Saturday, September 22, 2012


 Sheikh Ahmed Deedat - A Tribute

The voice and words of this scholar won’t fade away

Hameed Abdul Karim

The news of Sh. Ahmed Deedat’s demise did not come as a shock because in a way we were all expecting the inevitable, since he was ailing for well over eight years. But still there was a feeling of sorrow because this great man – this wonderful man – had entered into the lives and minds of Muslim kings, princes and scholars to the students and the average men and women alike with his charm and brilliant scholarship in comparative religion.

Never was the truism ‘walk with kings and still not lose the common touch’ more true than in the case of Sh. Ahmed Deedat. He would chew the fat with King Fahd one day and sip coffee with a Bedouin the next chatting away, with a child like eagerness to learn something new.

I was floored and flattered when he told me he had learned something from what I had done when he was on a visit to Sri Lanka. I couldn’t believe that I had contributed in a teeny weenie to the vast knowledge of this great and wonderful man. All what I had done was to slightly change a slogan he had coined. Here was a man world famous for his reputation for keeping huge audiences spellbound with his oratory on comparative religion telling me I had contributed, unwittingly though it may be, to his vast repertoire. I have recounted this incident not to attract any attention to myself, but only to illustrate this great man’s humility.

But if you were to judge him from the style and manner he delivered his public lectures, with his booming voice mesmerising huge audiences, you would conclude that humility and he had nothing to do with each other. One day over a meal when someone broached this subject he told us that that was the way he spoke at home and even with his friends. He said he had acquired this habit from his birth place in Gujarat, where you had to be aggressive if you were to keep the ‘wolf from the door’, punctuating the conversation with his vast collection of idioms.

But even this approach was not enough to ‘keep the home fires burning’ and so at a tender age of just nine he had to migrate to South Africa to join his father who was a tailor by profession. He did not have any knowledge of English but he applied himself assiduously to the task of acquiring an education for himself and with his dedication he did very well in school. Unfortunately he couldn’t raise enough money to continue his studies. One thing he had acquired, though, was a passion for reading and this was to stand him in good stead in his mission to counter the negative image of Islam that had been projected by vested interests.

In later years he was to tell his audiences that it was God almighty who was preparing him for things to come, and true enough, from an insignificant meeting with some missionaries one day in his shop opposite a seminary, he was to stride like a colossus on the world stage.    University dons and students alike would come to him to seek knowledge and enjoy his convivial hospitality – he was a big hearted host. But mostly they came because they enjoyed his company, for indeed he was a lovable man!

He founded one of the most dynamic Islamic organisations in the world, namely the Islamic Propagation Centre International in Durban which has been a tremendous source of inspiration to organisations and individuals worldwide.

My first meeting with Sh. Deedat is indelibly carved in my mind. My friend Anver Ahamed and I had gone to the airport to pick him up. We thought we would have to wait for long because Sh. Deedat was a controversial man and on top of it he was a South African national and we thought the immigration guys might give him a rag before letting him go. But we were surprised when, within a short time of the aircraft landing, Sh. Ahmed Deedat stood in the ‘arrival’ door, his huge physique almost covering the temporary door at the airport which was under renovations.

He beamed at us with his broad smile and greeted us with a gung-ho ‘Assalamu ‘Alaikum’ and said ‘so this is the land where Ravan brought Seetha, huh? I am very happy to be here, very happy’ he exclaimed.
On the way to Colombo we got talking about this and that and he recounted an encounter he had had with a Doctor of Divinity (DD) and I, in jest told him I too was a DD. He looked genuinely surprised. ‘Are you really a DD?’ he asked and I said, ‘yes I am a DD and it stands for Disciple of Deedat’. He was delighted with my gag and ever since then he always called me ‘DD’.

Sh. Ahmed Deedat was as pious as they come, but was also full of life. He lived in the world like as if he was not of the world. He loved cricket and he would rattle of names of greats like the Eddie Barlow’s and the Pollock brothers as suavely as he would quote the Bible and the Qur’an. I used to call him once in a while just to keep in touch. On one such occasion his timbre laced voice boomed over the line saying ‘Mubarak!’ (congratulations) ‘You are world champions’. Sri Lanka had just won the world cup then. He told me he had watched every ball, which I hadn’t, been prone as I am to tension in such situations!

When he saw our organisation, the Centre for Islamic Studies, of which I am a co-founder, he was pleased as punch and he told me ‘son, if you owe us any money forget about paying back’. I took advantage of the opportunity and told him we didn’t owe the IPCI any money but would he be kind enough to donate English translations of the Qur’an? He said yes, sure will and true to his word he sent us the Qur’ans – one whole container load followed by another about two months later. May Allah bless this fascinating man for that – for there weren’t that many English translation around that period of time.

This great man is gone but his memory will linger on for generations to come. Modern technology has seen to that. All his lectures are on tape and all you have to do is press the right buttons on your computer and Sheikh Ahmed Deedat would enter your homes educating and entertaining you at the same time.  His tapes, like his books - numbering in the millions (no exaggeration) are in worldwide circulation and easily accessible.

The following verse from the Qur’an is a fitting tribute to this fantastic and   dynamic man – my Sheikh Ahmed Deedat.

‘Allah will say “This is a day on which the truthful will profit from their truth; theirs are gardens with rivers flowing beneath – their eternal home; Allah well pleased with them and they with Allah. This is the mighty triumph. (Qur’an 5:119)

Thank you Sheikh for being an inspiration…and a friend …and uncle all rolled in one. It was a privilege knowing you….and loving you.  

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