Al-Hafiz B.A. Masri
July 27, 2022
Al-Hafiz Basheer Ahmed Masri was, by all accounts, a bold, pioneering, and revolutionary Muslim personality. It would not be a stretch to say that Masri’s fascinating life spanned the history of Islam in the 20th Century and in fact played an influential role in impacting its presentation and understanding; his influence, rather than diminishing, has now been extended into the 21st century in a crucially important area—environment, ecology, and animal welfare, in relation to Islam.
Masri’s father, Abdul-Rehman Misri, had converted to Islam from Hinduism at the age of 18, and became a scholar in Islam. He trained the young Basheer to memorize the Quran, which he did by the age of 13, earning him the honorific title “Al-Hafiz.” Subsequently, Masri gained a bachelor’s degree from Government College, Lahore, specializing in Arabic. He emigrated to Africa in the mid- 20th Century where he assumed posts (Principal) at the Aga Khan Schools in the then Tanganyika. In Africa, he befriended and advised future leaders of East Africa, including Julius Nyerere (later to become President of Tanzania), Tom Mboya (who became a Minister in the Kenyan Government) and most significantly, Milton Obote (later to become the first President of Uganda). Masri, in fact, played a role in assisting the independence movements to oppose British colonialism, no doubt a transference of his anti-colonialist stance acquired in India’s independence movement before partition.
Leaving politics due to dissatisfaction with Obote, who he felt was too self-serving, rather than working for the advancement of people (native Africans), as originally intended, Masri’s migration to the United Kingdom in the early 1960s led him to become the first Sunni Imam of Shah Jehan mosque in Woking, and Editor of the Islamic Review. He also studied journalism in England, obtaining a diploma in the field. Shah Jehan Mosque was the then central Islamic institution in Europe. As Imam at this major institution, he had the opportunity of meeting many Islamic dignitaries and impactful individuals. For example, he met Malcolm X, who attended one of his lectures at the London School of Economics. In 1968, Masri toured Europe, North Africa, Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent by car/caravan with his wife (Salima), leaving England for two years. He spent a solid year studying at Al-Azhar University in Egypt, furthering his knowledge of Islam and Arabic.
After his retirement from Shah Jehan Mosque in 1968, Masri was approached by Compassion in World Farming in the mid-1980s, to write about Islam and Animal Welfare, which he had gained knowledge of, over the years in Africa, which at the time was teeming with wildlife (having participated in an Animal Welfare organization) and through his acute and practical mind, he was the first Muslim to write/present on Animal Experimentation and Islam for the International Association Against Painful Experiments on Animals (IAAPEA), on the world stage. This led to the books, Islamic Concern for Animals (in both English and Arabic), Animal in Islam and the keynote Chapter in the introductory Ecology Series on World Religions and Ecology, published by Cassels (just before his death in 1992) edited by Fazlun Khalid and the moving video “Creatures of God.” His closest grandson, Nadeem Haque, (son of Masri’s daughter Tahera) continued research in Islam, Animals and the Environment/Ecology and was the main driving force behind the publication of the book: Ecolibrium: Sacred Balance in Islam (Authors: Nadeem Haque, Al-Hafiz B.A. Masri, Mehran Banaei, with a Foreword by Michael W. Fox, Beacon Books, Manchester, 2021). Nadeem’s scholarly interests and activities finally culminated in the long-awaited re-publication of the original version of Animals in Islam in 2022, with an extra chapter on reflections by experts in the field, who were influenced to various degrees, by Masri.