Engineer, counsellor, spiritual leader…Bro. Mohamed Haniff is a ‘Special Person’
“Sometimes I set too high standards for myself and it takes a lot of sacrifices to maintain such high standards.”
By Leon Suseran
Engineer, counsellor, husband, father, spiritual leader, role model, marriage officer, mediator and respected New Amsterdamer , Mohamed Haniff is our ‘Special Person’ this week. He is nationally- known, especially in the religious circle, being a prominent member of the Islamic community. However, his contributions and ‘special-ness’ have transcended religious boundaries and Brother Moses as he is popularly called, has become integrally involved in almost every sphere of community life in the Berbice area, particularly in his hometown and place of birth, New Amsterdam.
His life is quite an interesting one, having spent a number of years in the field of engineering, his former passion, until he gave it all up to become the Imam of the New Amsterdam Central Jama Masjid, taking over from his deceased father. This year marks 25 years since he is serving in this capacity. And he has earned a wealth of experience and trust from many, many persons, of all religious persuasions, especially among his own Muslim brothers and sisters.
Born to Imam Mohamed Haniff and housewife, Bibi Afroze Haniff, he attended Vryman’s Erven Primary School from 1962-1969 and subsequently the Berbice Educational Institute from 1969-1974, where he wrote the GCE ‘O’ Level Examinations, gaining passes in seven subjects.
Bro Haniff related that his childhood days were confined to being mostly involved in religious work and supervision under his parents, much of which moulded him to become what he has become today.
“My life as a youngster was very reserved. My father was the Imam for the N/A Masjid up to the time of his death, so we came up under very strict Islamic manners and we were not allowed too much freedom.”
Being confined to being closely around the home-circle and Masjid as well as school, he related, “I never had too much exposure to go on adventures and expeditions. Sometimes I did feel bad about it, knowing I had a lot of friends, going swimming, going out, but we all would go out and have fun, but under the supervision of elder brothers, and my father loved catching fish and we would go and have our own little fun with guardians and parents”.
After high school, he taught for a year at the privately- owned National High School and thereafter, in 1976, he became employed with the Ministry of Public Works as an engineering technician for a number of years. He began to attend the University of Guyana on a part- time basis studying for his Diploma in Civil Engineering. He worked in an engineering lab, doing soil- testing, material- testing “and going out on field trips doing soil investigation, material investigation, etc “leading up to construction work”. He continued along those lines from 1976- 1984 after which he became employed with Guyana Mining Enterprises (GuyMine) in its engineering arm called ‘GuyConstruct’ where he worked for four years as an Assistant Engineer.
During his initial days in engineering, Bro. Moses served under several notable projects that were performed in the Berbice area, including the construction of the Canje River Bridge; worked as a Site Supervisor during the construction of the East Bank Berbice Road as well as the same position and an Office Engineer during the construction of the Black Bush Polder Road, in addition to the Barge ‘Slipaway’ in BerMine and “a number of other projects throughout the country, including the Four-Lane Highway on the East Coast of Demerara, and I have developed immense experience in road- construction and in lab testing”.
He was known to be a very competent lab technician “because I went through a variety of in- house training by USAID in Guyana and over the years, I have developed skills in lab testing”.
Supervising major projects
“The Canje River Bridge was a very special project, because it was engineering design and quality control at its very highest”. The contractor was the American- based Raymond Corporation, and I was seconded by the Ministry to work with Consultant Frederick Harris International, where I was in charge for supervision of all aspects of the job. It was exposure to real high standards of engineering.”
Spending three years overseeing the works on the popular East Bank Berbice Road, handed over to the government in 1983, was also a joy.
“That also was a very difficult task, because many portions of the road passed through virgin land, so it was a lot of clearing— a massive project— it entailed the construction of eight- double barrel sluices, because in East Bank Berbice there was always a problem with drainage together with 21 miles of facade canals and 19 miles of all- weather road. Additionally, there were about ten heavy- duty timber bridges along the facade canal. The project lasted for 3 years,” he recalled.
GuyConstruct, he said, built the road to last 10 years, the same of which is in a deplorable state up to today, causing much tension and unrest among residents and hire car operators. The road was built to very high standards, he vividly remembers, “so the road has lasted its life….my view is that maintenance of the road has been a total neglect, if the administration had maintained it properly, they might have gotten another 10-15 years…whoever was in charge from then to now”.
“It was a road that was built with high quality asphaltic surface, a nice driving, smooth road…and it was a quality project.” Speaking about his years working in Black Bush on the road, he noted that the contractor again was GuyConstruct.
“A good section of Mibicuri has been redone (today) but, again, my personal belief is that the type of designs of roads they are building in agricultural areas, is completely irrelevant to such types of communities, especially with heavy equipment traversing those roads.
“In Guyana with the type of wet and dry patterns we are having, the best type of road foundation we can build is the stone foundation or crusher- run, a graded stone— the best”, he stated. Without being too critical, he related that, “we don’t have any engineering standards in particular; no properly quality control measures and that has been costing the administration quite a lot. We are not having proper standards, especially in the engineering field and road- construction. ”
EMBRACING THE RELIGIOUS LIFE
Upon his resignation from GuyMine as an Assistant Engineer, Bro. Moses made a tough decision, to take over from his deceased father. After being urged by members of his religious community to take over the leadership of the N/A Masjid, he respectfully obliged in 1988.
“I came up in an Islamic environment..was trained by my father at a very early age and he died as a serving Imam of the Masjid, and there was a huge call from everyone that I should be replacing him, and after careful consideration and serious thought I took up the position – somewhat reluctantly – because I truly had a great liking for engineering…It’s one of the most challenging fields, but I decided to make the bold decision— 25 years ago— with some amount of reluctance.”
Looking back today though, he believes that he made the best decision of his life, “being a Muslim before we make decisions, we turn to the Creator for guidance and this has been the best part of my life; and I have been getting all the satisfaction from this, enjoyed the best of relations with everybody— Muslims and Non- Muslims in the community and I think I am well- known throughout Berbice and in Islamic circles, throughout the country, because I have served in many capacities in many organizations.”
Bro Moses has been hosting Islamic programme ‘Islam- the Natural Way’ for over 20 years on television in Berbice on Sunday nights.
He has had many ‘high points’ during his 25 years as a religious and upstanding leader in the New Amsterdam community. Apart from the regular Islamic Masjid work he has cut out for him on a daily basis, Bro. Moses is a family counselor – an area in which he has excelled. He has dealt in a wide array of matters of dispute such as those pertaining to the family, husband and wife problems, parent- child problems, children and children, matters of inheritance and wills and disputes, accidents, problems with neighbours, land disputes and land and property matters, domestic violence, disputes in a number of Masjids in Berbice in which matters went to the court and for which he was appointed by judges as a mediator.
“I was able to bring some amount of settlement to many contentious issues,” he recounted. He also revealed that he deals with an average of 120-130 cases per year; “settlements, sometimes cannot be achieved in one session, so we spend a lot of time and we have a very high degree of success in mediating in these matters… involving not only Muslims. I have dealt with many matters with Non- Muslims also.”
This is purely a voluntary service, so the time and effort put into these matters by our ‘Special Person’ must be highly lauded. He is also a Justice of the Peace (JP) Commissioner of Oaths to Affidavits, and a Licenced Marriage Officer. He has performed over 1,200 legal marriages to date as well as 1,500 Islamic Marriages or ‘Nikka’ and “we do a lot of Notarial Services at the Masjid, signing of passports, preparing testimonials— free of charge”
He is a trained court- related Mediator, having completed training under the USAID project.
How does he find time for all this work?
“It’s extremely difficult and finding the time— I make sacrifices and the family at home understands that, because I am away from the home most of the time and am here at the office, and based on our prayer schedules, you don’t reach home until after 8 o’clock (at night)….but then being here at the mosque and to do that type of work, that’s a standard I have set myself— sometimes I set too high standards for myself and it takes a lot of sacrifices to maintain such high standards”.
He has enjoyed every moment of the time; “I meet new people every day; I have discussions with people of other religious faiths daily. We discuss commonalities, so it’s very challenging and interesting being in such an atmosphere where you come into contact with different people”.
Bro. Moses also officiates in the five-time a-day prayers at the Masjid, regular Friday congregational prayers, classes, local religious sessions, etc. “We are opened to a wide array of services to the public”.
He has served on numerous committees in the past in the Berbice area – committees from which he has resigned to focus more on his voluntary and religious work in the community. These include the Regional Education Committee, Regional AIDS Committee; Regional Committee on Ethnic Relations, Committee on Municipal Development, Chairman of the Visiting Committee of the N/A Prisons, a constitutional position “but because of other pressing duties, I have given them up”. He is currently one of the Directors of the Berbice Islamic School. He also does numerous Islamic lectures at schools and other public places.
Bro. Moses has been married for over 30 years to Bibi Haseena and has three children: Naseema, Waheeda, and Naseef.
Looking back and final thoughts
“I am 100 per cent extremely satisfied with my present situation. Spending 25 years at the mosque, I have realised a lot of things, especially that the reluctance I initially had to leave engineering was meaningless. Coming to the mosque here— I have been blessed to mould an entire community of Muslims; I have been the longest- serving Imam at the mosque, and my father has served 20 years, so we can say that for the last 45 years, the leadership of the mosque has remained under the leadership of the Haniff family, something that we are proud of.”
He reflects: “One of the hallmarks of a person’s life ought to be his character and integrity. Everyone should strive to enhance these, because this is what counts, what makes you a man, what makes you the real human being and living in the world today— in Guyana— we can see, from top to bottom, there is a vacuum when we talk about standards of life, about character, about conduct, integrity. I personally believe that this is absent to a great degree.
“It is not only scholastic and academic achievements that count, a man can reach the highest levels of academic learning, but what’s the purpose of reaching such high standards, but your moral values and behaviour are not acceptable.”