By Danish Reyaz | Maeeshat | Mumbai
“pyāso raho na dasht meñ bārish ke muntazir
Maaro zamīñ pe paañv ki paanī nikal paḌe“
This Iqbal Sajid’s Sher that Adv. Yusuf Abrahani often quotes perfectly describes the latter’s attitude in life. Translating the Shair, he says, “Instead of waiting in the desert for rains to quench your thirst, you should keep beating the ground with your leg so that water streams out of it.”
Adv. Yusuf Abrahani has done the same in his life; he has invariably carved his path to success, creating opportunities and clearing every odd and obstacle.
Today he is a man of many hats. He is an excellent lawyer, a famous politician, a prolific social activist, and the current President of Mumbai-based Islam Gymkhana, of which he has been lately scripting a transformation.
Mr. Abrahani is vocal and visionary, dedicated and hard-working. He has an obstinate passion for making things work despite the complexities of a situation.
“I have a no-holds-barred approach towards accomplishing a mission. I can’t go about doing things half-heartedly. That’s not how I am,” while Mr. Abrahani says it, confidence drips from his words. And given his track record, none could ever disagree.
Early Life and Education
Adv. Yusuf Abrahani hails from a middle-class family from Gujrat but ends up making a name for himself in Mumbai, Maharashtra, all thanks to his sheer hard work.
At the age of six years, in 1962, he came to Mumbai along with his parents and continued schooling. As a bright student, he kept on passing his grades with flying colours. In 1972, he passed his SSC from Habib High School and BSc. in 1977 from Maharashtra College.
Becoming a Top-Notch Lawyer
Mr. Abrahani had his inspirations in his family. His uncle was Supreme Court lawyer. Therefore, he had no second thoughts about opting for law. In 1980, he passed his LLB from KC Law College, and since then, there has been no looking back.
“Having top lawyers in my family helped me learn the ropes of the profession quickly,” Mr. Abrahani says. “Plus, I had an argumentative mind since the beginning, the most critical thing to be a good lawyer.”
Mr. Abrahani used to fight his cases with a flair and lots of legal acumen. His career flourished. In no time, he became one of Mumbai’s most sought-after lawyers, who had a knack for winning high-profile cases.
Just after four years of practice, he was elected as the President of the Maharashtra Young Advocate Association, which was an admirable feat at such a young age.
With his reputation growing thick and fast, he had an offer to stand in the Corporation election. Hazrat Zahiruddin Khan Saheb, one of the esteemed religious leaders of the community, approached Mr. Abrahani’s father requesting him to allow his son to fight the Corporator election.
The father turned down the offer saying his son was doing well as a lawyer and had no interest in politics.
However, Khan Saheb and a few locals remained insistent, visited him again, and finally managed to persuade him to give the go-ahead to his son for the election.
“More than me, the people were confident of my victory. They had already figured out how I was an ideal candidate to win because of my education, social activism, and expertise as a lawyer,” says Mr. Abrahani.
After eleven years of sparkling practice as a lawyer, Mr. Abrahani forayed into the world of politics, realizing little that he was embarking on another defining life journey.
In 1992, he contested his first Corporator election from B ward with a Muslim League ticket and won it, amassing the second-highest number of votes in Mumbai that year.
He was so popular that in 1997 he again fought the Corporator election, this time from the Samajwadi party’s ticket, and won handsomely, in reward for stellar developmental works he had done in the previous tenure.
During his two-term Corporatorship, he distinguished himself as the Party President of the Muslim League and Samajavadi Party, respectively.
“I am the first candidate in the corporation history to have held the Party President position for record ten years,” says Mr. Abrahani.
Again, he was on the Standing Committee for eight years, five years on the Central Haj Committee, and two years on the Improvement Committee. He was also the Chairman of the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA).
With an honest ambition of serving society, Mr. Abrahani kept climbing the ladders in politics. In 2004, he became an MLA from Trombay with over 50 thousand votes.
Joining the Congress
Thanks to his impressive electoral strategies, Mr. Abrahani has always been a winnable candidate. “I know how to win an election. However, sometimes you need bigger resources to pull it off,” says Mr. Abrahani.
“So, joining Congress, the grand old party of India, in 2002 came in handy for me. I could reach a larger electoral base, which helped me become an MLA two years later,” he adds.
According to him, remaining in two parties for ten years and observing the functioning of other parties from close quarters convinced him that Congress’ ideology of secular and liberal politics was best suited for the country.
He further says, “I am firmly committed to the Congress because I have a strong ideological affinity with the party.”
A Politician with Ideas
Adv. Yusuf Abrahani is a man of ideas who has been involved in brainstorming with the party’s top brass. He says, “Rahul Gandhi used to ask me why, after all, Muslims are moving away from the Congress.”
He further says that impressed with his diagnosis and solutions to the problem, Rahul Gandhi wanted to make him All India Minority Commission Chairman. However, he politely declined the offer, expressing that he would rather like to work in Maharashtra than pan India.
“I did several outreach programs to pull back Muslims into Congress fold, and to a great extent, I have been successful. Today Muslims in Maharashtra are largely behind Congress more than any other party,” he says with satisfaction.
But soon in the next moment, he laments over the political marginalization of Muslims happening all over India. He attributes this to the weakening of Congress since Muslims in hordes deserted Congress in favour of regional parties like SP and RJD after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992.
“I have been saying this for a long time that a weak Congress is not in the interest of Muslims. Congress is the only party that can stand up against the BJP juggernaut. Muslims have to flock back to it. The sooner it happens, the better,” says Mr. Abrahani fervently.
Coming in Contact with Islam Gymkhana
The Britishera Islam Gymkhana, a social and sporting club that, until a few years ago, seemed to wear a worn-out look, is now a vibrant place to hang around.
The responsible person for this transformation of Islam Gymkhana is no other than Adv. Yusuf Abrahani, its current President.
“Coming in contact with Islam Gymkhana happened in my active political career and it has an interesting story,” says Mr. Abrahani
He says that once, they had a function of Congress Minority Department for which Anjuman-I-Islam’s ground at Victoria Terminus (now, ChhatrapatiShivaji Terminus) was booked. But just on the eve of the function, Anjuman’s President withdrew the permission on some flimsy ground.
“I wasn’t going to take it lying down,” Mr. Abrahani says. “I had made the payment and accepted the receipt. Plus, I couldn’t have arranged the function at a short time at a different venue. So I protested and sat on a dharna until we were allowed to hold the function as scheduled.”
The issue blew up so much that barrister A R Antulay had to intervene, who directed the President to allow Anjuman’s ground as and when required for the community purpose.
Going a step further, Mr. Antulay also ensured that Mr.Abrahani had access to the ground of Islam Gymkhana for the community purpose.
“Essentially, it was Mr. Antulay who introduced me to Islam Gymkhana, which was not much of a familiar place for me until then.” Mr. Abrahani says.
Becoming the President of Islam Gymkhana
Adv. Yusuf Abrahani is a leader who is voracious for development no matter where he serves in whatever capacity. Even while he was a primary member of Islam Gymkhana, he was forthcoming with his views and ideas about the club’s development.
With time, he realized that aggressive implementation of ideas is needed to bring Islam Gymkhana on par with other gymkhanas or to outshine them. But the then President, as well as the management committee, was lacking in drive.
Adv. Abrahani says, “In fact, complacency had crept into the management, which was holding office for last eighteen years without an election after coming to power.”
“We filed a petition in court for an election to be held, and once the court passed an order in that regard, I decided to throw myself into the fray for a President post,” he adds.
After a long time, an election was held in Islam Gymkhana in March 2019. The election was free and fair, which saw hundreds of club members voting with much excitement, rising above caste, sect, and religion.
Members showered their blessings on Mr. Abrahani to be the next President with a record number of votes.
Mr. Abrahani says, “The 2019 election has heralded a new era for Islam Gymkhana. My team and I is staunchly committed to its reforms and redevelopment.”
COVID and Controversy
The start of the new management committee was tumultuous, however. No doubt the development works were afoot since day one after the election, but soon COVID struck, putting things on hold in lockdowns.
“I like to work in speed. COVID came in the way, yet what we achieved within a short period is incredible. Earlier, the Gymkhana used to look like a Yateem khana (Orphanage), but now it has facilities on par with a five-star hotel.”
No one who have ever been to Islam Gymkhana before Mr. Abrahani took over can deny it. There is a stark difference to see now. The gymkhana looks totally revamped, modernized, and aesthetic.
Regarding the controversy, it also happened early on. On the heels of winning the election, Mr. Abrahani banned the card games played in Islam Gymkhana for years. It led to resentment from a few members, and it soon blew into a controversy.
However, despite the controversy getting media attention and the decision being challenged in court, Mr. Abrahani stood his ground.
“In the name of card games betting and gambling were taking place here. We have evidence of it,” Mr. Abrahani says. “Plus, Islam doesn’t permit gambling. We won’t tolerate any illegal or immoral activity inside the Islam Gymkhana premise.”
As it happens, resistance to the ban on card games is wearing thin, and now more and more members support it.
“Since the ban of card games, the atmosphere in the gymkhana has improved. There have been no more gambling-related fights and brawls, inconveniencing other members, especially the women.” Mr. Abrahani says.
An Agent of Quick Transformation
Mr. Abrahani was elected as President of Islam Gymkhana on the back of the developmental promises made in his manifesto and members’ faith in his ability to walk the talk.
And true to the expectations, in a quick time after the landmark election, he has metamorphosed Islam Gymkhana into a vibrant club where people unwind and socialize amidst the aesthetic architectural restructuring and ample availability of modern amenities.
“Previously, Islam Gymkhana was in a wretched condition, which was an embarrassment for the Muslims because gymkhanas also reflect the status of the communities they represent,” says Mr. Abrahani.
Nevertheless, the same gymkhana today stands immensely transformed with new facilities coming up at a swift pace. It has become a crown jewel for the Muslims in Mumbai.
The gymkhana now boasts a beautiful air-conditioned lobby, a well-furnished conference hall, a banquet hall, a dressing room, an exquisite restaurant, and many other structures, all creating a glitzy ambience.
The overhauled gymkhana houses a state-of-the-art gym equipped with all the modern equipment, where one can tone up and build muscle. Jacuzzi, Steam, Sauna, and Spa have also been added as parts of the health and mental wellbeing section.
However, the highlight will be the 27/10 metre state-of-the-art swimming pool that is now under construction. The soon-to-be-opened swimming pool will not only cater to the swimming exercise of the members but also serve as a training spot for the professional swimmers.
Adv. Yusuf Abrahani recalls when card games were banned, some members complained to him, saying Islam Gymkhana was a club, not a Madrasa. He would respond wittily, “Tell me, if I thought it was a Madrasa, why would I open a Spa, Sauna, and Pool here?” He reiterates, “Banning card games was a principled step.”
On the front of games and sports Islam Gymkhana now looks quite modern. The playground, with the addition of floodlights and multi-purpose turf, has enhanced its utility. Indoors, a new room with four life-size Billiards and Snooker tables has come up, in line with the international standards. Another room for pool, table tennis, and carom has been renovated, letting the players enjoy their games wholeheartedly.
The all-around transformation of Islam Gymkhana has raised its stock manifold, and in a quick time, it has emerged as a prime hub for sporting, social, and cultural events and activities in Mumbai. With the popularity soaring, a new branch of Islam Gymkhana is also set to come up at Lonavla shortly.
Mr. Abrahani is all for women’s participation in the public sphere. Since becoming the
, he has ensured that women members frequent Islam Gymkhana as and when they want.
The first thing he did was employ a few female staff so that the fair sex visitors feel at ease in approaching them when needed. To access the Spa, Sauna, Swimming Pool, etc., the female members have women-exclusive timing slots to maintain their privacy. At the same time, a separate prayer hall for women has also been erected.
Mr. Abrahani says, “These are the small confidence-building measures that go a long way in assuring women of respect and safety and thus increasing their visits and participation.”
For better coordination in decision-making for women-centric issues, there is a Ladies Auxiliary Committee from which Mr. Abrahani seeks suggestions regularly.
Indeed, women’s visibility at Islam Gymkhana has increased more than ever, and so do their say and involvement in important matters.
Dedication to Social Cause
Adv. Yusuf Abrahani is known to be someone who doesn’t mince words. He is honest and upfront. But away from it, he also has a tender side to his personality, which is evident in his charitable works.
He is the founder of the Social Educational Welfare Association (SEWA), which is committed to the community’s welfare on both social and educational levels.
Since its inception in 1998, it has helped over 20 thousand poor students, providing them with fees, books, uniforms, etc. Hundreds of teachers, professors, and principals have been felicitated by the NGO with SEWA AWARDs, one of the most coveted awards among the teaching community.
SEWA also feeds the hungry. “Roti Bank” is an ambitious scheme of Mr. Abrahani meant to ensure that nobody in Mumbai goes to sleep empty stomach.
Health is another area in which SEWA works to ensure hospital facilities and medicines for the poor living in the slums and shanties. In these areas, it often organizes blood donation and eye check-up camps.
During COVID, SEWA organized free vaccination drives at the community level, benefitting thousands of people. From time to time, the NGO also engages in different activities. Recently, it organized a helmet distribution program for the safe journey of riders.
Besides all that, one of the most noteworthy initiatives of Adv. Yusuf Abrahani is to launch a campaign calling for the increase in the Hadiya of Imams and Muezzins.
“It is a matter of shame for us that our Imams and Muezzins who play an important role in our lives from birth to death are paid so poorly.” Mr. Abrahani laments, adding, “They deserve a respectable Hadiya to look after themselves and their families at a time when the cost of living has gone up beyond measure.”
Thankfully, his appeal struck a chord with the community leading to a rise in the Hadiya of Imams and Muezzins at different places, not at once, but we can say a start has begun.
After becoming the President, Adv. Yusuf Abrahani identified two Imams as permanent at Islam gymkhana’s mosque and dramatically increased their compensation from a mere Rs.1,000 to Rs.15,000 monthly.
Mr. Abrahani has also led a campaign to cut down expenses on ostentatious weddings, a bane for our society. “Many girls in poor families are going unmarried for want of money. If we resist unnecessary expenditure on flashy celebrations, that amount can be utilized in marrying off four-five poor girls,” he says thoughtfully.
Islam Gymkhana Opens Arms to Charity
Through Mr. Abrahani’s efforts, Islam Gymkhana has now started spending on charity as well. “Earlier, the gymkhana was viewed as a sporting place for fun and frolic only. It took an amendment in its constitution to include charity as one of its activities,” says Mr. Abrahani.
During the peak of COVID, food packets for the poor and oxygen cylinders for needy patients were distributed in Mumbai. Workers and labourers who remained stuck in the gymkhana due to lockdowns were provided food, accommodation, and financial help.
Most significantly, Islam Gymkhana has taken a step toward a noble cause: to provide free legal aid at the grass-root level in partnership with the Global Care Foundation.
The gymkhana helps the non-habitual under–trials with legal and financial aid and rehabilitation after release.
“There are countless examples where poor offenders are in jails for years for minor crimes because they can’t pay the bail amount. If we can help them set free and provide them with a chance to reform and rehabilitate, there can’t be a more pious act than this,” Mr. Abrahani says.
Islam Gymkhana now plans to do charity for various other causes. Opening schools and colleges are ambitiously on the list, for which funds will be arranged later.
Mr. Abrahani says, “Earlier, we had started with an aim to spend at least five percent of gymkhana’s income on charitable causes, but as we expand the scope of charity, it calls for significant expenditure, which we are willing to spend anyways.”
Oratory Skill and Other Talents
Mr. Abrahani has the gift of a gag. He says, “Whatever I have achieved today as a lawyer or politician or in any other role is because of my zeal to work and speaking ability.”
Talk with him a few minutes, and it will dawn upon you that speaking is Mr. Abrahani’s natural talent. He speaks slightly fast, but it is impactful and eloquent. His speeches are rousing, disturbing, and entertaining at the same time.
His oratory skill is not dependent on a particular language. Be it Urdu, Hindi, English, or Marathi, he is equally effective in every language he speaks.
Speaking of language, Mr. Abrahani is a connoisseur of Urdu poetry. He could be seen interspersing his speeches with excellent Shairs from famous poets. Whether it is Mushaira, a book launch, or any other literary event, Mr. Abrahani will likely have a hand in it either as an organizer or a guest.
Mr. Yusuf Abrahani is also a sports enthusiast who plays Cricket, Football, Snooker, Volleyball, etc., at a good level. Interestingly, he has an interest in acting and singing too. Not many know that he has worked in plays and short films.
A Dedicated Family Man
Adv. Yusuf Abrahani is a busy man who remains surrounded by people all the time, but he makes it a point not to neglect his family. Despite his busy schedule, he likes to hang out with the family.
“Family is the first unit of society. A man not doing justice to his family can’t be a good community leader,” Mr. Abrahani says. “My family is where I get love and care and derive fuel to work for the community tirelessly.”
Mr. Abrahani says that throughout the years since his marriage, his wife Mehraj Abrahani, has been a tremendous support. “I am thankful to her for how she has managed my household and our children, allowing me time to do public works,” he says with gratitude.
Mr. Abrahani has three loving children. Two daughters, Sana Yusuf Abrahani and Sifa Yusuf Abrahani are married into eminent families, while his son, Shahzad Yusuf Abrahani, is educationally well-qualified and a successful businessman. Like his father, he also takes part in various political activities.
The children are proud of their father. His son, Shahzad, says, “My father is a family man. His level of concern and commitment toward family is impeccable. He is always there for us, encouraging, supporting, and sometimes admonishing. We appreciate his ability to not compromise with his family time despite his hectic public life commitments.”
What Maeeshat Thinks
The beleaguered Muslim community in India has many leaders, but problems afflicting the community never end. The old-school leaders are hobbling to drive the community to the path of progress the way their counterparts from other minority groups like Jains, Parsee, Punjabis, etc., are doing.
The Muslims need community leaders who have a pulse on time. Adv. Yusuf Abrahani fits the bill. He is not a status quoist but shows great interest in shaking things up. He is aggressive, innovative, and a tireless stickler to his plan and vision until success is achieved.
His achievements for the community are tremendous as a lawyer, politician, and social crusader. Moreover, as the President of Islam Gymkhana, he has successfully shown that if the leader is strong-willed and hardworking, results follow quickly, in a matter of days and months.
We at Maeeshat Media, in recognition of Mr. Abrahani’s stellar leadership qualities and excellent track record of work, believe he is a true community change maker. He has a rare ability to galvanize old and youth alike into action and transform things for the better. We wish him a great life ahead and immense success in his future endeavours.