In life, we closely interact with our friends and family members without appreciating how fleeting and valuable these moments are. Once passed, they can neither be recreated nor reprised. What would we not give to relive some of the happiest moments spent a long time ago with some relative or friend? Normally, these thoughts stay in our subconscious, but surface when we experience the loss of another relation or friend.
This past January, the Muslim community of Montgomery County, Maryland, experienced just such a loss, when a prominent local community member and a visionary leader, Mr Tufail Ahmad, died in Karachi on January 12, while on a family visit. He had influenced and directed many aspects of community life during past decades. Even though he was in his eighties, his presence on the social and community stage had been so pervasive that it seemed it would be everlasting
Born in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, Tufail Ahmad, after earning his master’s degree from Allahabad University, migrated to Pakistan in 1958 where he joined the prestigious Audit and Accounts Service, rising to leadership positions. Later in 1973, he moved to the US and launched a very successful business career. After his retirement, he dedicated his life to community service, founding a charitable organization, the Montgomery County Muslim Foundation (MCMF). It raised and distributed funds to help the poor, needy and homeless in the greater Washington area, irrespective of the beneficiaries’ religion, color, or national origin. Endowed with qualities of leadership, his dedication and enthusiasm were infectious and inspired a coterie of volunteers to join him in his efforts. Soon, MCMF grew into a vibrant and noteworthy charitable organization in the Washington area.
While focusing on charitable work, MCMF has been also very active in promoting interfaith and interethnic harmony– through Christian-Muslim-Jewish dialogue. Tufail Ahmad was an exponent of pluralistic values and perhaps one of the very few Muslims who contributed personal funds to support the local Hindu Dewali festival organized by the County. During Ramadan every year, until the pandemic paralyzed social life, the MCMF hosted an Iftar to which hundreds of guests were invited, including elected officials of the county and state.
Tufail Ahmad was also a supporter of organizations that promoted the culture and heritage of Pakistan and India. He generously donated funds to both the Aligarh University Alumni and the University of Karachi Alumni Associations, DC, to establish scholarships for talented and needy students at the two institutions.
Perhaps, Tufail Ahmad’s most valuable contribution to his community was his unrelenting insistence that we pivot our focus to the cultural and political developments of our adopted country, the United States, and participate fully in its political life at local and national levels. He set an example by himself running for a seat in the state legislature and later supported candidates who, in his opinion, were most worthy, making politicians conscious for the first time of the importance of the Muslim community and their concerns.
His leadership role attracted the attention of the local County and State Government officials which helped him raise funds for his charitable work. He and his friends collected food, clothing, and money to help the Syrian and Afghan refugees arriving in our area. The MCMF launched a campaign to help them settle in, learn English, and find jobs.
Tufail Ahmad received numerous awards, among them the Maryland Governor’s Award, Roscoe Nix Distinguished Community Leadership Award and Maryland Muslim Council Lifetime Achievement Award.
In his best-selling book, Being Mortal, Harvard Professor, Atul Gawande, commented that “As our time winds down, we all seek comfort in simple pleasures—companionship, everyday routines, the taste of good food, and warmth of sunlight on our faces. We become less interested in the rewards of achieving and accumulating. Yet, while we may feel less ambitious, we also become concerned for our legacy. And, we have a deep need to identify purposes outside ourselves that make living meaningful and worthwhile.” The exposition aptly applies to Tufail Ahmad’s dedicated service.
His friends and associates remember him with great affection and fondness. A friend recalled “whenever someone passed away, Tufail, Bhai would speak well of him/her, and then would say ‘when my time comes, please celebrate my death. I am old and have accomplished a lot and I have lived my life to the full. Why would you mourn Death? It is the Ultimate. I have done what I wanted to and what I could do; so, don’t cry or mourn my death. Please look at my life and remember all the good things about me and celebrate– have a party.’ And then he would laugh.” Montgomery County, Maryland, Executive, Marc Elrich, expressed his condolences at the funeral, stating, “I will miss Tufail. He was my friend and partner in the fight for equality for all people. The country has suffered a tremendous loss with his passing. I will miss his infectious smile.”
Much like many men in late life, Tufail Ahmad lost his wife of many decades less than a year ago, a traumatic and catastrophic experience. He never recovered from that shock and became very depressed. His children, two sons and one daughter, tried to help, but in vain. For years, he and his wife had been spending the winter months in Karachi where a number of their relations live. This winter, he was alone and was not planning a winter vacation, but his grandchildren thought that a reunion with his relations might cheer him up and lessen the gloom. Unfortunately, fate had different plans for him. After an enjoyable and recuperative stay in Pakistan, he was taken ill with pneumonia just before he was due to return home. At first, he seemed to be improving, but had a relapse and passed away surrounded by his loving family. His mortal remains were brought back to Maryland and assigned to earth, the funeral attended by large a number of family and friends.
(Dr Syed Amir is a former Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School, and a health science administrator, US National Institutes of Health)
This article is also published at: https://pakistanlink.org/Community/2022/March22/04/09.HTM