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Obituary: Charity fundraiser and community worker Kamal Aftab

Kamal died on Friday after battle with leukaemia

By Yousaf Aftab

Published 11/08/2015

Kamal Aftab: youth mentor, fundraising champion and optometrist
Kamal Aftab: youth mentor, fundraising champion and optometrist

The word Kamal is of Arabic origin. It has many meanings, but all give a sense of ‘completeness’ – that is, a person or quality that is complete in nature. I would like to share a few thoughts about a young man who was blessed with a life characterised by his namesake – Kamal.

Kamal Aftab, who has died aged 33, was a youth mentor, fundraising champion and optometrist. He was also my younger brother. Originally from Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, Kamal died at Leeds’ Saint James’s University Hospital on the 7th August 2015 after a six-week battle against Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

Kamal Aftab in hospital
Kamal Aftab in hospital

My brother’s passion was simple, but vast: it was the service of humanity. This is known as ‘Khidmat e Khalq’ in Islam, a religion which Kamal had fallen in love with.

Kamal was a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (AMC), who's motto is 'Love for all, hatred for none', and spent more than a decade as a youth mentor in various voluntary capacities. As an Ahmadi Muslim he drew his spiritual direction from the loving Caliph of the community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad.

Most recently he served as the regional leader of the community’s Yorkshire youth branch. In that role he helped scores of young British Muslims in the area serve local communities, grow to love volunteering, and break down negative stereotypes whilst they were at it. His ethos in this regard was encapsulated by the saying of the second Ahmadi caliph, Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad, who stated: 'Nations cannot be reformed without the reformation of the youth.''

His passion for service was driven by his faith, and he often quoted the saying of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him: ‘‘every good deed is an act of charity.’’

He understood from this that charity was not just running a marathon or trekking across mountains for others, all of which he did, but was found in all of the small, beautiful and wonderful bits that make up human love and affection.

He would help people to cross the road, arrange drivers to transport the elderly at Christmas to see family and friends, clear hospital and nursing home drives when it snowed, clean up fly-tipping sites in his area, take toys and chocolates to children hospices and wards, plant thousands of trees, and drive hundreds of miles to help flood victims.

He organised store collections for a great number of charities and took great pride in the fact that each year he stood, shoulder to shoulder, with World War II veterans to sell poppies.

Kamal was deeply loved by my family, but his family wasn’t just us. It seemed to stretch to anyone that called themselves human and was in need. I can honestly say that he did more for complete strangers than most people do for their own blood relatives.

His charitable legacy is extremely moving for me: helping to organise national charity events during which a million pounds was raised, personally raising over £50,000 for various UK charities, and being a central figure in driving the ‘Gift of Site’ programme run by the charity ‘Humanity First,’ where his work contributed towards giving over 10,000 people the gift of sight. The funny thing is, he didn’t want to stop there. He felt that his work for the programme was only just starting.

As you can imagine, Kamal’s work ceaseless started to get noticed. He was voted as the ‘National UK Guardian Volunteer of the Year’ for 2014-2015. He didn’t take any pride in this, except in the happiness that someone of his faith, from his community, was being recognised as doing something good for others.

He felt enormous anguish that the teachings of Islam were seen by most as being hateful, violent and oppressive. He pined for the media and society at large to see the true Islam that he followed; a religion that taught him to help those in his community, irrespective of background, and to always place the needs of others ahead of his own. So to remove this image, he became very active in the media, doing over 100 television, radio, and newspaper interviews. I found this a bit odd.

Kamal meeting Queen and other charitable moments
Kamal meeting Queen and other charitable moments

You see, Kamal was a confident person but also had an adorable shyness about his character- being interviewed was a really big ask for him. Yet he never hesitated from them, knowing that he couldn’t let his personal desire to stay out of the limelight cost him an opportunity to serve his faith.

His insatiable desire to help others was one he literally took to his deathbed. After finding out that he had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia , and that he had a 50% chance of survival, he kept his infectious smile intact and decided to do a full 26-mile marathon – in his 5x5 Sqm hospital room! At the time of his death, he was about 10 miles into his pedometer-powered marathon, and had raised close to £15,000 of his £50,000 target.

Kamal, like his name suggests, gave life his all. He loved his faith, and his faith drove him to love others. My brother saw being a Muslim and British meant doing one’s utmost to both help others and to take as little as possible from society. He passed away peacefully and with dignity, weak in body but stronger than ever in spirit.

Kamal Aftab during a Poppy Appeal collection
Kamal Aftab during a Poppy Appeal collection

I don’t want you to feel pity or sorrow for my brother- nothing pained him more than that thought. On the other hand, he felt tremendous happiness when he dared to hope that his example could inspire others.

So let it do just that. Instead of mourning his death, I ask you to honour his life. Knock on your neighbour’s door, and see how they are; find a cause you’re passionate about and give it your all; live every day for others and not for yourself.

I’ve seen him spend 33 years smiling, and I just know that would make his smile widen a little more.

To read more about Kamal’s story and to support his campaign, please visit his JustGiving page where his family and friends are trying to meet the £50,000 target he had set and was on track to meeting.

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