By Executive Director Khalil Demir
On August 27, 2017, I received a phone call from my friend Omar in Johannesburg, South Africa. Omar told me that Ali had died waiting for a heart transplant in a Johannesburg hospital. I could not believe that Ali Ahmad Sharif had died so suddenly.
People talk about heroes. I promise, whatever a hero is, Ali Sharif certainly was one. A heroic pioneer in merging Permaculture with humanitarian work.
Ali had a brilliant mind, and was one of the most creative people I had ever met. When his eyes would see a desert, his mind would plan how to transform it into a heavenly garden.
Ali was born in Iran and educated in London. He was a senior student of Permaculture founder Bill Mollison of Australia. He completed his Permaculture studies in 1981 and was ready to dedicate his life to the practice. He went to Latin America, where he spent more than 20 years of his life developing Permaculture sites throughout the Amazon. He established Permacultura America Latina, where he trained thousands of students to be expert Permaculturists. His institute became a model for producing experts and was one one of the first organizations to bring the concept of Permaculture to the US. Today, no doubt, every Latin American country has Permaculture projects run by Ali’s students.
Ali had visited me at the Zakat Foundation office in Chicago. I prepared a Turkish breakfast for him. He would never forget that breakfast. He would often call me and jokingly say, “Agha Halil [Persian: Dear mister], I’m coming for Turkish breakfast again.”
I recall when he told me of his desire to move to Africa. I asked him why, and he said, “Well I’m tired of living in the air and water, always on planes and boats in the Amazon. I would like to finally live grounded, on the earth!” He smiled, and then on a more serious note, he explained, “Africa has resources. Africa does not need to experience famine, poverty and hunger. By introducing permaculture, we can change the destiny of Africa. At least, we can create food security.”
He asked me if Zakat Foundation would support such an effort. I told him his vision was perfectly in line with Zakat Foundation of America’s, and we would certainly support his project.
With this goal in mind, he made his way to Mozambique and spent the next six years developing sustainable Permaculture sites in areas suffering severe malnutrition, HIV, and oppressive poverty. He established Instituto Permaculture Mozambique (IPERMO), of which Zakat Foundation of America was a proud sponsor.
Ali was one of the kindest, most selfless people I know; he helped the world become a better place for thousands of people. He left us on a hot August day. Both the worlds of philanthropy and Permaculture have lost one of their most valuable and dedicated friends. It will be very difficult to replace Ali, but we can try to make his dream come true. We can continue to work toward his goals to make the world a better place.
May Allah, Lord of the heavens and earth, shower Ali with mercy and forgive his shortcomings. Indeed, we will miss him! Rest in peace my friend, my brother Ali.