Memories of a Chicago Imam's mother |

Memories of a Chicago Imam's mother

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She would gather women of the village and lead them in Friday prayers with her sermon. Revolutionary. Yes. And she did that about a century ago in India. Here actions were revolutionary for that Indian village, but not in Islamic history. A woman Imam was leading other women at the time of the Prophet in her own compound with the Prophet’s approval. I also remember my own mother leading other women in prayers as well.

She would also not let Ramadan become just an extra-cooking month. She would gather village women to pray Taraweeh in the month of Ramadan. And as a leader, she would lead them in prayers. She was not a hafiz. But she knew enough Quran to recite for 20 extra rakat.

She was also a reformer. She did not like associating anyone with God. When she refused to prostrate (sajdah) to the grave of a family elder as women in that village used to do, she was called a “wahhabi.” But this hanafi woman did not budge.

She was able to study only up to 6th grade but her enthusiasm for education was such that she taught her own husband how to read and write. She even used to teach grandmothers in her village. She personally read the Quran cover to cover five times in the memory of her husband when he passed away.

She loved her son but loved education so much that she let her son attend a school far away. But she would make sure to meet her son halfway every day to greet him with a glass of water. She also taught her son the Quran. It was her dedication to education that helped her son to not only to become an engineer from Aligarh Muslim University but come to the U.S. for higher education. This may not look like a big deal today, but education in India one hundred years ago was not a common idea. Half of India is still illiterate. It was quite a  progressive agenda for that time for this mother in a village in India. The cycle of education started by this mother has resulted in all of her grandchildren and great grand-children being educated in the best educational institutions possible.

Her name was Sultan Bagum and this is probably the only article ever written about her. She was an amazing leader of a village called Sareenpure in the district Hoshiarpur, India. Hardly any Muslim survived in that district as neighbors attacked neighbors when Pakistan and India achieved their independence in 1947.

She died a long time ago before that on March 10th, 1938. Her son, Abdul Hameed Dogar told me stories of his mother when I last visited his Masjid. He is probably the oldest director/imam in the Chicago area. He is is 84 years old and the founder and leader of Islamic Foundation, Villa Park, IL., one of the largest Masjids in the Chicagoland area which operates the largest Muslim full-time school in the United States. The reward of children’s good deeds continue to be counted in favor of their parents as the Prophet said. God’s peace and blessings be upon the Prophet.

I don’t know what mood Br. Abdul Hameed Dogar was in when he started telling me about his mother. But I am glad he did. I have written about my mother and I think we all need to share the simple, beautiful dedication our mothers have for their children future.

Please do consider writing about your mother. I am fascinated by the power of Muslim mothers to the level that my daughter once told me “too bad, dad, that you are not a woman.”

Photo Attribution:  Daniel Schwen  -


Thank you for sharing her story. Unsung heroes are all around us. Our children grow up thinking that heroes wear capes and have superpowers, or play ball, or sing, when in reality the true heroes live quiet lives of courage.



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