Obituary: Farid Ahmed was a pioneer of Ottawa’s Muslim community

Farid Ahmed, a retired National Research Council scientist and founder of the Ottawa Muslim Association, was buried in Pinecrest Cemetery on Friday.

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On the spring day of 1963, when Idris Ben-Tahir first arrived in the capital, it was the feast of Eid al-Adha.

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The young man therefore leafed through the small volume that was the Ottawa telephone directory, looking for a Muslim name.

He found Farid Ahmed’s number and dialed his home in Manor Park.

Soon Ben-Tahir was one of a handful of people praying in the basement of a church on Albert Street, sparking a decades-long friendship with Ahmed, who was already a pioneer of what would become the Muslim community. flourishing Ottawa.

Ahmed, a retired National Research Council scientist and founder of the Ottawa Muslim Association, was buried in Pinecrest Cemetery on Friday after prayers at the Ottawa Mosque, which he helped build.

Indeed, “he built the whole Muslim community,” said Ben-Tahir. “He established the first mosque in Ottawa, there are now 10 mosques in Ottawa. “

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Ahmed was a polite man in a suit and tie, motivated by his faith and sense of community, and with a unique ability to bring people together without ever raising his voice.

“The Muslim community was made up of an Egyptian, a Pakistani, a Lebanese – one from each, that’s how diverse the community was,” said Ben-Tahir, the first Muslim to serve in the community. Royal Canadian Air Force, on those early days.

“He was able to bring everyone together and guide them. An era has passed. An era of Muslim history passed with his death.

Born in Alexandria, Egypt on November 21, 1924, Ahmed graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Alexandria, then moved to the UK where he received a second degree in Mathematics from the University of Leeds. , followed by a doctorate in physical chemistry.

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He returned to teach his alma mater and his fiancée, Jean Buckley, sailed to Egypt, where they were married.

In 1955 Ahmed came to Ottawa for a National Research Council postdoctoral fellowship and joined its department of X-ray crystallography the following year. He traveled the world attending conferences in his field before his retirement in 1989.

Back in Ottawa, there was simply no Muslim community when Ahmed arrived. This, he told this newspaper in 2004, because there was no mosque.

In 1962, when he and others founded the Ottawa Muslim Association, there were as many as 1,000 Muslims living in the capital. Ahmed became chairman of the non-profit group the following year with the aim of building a mosque.

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“Our goals were clear: we wanted a place to pray, and we wanted a place to teach children about the Muslim tradition,” he said in 2004.

At that time, even books on Muslim themes could not be found in local libraries, so “to have a school to teach Islam to children and a library of Muslim literature – that was the goal.”

Raising the money was not easy. Organizers held bake sales and bazaars, handed out the fundraising plate, instituted an annual fundraising dinner and one year everyone took to the streets delivering the Yellow Pages directories, the newspaper reported. .

The association rented spaces in churches before buying two adjacent houses near the site of the current mosque, Ahmed said: “This is when people started to realize they were doing part of a community.

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The Ottawa Mosque on Northwestern Avenue opened in 1977, the newspaper reported, three years after the foundation was laid.

It didn’t take long for aldermen and mayors to realize its importance, Ahmed said in the 2004 article on the growing community influence in Ottawa.

“It seems that once they saw the mosque operated and attended by a large number of people, they noticed that there were Muslims there,” Ahmed said.

Today, the Ottawa Mosque is a landmark of the capital, its minaret and dome can be seen from busy Scott Street, and it was at full capacity under COVID-19 restrictions for prayers before the burial of Ahmed.

Longtime members say Ahmed’s death marks the end of an era for the association and the Muslim community in general, said Ahmed Ibrahim, former president of the Ottawa Muslim Association.

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They recalled that in the campaign to build the mosque, “it was the man who pushed everyone,” Ibrahim said.

“He was the glue that put together the commitment of having a huge project like this to begin with and he had the patience, energy and skills to complete it.”

Ahmed was there every step of the way, from meeting the architect to fundraising to negotiations with the City of Ottawa, Ibrahim said, adding that “the community at the time was not that big. , so the effort was even greater.

“He was a visionary.

Ahmed was also a good listener and a source of “uplifting” wisdom that the young man has remembered for nearly two decades.

Ibrahim was volunteering at the mosque as he struggled to establish himself as an overseas-trained engineer in a tough economic climate when Ahmed told him to be patient and courageous.

“He took my hand, he made me sit next to him and he gave me the best advice of my life,” recalls Ibrahim.

“He told me this is your country, this is your home, do your best, and no one expects more from you than that. Do your best, do all you can to improve yourself and you will succeed.

“And he was right.”

Ahmed, who passed away on November 16, is survived by his wife Jean, son Neil (Gay Campbell), daughter Susan (Michael Barker) and grandchildren Scott Ahmed (Sarah Stockdale), Andrew Ahmed and Savannah, Gillian and Emmett Barker.

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