Munawer was born in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, on 6 June 1950. He is the son of late Habib and Khairun Nasser Rattansey.
He was brought up in the vicinity of the mosque which instilled in him the value of volunteering and an appreciation of the workings of the Khoja community. The mosque played a central role in his early years where he was actively involved in the Boys Scouts as well as conscripted into 6 months of compulsory army training. This he tells me helped him learn to work in groups effectively and to organise events.
His father's main business was in textiles situated opposite the mosque where they were well known for a variety of imported textiles from England and Japan. The business also incorporated a large design and tailoring section.
His mother was born in Tanga and was the daughter of Kermali Mohammed Tharoo. The Tharoo family were involved in a variety of businesses and were instrumental in managing and running of the day to day activities of the mosque. Munawer spent most of his school holidays in Tanga under the guidance of his grandfather who was known for his piety and business acumen.
Munawer studied his primary education at Upanga Primary School and continued the secondary education at the Azania Secondary school.
In 1969 he travelled with his parents to England for further education and assisted his parents to survey the business prospects in the UK with the view to possibly settling there.
Having finished his A levels, he returned to Dar Es Salaam in the early 70's to join the family business. The business by this time had grown tremendously and had moved on to wholesale supplying all over Tanzania.
Although Munawer was in a flourishing family business he wanted to be challenged further. This then led him in 1974 to leave behind a golden opportunity to take over the family business and instead he chose to move to Canada. -
In Canada, Munawer commenced his preliminary accounting courses and also worked as junior clerk in a travel agency in order to make ends meet. As he progressed in the courses he started taking on more challenging roles in cost accounting with multi national companies and in hospitals where he held managerial positions.
He got married in 1978 in England to Zeenat who is the daughter of late Hassan Kassamali Popat Panjvani of Dar Es Salaam and Nazma Gulamali Jetha of Mwanza.
In Canada, he continued with his accounting career and started investing in and developing residential properties.
During this period, the community in Toronto had outgrown its rented premises and were involved in negotiations with Mohammedi trust to takeover premises that was purpose-built for the Shia's. This then exposed him to witnessing the process by which the community negotiated the taking over of the centre. One of the key talking points at the time was how to go about maintaining our Khoja identity in the running of the mosque. He tells me that this is still a key question for each of our Jamaats to ask itself, and we must address the issue of what we need to do to keep our important religious and cultural identity into the future.
Both Munawer and Zeenat were missing their families and coupled with the ill health of the parents they decided to move back to England. This again meant leaving behind successful careers for both of them and leaving the friends that they had made in Canada.
He joined the family business in England and was involved both in the retail and manufacturing of woollen textiles.
Munawer's father was involved in the real estate business and was instrumental in the acquisition of our community centre in Hammersmith.
After his father passed away in 1986, Munawer left the family business and moved to South London where he began developing a career in acquiring and developing of residential properties.
Their son Mohammed was born in 1987 and is now in his final year of Optometry.
Munawer's first foray into understanding in the running of Hyderi Islamic Centre was when Hyderi was trying to secede from Hujjat Imambargah. This involved attending countless meetings and listening to the discussions for both for and against Hyderi's independence.
Later, when his close friend the then Hussein Walji, Hyderi's president, suffered a heart attack in the early nineties , Munawer assumed the mantle of Secretary General at Hyderi. A vital position, in the midst of the ongoing struggle he was trusted with making many of the key decisions in not only the day-to-day running of the Jamaat but also in the planning of the future of Hyderi.
Drawing from his experiences in this role, he later became a committee member. He began attending World Federation and CoEJ meetings, bringing him together with members from other regions and Jamaats where he could learn from their experiences and achievements. This also allowed Hyderi to emulate good practices of other centres. Munawer was also part of the constitutional review team that was set up when it formally succeeded in seceding from Hujjat Jamaat. Several meetings were arranged and with the help of a friendly solicitor a new constitution was formalised and approved by the membership of Hyderi.
Munawer's natural progression continued when he was appointed Vice President of Hyderi, a role in which he really excelled. He worked closely with the President to introduce various projects like raising capital for acquiring residential properties within the vicinity of Hyderi, introducing English lecturers for Muharram and mahe Ramadhan. He Invited youths from various centres to programmes and seminars with the idea of reconnecting the centre with the youth of our community.
Immediately after the incident of 9/11,he was involved in arranging a programme where neighbours and other faith leaders were invited to visit the Hyderi Islamic Centre and bring about an understanding about Islam and our abhorrence to violence of any kind.
This led European leaders to approach him, in 2005, to become CoEJ's Vice President (with a view to later becoming President).
However, due to the reluctance of the then President of CoEj in continuing the tenure of presidency, Munawer took the golden opportunity to lead the organisation. This was his chance to put into practice his previous experience and take this august body to newer heights.
Munawer relished this fantastic opportunity and set about trying to unite the Jamaats in Europe. He tells me that prior to 2006, CoEJ was not even a member of The World Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Communities, but during Munawer's administration the management of CoEJ, worked tirelessly to attain the membership of The World Federation of KSIMC. He succeeded in transforming its status into a more powerful regional body, renowned for using young professionals of our community. This enormous success is something he hopes to further at the global level.
One of the key issues that drives Munawer is involvement of the youth of our community. At CoEJ Munawer has enforced a pro-youth and pro-women policy by appointing several youth as Board Chairmen and Chairladies and he has also worked hard to increase female involvement. This he feels is key to the community's progress.
Just as he did within CoEJ, Munawer strives to reinstate the notion of connectivity within The World Federation; to serve all of its regions with higher levels of efficiency. He feels that The World Federation should be more active. This he says is especially the case given the newly acquired NGO status in areas such as health, education and economic development; which he tells me can inspire the upliftment of our community. He also feels that our most important work is in promoting Tableegh within our community, and this will be his highest priority.
After the bombings on the 7 July 2007, in the UK, the UK government considered ways of regulating Islamic institutions. Munawer felt the urge to be proactive and played a key role in a steering committee, which chartered out ways in which the Muslim community could regulate itself. This led to the creation of The MINAB (The Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board). The main function of MINAB is to bring in good governance and transparency to our centres and improve the standards of performance of imams and the custodians of the institutions. This, he informs me, is the first time that both Ahle Sunnah and the Shias have worked side by side to implement such pertinent changes.
During this process Munawer has gained vital experience through meeting various officials from local government, civil servants and ministers.
He has strongly advocated the notion of cross regional and cross jamaat workings. He and his team have actively propagated the sharing of best practice with Nasimco and Africa Federation.
What has been evident throughout Munawer's roles as a youth in Dar Es Salam, as a leader at Hyderi and as President of The Council of European Jamaats is that he has strived to share the best ideas and practices, as he feels there is still a high level of duplication in our community. Munawer strongly believes leadership should be there to listen to the community and leaders should act with integrity and a high degree responsibility.
He also tells me that this work is not about a person but about a team. He tells me of his pledge to create a diverse team, propelled by the youth of our community. He reinforces this by telling me that he will aim to set up a global team which will challenge each other , in a positive way, to drive our community forwards by exchanging thoughts and ideas in an open and frank manner, inshAllah.
Written by Muntazir Jivraj, who has a Degree in Media & Journalism from Aberystwyth University, UK.
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