A Tribute to Maulana Shahid Raza OBE

Maulana Shahid Raza (Allah bless his soul) returned to his Creator, after a long period of illness on 5th September 2022. He was an exemplary Imam who served his mosque and community for nearly 40 years and a well-known scholar who represented Muslims at interfaith events. His broad smile and grey hat were his trademarks. An eloquent and impressive speaker who conveyed the peaceful message of Islam. The Islamic Centre Leicester’s website announced: “Hazrat had dedicated a big portion of his life to the Muslims of Leicester and the country and was the most senior figure of the Ahlu Sunnah who represented the Sunni scholars and the public in various fields”.

Maulana Shahid Raza was born in 1950 in Fatehpur, a small village in Bihar, eastern India, the eldest son of a renowned Islamic scholar of Jamia Naima of Moradabad, India. After graduating in science from Agra university he studied the Alim course at the famous seminary Jamia Naima Moradabad. Maulana Raza was widely loved and respected by all schools of thought in Islam and other religions. He had a single message of mutual respect and tolerance. Like his parents, Maulana Raza was affiliated with the Ashrafi Sufi order, he was a Chishti and his spiritual guide was Syed Mohammad Mukhtar Ashraf Ashrafi Jilani of Kuchocha, India.

He started his career as a teacher of Arabic and Islamic sciences, at Jamia Naimia, Moradabad in 1976. This is regarded as a springboard onto the career ladder of becoming a scholar and religious leader. Perhaps his father had seen signs of excellence and leadership in his beloved son. Amongst his illustrious teachers were the following:

  • His father Mufti Muhammad Habib ullah Naeemi
  • Mufti Muhammad Yunus
  • Maulana Muhammad Ayyub

In 1978 he was invited as an imam to lead the Islamic centre in Sutherland Street, Leicester. Since coming to Britain his mentors have been Allama Qamar-u-Zaman Azmi, a prominent British scholar and the late sir Zaki Badawi, who spotted Maulana’s talents and called on him to be the lecturer at the Muslim college in 1990 (an institution he had established to train Imams). He also headed the Shariah council, which helps distressed women seeking a divorce.

Being an imam is a demanding job; the responsibilities include leading the five daily prayers, teaching children, supervising part-time Quranic tutors, memorial services and pastoral care of the community, keeping contact with the community by visiting the sick and paying condolences to the bereaved. Maulana Raza had other outside demands like interfaith meetings, liaising with public bodies, the police, social workers and voluntary organisations. The biggest challenge of an Imam is maintaining working relationships with the mosque committee. Maulana Raza was very successful in all these aspects. Maulana Raza was heavily involved in interfaith work. He was a consultant to the “Three faiths forum” and a member of the executive council of the “Interfaith Network UK”.

One of his friends Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra reveals the secret of his success, “a thoughtful person who speaks after thinking through every issue carefully – he takes long pauses and then gave measured and insightful opinions”. He also admired his “openness and willingness to embrace others”; he tells of his first encounter with Maulana – “I visited him one day to discuss Iftari time since each mosque in Leicester had its own different time – I wanted them to agree on one time when I made this suggestion Maulana commended me and said ‘this should have been done long ago – you have my full support”. Sheikh Mogra says this was a great encouragement for me.

Another of his colleagues, Maulana Ghulam Jilani (former Imam High Wycombe) said, “Amongst his many personal qualities was his ability to remain above group politics and consequently, he was respected by all”. Maulana was a breath of fresh air, a man of deep knowledge, profound thinking, and vast experience, ever eager to present the peace-loving message of Islam to all. Allah praises scholars like this, “the people who fear Allah most are the scholars”.

The Imam teaches and learns

The responsibility of learning the teachings of Islam and then teaching them to the community has assumed a special significance in British society. Young people need to be guided and taught. The Prophet (peace be upon him) praised such Imams, he said “the best amongst you is the one who learns and teaches the glorious Quran”. A student of Maulana Raza said, “He was an outstanding teacher and hugely admired by his students and members of the congregation” (Ayyub Raja). Maulana was the national leader who worked tirelessly to serve Allah and British Muslims. Many a time he was criticised by people, let down by friends and faced perils, but he was patient and relied on Allah. His protégé and close confidante Maqsood Ahmed OBE said “He was an amazing teacher, a kind person and his outstanding services were recognised by many including the University of Leicester when he was given an honorary DLit.”

Allah will honour the Imams

People who sincerely serve Allah and his religion are blessed and the chosen ones. The beloved Mustafa (peace be upon him) said, “When Allah wants to bless someone, he gives him the understanding of religion” (Bukhari). In another Hadith, he (peace be upon him) said, “true respect of Allah depends on respecting the elderly, the scholar and the just ruler” (Abu Dawud). For three decades, Maulana gave a weekly Dars e Quran on Sundays. He was a powerful Urdu orator – his Urdu speeches are loved by listeners for both clarity of their message and the beauty of his strong melodious voice. He often challenged the audience to reflect on the condition of the Ummah and search for solutions to its problems. “Love of the Messenger (peace be upon him)“ was a favourite theme of his speeches; using eloquent and poetic language he portrayed the greatness of the Messenger (peace be upon him), describing the beauty of his (peace be upon him) sublime character and the rationality of his Message. The ‘cushioned Islam’ which was disengaged from the wider society was challenged by Maulana. He knew well that the tectonic plates beneath the twenty-first century Islam were moving fast. What can an Imam do in a world of moral chaos, cynicism and rapidly spreading consumerism? His response was through his deep faith and the need for humanity to once more turn to the Lord.

Maulana was working within the Muslim community as an Imam, teacher, leader, social commentator and Shariah counsellor. His wealth of knowledge and experience was distilled in his book titled “Islam and Muslims in Britain”. Maulana was a visionary leader and a down-to-earth person; there is no bluffing here. In the New Year honours list 2008, Maulana Shahid Raza, chief imam of the Central Mosque Leicester was awarded an OBE. I remember organising a dinner to celebrate his achievement with his family and friends, where we paid tribute to him for his distinguished and outstanding services to the British Muslims. I had the opportunity to meet Maulana Raza on many occasions and will remember him as a great leader for the British Muslims.

We pray that Allah is pleased with him and raises his rank in Jannah. Ameen. Al-Fatiha.