BY: JELANI GRANT
Organized by Shaikh Habeeb Alli, The Interfaith Ramadan Gala was held at The Elite Banquet Halls and Convention Center in Rexdale. Emceed by Sauliha Alli, Habeeb’s daughter, and Firaaz Azeez, the evening events raised funds for children in Guyana. Among the supporter’s of this fundraiser was FEAT for Children of Incarcerated Parents founders Derek and Jessica Reid as well as former MPP Dr. Shafiq Qadri, who was in the middle of campaigning for the Etobicoke North Liberals. He commended Habeeb and his team for the work they do for Guyana and presented him with a personal message from Ontario Liberal Party Leader Kathleen Wynne. “Our province is proud to be home to flourishing Muslim communities…you share a rich culture and a faith which enshrines the ideals of wisdom, devotion, andcharity,” the letter read.
Keynote speaker for the evening was Guyanese-Canadian Lightweight Champion Mohammed Abedeen. Abedeen, who is currently ranked #3 in Canada, recently won his title in December of last year by beating Buzz Grant in the first round. “I had a lot of great influences and [all of them] played a part in changing my life, and it made me proud to be Guyanese and proud to be Muslim. I wonder if the next generation will have that…we can help them feel inspired by being the best Muslims we can be,” he said.
This gala was a continuation of the Canada Day Iftar that Habeeb started a few years ago. Iftar is the main meal Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast with at sunset. It is considered one of the most significant points in the day during Ramadan. Just before the sun began to set, Shaikh Riad Ouarzazi came to the mic to encourage guests to donate. Initiallyhe received a generous pledge of $1,000 from one audience member, followed by another pledge of $1,000, and then a pledge of $500 and so on until at least 10 guests had pledged a contribution in that 15-minute time period. This was no surprise to Habeeb who said Ouarzazi regulates million dollar auctions for a living.
Habeeb said that Guyanese families have recently dealt with financial hardships due to the closing of the Guyana Sugar Corporation factory. As an example of this, Habeeb mentioned the tragic losses of former factory workers. The Guyana Times reported that two dismissed workers had committed suicide following the factory’s closing and Habeeb said it was after this that members of the Skeldon community reached out to him. “I was contacted by a volunteer group that formed themselves to help the children go back to school and since January 29th we’ve been fundraising and cooking in someone’s backyard,” he said. Since that time they have provided 250 meals per day to kids going to school and have started a backpack program.