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The life of Shaikh Ahmed Deedat

In the Muslim world and many parts of the globe, South Africa is known not only for Nelson Mandela but for Muslim scholar Shaikh Ahmed Deedat, famous for his passionate and witty inter-religious public debates.

Last Modified: 20 Aug 2005 07:54 GMT
Ahmed Deedat received the King Faisal Award

In the Muslim world and many parts of the globe, South Africa is known not only for Nelson Mandela but for Muslim scholar Shaikh Ahmed Deedat, famous for his passionate and witty inter-religious public debates.

Deedat suffered a stroke in 1996 that left him paralysed and without the power of speech. Doctors said he would not live, but Deedat continued to work, finally passing away on 8 August from kidney failure. He was 87.

As messages of support and sympathy poured into the offices of the Islamic Propagation Centre International (IPCI) – the centre he established - its director, Rafik Hassan, told Aljazeera.net: "Shaikh Ahmed Deedat's legacy lives.

"He motivated and inspired millions of people around the globe and from different religions and backgrounds."

One admirer, Hani Abu Fuad, a Palestinian student in Jordan, said South Africa is famous for two remarkable personalities: Mandela and Deedat. "These are our heroes," he told Aljazeera.net.

Deedat sought to dispel "myths and lies about Islam and Christianity" through books such as Crucifixion or Cruci-Fiction? and What the Bible says about Muhammed, said former IPCI director and personal friend Fuad Hendricks.

A stroke in 1996 left Ahmed
Deedat paralysed

"Shaikh Deedat made people question their belief system and seek answers. He even made Muslims revisit their theories of faith," Hendricks said.

"He became a specialist on the Bible. His mission was the reaffirmation that Jesus (peace be upon him) needed to be understood and appreciated as a prophet of Allah as Adam, Moses and Muhammad (peace be upon them) were," Hendricks added.

Early years

Deedat was born in India’s Surat province in 1918. His father, a tailor, immigrated to South Africa soon after. In 1927, Deedat joined him in the city of Durban, on the east coast of South Africa.

The young Deedat excelled at school, but poverty forced him to leave and start work when he was 16. It was as a furniture salesman that Deedat encountered missionaries sent to convert non-Christians and where he began to think about comparative religions.

Deedat is considered by many to be more a scholar of the Bible than the Quran.

Unsung heroes

Among Deedat's close friends were Goolam Hoosein Vanker and Taahir Rasool, whom many refer to as "unsung heroes" of Deedat's career.

They formed a study circle to look at the teachings of the Quran, and in 1956 Deedat and Vanker set up the IPCI in Durban.

Deedat delivered his first public lecture in 1942 at what was then the Avalon Cinema in Durban. His topic was Muhammad: Messenger of Peace.

Over the next four decades, Deedat immersed himself in studying and memorising the Bible and Quran, conducting lectures and public debates the world over. He wrote more than 20 books, now published in numerous languages.

Ahmed Deedat was known for his
debates with evangelical figures

He delivered thousands of lectures around the world, engaged Christian evangelists such as Jimmy Swaggart in public debate and talked with numerous Christian organisations and clerics in America. According to his website, www.ahmed-deedat.co.za, he invited the late Pope John Paul II to a debate and to embrace Islam.

Deedat was commended by Mandela and received the King Faisal Award from Saudi Arabia in 1986 for outstanding services to Islam.

Ebrahim Jadwat, a close family friend and secretary-general of the IPCI, told Aljazeera.net: "Shaikh Deedat is an inspiration to us and helped Muslims restore their dignity, especially after defeating the likes of Christian evangelist preacher Jimmy Swaggart."

Another of Deedat’s famous debates was with Bishop Josh McDowell in Durban in 1981 on Was Christ Crucified?

"He beat the missionaries by questioning them with reason," says Jadwat.

Communication

Deedat’s stroke left him unable to speak, swallow or show expression.

"But his brain was as sharp as it had always been," says his son, Yusuf Deedat. "He could see and hear, he could laugh and cry, and he could blink. And more importantly, he could reason."

During this time, Deedat’s wife cared for him at their home.

"She was my father's backbone, a pillar of strength and support throughout his life. Hawa Deedat motivated my father and believed in his mission more than the shaikh himself," Yusuf said.

Despite his condition, Deedat was able to discuss politics and debate with members of the Christian clergy who visited him. Using a grid of the alphabet, Deedat signalled with a blink for 'yes' or a widening of the eyes for 'no', guiding his son to spell out words letter by letter.

The grid consisted of rows numbered one to five. Row one had letters A to E, row two letters F to J, and so on.

Shortly before his death, Deedat told Aljazeera.net: "Since my illness I have learnt to laugh and cry easily."

Bin Laden Centre

The office of the IPCI on Grey Street in Durban gained notoriety in the West because of its former name – the Bin Laden Centre.

"He motivated and inspired millions of people around the globe and from different religions and backgrounds"

Rafik Hassan,
IPCI director

In the aftermath of 11 September 2001, the name drew more attention. Journalists from all over the world also descended on Deedat's home, wanting to know his relationship with the bin Laden family.
 
Yusuf recalls: "Among the first questions the media asked the bedridden Shaikh was: ‘Did Shaikh Deedat know the bin Laden family?’ My father used to say: 'Yes'."

Yusuf would then explain on his father's behalf: "I did know the bin Laden family quite closely. In fact, the most senior bin Laden, Shaikh Muhammad, had contributed the largest chunk of money during the building of the IPCI. Therefore, when the building was completed, we felt that it was the honourable thing to do and we should name it Bin Laden Centre after the family, and we did.

"Many years later, I met Shaikh Muhammad bin Laden and told him what we did. The senior bin Laden humbly declined the honour, saying that if the family had donated 100% of the building's expenses, he might have thought about it, but for this reason the offer cannot be accepted. So we reluctantly had to remove the family's name."

At his bedside

Right up to his death, Deedat was studying. He dictated tracts and continued his communication with people around the world.

"The latter part of the shaikh's career was extremely focused," Hendricks said.

In his room, Deedat had two framed quotations by his bedside.

One was a verse from the Quran, Chapter 21, The Prophets: "And (remember) Job, when He cried to his Lord, 'Truly distress has seized me, but Thou art the Most Merciful of those that are merciful'."

The second read: "There is no end to what a man can achieve if he does not mind who gets the credit."

Source:
Aljazeera
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