Community Profile -
We are from God and to Him we will return. Ishrat Hassan passed away on 2nd May 2020. We published this profile of her in Issue Two of Khidr Zine in January 2018.
Ishrat Hassan’s extraordinary life has seen her travel and teach in three continents. From the Punjab to Uganda, to Tooting in South London, her life’s work is an unwavering commitment to education despite the difficulties that characterise life as an immigrant mum. Today, she finds herself in High Barnet, talking warmly to the carers who keep an eye on her.
Ishrat’s life began on the 1st of June 1926 in Jalander, Punjab. From a very young age, she had an enthusiasm for books and was told by her aunty that no potential husband would want someone so educated. Ishrat continued undeterred and bought books with the money she’d saved, spending evenings studying secretly. She went on to study and master Farsi and Arabic, and also qualified as a Qur’an teacher.
At 20, Ishrat travelled to Kampala, Uganda as a newlywed. She quickly noticed a lack of educational provision for girls. Indignant and determined, she and three friends went to the land office and demanded they make a girls’ school for free. The land officer was kind enough to give them the land, acknowledging that the lack of education for girls was shameful. Ishrat’s next task was to fundraise by any means; “we asked like faqirs, took [things like] cookers and sold them at charity functions.”
They were ultimately successful and the Naki Vubo Girls’ school still stands to this very day. Ishrat dedicated two years of her life as a teacher at Naki Vubo. She says, “this was the biggest achievement in life, to do something for my deen”. She even recalls when luminaries like Fatima Jinnah and the Aga Khan visited the school to congratulate her and the fellow founders for their achievements.
Ishrat remembers her husband fondly. He was a senior assistant of the police commissioner in Kampala. She describes him as a good man who was happy she was teaching and following her passion: “without his help, I wouldn’t [have been] able to do it.”
Ishrat’s husband was sadly killed by the very authorities he served when he discovered something awry in the plans of the then dictator, Idi Amin Dada, who infamously expelled Uganda’s South Asian minority. For Ishrat, this was a tumultuous time. Her life and the lives of her children were in grave danger. “They were looking to kill me too but my community in Kampala warned me to flee and go to Nukuru in Kenya.” Her Sikh neighbours drove her across the border late into the night.
A few years later, Ishrat found herself in England to seek a better life for her and her children but it was in no way easy. This was the third and final migration she undertook. This time she was a single widowed mother in a foreign land in the era of Enoch Powell and the National Front. She moved to Tooting in South London and sought work. Despite all her illustrious qualifications, ranging from a linguistic mastery of Farsi, Arabic, English, Urdu, Gujrati and Swahili, she found herself in Freeman’s Mail Order in Stockwell working in a post office. She spent twenty-two years working there, putting orders together and supporting her children. After years of struggle, she found herself in a familiar place, teaching Qur’an and Hadith on weekends in the mosque for Muslim girls.