After a long struggle with his heart condition, Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus, a pioneer of Islamic work in North America in the second half of the last century, bid farewell to earthly existence and joined his Master for an eternal life at the start of Fajr prayer on the blessed day of Friday, Ramadan 23, 1428/ October 5, 2007. When the history of Islamic work in North America is written, the name of Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus will be recorded in golden words.
He was born in Hyderabad, Daccan, and migrated to Pakistan at an early age. He received his Bachelor’s degree from Urdu College in Karachi and his Masters from Karachi University. Both degrees were in Geography. After pursuing his doctorate at the University of Minnesota and earning a second Master’s degree, he had a sudden change of heart and received yet another Master’s degree from University of Illinois (Dekalb) in Sociology. He then completed his Ph.D. in Sociology from the Oklahoma State University. Having lived in this country for a total of 47 years, he had become gravely concerned about the socio-cultural problems of this society and their impact upon Muslims. He pursued a long career as a distinguished professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Cortland, NY until 2003 when he retired. In 2005, he decided to move in with his only son, Asad Ba-Yunus, a successful Attorney in Miami, Florida, only one week prior to the birth of his first granddaughter, Hafsah.
Ilyas Bhai, as I used to call him, was greatly influenced by the Islamic movement in Pakistan. He taught Geography in a movement oriented school in PIB Colony, Karachi where I happened to be his seventh grade student. After arriving in this country, he intensified his involvement in Islamic work. He was a founding member of the Muslim Student Association of US and Canada in 1963 and served as its president in 1969 and in its central leadership until the formation of ISNA.
In 1980, when I became the President of Association of Muslim Social Scientists, Ilyas Bhai was elected as the President-Elect. However, shortly after that, he accepted an offer as a visiting professor of Sociology at King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah where he completed his first book on Islamic Sociology that he co-authored with Dr. Farid
Ahmed. Just prior to leaving for Saudi Arabia, Ilyas Bhai published a report through the MSA, identifying the growing trend of Muslim students settling in the United States, and raising the need for a national community-based organization. He urged the leadership of MSA and other organizations to come together and form this ground-breaking entity, which would soon become ISNA.
In 1982, when ISNA was established, we were all looking for a senior, highly respected and community oriented brother to head the new organization. When I proposed the name of Ilyas Bhai for the position, everyone agreed. Dawah, education and community organization and development were the three important pillars of ISNA at its birth and Ilyas Bhai zealously championed them across the continent. Even after his tenure was over, as a member of ISNA’s Majlis-e-Shura, he remained the most enthusiastic advocate of greater participation of the local communities in ISNA’s decision making process. He introduced a constitutional amendment for this
purpose and waged a successful campaign for its passage.
One of his major achievements in the latter period of his life was the sociological and demographical survey of American Muslims. A few other books and scores of articles were also a significant contribution to Islamization of
education. This, of course, was in addition to his excellent and thoughtful presentations in AMSS and ISNA conventions and conferences for more than a third of the century. He recently published his latest book (co-authored by Dr. Kassim Kone), “Muslims in the United States,” which sums up much of his research on the American Muslim community. His final book, “Ideological Dimensions of Islam,” co-authored by his
son Asad, is still in the final editing phase and, once published, inshaAllah, will be a final culmination of his life’s research and scholarship.
The foremost qualities of Ilyas Bhai, of course, were his dedication and care for Islamic work in North America, humility and warmth in inter-personal relationships. He was like an older brother to me, always very affectionate and loving not only to me, but to my family as well. When we decided to hold a Bismillah for Sohaib [my son] in
Indianapolis, we could not think of a better person than Ilyas Bhai to conduct it. Both Sohaib and his elder sister, Sohaira definitely counted him among their favorite uncles.
May Allah [SWT] forgive all of his sins, fill his grave with His noor and grant him the highest place in Jannah [Ameen].
Dr. Talat Sultan
Former President of ICNA, AMSS and former ISNA Director of Education