate with the main stream Australia in order to be an active and accepted partner of this multicultural society. He thought this was essential for our future generation to be able to claim their rightful stake in the affairs of their adapted country. From year 2000 to 2008, Dr. Haq & his able wife Laila Haq took upon themselves as their family endeavor to institute the Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea to raise money for the NSW Cancer Council. Since 2009 the event is being held under the auspices of Bangladesh Forum for Community Engagement as Good Morning Bangladesh. Good Morning Bangladesh is now a well known annual community event for all walks of life. Local Councilors, State and Federal MPs and others participate in this event on regular basis. Number of state and federal MPs spoke highly of this event and of Dr. Haq on the floors of the Parliament. The 2011 Good Morning Bangladesh at the Martins Place was one of its high point where Australia’s acclaimed Master Chefs participated along with other dignitaries. The event was aired throughout Australia by the major TV channels.

In addition to Blacktown where it all started, Good Morning Bangladesh is now also held annually at Glenfield, Lakemba and Mascot. These events up until 2016 has raised and donated $153,701 to the NSW Cancer Council.

Since 1994 the Haq family has been holding an event called "Talent Day", another of Haq bahi’s dream to see our future generation excel in this country. Once a year, SSC & HSC completed students are honored for their achievements. What could be a befitting dream for the one, who had been an educator himself all his life?

Haq Bhai and others moved from door to door to raise money to establish a mosque in the western Sydney. Laila Bhabi and others cooked meals in their kitchens to organize events to raise funds. With the Blessings of Allah, Quakers Hill Mosque is probably the only one that could be completely procured debt free! Haq Bhai worked tirelessly until his last day towards his dream for the Quakers Hill mosque. He dreamt of this mosque as a multipurpose centre of excellence for his community. He dreamt of a library, community centre, a place for learning and training, community engagements and etc to be integral parts of this mosque. I believe, Allah permitting, he would have achieved it.

He worked tirelessly with others to establish the Riverstone Muslim Graveyard. He regularly engaged himself in the maintenance and cleaning of the graveyard. Since this graveyard was filling up fast, he embarked on a mission to seek permission for new graveyards for the Muslims, another unfinished goal of his.

Dr. Haq undertook a commitment of raising $250,000 for the Ahsania Mission Cancer Hospital, Dhaka under the banner of the Bangladesh Forum for Community Engagement. The Forum was able to raise $120,000 in a spate of only few years.

The annual Friendship Day was yet another of his efforts to build cohesion and camaraderie between the members of his community across all age groups.

In addition Haq Bhai & Bhabi had been involved in numerous other charitable activities in Bangladesh.

I would like to conclude here, with hopes and prayers that as the future Bangladeshi-Australians replace us soon, they are able to declare with pride that their forbearers had a role in building their country too. I pray that they are inspired to follow on with the legacy of their predecessors and stand up for each other at all times. Let us resolve to remember Dr. Haq in his deeds. Let us engage and mobilize ourselves as he attempted to do to bring a positive impact to the community. May he live forever with us and may his soul rest in peace.

*Photographs and family details courtesy of Mrs. Haq. Most other information collected from other write-ups with thanks to the authors. Any omission or inaccurate information I attribute to my own limitations.

Mostafa Abdullah, Sydney

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                            Published on: 24-Nov-2016