For the most part, the history of the organization has remained inseparable from the history of its founders; Major Muhammad Abbas Ali, a retired officer of the Pakistan army and his wife Sarwar Jahan Begum. The elderly couple were two very dedicated and selfless members of a close knit community when they arrived in Canada, as visitors in the late 1980s. Immediately after their arrival, they busied themselves in the community raising awareness of the importance of supporting local charitable causes. To lead the way, Major Abbas undertook several charity walks (Toronto to Ottawa, Toronto to Niagara Falls, among many) to raise donations for the Canadian Arthritis Society.
In 1993, Major Abbas and Sarwar Jahan Begum (Uncle and Aunty as the senior couple was lovingly known) established a small Halal Food Bank in Scarborough, Ontario under the banner of the Muslim Welfare Centre of Toronto, with the logo: Service to humanity is service to Allah (God). This achievement was made possible through a loan provided by a good friend and well wisher. The couple devoted their time, money and energy in development of this charity such that it would benefit those in need for generations to come. This food bank began in a small (12×12 foot) room by providing groceries and other essential household items to anyone in need, irrespective of religion, nationality, caste or creed.
Within just a few of years of its inception, thanks to the great generosity of its dedicated supporters and volunteers, the centre was able to greatly enhance its services. A new goal was set to provide a safe haven for needy women and their children, to fill a critical need in the community. With their tireless efforts and zeal, the duo was able to realize this goal in 1996, naming this facility in Whitby, Ontario, “Muslim Welfare Home for Needy Women and Children.” Other pioneering services were introduced within the next few years. International programs such as, support a child, free clinics, water exploration and disaster relief in 2000, and local programs such as halal meals on wheels, halal food banks in Montreal and Mississauga in 2005, and a free medical clinic for the uninsured in Scarborough in 2009. Planning and effective operation of these services kept the revered couple busy until their very end. Major Muhammad Abbas Ali breathed his last on Friday, April 17, 2009 after a brief illness while on a visit to Pakistan to monitor Muslim Welfare Centre’s international projects. He was 87. In honour of his exemplary service to the cause of humanity, the City of Toronto renamed a park in Scarborough as Major Abbas Ali Park. Appropriately, this park is located very close to Muslim Welfare Centre’s head office – the same place where he began the charity in 1993.
After the passing of Major Abbas, Sarwar Jahan Begum remained a beacon for the organization as its President and guided it through the establishment of the Public School Nutrition Program and the planning for the Village Reconstruction Project in Pakistan. Sadly, she passed away on March 18, 2013 at the age of 84 years, having spent over 20 years of her life in Canada in the service of others.
Muslim Welfare Centre acknowledges the strong faith and herculean efforts of the founders, along with the support of so many well wishers and volunteers as it marches forward purposefully in service to the most vulnerable amongst us. May Allah (SWT) give us all the strength and wisdom to continually strive in the spirit of our motto; Service to Humanity is Service to Allah (God). Ameen!