A leader of Canada's Ahmadi Muslims has died, leaving behind the community he helped grow.
Naseem Mahdi, former national president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat of Canada, and a recipient of the Order of Ontario, died on Tuesday at the age of 69. His funeral at the Baitul Islam Mosque in Vaughan, Ont., was attended by thousands.
"He was the face, the leader, and the father of the community," said Lal Khan Malik, the Jamaat's national president.
Before coming to Canada, Mahdi lived in Switzerland and served its small Ahmadiyya Muslim community.
Soon after he arrived in this country in 1985, he began welcoming many Ahmadi Muslim newcomers seeking a safe haven after fleeing Pakistan, where they are a persecuted minority.
"He welcomed them, guided them, and the community grew under his care," Malik said.
As an imam, an educator and a missionary, his achievements include establishing Peace Village — a housing community in Vaughan for Ahmadi Muslims centred around a mosque, Jamaat spokesperson Safwan Choudhry told CBC News.
"Imam Naseem Mahdi brought to life a community and a vision," he said.
His daughter, Saadia Mahdi, said her father instilled a sense of dedication in the community, in her and her siblings. She said she has received many messages of support from the community, even from those who she's never met but who knew her father.
"It's remarkable how many people he touched throughout the world," she said. "They're all grieving for him, he loved God and his creation."
Saadia said her father had an unwavering dedication to the community, helping members come to the mosque, helping them settle in Canada, helping them find a house in Peace Village, and serving as a guide for those in need.
"Whatever they needed," Saadia said. "For the past 30 years people experienced him as their brother, their father, and their mentor."
Several political leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Stephen Lecce of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, expressed their condolences on social media upon learning of Mahdi's death.
Mahdi's achievements include delivering a speech at the U.S. Congress at the annual Jalsa Salana USA religious gathering. He met with Trudeau and former U.S. president Barack Obama. He would also comment in the media on the issue of Islamophobia.
He leaves behind six children, and nine grandchildren.
Saadia said she's proud that he helped a community persecuted in Pakistan find a new home in Canada and give them guidance.
"Now we're free to worship."