Dr. M. Amir Ali, In Memoriam

by M. Amir Ali, Mary Ali, Dawood Ali and Mohammed Ahmed

Mir Amir Ali was born on August 6, 1937 in Hyderabad Deccan, capital of the Kingdom of Hyderabad in South India. A reform-minded Muslim king, Mir Usman Ali Khan, ruled Hyderabad at this time. Amir’s father, Mir Muhammad Ali, was a high school graduate and was employed by the government as an Urdu typist. His mother, Noorunnisa, had elementary level home schooling and was married at the age of 13 to Muhammad, who at that time was 21 years of age. Amir's father became a victim of a cholera epidemic and expired at age 32 on August 5, 1948.

About five weeks after his death, India invaded and occupied the State of Hyderabad and immediately thereafter, discrimination against Muslims became rampant and widespread mistreatment surfaced. Despite tough family conditions, Amir pursued his education and graduated high school in 1952. He matriculated at a local college with a science major. After enduring religious discrimination and prejudice, he left for Pakistan. He left behind four siblings and his mother, trusting Allah to take care of them.

In Karachi he lived as a refugee in a hut with his maternal uncle, seeking employment. Within four months he was employed at Jinnah Central Hospital in the Pathology Laboratory as a laboratory technician on January 12, 1953. In August 1954, he joined evening classes at Urdu College Karachi pursuing the Bachelor of Commerce degree. He successfully completed his B.Com. degree in 1958 from the University of Karachi.

In the summer of 1957 he went back to Hyderabad and facilitated the relocation of his mother and siblings to Karachi. In 1958 he earned a scholarship to study Medical Technology at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon where he succeeded at the top of the School of Public Health. He applied for a U.S. scholarship to get a M.S. in biostatistics. He received the scholarship but could not utilize it due the corruption in the Pakistani government. A Deputy Secretary asked for a bribe of his wristwatch and threatened that if he did not receive the watch he would rescind the scholarship. Amir refused to partake in bribery, and hence, did not go to the U.S.A.

In 1960, Amir was selected to get the higher position of Medical Technologist at the Basic Medical Sciences Institute (BMSI). A year later he met an American Professor of Medicine who was doing research on cholesterol and heart disease and was touring many countries collecting blood samples to find the relationships among diet, culture and heart disease. Amir helped Dr. William E. Connor in Karachi. At his request, Dr. Connor assisted in his enrollment in the University of Iowa with a part-time job in the cholesterol research laboratory.

In the research laboratory, Amir began introducing Islam and Pakistan to his colleagues but found little interest from people. After more than three years, a colleague, Mary Gosch, began to take interest and asked for books on Islam. Unfortunately, there was scarcity of books on Islam in the English language; however, he was able to find small booklets and gave them to her. Her interest in Islam developed into mutual personal interest and they were married on August 25, 1967 at the Islamic Center of Washington DC. Amir received his M.S. in biochemistry in 1967 a few days before his wedding. 

In 1967, Amir was admitted to the University of Illinois at Chicago where he began his doctorate studies and received his Ph.D. in bio-organic chemistry in 1972. His wife, Mary, received her M.S. in radiation biology in July 1968 from University of Iowa, shortly before the birth of their first child at Iowa City.

After obtaining his doctorate degree, Amir worked at a number of hospitals, eventually becoming the Director of the clinical laboratories at Edgewater Hospital in Chicago. After a number of years as the Director, and wanting to control his own economic future, he quit his position and investigated a number of options of personal business ownership.  His longest venture was a moped sales and rental store in Evanston, Illinois, which he operated for three years.

During these years he actively pursued his own education in Islam.  He studied several exegeses of the Quran and the Hadith collections of Imams Bukhari and Muslim.  He read dozens of contemporary books on Islam to broaden his understanding of what contemporary scholars were promulgating.  He taught what he learned to his family every day, which by 1980 had grown to include 4 children.

In 1979 the revolution in Iran took place, and Amir realized that the people of North America did not really know what Islam was or what Muslims believed. He felt that the press surrounding the hostage situation in Iran would without active intervention degenerate into widespread misconceptions about Islam.  Amir and a few local Muslims founded the National Da’wah Committee, but most of its members dispersed to other locations and the organization floundered.

In 1980 he was offered a unique opportunity.  A family friend, Ahmed Zaki Hammad, approached him with an offer from an associate in Saudi Arabia to manage a hospital supply business there.  Amir accepted, hoping that by living in Saudi Arabia in close proximity to the centers of Islamic worship, he and his family would greatly accelerate their knowledge of Islam and the Arabic language. After one year of being there and preparing for his family, Amir moved his family to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

While in Saudi Arabia, Amir was able to avail himself of many opportunities for his family as planned.  His children attended an English medium school where they learned Arabic and Islam. His wife taught at the Girls section of the same school. He and his family were able to perform the Hajj twice and performed the Umrah many times.  Visitation of Makkah and Madinah were frequent and were highlights of the entire experience. He and his family made two long trips, once to Egypt to visit the many historical sites and also to investigate the possibility of sending his oldest son to Al-Azhar University, and the second was a world tour, which included a visit to his extended family in Pakistan and India and also to experience worldwide culture.

In 1986 Amir moved back to Chicago. By this time, he had learned a tremendous amount about Islam and felt that he had spent enough time earning a living for himself and dedicated the rest of his life to the service of Allah. He chose to live with a poverty level income and founded the Institute of Islamic Information and Education with the mission of educating the people of North America about Islam. At the time, the III&E was the only organization in North America that dedicated 100% of its time and resources on the education of non-Muslims and new Muslims about Islam.  Amir was its Managing Director and spent nearly every waking moment in pursuit of its mission.

The successes of the III&E are many.  In 1988 it opened the Islamic Reading Room in Chicago, which was a place for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to go to and read about Islam, view videotapes, ask questions, and to meet others.  To date, the III&E has distributed over 7 million brochures about various aspects of Islam; has donated hundreds of books to libraries; witnessed the conversion of thousands of people to Islam; educated millions of people either in person or though its literature. A weekly television program about Islam was developed and aired for 3 months in 1993. Several national da’wah conferences were held to discuss the current state of da’wah in North America. In 1996, Amir and his wife went to Nigeria to attend a da’wah training course that was developed there. He brought the knowledge gained from this course back to Chicago, developed it further, and introduced the Da’wah Intensive Course, a 90 hour training course for Muslims to give them a thorough grounding in Islamic knowledge through Quran and Hadith, how to conduct da’wah, how to answer commonly asked questions about Islam, information on the basic concepts in Christianity and Judaism; all to train others to continue da’wah work wherever they may be.  In 1997, the III&E moved its automatic phone-based information service to the Internet with its website at iiie.net.  Amir started the Muslim International email newsletter, whose subscribers number in the thousands, to circulate articles he wrote and the articles of others. He opened a personal website, ilaam.net, in 2002 to publish his own political commentary and the commentary of others that he endorsed.

In 2002 he retired from his position as Managing Director of the III&E, taking the role of Advisor. His oldest son took his place as the Managing Director, but Amir continued to actively pursue da’wah activities. To him this was only a change of title, but the work remained, and he felt compelled to continue to work to the extent of his ability.

Amir was very outspoken in his views of what was right. He always based his views on what he learned from the Quran and Hadith and corrected others when he observed them engaged in non-Islamic cultural practices. While some did not agree with his views, all respected him for his vast knowledge of the Quran and Hadith.  When he was corrected by others who had more knowledge of the Quran or Hadith than he did, he humbly accepted the correction and adopted it himself. He sought out such people to learn from them.

Amir Ali lived a simple life.  He never owned a home, despite many opportunities for doing so.  He drove used cars, wore clothes until they were threadbare, and had little money to spare. He invested whatever money he had in books, always seeking to increase his knowledge. His personal library numbers hundreds of volumes. The last thing he was observed doing before he died was reading.

He had numerous health problems for much of his life. He was diabetic, had difficulty sleeping, had heart problems, high blood pressure, and other problems. Fatigue and pain were daily companions. Yet, he still went to the Reading Room to meet people, to teach people, and to respond to letters. He always felt that Allah’s work was never finished, so he continued to work.

On November 14 he went for a heart scan and it was determined that he needed open-heart bypass surgery, which was successfully performed on the 16th. At 1 am on the morning of the 19th he was observed by the nurses to be sitting in his bed and reading. At 4 am, while he was sleeping, his heart slowed down and stopped. The doctors were unable to resuscitate him. He was buried in Chicago on the 20th, which was attended by one of the largest funeral gatherings ever held by Muslims in Chicago.

Inna-Lillahi wa Inna Ilaihi Raje’oun (we are all from Allah and we all return to Him)

His most earnest wish was that the work of the III&E continue after his death.  Contributions to the III&E can be made online at www.iiie.net/donate.

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