Tributes have been paid to a Blackburn man who has died whilst on a visit to Saudi Arabia.

Ḥāfiẓ Ismail Ahmed Sidat, who lived in Harwood Gate died on April 20 and was buried in Madinah (Medina), the second holiest city for Muslims. He had fallen severely ill whilst on the visit to the holy lands and was admitted to the Mustashfa Al Aam (The General Hospital) in Madinah.

He remained in hospital between 13 April and 15 April and was later discharged and moved to the Frontel Alharithia hotel until his death.

Ḥāfiẓ Ismail was well known to many people in Blackburn and had run a second-hand shop in Mill Hill, owned a newsagents in Darwen and before the Covid pandemic had worked at Blackburn College.

His funeral prayers were held after morning prayers in the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi known as The Prophet's Mosque before burial at the Baqi cemetery close by, which it is said to be the final resting place of thousands of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad.

In a special tribute Dr Yusuf Shabbir, who was in the city at the time and attended the burial wrote: “Ḥāfiẓ Ismail was not a qualified scholar or a famous person. He was a ‘normal person’, yet special in the eyes of Allah.

“He had a close attachment with the Ḥaramayn (holy mosques) and had an ardent desire to visit them since being diagnosed with cancer. His wish was eventually realised; not only did he visit Ḥaramayn (holy cities), Madīnah became his final resting place.”

Detailing the final prayers he said: “The body was placed outside the Masjid (mosque). As we entered the Masjid, the officer responsible asked me for the Baqīʿentry slip and the nationality of Ḥāfiẓ Ismail. He expressed his surprise and commented on his good fortune.

“In Masjid Nabawī, there is an allocated space next to Riyad al-Jannah for the family of the deceased. We performed prayers here and waited for the Adhān (call to prayer) of Fajr Ṣalāh (morning prayers).

“Fajr Ṣalāh finished at 5am and Janāzah (funeral prayers) was performed immediately thereafter.

“There were five Janāzahs in total; four adults and one baby. After the Janāzah Ṣalāh, we took the body to the Baqīʿ graveyard. Several people from the UK also joined on route to Baqī. Many others joined.

“After the burial, we visited the grave of ʿUthmān, the third caliph of Islam (may Allah be pleased with him).

“I regard it as my good fortune to have assisted in the burial arrangements and participated in the prayers and burial. On reflection, this was only through the mercy of Allah Almighty and His plan. Sometime a person plans with a specific purpose in mind only to realise later that Allah Almighty has other plans.”

Ḥāfiẓ Ismail’s daughters Aishah, Hajra and Zohra said in a tribute: “He showered us with affection, sitting with us, holding our hands and chatting about anything and everything. He cried for us often.

"He could not sit back and watch injustice, or people being oppressed. He would always stand up to it, be vocal about it, he cared deeply and often had tears for strangers too.

“He had a special way with people from all walks of life, from the young to the old, regardless of race, colour, religion or status. He made them all feel special and valued.

“He often donated to families in need in India when approached, even his immediate family were not aware of the extent of this and how many families he supported in this way.”

Asian Image:

The final resting place of Ḥāfiẓ Ismail (Images Dr Yusuf Shabbir)

Ḥāfiẓ Ismail’s son Muhammad said: “I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my father over the last few months which has opened my eyes to his true nature, a nature that was perfectly highlighted by the most perfect of endings.

“My father’s story perfectly highlights that there is no fixed template that can be followed to gain Allah’s pleasure.

“You don’t need to have a long beard and wear a thobe all day and have a tasbeeh (beads)in your hand and pray countless nafl salats (prayers) to gain Allah’s pleasure. 

“The compulsory acts are compulsory, but the optional acts of worship are many and varied and each individual must find their own balance of these acts to gain the ultimate reward and the ultimate ending like my father. 

“This can be as simple as being a good neighbour and a trusted employee and friend which he was, these acts are not necessarily specific to being a Muslim but just being a good human. These qualities transcend religion.

“Unfortunately, sometimes in our community we are so fixated on judging the book by its cover that we don’t spend the time on the content within until it is too late.  I for one have taken this as a major lesson for myself.”

He went on to thank all those who had helped during the visit and had assisted with the burial.

Shaykh Fazlurrehman Hassan who serves as Chaplain at Royal Blackburn Hospital wrote: “It was an honour to have been given the opportunity to participate in the funeral of Hafiz Ismail Sidat of Blackburn at Masjid Nabawi after Fajr in Madinah.

"The Janazah Salah (funeral prayers) took place next to the blessed resting place and chambers of our Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), right opposite the Rawdha. What a beautiful death.

“I got to know late Hafiz Ismail Sidat from my visits as the hospital Imam during his stay at the Royal Blackburn Hospital. He never once complained about his illness.”

From India to Blackburn: The journey of Ḥāfiẓ Ismail

Born 1956 in the Indian village of Harangam in the state of Gujarat, Hafiz Sidat lost his mother at a young age and was looked after by his elder siblings, particularly his oldest sister who presently resides in Batley.

Upon the encouragement of some family members, and support from his father as well as his Paternal Uncle Mohammed Asmalji Sidat, Ḥāfiẓ Ismail enrolled in the famous Husayniyyah seminary in Rander where he completed his Ḥifẓ (memorisation) of the Quran.

In 1977 upon leaving Rander, Ḥāfiẓ Ismail migrated to the UK for marriage. He married Fatima, the daughter of Sufi Suleman Sidat who was one of the very first Indian Muslims in the area and founded what is now Jaame Masjid.

Between 1978 and 1991, Ḥāfiẓ Ismail worked in various jobs within the textiles and car parts industries. He also established a second-hand shop in the Mill Hill area of Blackburn.

In 1991, the family moved to Darwen where Ḥāfiẓ Ismail ran a newsagent for the next 13 years. Many people went on to refer him as ‘Ismail Bhai Darwen’. In 2004, after selling the newsagents, the family moved to Harwood Gate and Ḥāfiẓ Ismail started working for a plastic food bag manufacturing company in Haslingden.

In later years as his wife was diagnosed with cancer he became her carer. She underwent major surgery and completed chemotherapy on two separate occasions after the cancer returned. 

In 2019 he was employed by Blackburn College as a caretaker supervisor, a role he continued in until he was diagnosed for lung cancer in November 2021.

He was instructed to stop working immediately.

Earlier this year he made plans to go on the Umrah, eventually leaving in March and was joined by family members.

You can read the full tribute by Dr Yusuf Shabbir here