Dr. Abdur Rabb (2)

Our good friends and relatives, Mr. Mominul Islam Bhuyian and his wife Papri came to visit our house recently. They came to wish me well because they had heard that I was ill. As it is the custom in Bangladesh, Papri brought many kinds of my favourite food: koi fish, chicken, shak, lentils, etc. My wife did not have to cook for three days after their visit. During their visit Mr. Bhuyian said, “Khalu, what were the secrets of success in your life?” I spent some time answering his question. Since I have been asked this question many times in the past, I decided to put my answers in writing. I hope that my ideas will be of some use to the young Bangladeshis at home and abroad.

Have I been successful in life? I shall be ungrateful to Allah if I say ‘No’.  When I was a teenager I never dreamt of even finishing High School in a Bangladeshi village, but al-hamdulillh I was fortunate to receive the highest academic degree, a Ph. D., from a Canadian University. I was born and brought up in an extremely conservative Muslim environment of Barisal, a village in Bangladesh, but the study of Western Philosophy later on freed me from many of the superstitions and prejudices. I have also imbibed the liberal values of western societies, and Allah has granted me some degree of spiritual enlightenment. Poverty, malnutrition, diseases, drowning, crocodiles and Royal Bengal tigers were enemies to my life. Anyone of these various scourges could have killed me at a young age. Half the children of my locality, including my own siblings, were taken away from this world by malnutrition and disease before the age of five. At my young age the only dream that I had was to remain alive. Often I worked from sunrise to sunset ploughing land with a wooden plough and oxen, planting and harvesting rice, picking red peppers from fields, carrying large weights of firewood over my head from the bush to our house, fishing for food, and many other kinds of work that a Bangladeshi peasant in a village did. Hardly any of my contemporaries in my village is alive today; yet I have reached the age of 82. Allah has also given me plenty in terms of material wealth and the success of my children and grandchildren.  Success in my business has enabled me to help organizations and individuals in need of financial help in Canada and Bangladesh. Ma sha Allah my children are well placed in life, and some of my grandchildren have received  education at the best institutions in Canada and the US. My childhood dream of owning a buffalo on the back of which I wished to ride to cross the flooded rice fields of Bangladesh was never fulfilled, but my physician son is now being flown in a private Airbus 380 jumbo jet, the largest passenger plane in the air carrying more than 800 people, by a king from America to the Middle-East. If my mother and siblings died without the care of a medical doctor and medicine, my son’s discoveries in medicine is expected to save the lives of countless people. Once I was powerless, voiceless, and a person of no significance. Nobody was interested in listening to what I had to say. Today if I say something, people pay attention to it, and if my son says or writes something, the entire medical world pays attention.

A short answer to the question regarding the secret of success in life is honesty and hard work. I tell the young people of Canada that if they are honest and work hard, they will succeed in this country. This is all-right for the people of Canada where opportunities for success are immense. My case is different because I did not grow up in this country. Actually I was born and brought up in a deep hole in the ground from where people can hardly climb to the surface. Hence the secrets of success in my life were much more elaborate than those of a Canadian citizen.

  1. 1. ALLAH’S PLAN

I believe that Allah subahanahu ta’ala’ had a plan with my life. Hence,  whenever I was faced with a very difficult situation which at that time appeared insurmountable, He sent someone to rescue me from that situation. Many events of my life can be explained as the result of an intervention of a supernatural Being.

In 1950 when I was 14 years old I was thrown out of our house bare-foot and wearing only an old and unstitched lungi. I was absolutely penniless. For my survival I was thinking of working as a labourer in the farm of a peasant in return for food and shelter,  or as a domestic servant of a government officer in the district town of Barisal cleaning his house, cooking food, shopping for groceries, and taking care of his children. At this juncture of my life Allah sent an angel in the form of my maternal grandfather, to rescue me from this situation. He provided me room and board, and sent me to school.

In 1953 again I had no place where I could receive food and shelter. One night I dreamt that my Philosophy teacher of B. M. College Professor Nurul Huda asked me to see him. The next day on my arrival at the College I received a message from the same Professor asking me to see him. It occurred to me at that moment that he was going to ask me to stay with him and his family. That is exactly happened. I stayed with him for one year.M. College is situated in my district town of Barisal. In spite of severe financial difficulties I was able to complete my Bachelor’s degree at that institution. Since I had no financial resources available to me, it was unthinkable for me to go to the capital city of Dhaka for University education. Hence, I decided to find a teaching job in a High School in my area of the country. One day a distant cousin of my father, Mr. Elemuddin Ahmad, asked me if I would like to go to Dhaka with him. I agreed. To my surprise he took me to the house of my father’s cousin, the famous artist Mr. Abdul Latif, and arranged for my stay at his place. Now I had a place to stay, and Mr. Ahmad agreed to pay my University fees, cost of books, etc. It is for this initiative of my uncle Mr. Ahmad supported by another uncle Shilpi Abdul Latif that my University education was possible.

In 1957 I was faced with a very difficult situation. I needed one more year to complete my Master’s degree, but It was no longer possible for me to stay at Mr. Latif’s house, nor was the financial help from Mr. Ahmad available to me anymore. Soon I received a message from the Provost of Dhaka Hall asking me to see him. I saw him the same day. He said, “You could move in the Hall as soon as possible. Someone has paid all your expenses for food and accommodation for one year.” Until now I do not know who that generous person was.

Neither my Philosophy Professor of B. M. College, nor the Provost of Dhaka Hall knew that I was in need of room and board. I also did not ask my grandfather to send me to school, nor my uncle Mr. Ahmad to send me to Dhaka for a University education.   

Sometime in 1962 the Chairman of the Department of Philosophy Dr. Ghulam Jilani, while cleaning up his filing cabinet, found a one-page brochure on McGill University’s Institute of Islamic Studies.  Rather than throwing it away he gave it to me saying, “Keep this. Maybe you will use it one day.” Months later I casually wrote a two-sentence letter to McGill University in Canada: “I would like to do my doctoral work at your institution. I shall appreciate if you please let me know whether there is financial assistance available for this purpose.” The Result was that I received a Ford Foundation Scholarship that paid all my expenses and those of  my family, for almost seven years, including return airfare. While at McGill University I received a second Master’s and a Ph. D. degree.

Allah’s mercy on me has been boundless. One of the greatest blessings of Allah for me has been my suffering that resulted from poverty, malnutrition and very hard work that I had to do for my survival at my young age. It is through these sufferings that Allah trained and prepared me for some of the good things that He had in store for me. These sufferings shaped my attitude to life and the universe, and enabled me to appreciate Allah’s ni’amah to me in my later life. These sufferings also helped me to appreciate other people’s sufferings and helped me to spend time, energy and resources to relieve those sufferings. A second blessing that Allah has given me is the quality of adaptability. I have been able to adapt myself to whatever situation I have been placed in life. Before I came to Canada in 1963 a Hindu wise man of Dhaka predicted that the people of the country where I was going would accept me as one of their own. That is exactly what happened, and that has been an important factor of my success in the west, especially in my teaching profession and business. I learned Canadian laws, languages, manners, customs and habits of the people of this country. Hence I could easily communicate with my students, colleagues and administrators in educational institutions and the people with whom I have to deal in my business.


Aside from Allah’s plan, I think that it is my philosophy of life which created the foundation of my success. It is my father who taught me a great deal of this philosophy. He was a poor chasha (ploughman) with little education. Although the highest educated Muslim of the area, he had only completed grade four. He also taught himself the Quran, Hadith and the Shariah. He was the imam of the village delivering khutbahs at the mosque and performing other religious rituals such as those of marriage vows, miladun nabi and funeral prayers. He also settled the disputes among the people of the locality. He was loved and respected by all, men and women, Muslims and Hindus, and the young and the old.


My father was a man of high moral principles.  He lived according to those principles himself, taught me those principles, and made sure that I also lived according to them. Honesty was one of the most important of these moral principles.

My father lived a rigorously honest life and wanted me to do the same. We all know that lying is wrong. I did tell a lie once when I was a Grade 7 student. Our English grammar teacher Binod Babu was a terror to students. He used to beat the students with a cane with all the force of his body if they did not prepare their lesson. One day I skipped his class because I did not prepare my lesson. Since I did not have anything to do during that class period, I went to the road nearby to have a walk. One of my neighbours met me on the road and asked why I was not at school at that time. I replied saying that I was not feeling well. He went home and reported the matter to my father. My father realized, I do not know how, that I told my neighbour a lie. Before I reached home after school that day I was told by someone that my father was going to kill me because I told a lie earlier that day. I actually believed that he was going to kill me. Hence,  I hid myself in someone’s house in our village. That whole day I had no food or drink. Very late at night I received a message that if I promised never to lie again, my father would forgive me that time. I did make a promise never to tell a lie again.

To my father what we call white lies were also forbidden. The child does not want to eat its food. The mother says, “Eat. Otherwise a tiger will attack you.” Here the mother is telling a white lie which does not harm anyone. Once or twice I told such lies and I received punishment for that.

“You must not take something that does not belong to you,” said my father. Again, he wanted me follow this principle strictly. Once as a young teenager I casually picked up from our village road an old and rusty 3-foot-long iron rod that is usually used for window grills. My father saw that in my hand and said,

“Is that rod yours?”


“Where did you get it from?”

“I found it on the muddy road.”

“Go back to that place and put it exactly at the spot where you found it.”

Needless to say, I hurried to that place and placed the rod where I took it from. Incidentally, the rod had absolutely no value for anyone. 

About 40 years ago I bought my first rental building in Old Montreal near the  City Hall. One of the tenants of that building was a 95-year-old man originally from France. Once after midnight he opened the main door of the building and went out. A woman found him loitering  on the street  completely naked. She called the Police. The Police realized that he did not know his address, nor did he remember his own name. They took him to the hospital where he was admitted. A few days later someone from the hospital called me to say that the gentleman was not going back home any more, and that, therefore, I could clean out his apartment and rent it to someone else. 

I went to his apartment and found large and brown paper bags stacked up to the ceiling at one corner of his apartment. While sorting out the bags I found huge amounts of cash.  I also found many old gold coins and gold medals. I got scared. I quickly put those bags in large plastic garbage bags, and took those bags to my house. I wanted to make sure that someone would know how much money and other precious objects I brought to my house. I called my neighbour and counted the huge amount of money and other objects in front of him. We both signed a document that listed everything that belonged to my tenant. I then called Montreal Police. The Police said that they could do nothing about the matter. They also said that it was my ‘baby’, and that, therefore, I had to take care of it. 

The night fell. I could hardly sleep with all those valuables in my house. The next morning I went to the hospital where my tenant was, and saw the administrator of the hospital. He was shocked and scared to have seen all that money and other valuables. He quickly closed all the doors, windows and the drapes so that nobody could see all that. We made two documents: one for the money, and another for the gold coins and gold medals. I gave him the money for which he gave me a receipt. I gave him a receipt for the precious gold material that I was taking back with me. I thought that those were so attractive that the people of the hospital might keep those for themselves. As I was about to leave the administrator’s room, he looked at me and said,      ”You are the most stupid man I ever met.” What he meant is that nobody in the world would know that I found the huge amount of money and other valuables. The man to whom all these belonged did not even remember his own name, and he was going to die soon anyway. He also had no relative in Canada. Had I been less honest but more intelligent, I would have kept all that bounty for myself. 

A few months later a French officer of the Government of the Province of Quebec came to see me. I told him the whole story and handed to him the gold coins and gold medals for which he gave me a receipt. Just before leaving, he said. “Are you a Muslim?” I said, ‘Yes.”

I am proud to be stupid and a Muslim.

My father also taught me to be sincere, fair, frank, and conscientious.


My father taught me to love Allah, and love and take care of His creation. Loving Allah implies living a life according to His commands and prohibitions. I have been trying to do that all my life. We must also love human beings, animals, insects and the world of vegetation. Our feeling of love or mere expression of it in words does not mean much. Our love must be supported by actions. Allah has made us ashraful makhlukat, the crown of His creation. With this honour of being the best of creation came the responsibility of caring for the world. The Sufi-poet Shaykh Sa’di, one of the great Muslim poets of Iran, wrote the following poem 800 years ago. He called for breaking all barriers between  human beings: 

“The children of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time afflicts one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If you have no sympathy for the troubles of others,
You are unworthy to be called by the name of a human”.

We have to take care not only of human beings but also the rest of Allah’s creation. There is no doubt that human sufferings have always broken my heart, and I have always tried to do whatever I could to ease those sufferings. I could also not bear human torture of animals. I will never forget how mercilessly the oxen that were used for pulling wooden carts with heavy weights of bamboo or some other merchandise on the clay roads near my High School in Barisal were beaten up. Completely exhausted, the oxen often collapsed to  the ground. At that point the owner beat them up even harder to make them stand up again and continue to pull the cart.  In many cases I could not do anything to relieve the sufferings of those animals because it was their owners who tortured them. 

It was a common practice among ploughmen to poke the thighs of oxen with a sharp needle installed at the end of a stick to direct the animals or make them walk faster while ploughing the fields. I could never punish my oxen or goats that we owned. They were like my dear friends. I loved them, and they loved me in return. A relative of mine did not let the calf of their milk-giving cow drink any of its mother’s milk. I thought that it was wrong to deprive the calf of a part of her mother’s milk. Hence from time to time I woke up at the middle of the night, went to the cow shed and released the calf so that it could go to its mother and fill its stomach. 

 I never even broke a branch of a tree unless it was meant for a useful purpose. I killed harmful animals like snakes, and insects like mosquitoes and bed bugs. Yet if a fly fell in the sink and its life and death at that time depended on my will, I gently picked it up and released it outside the house. 


Helping people in times of their difficulties is an obsession of mine. I could never remain standing by watching people suffer. I have always tried to do whatever I could to help them. I think that Allah has given me this special urge to help people in difficulty. I have been helping Bangladeshi students in Montreal in various ways. Many times some students faced financial difficulties. I lent them money. Unfortunately I lost thousands of Dollars because some of them did not repay their loans. In many cases I countersigned the leases of students because some landlords do not rent their apartments to students without the guarantee of their parents. Since the parents of these students were not in Canada, I took the responsibility of paying their rent for a year up to  total of  $12,000- per student. The responsibility that I took was a serious one. Fortunately for me, all the students whose leases I countersigned paid their rent! 

When foreign students come to Canadian Universities to study, they face many problems in the beginning. I try to help these students in whatever way I can. I also thought that the senior students who have been here for some time could help the new ones. Hence every year in the Fall I held a picnic where the old and new students would meet. They had lunch with Bangladeshi dishes, played songs, music and games in the park on  Mount Royal.  

‘Id al-Fitr celebrations are the most joyous occasion for Muslims. Since the students did not have their families in Montreal, I felt that it was my responsibility to make sure that that they would not be left alone shut in their rooms on that day of joy. Hence for many years I invited all McGill students to my house for ‘Id dinner with traditional Bangladeshi ‘Id dishes. Sometimes 100 students attended this dinner. After dinner they had fun with songs and music. 

For the last three years we did not hold this dinner because ‘Id  celebrations have fallen in the summer when most of the students are away in Bangladesh. We have also stopped holding picnics for students because my wife and I are both too old and weak now to organize large events. I still find apartments for some Bangladeshi students before they arrive in Montreal. I also declared to students that they could come to have dinner with us whenever they wished. I told them that we eat dinner at 5:30 pm. Some students actually come to eat dinner with us.  

In the early 1980’s some 350 young Bangladeshis, mostly men, came to Montreal. They were in real trouble because they did not know if they were going to be able to stay in Canada. Those days there was no welfare system as we know it today. Hence they faced serious economic hardships. They also faced the problem of loneliness because of their absence from their near and dear ones in Bangladesh. I approached McGill University for a place where they could meet, share information with each other and watch Indian movies. McGill was kind enough to give us a place, a television set and a VCR. The young people used the McGill facilities with benefit. McGill also held a Christmas dinner for them. 

As we all know, there is always a pay-off for doing good work. Many great men and women of the world did good deeds. Yet they faced criticisms and suffered persecution. Some of them lost their lives. It was not therefore surprising that people spread rumours about me for the help that I offered to the young Bangladeshis. Years later I came to know that some people believed that I received $10,000-  from Centraide Canada for helping the young people. They also believed that I pocketed that money for myself. When someone mentioned this rumour to me I said, “I did not know that Centraide has funds to help the people who wish to stay in Canada as refugees. I thank you for this information.” I would like to mention here that there were other rumours spread against me in the Bangladesh communality of Montreal. I shrugged off all those rumours saying, ” What is it that the crazy man does not say, and what is it that the goat does not eat?” I always did what I thought was right.  

The more important problem of these young people was that of staying in Canada as permanent residents. A solution of this problem depended on the Government of Canada. I was too small a person to approach the Canadian Government for a solution of this problem. Hence I sought the help of a prominent Quebecer friend of mine in this respect. His name was Dr. Father Jack Langlais. He and I worked on a major project in Montreal since I came to this country 55 years ago. At my request Dr. Langlais and his good friend Mr. Pelletier, another prominent man of Quebec, together reached the then Prime Minister of Canada Honourable Pierre Elliot Trudeau, father of our present Prime Minister Honourable Justin Trudeau, through his Quebec Inner Circle of Advisers. I also had my friend Mr. Henry Aubin, a Montreal Gazette editorial writer, to publish articles in his paper to support the cause of the young people of Bangladesh. I am very happy and proud to say that most of the Bangladeshi young people were permitted to stay permanently in Canada. I would like to think that the work of Dr. Langlais, Mr. Pelletier and Henry Aubin played an important role in Mr. Trudeau’s decision to permit them to stay in this country. I am also very proud that these young people have prospered tremendously in Montreal. Many of them are now very successful business people, and their children are excelling in Medicine, Law, Engineering and other fields of education. 

I did not tell anyone about the above work of mine for the young Bangladeshis until I mentioned it in an English article recently. I did the work not for name or fame: I did it only to help my young brothers and sisters from Bangladesh. As I am now almost at the end of my life’s journey, I think that this story should be recorded as part of the history of Bangladeshis of Montreal. I have included a more detailed account of this story at the end of this article.

I have been trying to help organizations and citizens in need of financial help in Canada and Bangladesh. I have described my activities in this regard in an article “Interfaith Community Service in Bangladesh” https://bangladeshicanadian.com/2017/05/09/interfaith-community-service-in-bangladesh-2/). The name of my website is: bangladeshicanadian.com       


My father taught me to be gentle with and respectful of others. I have carefully followed this teaching in my life. I have tried to be gentle not only with human beings but also with the rest of Allah’s creation. I go so far as to walk on earth gently in order not to hurt it. I respect all human beings. I address the  people younger than my grandchildren as apni to show respect to them. I remember that some people had to stop ploughing the land in the field because I wanted to show respect to them by touching their feet. The result was that I was considered a good boy, and everyone in my village loved me. Hindu aunties kept narkeler naru for me and I had the permission to pick for myself guavas, mangoes and other fruits from their trees. I also had the permission to fish in their ponds whenever I wanted. I do not think that anyone else –Hindu or Muslim except their own children –had this kind of permission. 


My father taught me to treat everyone equally. The western part of our village was inhabited by the people of the weaver (Jola) community. The mainstream Muslims of our village considered them low and thus never had any kind of social relationship with them. My father made friends with them, and visited and ate at their  homes. Other Muslims of the village disapproved of his dealings with the weavers and threatened to boycott him from their society. My father did not care. I also visited the jola families, ate with them, fished in their ponds and so on. They loved me very much just the way I loved them.  

To me there is no chhoto boro . I was called the pagla jamai (crazy son-in-law) of Professor Shaheb. My father-in-law was a Professor. I lived at my in-laws’ home for three years after my marriage. During this time I used to go to the market place to shop for fish, vegetables, etc. The young servant of my father-in-law came to the market with me. On our way back home I carried the bags of groceries because I felt that it was too heavy for the young boy to carry them. This act of mine was unacceptable to the neighbours. Hence they called me a pagla jamai. I may mention here that I was called pagol (crazy) for another reason. My in-laws had guava trees and a pond in front of their house. On my return home after my teaching work at the University, I could be found either on the trees picking and eating guavas or fishing in the pond with fishing lines. 

At some point a few of our relatives wanted to shun us because we had our servant and driver eat dinner with us at the same table. 

I have always considered myself insignificant. I was born in a poor chasha family, lived like a small man all my life and wish to die as a small man. I feel very sad when I see the so-called educated and rich people abuse and curse their servants, rickshaw-peddlers, labourers and even chashas,  including me. I would like to remind the reader that chasha is a curse word meaning illiterate and uncivilized. In their eyes then I am an illiterate and uncivilised man. We only produce food that keeps them alive.  So often I hear people saying to the small people, “I shall knock all your teeth off your jaws with a hard slap.” If all of them had actually done what they said they would, many toothless people of Bangladesh would be eating jau bhat or halua instead of solid food. To tell you the truth, I am very comfortable with the small people because I am one of them. Normally we take our cars for servicing in garages where we wait in beautiful air-conditioned lounges while the work on our cars is done. The other day I took my car for servicing in a garage where poor people go. Ten or twelve mechanics were working on cars in a huge warehouse-like place. The young Chinese woman who owns the garage was literally running from one mechanic to another shouting instructions to them. My friend Mr. Haqq who took me there and I sat on very old and cheap folding chairs made of plastic. These chairs were surrounded by heaps of old and broken car parts. I assure you that I enjoyed every minute of my stay at that garage because I felt that I was one like the people working there. 

I have had a good education and live in affluence in a prosperous country, but our life-style never changed. We have no luxuries, no expensive cars, and do not go on exotic vacations. Allah has given us plenty of wealth, and we try to share that with the poor and the needy.  For many years I felt guilty because we live in an affluent country while the teeming millions of my people in Bangladesh live in poverty. I do not feel guilty any more. If I had lived in Bangladesh and continued to work in the University of Dhaka, the highest position I could have reached would be that of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts. The salary of the Dean would not have permitted me to help the poor and the needy. My life in Canada, on the other hand, has given me the means to do exactly that.  

I may also mention here that the chasha in me has always remained alive and well. When I see the picture of a cow with an emaciated body in Bangladesh, I feel very sad. When I see lush green grass growing around parks and on the side of highways in the summer in Canada, I feel like cutting that with a scythe and giving it to the cows in Bangladesh. The picture of a good rice crop fills my heart with great joy. I could keep on looking at that picture for a long time. The blue sky of Bangladesh is beautiful, beautiful also are its rivers, trees and birds; but most beautiful are the faces of my people. May Allah give me an opportunity to go back to my place of birth once to breathe its air, touch its soil, swim in its water, and touch, hug and just be with my people before I leave this world. 


One of the curses of our societies on the Indian subcontinent is abhorrence for some kinds of menial work. I thank Allah that this curse could not touch me. I had no difficulty picking cow dung with bare hands from the floor of our cow shed, collect it in a bamboo-stick basket and carry it to the field over my head. It is needless to say that a great deal of the dung leaked through the holes of the basket and rolled down my head, face and the body. Someone had to do the job. As the first-born son in the family the task of doing this work fell on me. I had no difficulty carrying a heavy basket of eggplants from my village for sale in a bazaar in Barisal town some four miles away. In Canada I regularly clean toilets blocked by my tenants. I must tell you that this work is not easy. Sometimes the toilet bowl is filled with smelly stuff and I have to use the plunger to remove the blockage.  I do not mind doing this work. If I can collect the rent, I have to be sure that the apartment is in good condition. 


I have always worked very hard since my childhood. Some people are extraordinarily intelligent. They can complete their task with minimum work. I am convinced that I am a man of mediocre intelligence. Hence I had to work much harder than the ones with extraordinary intelligence to achieve the same goal. If you have a sharp knife, you can cut a piece of meat without much effort. If your knife is blunt, you will have to hit it very hard to cut the same piece of meat. I am the man with a blunt knife. Alhamdulillah our children are bright. I have absolutely no doubt that they got their brain from their mother. 

I should warn however that to achieve excellence even a man with super intelligence has to work very hard. Our son Hamid once wrote: 

“The importance of work. One needs to work consistently and hard. Day in, day out. The difference between most people who are exceptional and those who are only very good is that the exceptional ones have worked harder, sacrificed more, and continue to sharpen their skills in their area of expertise.” 


I was fortunate to have had many great professors whose teaching has helped a great deal in shaping my philosophy of life. Dr. Ghulam Jilani, a very influential Head of the Department of Philosophy and Psychology, University of Dhaka was one of them. A man of great principles, he was afraid of none. He always did what he thought was right. He taught me the value of discipline in life. He also taught me never to be late, never shirk my responsibility and never give an excuse for something that I failed to do. Immediately after the result of my Master’s Examination was published he employed me as a lecturer (what they call assistant professor now) of the Department. He had so much trust in my ability that he gave a 22-year old young man all the responsibility of running the Department, including admission of students and hiring of teachers. He went so far as to write to the Vice-Chancellor requesting him to accept all Department communications over my signatures. The VC refused to accept his request. So I prepared all letters and documents, and he just signed. I hired two outstanding teachers: My student Abdur Rashid who later became Dr. Abdur Rashid, CSP and Secretary, and Mr. Abdul Hai who became an eminent professor of the University . Dr. Jilani’s instructions to me and the administrative experience of running the Department for four years proved to be a great asset in my later life. 

I was very close to Shahid Dr. G. C. Dev. I literally lived with him. I took dictation of his writing, got it typed, had it corrected by him, took it to the press, did the proof reading, and so on. This is how the first two of his books were written. I learned generosity from Dr. Dev. He was a very large-hearted man. He never turned down anybody’s request for help.  

I should also mention the name of my teacher at McGill University  Dr. Charles Adams. His soft-heartedness and patience must also have influenced my way of dealing with people.


What we usually call knowledge is sense experience interpreted by reason. I sense white colour, length, round shape, smoothness etc. and interpret them as belonging to something called chalk. This is rational knowledge.  I think that there are other kinds of knowledge the sources of which are supra-rational: wahi through which Allah communicates with his messengers, Ilham through which Sufis receive inspiration from Allah, and intuition, a form of supra-rational knowledge which could be a gift from Allah to ordinary human beings. I made many important decisions of my life on the basis of intuition. In 1959 one evening the match-maker  told me about my future wife: “Her father is a saintly man and she is a golden girl.” The next day I had a glance at her ghomta-covered face at the University from a distance. On the basis of this one sentence of the match-maker and a glance at her I decided to marry her. One can say that I was crazy in making this serious decision on the basis of scanty information, but my intuition told me that it was going to be a good marriage. We have been married for 58 years. The match-maker was wrong in her assessment of my wife as a golden girl. Actually I found her to be a diamond girl.

I also bought major apartment buildings in Montreal without even entering them. Those purchases turned out to be great investments.

I am happy to say that our son Hamid has also been gifted with intuition. I shall give one example.  Harvard University sometimes invites outstanding physicians to diagnose extraordinarily difficult cases of disease publicly, in the presence of the medical doctors and students. The purpose of this exercise is to teach Harvard doctors and students how very difficult cases are diagnosed. Sometime ago the University invited Hamid to perform this exercise. Harvard took a long time and the expertise of many doctors to diagnose the disease of a particular patient.

The event started in the morning. Doctors and students filled a large auditorium of Harvard and Hamid examined the patient on the elevated podium. He described what he was doing step by step in the investigation of the case. The doctors and students asked him questions about the various steps that he was taking. As far as I remember this process lasted the whole day.

At the end of the day when all the people were anxious to hear the diagnosis, Hamid gave his verdict that shocked most of the people present in the auditorium. The symptoms that the patient had and the test results that were available did not warrant the kind of diagnosis that Hamid made. But the important thing is that Hamid’s diagnosis was correct. He was then asked how it was possible for him to arrive at the conclusion that he did. He answered, “It was my gut feeling.” To me it was Allah’s gift to him. Reason by itself cannot explain this kind of phenomenon.


I worked as a Professor for more than 40 years. Many times I heard from my students, colleagues, and administrators that I was a good teacher. In Canada sometimes students had to wait until the following semesters to register for my courses  because my courses would be filled up soon after registration begun.  I think that there were a number of factors responsible for my success in teaching.

I do not know how much knowledge I had of the subjects that I taught, but I can say for sure that I made the subject matter easy to understand and presented it students in simple language. I also tried to make my lectures interesting. 

I never gave a lecture without adequate preparation. Even today if I have to give a public lecture on a subject well-known to me, I spend a great deal of time  preparing for it.

I do not know if I ever missed a class or went to a class late. I also required my students to come to classes regularly and on time.

To make learning interesting I showed my students slides and films, and took them to exhibitions, places of worship, and my home and restaurants for dinner. Once I offered a course meant only for Professors. As part of the requirement of completing the course they came to Bangladesh, India and Nepal with me. They spent about a month studying Muslim and Hindu cultures in these countries.

It is not only that I cared for the academic work of my students. Actually I was always concerned about their total well-being. I often visited my students of the University of Dhaka in their Halls. In some cases I visited their homes in Dhaka and the outlying areas of our country. The memory of one such enjoyable visit is still very fresh in my mind. I visited the house of Dr. Aminul Islam in Comilla very close to the Indian border. A retired Dean of Arts of the University of Dhaka, Aminul Islam is a well-known scholar whom we see on Bangladeshi Television from time to time. I visited his house soon after he was admitted to the Honours program in Philosophy around 1960.  

I believe that a teacher who did not receive high marks in his or her student life cannot give high marks to students. Alhamdulillah, I had no difficulty in this respect. All my teaching life I was very generous in marking my students’ work. Many times I was warned that the authorities would find my practice objectionable. In response I always said, “I shall continue to give high marks to my students until the authorities ask me not to.” For the information of the reader, no authority ever asked me to change my method of marking. 


I accidentally started a business of buying, renovating and renting out apartment buildings mostly in the McGill University area of Montreal. A majority of my tenants are students of McGill. My teaching job provided me a great deal of free time which I could devote to my business. Ma sha Allah at one point this business grew into a substantial commitment. The earnings from my business gave me the means to help the organizations and individuals in my adopted country Canada and my country of birth Bangladesh. The following are some of the factors that led to the success in my business.  

All aspects of my business were determined by the motto as shown in my visiting card: taking care of people. I have been renting all my apartments near McGill University to McGill students. One can hear horror stories of how landlords mistreat their student tenants. I felt that I could take good care of at least a few dozen students. I have always tried to make the life of tenants comfortable so that they can enjoy living in their apartments and do their academic work in peace. As a result one can often hear the McGill Housing Department personnel and the students of the University say that Dr. Rabb is the best landlord of the city.

I rent only well-renovated apartments. The principle that I follow is that if I cannot live in an apartment, I cannot rent it to someone else. Sometimes my tenants will go away for long periods. On return to their apartments they are surprised find a great deal of renovation work done. If any work of repairs is needed in an apartment, I get that done instantly. I think that spending money on renovation and repairs is beneficial for both tenants and the landlord. Tenants are very happy to live in apartments that are well taken care of. As they say in business, happy customers are good customers. Work in apartments is good for the landlord because the amount spent is tax deductible and the value of the property goes up.

Tenants, especially international students, sometimes have difficulties paying their rent on time. I have always understood their difficulties and let them pay their rent late. In case of Bangladeshi students I have always rented my apartments at a reduced rate. I would like to say that I sold a number of my buildings to my Bangladeshi friends for a reduced price. I always felt that we have to share our prosperity with others. Ma sha Allah I did well. I also wanted to see that my friends do well. I can say that these friends of mine benefitted greatly from the purchase of the properties from me. I also encouraged and advised many Bangladeshis of Montreal to get into the real estate business. I am happy that some of them are now multi-millionaires owning hundreds of apartments and living in multi-million dollar homes.

At some point I owned a few buildings in a low income people’s area of our city. It was more difficult for me to run these properties than those in the McGill area; yet I kept these properties for many years. I felt that I had a special responsibility to take care of the poor people. At present I have kept only one of those buildings where I take care of a number of low-income tenants.

One very important factor responsible for my success in business is the fact that I have always taken personal care of my tenants.


I planned to devote only a few pages to answer the question about the secrets of success in my life. Yet, by the time I completed the article, it has become a long one. I hope that the reader will forgive me for that. In order to make some ideas and events clear I needed to write more than I thought would be necessary.

I have described a few principles that I followed in my life and some of the good things I did in the past and am doing at present. The purpose of describing all these is definitely not to glorify myself. At this time of my life I live on borrowed time with one foot in the grave. A person in this condition does not need glorification. I never did anything for name of fame any way. I did everything for the sake of Allah and for the benefit of His creation. 

Finally I would like to express my gratitude to Aishah, my wife of 58 years. All these years she has been my solid rock of support and source of inspiration in everything that I did. Her contribution to the success of our children and grandchildren is unique. Many mothers and grandmothers ask her for guidance in raising their own children and grandchildren.       




In 1982-1983 a large number of Bangladeshi young people, mostly men, came to Montreal from Bangladesh and a few European countries. A majority of them lived in the McGill University area of the city. I saw them going through a great deal of suffering. They were in dire need of financial assistance. They were unable to receive assistance from the Canadian welfare system. An organization called SAVI provided them some assistance which was utterly insufficient for their needs. They were terribly lonely because they did not have much contact with their near and dear ones in Bangladesh. There was also no refugee acceptance program of the kind that exists at present.  Hence, they were very uncertain about their future: they did not know if they were going to be able to stay in Canada, or be deported back to the country of their origin. Simply put, their life was miserable. I met many of them on the streets and in their rooms. It was not possible for me to stand by and watch these people suffer the miseries that they did. Hence I decided to do something to help them.                                      

The newcomers themselves launched a movement to draw the attention of the Canadian Government to their plight. They organized many large meetings which I also attended. Mr. Rumu Islam who lives with his family in Montreal was at the vanguard of this movement. They also organized a hunger strike to put pressure on the Government to accept them as refugees in Canada.

While the young people were fighting for their cause, I tried to help them in a different way. I approached a well-known Quebecer, Dr. Father Jacque Langlais, for help. A good friend of mine, he had visited my home town of Barisal in Bangladesh. He loved Bangladesh and Bangladeshis. On being told that I wanted him to help these newcomers from Bangladesh, he said, “These people have come here illegally. Hence we cannot help them.” I argued with him saying, “These are human beings in trouble, and as human beings we have a duty to help them. Let the Government of Canada decide whether they are illegal or not.” He found my argument convincing, and thus agreed to help.

Dr. Langlais convinced another Quebecer, Mr. Pelletier, to join us in our effort to help the Bangladeshis. Mr. Pelletier was also an influential man of Quebec. He worked at the United Nations and had lived in Bangladesh for some time. In fact, one of his children was born in Bangladesh.

The Right Honourable Pierre Elliot Trudeau was the Prime Minister of Canada at that time. We approached him for help through his core group of advisors in Quebec to whom both Dr. Langlais and Pelletier had access. With their help we succeeded in reaching the Prime Minister. While we worked to persuade the politicians for help, I requested my friend Mr. Henry Aubin, who was an editorial writer of the Montreal Gazette at that time, to work with us. He wrote in the newspaper more than once describing the plight of the young Bangladeshis and urging the Canadian Government to accept them as permanent residents of this country. His argument was the same as the one that we used with the advisors of Prime Minister Trudeau: these were young, able, educated, courageous and ambitious people, and that therefore they would become good citizens of Canada. 

I would like to think that our efforts were fruitful. It is not only that most of the few hundred Bangladeshis who originally landed in Montreal were accepted as conventional refugees, but also that many thousands who came later also found shelter in this country under the same program. We Bangladeshis in Canada may now number more than 75,000 people a majority of whom live in Ontario. Many of those living outside Quebec came to Canada though Quebec. For some reason or reasons not known to me, it was easier for them to be accepted as refugees in Quebec than elsewhere in Canada.

The Bangladeshis living in Canada today have prospered tremendously in many different spheres of Canadian life. Because of our British background it has been easy for our people to adapt themselves to the Canadian society.  The second and third generation Bangladeshis are now making their mark in all different fields of endeavour—Medicine, Law, Engineering and the like. All this has been possible because of the decision of Mr. Pierre Elliot Trudeau to accept the refugees from Bangladesh.