I have spent four years at university, have gained two degrees and many years of experience of practicing and teaching law; yet the principles upon which I base my life were taught to me by a former taxi driver and mill worker from a poor farming village in India. He died last Tuesday.
My dad, Ismail Muhammad Hasan, was born in Gujarat in India in 1949. Like many a young man of his generation, he came to the UK in the 60’s having been encouraged by the UK government to come and fill positions in the transport and textile industries. Dad arrived in 1969, at the age of twenty, and went straight to work in the factories of West Yorkshire. His aim was not just to make a new life for himself but also to support his elderly parents who were struggling to make ends meet by farming and running a small village shop.
Dad failed Norman Tebbit’s Cricket Test and would not have been able to spell “British Values” let alone name one of them. Yet his personal values and character reflected everything we are proud of in this country; hard work, kindness, honesty, decency and a sense of humour.
Dad chose a life of hard work and sacrifice and encouraged us to do the same. I remember asking him why I did not receive free school meals. His answer was:
“It’s better to eat what you buy with hard earned money.”
Through out his working life Dad often held two jobs. By day he worked in a factory and by night and weekends as a taxi driver. As one of the most experienced taxi drivers in Dewsbury, he was known and loved by many drivers as witnessed by their attendance at his funeral. Even after his retirement he continued to keep in touch with colleagues and offer his advice and support (whether they requested it or not!).
It was not easy being a taxi driver in the 70’s and 80’s. So often Dad would come home with a black eye, a bruised arm or a sad face, having been deprived of his night’s earnings by those who saw taxi drivers as easy targets. Racist abuse and attacks on taxi drivers were very common in those days.
Despite these difficult conditions, Dad went about his business with a smile and concern for all. He would always greet his English customers and factory colleagues by raising his hand and addressing them as “my friend.” He was always willing to lend his emotional and practical support to anyone in need regardless of race and religion. So often he would waive the taxi fare for customers who were old or infirm.
Dad came from a family of farmers and had little formal education. Yet he was really determined to ensure that his five children educated themselves to the highest level. In my youth he would discourage me from taking a part time job, even during the holidays, saying:
“Concentrate on your studies now; you have your whole life to work.”
He borrowed money from friends and family to ensure that I completed my professional exams (the Legal Practice Course) and qualified as a solicitor.
Despite suffering straitened financial circumstances for much of his early family life, Dad was an exemplary father. He was a “modern dad” before the term had been coined. He understood the importance of quality family time. For us this meant regular trips to the Blackpool Illuminations, Scarborough, Knowsley Safari Park and even the odd impromptu picnic at Dewsbury Park complete with chapattis and cold chicken curry. Much to the envy of my friends, we were regular visitors to the curry houses of Bradford. Christmas was always a high point in the year as we looked forward to his factory Christmas party when, courtesy of generous factory bosses, the old toy dumper track would be replaced with a shiny new one.
Dad understood well that Islam is all about love, kindness and generosity to all; Muslims and non-Muslims alike. He believed in the importance of integration but at the same time holding on to his Islamic practices and beliefs. We were the first family to move away from our mainly Muslim neighborhood to one which was predominantly white and middle class. We have happily lived there for the past 30 years. Until his latest bout of ill health, the few remaining elderly English neighbours would often get a visit from Dad enquiring about their health and well being. When some of them entered residential homes or hospital he would regularly visit them. Dad lived the saying of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):
“The best amongst you is the one who is most beneficial to others.”
Dad is survived by three sons and two daughters (as well as thirteen grandchildren) all of whom are successful in their own right. All owe everything to a man who came to this country over 45 years ago with nothing. Over 500 people attended Dad’s funeral with many more visiting the family home to pay their respects. Messages of support and sympathy have been received from all over the world.
As a family, we are grateful to friends, relatives, neighbours and well-wishers for their prayers and support during a difficult few days. We would also like to thank the brilliant staff at Pindersfields Hospital Stroke Unit for the wonderful care and support Dad received during his final days.
Despite my great loss, I am happy that I shared 44 years with such a wonderful human being and that his departure from this temporary abode was exactly the way he wanted; surrounded by his family, the Muslim attestation of faith (Kalimah) on his lips and a big smile on his face!