Muhammad Abbas Ali was born in Bombay, India on November 15, 1921 and spent most of his school years in Calcutta. He was commissioned in the British Indian Army in 1943 and served in the Hyderabad State Army until 1948. After the partition of the Indo-Pak subcontinent and the creation of Pakistan, he joined the Pakistan Army and continued his services as a Major in the infantry until his retirement in the early 1970s. After his retirement, he combined his adventurous lifestyle with his strong desire to help the poor and downtrodden masses in whatever way he could. He soon started fundraising through charity walks for various national and international charities. In the mid to late 1980s, he was involved in marathon walks in the UAE for international charities such as, UNICEF, World Health Organization, Sports Aids and Islamic Mission Hospitals, among others.
In 1989, he came to Canada as a visitor and began devoting his efforts to charitable causes with the philosophy “Service to Humanity is Service to Allah.” This later became the key mission statement of the charitable organization the Muslim Welfare Centre of Toronto which he founded, along with his wife Sarwar Jahan Begum in 1993.
Major Abbas often used unconventional means to raise awareness about his charitable projects, and was known for his hundred of kilometers-long marathon walks for various causes. In 1998, at age 77, he skydived to raise funds for his dream project “Support a Child – Save the Nation”. In 2004, at age 82, he walked 100 kilometers (Whitby to Mississauga), in an effort to raise funds for his new project “Seniors’ Home.” In total he walked over 10,000 kms in various countries around the world for several charitable organizations, including UNICEF, World Health Organization, Sports Aid, International Islamic Hospitals Society, Canadian Arthritis Society, Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (UK), Children in Need Program – BBC (UK), The Canadian Association of Pakistani Media, and Mohibaan of Pakistan, and others.
The most famous walk was during his 2500 km single-handed trek for Hajj across the Arabian Peninsula from United Arab Emirates (UAE) to Mecca (Saudi Arabia) to raise funds for a charitable hospital in Karachi, Pakistan. He was recognized as the first person in modern history to accomplish this incredible feat of self sacrifice and noble purpose.
In recognition of his numerous community contributions in the service of others, he was honored with many awards during his lifetime. Some of the more significant ones are: Ontario Ministry of Citizenship, Outstanding Service and Dedication to the Community, Canada Day Muslim Achievement Award, REH’MA Foundation Award for Outstanding Community Service, Central Islamic Organization of Guyana Award, Certificate of Commendation–Baha’i Community of Canada, Pakistan Day Achievement Award, Premier of Ontario Commendation on Commitment to Volunteerism, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Award, Consulate General of Pakistan Achievement Award, Outstanding Asian Canadian Community Award, and Blood Donors Shield – Pakistan.
Major Muhammad Abbas Ali passed away in Karachi,Pakistan on April 17, 2009, after a brief illness. He is remembered as a man of strong faith, and high moral standard who committed his life to the service of others until his passing. In honour of his exemplary service to the cause of humanity, the City of Toronto has renamed a park in Scarborough as Major Abbas Ali Park.