Al-Ḥamdulillāh, I returned home safely, a few days ago, from a one-week Ramadān visit to Canada. It was my 20th visit of this beautiful country, and the 16th or 17th to Toronto – Canada’s largest city. I was invited by the Al-Hasanain Institute of North America (led by Shaykh Muhammad Nabīl of Toronto). The main event, for which I was invited, was a two-day ‘Ramadān Knowledge Retreat’ held in the City of Winnipeg (province of Manitoba), from March 31 till the 1st of April. However, it was decided that I should visit Toronto before and after the Knowledge Retreat.
I landed on Tuesday 28 March, 2023 (being the 6th of Ramadān) at Toronto Airport around 4pm local time. Immigration and custom formalities were smooth as usual. In my experience, immigration at Toronto Airport is one of the most straightforward, hassle-free and welcoming. I could not help but notice the enlarged message “Toronto Pearson [Airport] wishes you a Happy Ramadān” lit up on a screen at the baggage collection carousel. I collected my suitcase and headed towards the exit. Imam Nabīl and his colleague were in attendance at the airport to receive me, and we quickly made our way to the hotel, booked for me to stay for two nights.
Talk at Darul Iman (Markham, Toronto)
After taking some rest, performing Asr and opening my fast (iftār)) at the hotel, we made our way to Masjid Darul Iman (Islamic Centre of Markham) where Shaykh Muhammad Nabīl is the imam. Imam Nabīl graduated from Madrasa Arabia Seminary in Raiwind (Lahore, Pakistan) and also studied Psychology at Sindh University in Pakistan. He previously served as an imam and commissioner for the ministry of justice in Regina in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, as well as an imam in Ajax. Currently, he is the chief imam of Masjid Darul Iman in Toronto and an instructor at the Al-Hasanain Institute. I had met him briefly on a few occasions before and interacted with him over the phone, but this was our first ‘proper’ meeting. I found him to be a very pleasant person who always has smile on his face, well mannered, humble, and hard-working. May Allah bless all his services and efforts. Āmīn.
After Tarāwih and Witr prayers, led by Imam Nabīl, I delivered a short talk on the Rights of the Qur’an. I summarized them into three and shed some light on each: 1) Recitation (tilāwa), understanding its meaning, and 3) acting upon its message. I met the attendees after the talk and, thereafter, was given a short tour of the impressive Islamic Centre building which houses the Darul Iman Mosque. The complex is huge, providing various facilities. I was informed of their future plans and goals. May Allah grant them success. Āmīn.
Due to the long transatlantic flight and varying time-zones, I was very tired and, thus, headed back to the hotel. I met a colleague of mine from my study days at Dar al-Ulum in Bury (UK), Mawlana Arif Desai, at Darul Iman Mosque. He insisted that I visit his house for some light refreshments. Despite being tired, I could not refuse him. Therefore, we stopped over at his house before heading to the hotel. Suhūr was taken at the hotel. Brother Junayd – a colleague of Imam Nabīl – kindly brought some food from his house to the hotel. He was very helpful and hospitable throughout my stay in Toronto; may Allah reward him and bless him and his family. Āmīn.
The next day – Wednesday 29 March, 2023 (being the 7th of Ramadān) – I spent the day resting at the hotel. In the evening, I was invited by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) Canada for iftār and to deliver a short reminder during Tarāwih prayers. I reached the ISNA Centre/Mosque just prior to Maghrib prayers and partook the iftār meal with the CEO of ISNA and my dear friend – brother Fouzan Khan – whom I have known well for many years from the Reviving of Islamic Spirits (RIS) Conventions – he is the founder and director of RIS. I had only met him in December, 2022. It was also a pleasure to meet the various imams and reciters at ISNA – Shaykh Hosam Helal, Shaykh Muhammad Abdel Aziz (for the first time), and Shaykh Shoaib Wardak (a dear friend whom I’ve known for a few years) – all of whom are blessed with beautiful voices and high level of Qur’an recitation skills. I enjoyed their recitations during Maghrib, Eisha and Tarāwih prayers; may Allah bless them all. Āmīn.
Surat al-A’raf was the focal point in tonight’s Tarāwih prayers. I was requested to share a reminder with the attendees after four rak’ats (units) of Tarāwih, based on a verse recited in the prayers. There is a custom in North America of delivering reminders – known as khātira (from the root-word khatara, i.e. what comes to the heart) – during or after Tarāwih prayers. I was listening to the beautiful recitation of the imam and could not decide which verse to speak about. As per the nature of the Qur’an, verse after verse provided oceans of lessons and advices and, thus, it was difficult to settle on a particular verse. At the last moment, I decided to talk about the following verse: “The Weighing [of deeds] on that day is definite/is a reality. As for those whose scales are heavy, they will be the successful ones. But those whose scales are light, they are the ones who have brought loss to themselves, because they did not do justice to Our verses” (Qur’an 7: 9-10). I explained, in light of this verse, that both our deeds and statements will be weighed on the Day of Judgement, as per the statement of Imam Bukhari (may Allah have mercy on him). One of the ways of bringing weight into one’s deed is to develop sincerity (ikhlās) – that is doing the action for the sake and pleasure of Allah alone. Whether its prayers, fasting, charity, giving a gift, visiting the sick, fulfilling the rights of others; if the intention is to earn the pleasure of Allah, the deed will bring weight to the scale in the hereafter. Conversely, if the intention is to please the people or gain some other worldly benefit, then the action/deed will be of no weight. May Allah Most High grant us all sincerity in our deeds. Āmīn.
After Tarāwih prayers, I headed back to the hotel for some rest and, thereafter, suhūr and Fajr before our journey to the city of Winnipeg the following day.
Travel to Winnipeg
The next day – Thursday 30 March, 2023 (being the 8th of Ramadān) – myself and Imam Nabīl travelled, on a two and a half hour Flair Airlines flight, from Toronto to the cold and snowy city of Winnipeg (in the province of Manitoba). We were joined by Brother Munīb Wazir (from Windsor, Ontario), who is a volunteer for the Al-Hasanian Institute and its partner organization, the MTJ Foundation. He is a lovely brother, Ma Sha Allah, with a lot of concern for the umma. I thoroughly enjoyed his company throughout our two-day tour of Winnipeg. May Allah bless him and his family. Āmīn.
Our departure was slightly delayed, so we departed Toronto around 2pm local time. The journey was straightforward and I managed to catch up on some sleep during the flight. I looked out of the window as the plane began its descent into Winnipeg and saw acres of felids and hills covered with beautiful white snow – and it was nearly April! Winnipeg’s long, cold winters mean that the city is also less-charmingly referred to as “Winterpeg”. Winnipeg is the capital and largest city of the province of Manitoba and Canada’s most centrally-located city. Despite visiting Canada multiple times, this was my first visit to this city, Al-Ḥamdulillāh.
The Ramadān Knowledge Retreat was being held at the Grand Mosque of Winnipeg, operating under the management of The Manitoba Islamic Association (MIA). One of the board members/directors of the MIA, brother Faraz Khan, and his colleagues received us at the airport and took us to our hotel. We checked in, freshened up and then headed for iftār and Maghrib prayers at the Grand Mosque. I was pleasantly surprised to see a beautifully constructed, large, modern mosque and community centre, with various facilities being offered.
Jumu’a Khutba & Knowledge Retreat
The next day – Friday 31 March, 2023 (being the 9th of Ramadān), I delivered the Jumu’a Khutba and led prayers at the Grand Mosque. It was packed with worshippers. In my estimation, some 600/700 men and women were in attendance. Imam Nabīl led prayers at another mosque. Another of the Al-Hasanain Institute instructors, Shaykh Dawud Khan, had also joined us from Indianapolis (USA) for the retreat. Shaykh Dawud is a young and able scholar – ma Sha Allah – who underwent his alimiyya and takhassus (ifta’) studies exclusively in the US. He is amongst the fast growing breed of imams and scholars who have not travelled abroad for their formal Islamic studies. He spoke eloquently during our two-day retreat, and it was pleasure to meet him for the first time. He also led Jumu’a at another location. In my Jumu’a lecture, I discussed the merciful nature of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and how we, as Muslims, have a duty of spreading this mercy.
The retreat began after Asr. Imam Nabīl, Shaykh Dawud and myself all delivered talks on various subjects. In my discourse, just before Maghrib, I expounded on the hadith “Hellfire is veiled with [apparently] pleasurable things, and paradise is veiled with difficult things” (Bukhari and Muslim). I explained that Allah made this life a test for us. He Created hellfire and designated certain actions that lead a person to it. He Created paradise and highlighted certain actions that lead a person to it. However, Allah placed a natural inclination in the human soul towards those actions that lead to hellfire, whilst the actions that take a person to paradise seem apparently difficult, because the human soul is naturally inclined towards comfort and ease. The test is to abstain from the apparently likeable things, and carry out the apparently difficult things. Passing this test, with patience and endurance, earns a slave eternal bliss and the pleasure of Allah Most High. It is similar to anything we want to achieve in this life. Reaching one’s goal and ambition in life requires hard work, effort and – often – doing things which are difficult, such as going to the gym regularly and working out. On the other hand, in order to achieve health goals, one will need to avoid apparently pleasurable food items such as junk food and sweet dishes.
Khātira at the Grand Mosque
Tarāwih was performed at the same Grand Mosque. The recitation of the imam and his two students was very good and in observance of tajwid rules, mā shā Allah. I delivered a short reminder (khātira) after four rak’ats, in which I explained the following verse of Surat al-Nisa’: “Whoever migrates in the way of Allah shall find on the earth many a place to settle, and a wide dimension [of resources]. Whoever leaves his home migrating for the sake of Allah and His Messenger, and death overtakes him, then, his reward is established with Allah. Allah is Most-Forgiving, Very-Merciful” (Qur’an 4:101). I explained, with the tawfiq of Allah, that migration (hijra) comes in many forms. Abandoning a life of sin for a life of piety, a place/location of sin for an abode where one feels he or she will be able to practise the din, friends with bad influence for a better circle of friends who encourage one to do good, etc. After Tarāwih, I made my way to the hotel for some much needed rest.
Day Two of the Knowledge Retreat
The knowledge retreat continued after Zuhr prayers the following day – Saturday April 1, 2023 (being the 10th of Ramadān). Shaykh Dawud Khan delivered a presentation on the fiqh of Zakat, Imam Nabīl delivered his lecture, a local scholar, Shaykh Isma’il Mukhtar, delivered a lecture on the ‘History of Muslims in Manitoba’ and Qari Hamadullah blessed the audience with his recitations and nashids. I also delivered a lecture on ‘Retreating to Allah.’ Thereafter, I went for a brief drive in and around Winnipeg with brother Munib Wazir (mentioned above). We stopped by Lake Winnipeg, connected to the Red River which crosses the Canada–United States border just before reaching the town of Emerson, Manitoba. Manitoba’s capital, Winnipeg, is at the Red’s confluence. The entire lake had turned into ice.
We headed back to the mosque prior to iftār. A grand iftār meal was arranged in the adjacent hall. I delivered a short talk and made du’a, after which we opened the fast. Our hosts had arranged some healthy grilled chicken and salad for me, may Allah bless them. A local brother whom I got to know well, Brother Hakim, also prepared some tasty, grilled meat at home and brought it for iftār. Brother Hakim – mā shā Allah – has a lot of concern for the dīn. He established a small madrasa at his residence where presently five students are memorizing the Qur’an. I was also impressed by the beautiful recitation and mannerism of his young 8 year old son, Muhammad Talha. May Allah bless him and his family. Āmīn. It was also a pleasure to meet another local brother, Muhammad Nu’man, of Bangladeshi origin. He informed me that he had read several of my articles and books. His enthusiasm to seek ilm is exemplary. May Allah grant him success in his endeavours. Āmīn. I gifted both of them copies of my two books: Two Weeks in Pakistan and A Trip to the Land of Scholars and Saints.
Talk at Masjid Salām
For Tarāwih prayers that night, I was invited by another mosque in Winnipeg, Masjid Salām. I delivered a short reminder (khātira) after 8 of the 20 rak’ats, explaining the verse of Surat Ibrahim: “If you [try to] count the bounties of Allah, you cannot count them all. Indeed, man is highly unjust, very ungrateful” (Qur’an 14:35).
Spending two days in Winnipeg was a great experience. The city generally has a very cold climate and, hence, it seems, not many imams, scholars and teachers are prepared to migrate there from other parts of Canada and beyond. Muslims in recent times have been moving to Winnipeg, with a population of approximately 25,000 Muslims residing in and around the city. To my knowledge, there are about 7-8 mosques and musallas. There seems to be a need for Islamic Schools and more facilities for boys and girls to learn about Islam. It seems there is a shortage of madrasas. There also seems to be a shortage of imams and scholars. Despite this, I found the locals to be good-hearted, with great zeal and love for Islam and its teachings. I pray Allah facilitate for the Muslims of Winnipeg and grant them growth spiritually and academically. Āmīn.
Back to Toronto
The following day – Sunday April 2, 2023 (being the 11th of Ramadān) – Imam Nabīl, Brother Munib, and myself departed Winnipeg and returned to Toronto. We landed around 2pm Toronto time and headed straight to the hotel. I performed my Zuhr and rested for a while, before my lecture at Abu Bakr Siddique Mosque in the Scarborough area of Toronto.
Talk at Abu Bakr Siddique Mosque
I have visited and delivered many lectures and courses at Masjid Abu Bakr Siddique previously – in particular, attending their annual ‘Pearls of Paradise’ event. I remember delivering a course/workshop on marriage and parenting in previous years, Al-Ḥamdulillāh. One of the mosque’s board members and a dear friend of mine, Brother Nadim Sheikh, had been in constant contact with me prior to my visit. He personally ensured that all aspects pertaining to my visit to their mosque ran smoothly. As such, he picked me up from my hotel and we reached the mosque by Asr. I briefly met the imam, Shaykh Qasim Ingar, and then delivered a short talk on ‘Shukr and Connecting to Allah with the Heart and Mind.’ The entire lecture can be viewed on YouTube here. I felt that the audience listened with attentiveness, and it was a pleasure to meet them after the talk.
After the conclusion of my talk some 15 minutes prior to iftār, we headed to the residence of brother Nadim. We opened our fast, performed Maghrib in congregation and, thereafter, I was treated to a very healthy iftār meal Al-Ḥamdulillāh. I met brother Nadim’s sons, who have memorized the Qur’an mā shā Allah. May Allah bless them all, Āmīn. It was also a pleasure to meet Brother Ya’qub whom I have known for many years and whose love and khidma is always very much appreciated. May Allah reward him in abundance. Āmīn. Nadim, thereafter, escorted me back to the hotel. On the way we briefly stopped by the CN Tower in downtown Toronto and enjoyed the night views of the Toronto Skyline.
Monday April 3, 2023 (being the 12th of Ramadān) was my final day in Canada. However, I still had two talks arranged before my departure.
Fajr Talk at Jam’e Masjid Markham
The first was after Fajr prayers at Jam’e Masjid Markham (Islamic Society of Markham). I was picked up from my hotel prior to suhur and partook the suhur meal at the mosque. I lead Fajr Salah and recited the verses of Surat al-Furqan wherein Allah Most High lists some of the characteristics of His slaves that He calls “ibad al-Rahman” (the servants of the All-Merciful, Allah). I explained the verses in the post Fajr talk. I was surprised to see the entire prayer hall packed with people who remained behind to listen to the 30-35 mins reminder. May Allah make us amongst His beloved servants. Āmīn. It was a pleasure, once again, to greet some of the attendees after the talk. I also met the imam, Shaykh Abdul-Rashid, who is of Indian origin. I found him to be a man of knowledge and wisdom. May Allah accept his efforts. Āmīn.
Talk at Malton Mosque
I returned to the hotel for some much needed sleep, and then spent the day resting and packing/preparing for my journey back to the UK at night. However, before my return journey, there was the small matter of another (final) talk after Asr Salah at Malton Mosque, close to the airport. The imam, Shaykh Hudhayfa Patel (a graduate of Dar al-Ulum, in Bury, UK), picked me up and we headed for the mosque. I delivered a short talk after Asr on the purpose, deeper meanings and the inner dimensions of fasting.
Return to the UK
Since my flight departure-time was close, we quickly headed to the house of a local brother, Mawlana Junayd Panchbhaya, where the iftār meal had been arranged. The healthy and tasty food items on display (grilled meat, stake, salmon, healthy salad, etc.) were of top quality. Mawlana Junayd himself had cooked and prepared most of the menu. I was informed that along with being a graduate scholar, he is also a very good chef. He and his brother studied in South Africa and the UK. May Allah bless their entire family and grant them the best of this life and the next. Āmīn.
This article cannot end without the mention of a very dear friend, Brother Khalid Patel. He is the brother of Imam Hudhayfa Patel (the imam at Malton Mosque). I have known Khalid for many years; in fact, since my very first visit to Toronto in 2007. His love, hospitality, khidma and constant care towards me, over the years, is beyond my worth and entitlement. I have met him on almost every visit of mine to Toronto, and he always goes out of his way to look after this unworthy servant of Allah. This time, however, he was on a journey abroad. Despite this, he phoned his wife to purchase some gift items for me and my family, and asked his brother, Imam Hudhayfa, to pass them onto me. I was overwhelmed by his love and kindness. Mā Shā Allah, both brothers are examples of humility and good character. May Allah bless them and their families, reward them, and grant them all the good of this life and the next. Āmīn.
The time had come for me to depart Toronto and Canada. After a rushed iftār meal – due to the shortage of time – I bade farewell to Imam Muhammad Nabīl (my inviter/host of Al-Hasanain Institute); he had to rush back to his mosque to lead Tarāwih prayers. May Allah accept all his efforts in making this trip possible and fruitful. I bade some other brothers farewell too, at the house where we had iftār. Imam Hudhayfa Patel and a couple of other brothers escorted me to the airport for my 11pm flight back to the UK.
It is always a pleasure to visit Canada; and in particular, Toronto. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, this was my 20th visit, but every visit has been special and a great experience. I have benefited myself more than those who may have benefited from me. Allah Most High uses His servants to benefit each other. Our iman, piety and good qualities rub off on each other, and we develop some of the qualities or habits of those with whom we spend some time. May Allah Almighty keep us all strong, united and allow us to work collectively in His cause and for His pleasure, till we meet Him in eternal bliss and Paradise. Āmīn Ya Rab.
Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari
10/04/2023 (19 Ramadān 1444)