By Naureen Aqueel – Freelance journalist
If you study the lives of great personalities, who have achieved something commendable, you will find a few characteristics that are shared by them all: determination, courage and hard work. Where these traits are present, Allah (swt) extends His help too. There could be no better example than in the case of Major Abbas Ali and his wife Sarwar Jehan Begum, founders of the Muslim Welfare Centre – a couple who defied old age and devoted themselves to provide selfless service to humanity during the ripe years of their lives.
Major Abbas chose to raise funds by charity walks and feats others would only imagine at an age like his. He walked over 10,000 kilometres to support charities in various countries around the world. On April 7, 1985, at the age of 64, on World Health Day, Major Abbas undertook to visit on foot children’s hospitals in the seven emirates of UAE, propagating Oral Rehydration Therapy (ORT). He covered 600 km on foot. In 1986, he also participated in the Sports Aid Programme organized by Unicef throughout the world to raise funds for the famine-stricken people of Africa in which he covered 191 km from Dubai to Abu Dhabi on foot.
In 1987, at the age of 66, he walked 2500 km in 90 days through the sandy deserts and camel trails across the Arabian Peninsula to perform Hajj and to collect funds for a charitable hospital in Karachi. He became known as the first man in modern history to walk for the Hajj.
In September 1998, at the age of 77, he sky dived from a height of 10,500 ft to raise funds for the ‘Support a Child, Save the Nation’ welfare project. In 2004, at the age of 82, he walked 100 km from Whitby to Mississauga to raise funds for a Seniors’ Home. His walks earned him the title of the ‘Volunteer Charity Walker from Pakistan’. He would often say “The rich pay Zakat on their wealth, I pay Zakat on my health.”
A retired major from the Pakistan army, Abbas Ali and his wife founded the Muslim Welfare Centre in Toronto in 1993 with the motto “Service to humanity is Service to Allah”. The organization was based in Canada but has operations in Pakistan and other areas of the world.
The Muslim Welfare Centre established a home for needy women and children in 1995. Over 3500 single women and mothers with children, irrespective of their backgrounds, have benefitted from it. The centre also operates four Halal Food Banks and Halal Meals on Wheels food distribution system for the less fortunate from all faiths in Toronto. Over 6500 needy families are helped by this initiative on a monthly basis.
The centre is also operating two schools and two charity clinics in the poor localities of Karachi. Moreover, it provided emergency aid for flood victims in Pakistan and is operating a water exploration project for the impoverished villages in the Thar desert region.
Major Abbas passed away in 2009 while visiting Pakistan to oversee these projects. Since her husband’s demise, Sarwar Jehan Begum has remained in Karachi and is serving as the President of the organization.
Major Abbas received a number of awards during his lifetime and others posthumously. The McLevin Park in Scarborough Canada was renamed to ‘Major Muhammad Abbas Ali Park’. The couple has taught us that if one has determination and will power, there is no age for charity work.