Mother Teresa inspires Muslim man's charitable giving

By 
  • December 11, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Every night after 2 a.m., Abbas Jahangiri visits Toronto’s “poorest of the poor,” delivering sandwiches, fruit, water and tea out of his Hummer, all packed by volunteers from Serving Charity .

Jahangiri’s non-profit charity is a labour of love, inspired by the live music venue owner’s devotion to Mother Teresa. He created it six years ago after making a personal vow of charity.

“In 1987 when I saw (Mother Teresa’s) photo in Life magazine it tore my life apart,” he said. “I couldn’t believe a nun would actually go that far. (Apart from) Jesus, I think she’s the only one who truly understood the meaning of charity between all the religions.”

But the decision to serve “grew” on him little by little after her death.

“You decide, but then you have to go down that path and work on it every day. That’s the tough part,” he said.

Abbas, a Muslim, grew up in India before moving to Toronto nearly two decades ago where he has run several companies and properties. One day, looking at a big paycheque, he asked himself how he could put his efforts to better use.

The most beautiful and logical thing he realized was to help others and to bring charity to the forefront, including members of all faiths.

Everyone should learn to accept each other’s faith differences and focus instead on charity as their main goal, he said.

“I believe this is what God really wants us to do, He wants us to serve,” Jahangiri said.

But in serving, people must not forget prayer, he added.

“If you serve without prayers, it’s like you’re a social worker,” he said. “It doesn’t have that touch.”

With the help of profits from his El Mocambo night club, Jahangiri has expanded Serving Charity internationally, with hubs in six other countries, including Iran and Vietnam.

“I am very proud of these two locations, because Iran is an Islamic republic, so fundamentalist, and Vietnam, they take all the (Missionary of Charity Sisters) and send them back to Calcutta. It is so beautiful that (in places that are) either so extreme for God or absolutely no God, we are there.”

In Toronto, he continues to draw about 200 volunteers from a variety of faith backgrounds, including some committed Catholics. Where possible, he works with Mother Teresa’s Missionary Sisters of Charity, including in Calcutta.

Jahangiri is known to serve at the soup kitchen run by Toronto Sisters and sometimes attends Mass and adoration with them. That’s where he met volunteer Julie Abernethy and invited her to help out at the El Mocambo

“When I go to deliver sandwiches with Abbas, I see how he loves the people he serves,” Abernethy said. “Abbas shows the homeless in Toronto that someone does love them and does care for them and they know that his love is genuine.

“Though it’s true that the homeless in Toronto may not be starving like the homeless in other countries, they have a greater poverty in one sense — it was Mother Teresa who pointed out that the poverty in North America is one of being unloved and unwanted.”

Abernethy said Abbas’s “incredible and beautiful faith in God” has reminded her of God’s presence among the poor, although she wouldn’t have expected to find it at a music venue — a place she would never imagine God and charity to be.

Although very ecumenical, Serving Charity only reinforces her Catholic sensitivities, she said.

“Loving God and serving the poor and our neighbour are essential elements in Catholic social justice and these are also the essence of Serving Charity.”

Jahangiri recently expanded his charity into a branch called Children4Charity. Children come to help make sandwiches, including children with special needs.

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