Interview Zarina Bharwani with Shaheen Sajan

Question 1: Tell us a little bit about yourself. When and where were you born? Did you grow up there or somewhere else?

Answer: I’m born in Tanzania, I got married in Uganda and moved to a small town with no electricity and water. I was only 16 when I got married. In Uganda, I was fond of helping people in the mosque. They put big stones and made a fire to cook and I helped them
Then I moved to Kampala until we were forced to leave as refugees. I stayed in London for 2 years. It was winter, I had 5 small children. It was very hard. WE used to go to Hammersmith mosque. Then we came to Canada. I heard about the good heating system there and in England it was hard to heat up the house.

Question 2: When did you start volunteering for our community? What kind of work did you do? Tell us about your first few months in Canada? What was life like here for someone who had just come from East Africa or the subcontinent? What were some of the challenges that you, your family and others faced?

Answer: My husband went to Canada to sponsor me and get a visa so I was in England alone with 5 kids. I went to the Canadian embassy and asked them to expedite. I told them I can’t afford to stay for 8 months to a year and that if they don’t rush my visa, that I was going to move into the embassy. They rushed and I got my visa in 2 months.
It was 1974. It was hard to find halal food, there was one place everyone went to to get the halaal meat. I can’t complain, it was hard, but then we got used to it. We lived in a apartment, electricity was good, heating was good, apartments were big.
I worked as a tailor in a factory and sewed curtains, mattresses covers and pillow cases for hospitals and I got $3.50 an hour. My daughters went to university here. My husband started a business. Thanks to Trudeau, we settled easily, we didn’t ask the government for anything, we worked ourselves and did everything ourselves.

Question 3: Did anyone from our community help you and your family settle in Canada?

Answer: When people see a new person at the mosque, and we used to ask them where they’re coming from, and find out if they need any help. Before the mosque, it was harder to meet each other and help each other. After Bayview, there was a lot of development. Before that, we would just go to this hall and that hall and it was very difficult. But anything you do, muharrum majlis, Ramadan, and the turn out was very good at these halls.

Question 4: Did you help organize and attend those first gatherings of our community members? Tell me more.

Answer: I remember bringing blankets from home, Zarin Sajan, Nargis Allibhai, Nasim Esmail and I would help out.

We didn’t have a mosque. Dr. Aziz Sachedina used to recite in people’s houses, we put a curtain in the middle, then we had programs at 5050 yonge, we would lay out the blankets, we did everything, maatam, majlis everything, then we went to Bayview mosque and I became chairlady. Slowly we put TVs so people can see the speakers. We got cookers.

Question 5: Why was it important to you that we organize religious programs in this new environment? What were some of the challenges?

Answer: I enjoyed meeting people, helping people, and I was a very social person so community life was very fulfilling me.

Question 6: What about Madressah for the children?

Answer: Only my youngest went to madressah, the others were teenagers.

Question 7: For the first few years programs were held in temporary places that you were able to rent. Then in 1979 the community acquired its first centre on Bayview Avenue. Tell us how all that happened and what you felt about that event?

Answer: I worked with 5 presidents, Ghulam Sajan, Mohamed Alibhai, Chacha Paryani, Razak Damani and Ali Rajani. I and my husband went all over east Africa and to Indian to fundraise for Bathurst and also went to see Agha Sistani in Najaf and showed him all my project papers. I told him we need this mosque and we need support. I went another time with Razak Damani to east Africa to fundraise again and we got a very good response. I used to wear the 9000 Bathurst tshirt at the mosque and bring a fishnet and ask everyone to contribute even just $1 and slowly built up the fund there. We had good people helping us fundraise. We held lots of fundraise programs. We used to do dramas, sell the tickets, rent a school and carnivals, everyone worked so hard for 9000 Bathurst.

I really wanted a seniors home to be built there as well. I dreamt of living there as well. Unfortunately, I won’t get that chance, I’m already 85, but hope others will get that chance. We had such a big land, we could have done so much in that place. We could do a lot more than what we have done. My main concern was the senior home, the school, and a secondary school was important too to our children.

Question 8: What do you remember of the the first 10 years at Bayview? How did you contribute?

Answer: In Ramzan, everyone would bring fatiha, we would make plates and we would share it. There were so many varieties. For the bake sale, we would go and make it in the small kitchen, and then sell it for Eid.

When we first got Bayview, it was so exciting. Dr. Sachedina was there in the opening. Everyone in the community enjoyed this mosque. Bayview mosque was something else.

We used to do everything there, mayaat, siyaka. I remember putting a runner aisle or carpet down the middle of the walkway and encouraged people to not sit there so people can easily enter and exit. It was a challenge at first, people used to call it Bharwani highway. I was part of many committees including social committee. We used to do bake sales in Ramadhan and sell these items for the mosque. We used to do Eid bazaar in the basement. We used to do international food bazaars, fashion shows, I don’t know at that time how we did all those things. Now people are busy.

I remember we started Thursday madressa which was very successful. Attendance on Thursday nights went up.

If it’s going to help our community and benefit our people then we always tried our best to do what we can.

I was really looking forward to Bathurst, I worked so hard too.

Question 9: For West and Hamilton interviewees what do you remember of the first few years at Selby and ? How did you contribute?

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