Shaykh Muhammad Alshareef, a former Ottawa resident who was the founder of the AlMaghrib Institute and was one of the first Islamic scholars to teach in English in North America, died on July 21, 2022, at the age of 47. (AlMaghrib Institute)

Muslims in Ottawa and across the province are mourning the death of a popular Islamic scholar who was one of the first in North America to preach in English, according to a former student.

Shaykh Muhammad Alshareef, who spent several years living in the nation’s capital, died in Dubai on Thursday at the age of 47.

His cause of death has not yet been determined.

Born in Winnipeg in 1975, Alshareef’s willingness to preach in English helped him connect with younger Muslims in diaspora communities — and for many English-speaking Muslims, he was their link to their faith.

He launched the AlMaghrib Institute in the United States in 2002 with 30 students. In the last 20 years, AlMaghrib has expanded its presence to 40 cities around the world, with the institute’s website saying they now have over 80,000 students. 

“He really broke down those barriers of language,” said Kaltun Jama, one of his former students.

The 34-year-old Ottawa resident said Alshareef helped make Islam more accessible to Muslims of her generation in North America.

“I’m not from an Arabic background. I’m originally Somali. He really allowed us to understand our religion in a way that was interactive and in a way that was engaging and fun,” she said. 

“He made me more connected to my identity as being Muslim and understanding why different rituals are important, and where they come from, and how to practice them in an accurate way.”

Influenced ‘a whole generation’

About 100 people attended a memorial for Alshareef at the Jami Omar Mosque in Nepean Friday evening.

There were also memorials in Mississauga and Brampton.

In addition to his religious teachings, Alshareef started a personal development program called “DiscoverU” in 2007.

Razia Hamidi worked closely with Alshareef on that program, and said he was emphatic about developing leadership skills in young Muslims and helping them achieve their goals.

His legacy, she said, will continue after his death. 

“There’s a whole generation of Canadian, North American Muslims who have access to their faith because of what he taught and what he did,” Hamidi said.

“He was very much all about constantly elevating and being your best self. And faith was the foundation of that.”

Ottawa resident Hafsa Khan, another student of Alshareef’s, said she was passing his teachings on to the next generation at a summer camp she runs in collaboration with the Kanata Muslim Association.

“I told the campers that the conversational, humorous way I spoke to them — that they loved — was just me trying to copy the way Shaykh Muhammad spoke,” she said.

“And that my obsession with memorable quotes and stories was because he taught us memorable quotes and stories.”

Uday Rana  – CBC News

Uday Rana is an Ottawa-based journalist covering city news. Uday has worked as a print, digital and television reporter in India. He was previously with the Times of India and then with CNN-News18. He’s covered conflict, sectarian violence and the rise of Hindu Nationalism in India.