Just past four one morning in 1948, 14-year-old Mujibur Rahman awoke to the cry of his mother. She lived with tuberculosis,* and had an unbearable stomach pain. He fetched the local doctor in Khulna, modern-day Bangladesh, to examine her, but the agony persisted. “She was tossing and turning on the floor,” says Mujibur, his mom’s main caretaker ever since his father left to work in East Pakistan. “I felt very helpless.”
Mujibur returned to the doctor, who wrote a prescription and sent Mujibur to the pharmacy. “This is morphine,” the pharmacist said incredulously. “Who is going to push the injection?” Mujibur’s response: “I guess I’ll have to do it.” He returned home, boiled a glass syringe and administered the morphine. For seven hours, he stayed by his mother’s side until she awoke, pain-free. “That,” he says, “was the time I decided I had to be a doctor.”
Mujibur studied medicine and, in his early 20s, practised in a poor area of undivided Bengal. “Many of them wouldn’t be able to pay me the right amount,” he explains. “Whatever they could pay, they could pay. That was it. I accepted that.”
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When he was 25, Mujibur decided to move to England to continue his studies—but not before his mother found him a wife. “I didn’t even bother to see her photograph,” because he trusted his mom, he says. “She’s been my wife for 54 years now.”
In the U.K., Mujibur slowly scaled the hospital hierarchy. He eventually earned the top job—and the 150-bed responsibility that came with it—and developed a speciality in internal medicine and gerontology,* the study of aging. After his plans to return home were sidetracked by political turmoil in Bengal, Mujibur set his sights on Canada, where he wanted to raise his three young children (a fourth came later).*
In 1978, Mujibur’s family settled in Winnipeg, where he opened his own practice. Because the provincial college of physicians didn’t recognize his U.K. qualifications, though, he couldn’t specialize in gerontology. Even now, he says, the discipline is “still in its infancy. I’m ashamed to say that.”
Between 1983 and 1994, Mujibur lived through three heart attacks and as many heart bypass operations. “That’s it. My life is gone,” he had thought to himself. “But by God’s will, I slowly found out some of the problems I had and started treating myself.” Even today, he’s still working; his patients, he says, won’t let him retire.
In the past two decades, Mujibur, a former president of the Manitoba Islamic Association, has championed Winnipeg’s booming Muslim population. In the late 1990s, he helped found an Islamic private school, the first of its kind in Canada. Then, while attending a crowded prayer service at a Pakistani centre, “I noticed there were a lot of people who would come a little bit late and they wouldn’t get a space.” So, when an 8,000-sq.-foot restaurant across from his practice went up for sale, Mujibur won the support and funds of local Muslims and founded the Winnipeg Central Mosque. “We now have 600 people who come to worship every Friday,” he says. “It’s amazing that there are Muslims from 38 countries all congregating in one place. That’s a scene I watch and feel proud of.” — Luc Rinaldi
(Portrait by Marianne Helm)
CORRECTION, July 6, 2016: An earlier version of this story erroneously claimed that Mujibur Rahman’s mother suffered from pulmonary fibrosis; in fact, she had tuberculosis. The same version claimed that Rahman raised three young daughters; in fact, he had two daughters and a son at the time; and the same version omitted Rahman’s specialty in internal medicine. Maclean’s regrets the errors.