Mohammed Ramzan: Celebrating 80 Years of Life, Leadership and Faith
Written by Rebecca Dass
Sunday November 5, 2023
“When I was back home, I saw [planes] flying in the air, and I always had in mind that one day, I will be up in the air too. And God has given me that opportunity, that I could come to a country for betterment.”
Ramzan is moved to tears as he retells his story of leaving Guyana to come to Canada almost 50 years ago. Currently located in Mississauga, Ontario, Ramzan Mohammed juggles many titles as an Imam, Chaplain, and Member of the Board of Directors in the Peel District. Turning 80 years old this past September, Ramzan shares with us many stories and recounts of his colourful life.
Ramzan made the courageous journey to Canada alone at the age of 28. His eldest brother, Usman, came to Canada five months before him. “I came on the 11th of September, 1972,” he says, recalling the dates in detail. “It was a Monday. I leave Guyana at 10:30 a.m., and I land at the airport at a quarter past 6 p.m. The most amazing thing for me, was when I came out of the airport and got on the plane [to Canada]. I’ve never seen a plane in front of my face. It was a real shock to me,” he says.
“From the beginning, it was very hard for me. I was a continental business salesman on the West Coast Demerara, and I initially came out for three weeks of vacation. 11 days passed me in Canada, and I said to my boujie’s brother, Bing Rahim, ‘Bing, I have to go back to Guyana next week.” and he said, ‘No, you stay right here. You cannot go back.’ It was a Friday, and he said he’d take me to Immigration Monday morning. We went to Immigration and filled out the paperwork. About two months later, a slip came to my house that said I now had a working permit and that I’d landed in Canada. I got my landing slip,” he smiles.
At first, Ramzan’s experience felt unfamiliar to him as he got used to the customs of Canada. “Three days after I came out of the house where I was staying, I walked on the street and I heard this loud ambulance. I see a blanket on the road, and I see one Indian girl, she was passing on the other side. I say, ‘Hello Madam, did somebody get killed?’ She said no, that it was a dog. I was surprised, a dog got killed, and two ambulances and 5 police cars [came by.] Ramzan joked with the girl saying, ‘Tell me something then, do animals come number 1 in this country and women number 2, and men number 3?’ She said, ‘You got that right!’”
Ramzan gradually began to form a community around himself, that served as a comforting reminder of his life back home. "When I came [to Canada], a friend of mine named Nazim Rahaman, took me to Spadina Market and [he said he would introduce me to a guy named Imzan, who works for my buddies Ganie and Wallen Khan in New York City.] So we went, we started to talk and we became good friends. They all used to come by me on weekends. Up until then, I hadn't eaten roti in about 7 months. It was only until I met Imzan and his family did I eat roti again. From that day on, we've remained connected up until this day".
Reflecting on this chapter of his life, Ramzan recalls his first job and how he got the intriguing opportunity to live in Niagara Falls and work at a restaurant. “One day I went to the market and I met a guy from Pakistan. He was going to buy fruits in bulk. I had on my masjid hat, and he said ‘salam alaykum’ and I replied, ‘Wa ʿalaykumu s-salam’. He asked me, ‘Are you new in this country?’ I said, yes. He said, ‘Do you want to come with me to Niagara Falls? You will run my restaurant.’”
“I came home and told my big brother. He said if I get the opportunity, go. I went and I lived in Niagara Falls, up on Clifton Hill. He had a restaurant called Ali Baba International restaurant. He put me in the kitchen and taught me how to cook. After two years, he put me on the floor and I became a waiter. I was well known, and I lived there for 3-4 years.”
“I bought a house in Gerrard and Coxwell, a three-story house that I bought for $40,500 in 1978. After living there for a while, I got a job in a factory. I worked with a Jewish man named Sam Shapiro, and one day, he heard my name page on the pager to come down to the shipping department, and he was wondering, ‘Who is Mohammed Ramadan?’”
“My birth name is Mohammed Ramzan; Ramadan is the Arabic word for the month of fasting. That's my middle name. My name is Mohammed Ramzan Satar, but my mother and father only married in Muslim rights, they didn't sign papers. So I go by Mohammed Ramzan.”
Funnily enough, Ramzan was also born during the month of Ramadan. “At the same time, someone was calling for jumat samat, the same time I was entering the world. My mother told me, that when I grew up, she will not be around, but I will be a musjid for the masjid. And so said, so done. I become the musjid for the masjid calling the Azan. To this day, I remember the words that my mother had said.”
“Three years passed me in Canada, and I went back home. The great-grandparents from the village were all gone, they all passed away. I got married on the 18th of September, 1975. My wife joined me [in Canada], on the 13th of May 1976. We married in Guyana and I sponsored her, and in 6 months she joined me. I am very proud and happy to tell my friends out there that my wife was a peach, and was A1. I was the bad one. After 19 years of marriage, I have two daughters. Two girls. Shameeza and Shaleesa.”
“Eventually things got sour between me and my wife. My life turned over, and we got divorced. We had to sell out our house, our house was sold for $165,000. Today I would not say it was my fault 100%, [but,] I did things I'm not supposed to do. My wife and my children have a big crack in their hearts. But I always pray for them that Allah Subanu takes care of them and watches over their footsteps. And let them go on with their daily lives, Insha’allah.”
“Today, I have lived alone for the past 32 years. I never remarried. I happened to go on a pilgrimage. An Imam from Trinidad came to Canada and he was going to visit the jail, and he took me with him. From that day, my life was completely changed. I see all these people in the jail, when they watch out the window they can’t see anything, and you can’t see them. I said to myself, I wouldn’t like to come here. I came home and I gave away my alcohol. I took a shower and picked up my Qu’ran. And I said, ‘Oh Allah, make me a changed man.’ From that day, the 17th of October, 1991, I put away my bottles and picked up my Qu’ran.”
“I started to go to the hospital and visit the sick. Today I am a Chaplain, a clergyman for the hospital. Sometimes before COVID, I’m in the hospital at 1-2 a.m. visiting the sick. The hospital closes at 9 p.m., but being a clergy I can go in 24/7 and pray for people. Many have died in my hands after reading Suriyasi and making dua. I tell Allah to take them in peace and let them go back to you. We come from you, Allah, and we go back to you.”
Ramzan recalls a story of visiting a young girl with leukemia in the hospital, “A teenager from Syria, she was in high school. Her mother and father were in Syria. I prayed for her. I don't know this girl, but that hit me to see she's so young. At the age of only 15 or 16, she’s gone. All that I asked Allah, was to take her, so none of us in this room would know. And what happened was, this finger,” he holds up his index finger, “she used this finger to read her prayers 5 times a day. Her finger was up, and nobody knew that her life left her. Three Muslim doctors were there around her, and I said, ‘Doctor, look at her finger.’ What I ask for, I get. I asked Allah that when her soul left her body, no one must know in this room. And so said, so done.”
“I gained a lot of experience visiting the sick. It’s tremendous to see when you think that you don’t have one hand, there are people out there who don’t even have two hands. There are people eating with their toes, which I have seen in Mecca. I went to Hadj, in 1996 for myself. Two years later, I went for my mother. In our religion, you have to do it for yourself first. Then you can do it for your siblings, mother, father, anybody. There and then my life completely changed.”
Ramzan also gives us a bit of insight into his role as a member of the Board of Directors in the Peel District, “Today I have been living in this building since the first of May, 1999. At this building, they have a voting system, and I became a director for this building. I interview newcomers and give my okay; saying yes or no. All the ones that I give a yes, it has to go through Peel, and then here. I found in this building only three of us from Guyana; one from Mahaica, one from Esequibo, and myself from Leguan.”
“I interview all races, colour, and religion. I have no distinction or hatred or racism in me. When I first came here, there was a lot of racism in this country. They used to call everyone, no matter what country you come from, a Paki. And Paki means cleanliness in Urdu. The ones that are suffering now, are the Black [community]. The Black community is suffering. They are innocent. I don't know how or whenever it will end.”
Sitting down with an elder like Ramzan and listening to the anecdotes and his vivid recollections was a truly astonishing experience. Each story he shared was filled with rich emotions, and provided a glimpse into the breadth of his life. He leaves the interview with a few words of wisdom for the youth and broader Indo-Caribbean community, saying:
“[Volunteering] is a very good thing. You don't know who is out there that can help one another in certain things. I think especially the youths of today, should take that opportunity when they get a chance to volunteer in any aspect that comes their way. It is a very good opportunity for all youths of today to be a big brother or sister in helping out.”
“We are all Allah’s creation. Even something as small as ants have more unity than us. They bury their own dead and make their own homes, they bother no one. Recalling a short tale, he says, “Allah has given all the prophets, as Muslims, their own job to do. Prophet Sulaiman was given all the languages, so they could speak for anything they want. One day he was coming down with his troop, and queen ants told the rest of the ants to step aside, that Prophet Sulaiman was coming down with his troop. The Prophet replied, ‘Complete your mission, for I will hold back my troop.’ So the language has been spoken.”
“If human beings had the same, we could’ve conquered this world. But today we do not have that unity. We only have hatred, malice and jealousy in our hearts. But if only we can throw it behind us and stand together in humanity and fill our hearts with peace and love, it will be a better place today. I don't know how long more I've got, but I only hope and pray to see my children one more time. Nevertheless, I pray.”
About the Author
Rebecca is a Toronto-based writer and digital marketer, currently working in book publishing. With a BA in Sociology and a minor in Caribbean Studies, she joined the Indo-Caribbean Canadian Association to continue her interest in researching and writing content about Indo-Caribbean history and culture.