ESTABLISHING THE FIRST MUSLIM CEMETERY IN THE GTA (#25IN25)
Our next monumental moment over the last 25 years is helping with the establishment of The GTA's first Muslim cemetery.
Over the course of their two-year business relationship, Abdulhuq Ingar would come to address Yosi Behar by the familial term ‘cousin.’ But on Sunday, June 24th, 2012 at the grand opening ceremony of the Toronto Muslim Cemetery, Mr. Behar was honoured by Mr. Ingar’s message of thanks and greetings, in which Mr. Ingar now called Mr. Behar ‘brother.’ This expression of loyalty is a feature not only of the firm friendship that has emerged between the men who led the cemetery’s development, but of the exercise in community-building across cultures the land deal has come to represent.
Before a gathering of several hundred people, under a sky that seemed to promise rain, the cemetery corporation’s chairman, Sabi Ahsan, extended his thanks to Mr. Behar for his work on the project. “Yosi Behar made it all possible,” Ahsan said. In addition to helping the corporation obtain its license, Mr. Behar, President and Broker of Record at The Behar Group Realty, helped secure an interest-free mortgage of almost three million dollars. In so doing Mr. Behar played an integral role in establishing what is not only the first Muslim cemetery in the Greater Toronto Area, but the first all-Muslim cemetery in the country. The Toronto Muslim Cemetery is unique in extending services to Sh‘ias and Sunnis alike.
Mr. Behar admits that it had been a dream of his to assist in uniting the Muslim community. Before the property was purchased, Mr. Ahsan, a Shi‘ite, and Mr. Ingar, a Sunni, had each made a bid for the cemetery on behalf of their respective communities. It was Mr. Behar who suggested that Mr. Ahsan and Mr. Ingar partner fifty-fifty in the acquisition—an offer to which the men agreed in a decision Imam Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi has praised for its global significance: “When we look at the challenges that contemporary Muslims face in their own lands, where there is intolerance for other denominations within the broad spectrum of Islam, the idea of a multi-denominational cemetery is indeed a step in the right direction.”
Addressing the ceremony’s attendees wearing a traditional kippah, Mr. Behar referred to his own cultural heritage. “I’m an Israeli boy. I’ve been in Canada for forty-five years, in real estate for forty-four years. I have to say this is the most satisfying deal I have made in my life. This coming together—a Jew, a Sunni, a Shi’ite—this is the only place in the world where this sort of partnership can happen. It was an honour for me to have been involved in this act of cooperation and good will.” Mr. Behar asked those present to stand and applaud Mr. Ahsan and Mr. Ingar. With everyone on their feet, Mr. Behar then asked the community to applaud themselves. “It’s your dedication that has made this possible.”
The Toronto Muslim Cemetery serves Muslim Canadians by enabling them to observe specific burial practices that are central to their religious life.