'He helped so many people': Beloved Edmonton sheikh laid to rest

A much loved cleric in Edmonton’s Somali community is being remembered as an inspiring leader who helped countless people across Canada and in Somalia.

'My father would be the 911, people would call him first,' says Sheikh Osman Barre's daughter

Sheikh Osman Barre, pictured here with his granddaughter Salma, was laid to rest Friday. (Supplied)

A much loved cleric in Edmonton's Somali community is being remembered as an inspiring leader who helped countless people across Canada and in Somalia.

Sheikh Osman Barre, 71, died unexpectedly this week. On Friday, an estimated 2,500 women, men and youth packed Al Rashid Mosque for a special sermon in his honour. 

"He was an amazing father and role model," said his daughter, Saida Barre, 31. "It's amazing what he's done and who he was and how he left — it touches all of our hearts."

"He helped so many people along the way. This was his life. And I was so happy to see all the people who came to show respect and appreciation for my father," she added.

Connection to community ran deep for Barre. He officiated at weddings and prepared funerals. He supported refugee families and households in crisis.

"My father would be the 911, people would call him first," said Saida, the second youngest of six children.

Taught youth, counselled young inmates

Barre's work with youth stretches back decades. He taught Islamic studies in Edmonton, and previously in British Columbia and Ottawa. He counselled young inmates and helped them reintegrate.

Overseas, people with disabilities received wheelchairs and deaf children went to school, thanks to Barre's efforts. More recently, the grandfather of six began building a school for orphans in Qardho, Puntland, near the village where he grew up.

"I feel like he's left something for us," Saida Barre said. "Going forward we want to be able to dedicate this to our father."
Sheikh Osman Barre with his wife and daughters including, Saida Barre (second from right). (Supplied)

Family members are not the only ones inspired to continue his legacy.

Community advocate Habiba Abdulle connected with Barre through work supporting young offenders.

"He gave a lot of youth empowerment," Abdulle said. "He was the person people turned to when they are in the dark."

The list of praise for her mentor and friend is lengthy and heartfelt: wise, generous and humble. He approached situations with an open heart and mind and found solutions to problems, she said.

"He was a person that everybody went to," Abdulle said. "He would just give you his absolute attention and words of encouragement."

It was that kind of encouragement that gave Abdulle the strength to keep going when she sought Barre's guidance through tough times. He reminded her to stay positive, and that helping others makes you strong.

"When you are strong, they're going to be strong as well," she recalled him saying.
Habiba Abdulee said community members turned to Sheikh Osman Barre because of his wisdom and kindness. (CBC News)

Barre discovered his own strength early on. He grew up poor in a small village near Bosaso, Puntland. Losing his father young, he was raised by a blind mother who was "such a fighter," Saida Osman said.

As a teenager, Barre's mother instilled in him the value of education, but more importantly that faith comes first before anything.

"That's what saved him," his daughter said.

He has been exposed to so many things in his life, but he's always kept such a positive spirit- Saida Barre

The future hurdles would be many: civil war, immigrating to a new country.

Undeterred, Barre pursued a bachelor of arts in Islamic Studies, and then later his masters degree.

"He has been exposed to so many things in his life, but he's always kept such a positive spirit." Saida said, recalling a home filled with books, and the wisdom he passed on to them.

Money was tight, but there was always enough to help someone in need.

"He would always remind us of how blessed we are and how the little things we had growing up were enough," she said. "Because the love that we got from my father, as well as my mother, was enough."
Amein Kassim, 15, a former student of Sheikh Osman Barre, plans to carry on his teacher's legacy by making the right decisions and studying criminal law. (CBC News)

On Friday, as community members prepared to lay to rest Sheikh Osman Barre, it wasn't hard to spot evidence of his life's work blooming in the next generation.

"He was someone you could look up to," Amein Kassim, 15, said of his former mo'alin, which means "teacher" in Somali.

"He would always be there for you."

It's a example Kassim, who plans to study criminal law, is keen to continue.

"We can continue his legacy by making the right decisions and not making mistakes that he taught us not to, and chose the right path and put forth our education," he said.

Al Rashid Mosque overflowed Friday with all those who came to honour Sheikh Osman Barre. (Supplied)

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca

@andreahuncar