On an April day in 1993, Dr. Mian M. Ashraf gathered an impressive and unlikely group of clergy at a former horse-breeding farm in Sharon to break ground for the new site of the Islamic Centre of New England. One by one, each turned over a shovel of dirt: a Greek Orthodox bishop, a rabbi, and a Catholic bishop. Dr. Ashraf had made his living, and first made his name, as a heart surgeon. From that work, he drew a metaphor of how people of sometime conflicting faiths could stand side by side for the purpose of peace. Ive never found a difference inside, he told the Globe in April 1993. Inside, everybodys got warm blood and a heart. Dr. Ashraf, who performed some of the earliest heart bypass surgeries in Boston and led the Islamic Centre of New England as president for many years, died in his Weston home on May 7 of complications of Parkinsons disease. He was 73. I never thought Id see in my lifetime people of all faiths, crowded together and welcoming each other as we start a new Islamic Centre, he told the Globe that April. This gives us a responsibility to live up to. We have an opportunity here in Sharon to set an example, that we can live together as good friends and neighbours. His work forging congenial relations between the Islamic Centre and the residents of Sharon, with its predominantly Jewish population, drew national attention, and Dr. Ashraf was invited to a prayer breakfast at the White House. President Clinton later invited him onboard Air Force One and accompany the presidential delegation to the 1994 signing of a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. All this could not have seemed more distant when Dr. Ashraf, newly graduated from medical school, arrived at Logan Airport at the end of the 1950s and hailed a cab to take him to his residency at Memorial Hospital in Worcester. He literally landed here with $5 in his pocket, said his son, Rashid of Wellesley. The taxi ride was $8, and he was very nervous about what would happen when he got there, said his wife, Dr. Marian Klepser Ashraf. But the taxi driver said: 'You keep your money. Welcome to America. Born in Kashmir, India, Dr. Ashraf was educated in Pakistan, where he graduated from King Edward Medical College in Lahore. After his residency, he trained as a cardio-thoracic surgeon at Overholt Thoracic Clinic at New England Deaconess Hospital, then stayed at the hospital, where he was among the first physicians to perform open heart and bypass surgery in Boston. He had the reputation, really, of the master surgeon and had patients from all over the world, said Dr. Robert Berger, director of clinical research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre. He really took care of his patients, many of whom stayed at his home, which is nonexistent today. Now, you operate and you leave. That wasnt his style. A tall man with very striking blue eyes, which everybody noticed, Dr. Ashraf was a great mentor to the residents and the medical students, Berger said. Some of Dr. Ashrafs patients travelled to Boston from India and Pakistan, but a fair contingent drove east from Schenectady, N.Y., where a cardiologist friend sent referrals his way. Dr. Ashraf also helped create what was dubbed the Happy Hearts Club, an organisation that counselled heart patients about what to expect from surgery and how to live their lives afterward. Some of that education took place in his house. He was extremely magnanimous, his wife said. He opened our home to people from all over the world who came here for medical treatment, and not just for cardiac treatment. We had people in our home from Pakistan waiting for kidney transplants and from India waiting for surgery or recuperating from surgery. We had a large international family because of him. He really broadened our familys horizons tremendously, because he was very generous with his time, with his talents. At the hospital, in addition to his work with patients from around the world, Dr. Ashraf taught generations of surgeons. He loved his work, his wife added. His reputation was for technical excellence. Unfortunately, his career was cut short because he was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease at 50. Dr. Ashraf had become involved with the Islamic Centre of New England, which was in Quincy before moving to Sharon. As president of the Centre, he helped find a new, larger location when the membership outgrew the mosque in a residential neighbourhood in Quincy Point. He really had two parts of his life: He had his professional life and his faith, his son said. A lot of his friends have come by and talked about everything he accomplished in the last 15 years at the Islamic Centre, and some people forget he was one of the earliest guys performing bypass surgery. He was a heart surgeon at a time when there wasnt much heart surgery. A healer of hearts in the operating room, Dr. Ashraf was a soothing, if vigorous, presence wherever he went, whether persuading the residents of Sharon to accept the Islamic Centre as a new neighbour or opening his house to the world. He just made you comfortable, and he wanted everybody to be treated equally, his son added. It didnt matter what race, religion, or status they were. A good person was a good person. Said Berger: I think a lot of what Mian stood for would be very helpful for the world today. He was an unusually kind man, the kind of which we have few of today. In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Ashraf leaves three daughters, Sabah of New York City, Rehana of Boston, and Nilofer of Dorchester; three sisters, Dr. Mehbooba Anwar of Marietta, Ga., and Shafiqua Ali and Rafiqua Hameed, both of Indian-held Kashmir, three brothers, Mian Mushtaq Ahmed, Mian Mohammad Shafi, and Mian Basharat Ahmed, all of IHK; and two grandchildren. A memorial service for the departed soul is planned at 11 a.m. tomorrow (May 21) in Harvards Memorial Church in Cambridge. (Boston Globe Staff)