My father, Mohammad Ramzan (“Abu”), who died at the age of 79 years, was a community activist and religious teacher in the Sufi tradition.
In 1969, on a trip to Pakistan he met Barkat Ali, an ex-British Indian Army officer who had renounced the world, promising to live the life of a fakir. Barkat Ali began a movement Dar-ul-Ehsan (“House of Blessings”) with three objectives: selfless service to all, without discrimination, zikr or the rhythmic chanting of the names of Allah, in common worship, and the active communication of Islam in what he considered to be his true form. Abu became his murid (disciple), and was named Barkat Ali of the representative in the UNITED kingdom.
Abu was born in the village of Babyam in Kashmir, then part of British-controlled India, for the Alma Bi, and Mohammed Hussain, who were subsistence farmers. In 1960 the region was submerged and displaced populations to allow the development of Mangla Dam, a major hydro-electric project. The young men were offered visas to Britain to help fill labour shortages.
Abu arrived in 1962, and he drove the bus to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. However, the first attacks of health problems made him doubt his migration, and his search for meaning eventually led him to Barkat Ali. In 1973 he moved to Watford, Hertfordshire, where her mission truly began. He campaigned for a mosque for small Muslim community. His profile led to an attack on racist, while he was working as a local station and the conductor. Undaunted, she continued transport of the teachings of Barkat Ali and introduce Islam, local authorities, schools, prisons, and interfaith groups.
Since Sunni Islam has no priesthood, in the pre-internet age, Abu pastoral mission changed my life. Many second-generation British-born Muslims, more and more alienated from their parents, the values, and not finding solace in the mosques, turned to Abu spiritual guidance, counseling, and religious education. He had charisma, and, oddly enough, for his generation, he spoke fluent English, without the subcontinental twang; the young people felt a connection.
The front room of our small terraced house was the centre of Abu life. On the carpet sat patiently listening, rolling his glorifications (prayer beads) in the silent zikr, as people talked through their issues. Often we would host groups of people, of all types, and Abu would engage in discussions on various topics. This would be followed by a dinner of freshly baked bread, cakes and dahl, washed down with tea (all prepared by my mother Walit).
While he was firmly within the orthodox Sunni tradition, Abu differ from other Sufi to see, not retreat from the world, thriving instead in in-depth discussion and frank, good-natured exchange. He had an ecumenical gathering of the strip was inspired by and sought to build bridges with the branch of Shiite Islam in particular.
From 1980 until his retirement in 1998, he worked as a bus driver for the local university, and is a familiar sight in Watford with his distinctive long beard and khaki prayer cap. His work suited him, he often said, because his appearance was a great conversation starter.
Abu is survived by Walit, who married in 1965, their daughter, Tahira, and three children, me, Azeem and Omar, and seven grandchildren.