Demise of Attas leaves a void in Makkah’s humanitarian field

By: Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi

Makkah has lost one of its great sons and most eminent figures with the recent demise of Sayed Amin Aqeel Attas. A highly respected personality who was well known for his benevolence and generosity, Attas carved a niche in the world of charity and social work and was an efficient administrator in both the government and private sectors. Attas was well known for his personal integrity, humility and competence. He was always keen and fearless in upholding the truth and was never ready to compromise on principles and values.

Attas was born and raised in Makkah. He completed all phases of schooling from elementary to secondary at Makkah’s famous Al-Falah Schools, established by Sheikh Muhammad Ali Xenel. Attas then traveled to Egypt for higher studies and was admitted to the University of Cairo from which he graduated with a degree in accountancy.

After returning to the Kingdom, he worked for some time at the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency, the Kingdom’s central bank. He then transferred to the Ministry of Finance where he was in charge of the Zakat and Income Department. Attas also worked as deputy minister of Haj and endowments before moving to the Makkah-based Muslim World League (MWL or Rabita) to serve as the assistant secretary general for the affairs of administration and finance.

I was introduced to Attas when I was working as a diplomat at the Saudi embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh. At that time, Attas was there to handle the issue of Biharis (Pakistanis stranded in Bangladesh). I was very impressed by his personality, especially his simplicity, outspokenness, candidness, honesty and generosity. During that time, Rabita had extended some services to Biharis as well as to the Burmese refugees stranded in Bangladesh. Attas came to Bangladesh to take stock of this situation and supervise the services extended by the MWL office in Dhaka, which was managed by Mir Quasem, who is now languishing behind bars after having been framed by false charges in connection with the civil war in East Pakistan.

Attas was a member of the board of trustees of the endowment established by Rabita in 1988, in cooperation with the government of Pakistan, for the purpose of the repatriation and rehabilitation of the stranded Pakistanis.
Pakistan’s President General Zia-ul-Haq was the chairman of the endowment trust and the board of trustees included MWL Secretary General Abdullah Omar Naseef, and Prince Talal Bin Abdulaziz, chairman of the Arab Gulf Program for Development (AGFUND). As director general of the trust, Attas played an active role in managing the endowment and organizing its work in coordination with all the concerned parties. He was keen to extend all possible support to the stranded Pakistanis after personally witnessing their miserable and appalling living conditions in squalid and overcrowded camps where they did not have access to even the basic requirements of life.

However, the activities of the endowment, unfortunately, came to an abrupt halt after the death of General Zia-ul-Haq. The succeeding government of Pakistan headed by Benazir Bhutto showed no interest in the repatriation of the stranded Pakistanis from Bangladesh. Around a quarter of a million Biharis are still languishing in their camps hoping that the endowment trust will be restored one day and that they will be repatriated to Pakistan.

Attas was head of a delegation sent by Rabita to the Central Asian Muslim republics or the newly independent states after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The objective of the delegation was to undertake the restoration and maintenance of mosques in these countries. The Soviet Communist regime had denied permission for Muslims to perform prayers at these mosques and had transformed most of them into warehouses and other facilities. Attas also exerted commendable efforts in implementing several charity projects, funded by MWL, in various parts of the world. He was well known for his administrative capabilities as well as for his qualities of sincerity in work, honesty, humility and dignity and above all his unblemished character.

After his retirement, Attas became fully engaged in charity work in Makkah, helping the poor and needy as well as widows and orphans. Together with a number of philanthropists, he established the Makkah Charitable Society. He served as president of the society’s board of directors until his death. The organization is one of the most successful charity societies in Makkah helping the poor and the weaker sections of society including widows, orphans and divorcees. Several affluent people have placed their trust in the society and have donated generously to it.

Attas also played a significant role and participated actively in the field of the memorization of the Holy Qur’an. He was instrumental in setting up and managing a number of Qur’an memorization societies. He was also selected to supervise the construction of buildings of Al-Falah Schools at the plot of land donated by Sheikh Ibrahim Juffali. A large number of people in Makkah have graduated from Al-Falah Schools, which is one of the oldest schools in the Kingdom.

Attas used to receive people at his home after Maghreb prayer in the evening. People from all walks of life, especially the poor and needy, gathered there to seek his help in redressing their grievances and solving their problems. He tried honestly and sincerely to deal their problems and ease their burdens.

Attas was well respected by everyone. He joined people in their joyous moments as well as in their sorrows. He visited the bereaved families of the deceased, consoled them and prayed for the departed souls. May Allah forgive this great leader and accommodate him in His Paradise.

– Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at





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