The late Salahuddeen Haleem Sahib, 1944-2022

Salahuddeen Haleem, who passed away at his home in London on 15 April 2022, was one of a now diminishing number who had prayed regularly at the East London Mosque when it was located on 448 Commercial Road and continued to do so when it moved to its current site on Whitechapel Road.  He was a member of the East London Mosque Trust 1987-1994, and also served as its treasurer under the chairmanship of Suleman Jetha from 1989 to 1994.   Following Jetha Sahib’s demise in 1995, he took over as chair of the Indigent Moslem Burial Fund.  He was a champion of the ELM Archives Project, and member of its Steering Group since its inception in 2013. He was also prominent in local mosque projects in Ilford and right to the end of his days was raising funds for a mosque in Wansted. Salahuddeen Haleem was conscientious in the community tasks that he undertook, placing high standards of probity when given financial oversight responsibilities and avoided the limelight for his many achievements.  

Haleem Sahib was born in Karachi and arrived in London in 1961 as a sixteen-year old to join his family.  His father, Bashiruddeen, managed an import/export business in textiles and carpets. The family lived in Upper Clapton and Haleem attended the Raine’s Grammar School. In his words, “there were only three non-whites”.  He obtained permission to perform Friday prayers at the East London Mosque, where Bashiruddeen was a trustee. At the time, the juma was led by Khwaja Qamaruddin, an employee of the Pakistan High Commission. Early on, Haleem was introduced to Suleman Jetha and other pioneers including Imdad Ali Khan of the Jamiatul Muslimin and Haji Taslim Ali and his wife Maryam, supervisors of the premises at 448 Commercial Road, but who also ran a near-by fish and chip shop.  There were family friendships, and the schoolboy would often stay for tea with Maryam after the prayers.  There were also occasions when he could join other mosque trustees – including the actuarist Syed Munawar Hussain – in their social get-together at the J. Lyons corner house in Aldgate.

When he was 19 years old, Haleem had a place to study Medicine at Guy’s, but his father’s ill health led him to find employment. His first job was as a librarian and then as an accountant’s assistant in an Oxford Street department store. This led to a position as a management trainee with a high street bank, where he stayed to pursue a career in retail banking.  When Jetha Sahib had a particularly good run on his investments on the Stock Exchange, he would take Bashiruddeen and son to Savile Row for made-to- measure pin stripe suits.  Haleem’s marriage ceremony to Najma Begum in August 1975 was conducted at the mosque– both the civil registration recorded by the invited registrar and the nikah performed by Khwaja Qamaruddin. He was witness to the difficulties faced by Suleman Jetha and colleagues when a compulsory purchase order was placed on the premises by the Greater London Authority. He also observed the fraught period when Jetha negotiated – very smartly – for the plot of land between Fieldgate Street and Whitechapel Road. The congregation had to make do with a shamiana (tent) and later the prefab structure no longer required by the Islamic Cultural Centre in Regents Park.  There was an intense period of fund raising.  Haleem was called on by Suleman Jetha to manage the accounts, so that is where he began spending his Sundays. As Treasurer when the new mosque was taking shape and beginning to function, this was “from 9 am to midnight”. Haleem Sahib remembered how “Jetha exercised tight control. If it could be avoided, money would not be spent on postage – ‘go and deliver it by hand’. He would arrive each morning with a list of things to do – everything was recorded.”   Haleem Sahib was on the front line in the early 1990s, when the trustees had to face many organisational and governance challenges and see that consensus and good sense prevailed. There were some decisions that he did not agree with – such as the dropping of some Muslim countries’ ambassadors as trustees – but he accepted the majority decision with good grace.

Suleman Jetha also relied on Haleem Sahib for help in the work of the Indigent Moslem Burial Fund (IMBF). This was perhaps the first British Muslim charity, set up to organise the burial of poor and needy Muslims. It was formally registered by Syed Ameer Ali in 1927 (in those days, ‘Muslim’ was spelt ‘Moslem’) though it had commenced organising burials in 1925.  After Ameer Ali died in 1928, the next chairman of the Fund was Lord Lamington, followed by Sir John Woodhead.  Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s son, Waris Yusuf Ali, also took on responsibilities, while Khalid Sheldrake served as imam in the 1930s. Suleman Jetha was appointed a trustee in the 1950s and then, chair.  Thanks to his astute investments, the Fund was able to acquire grave plots in advance at Brookwood. Jetha first asked Haleem to be its assistant treasurer, and later treasurer. After his death in 1995, Syed Munawar Husain served as serve as chair of trustees, and later Haleem Sahib.  Thanks this time to his investment skills, the Fund took a healthy turn and was able to reserve two hundred graves at a fixed price from Gardens of Peace. It also benefits from the continued support of Haji Taslim Ali Funerals. There cannot be many British Muslim civil society organisations with a continued record of service for almost a hundred years with only five or six chairpersons in its history!

In the last decade, Haleem Sahib’s involvement with the East London Mosque was mainly through his active role on the Archives Steering Group. He valued the historical collection and was instrumental in raising funds that allowed the establishment of an archive strong room in the Maryam Centre. He also gifted many valuable documents of the IMBF to the East London Mosque Archive Collection.

In a tribute, Gulam Taslim notes, “Haleem Sahib was very passionate about the Muslim Indigent Fund. He dedicated all his efforts towards this noble cause and always kept himself informed about the allocation of the graves and kept notes by liaising with our office staff, Abu Khalid, when he rang him for permission. A kindhearted soul, may you dwell in Jannatul Firdous

He is sorely missed by all those who had the privilege of knowing and working with him. Our condolences to his widow and family. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun.

JS, 19 April 2022.