“We keep our religion to ourselves. We have an idea that we want everybody to make themselves right before we tell our neighbours. Can you tell me which day a thousand million Muslims are going to stand up and say, we are alright now, we must start doing dawah?”
It was in late 2000 that I approached the late Yusuf Deedat, son of Sheikh Ahmed Deedat with a request. I wanted a letter of recommendation to study at the Islamic University of Madinah. I visited the Sheikh a few times during his illness, but the magnanimity of the Sheikh didn’t dawn upon me until I got accepted at Madinah University. There I met so many revert students who were influenced by his books or they went through his books and debates in their journey towards Islam.
I remember as a kid as one drove into Durban, you would see massive billboards advertising Islam thanks to IPCI. In school I remember we were all given IPCI rulers which had the details on how to get a free Quran. This was given to all, Muslims and non-Muslims. At the IPCI auditorium they had Deedat’s videos playing 24 hours a day. During the day you could sit in the plush airconditioned setting and at night you could stand & watch via the large tv’s they had set up.
These are some recollections I have of Sheikh Ahmed Deedat and who knows maybe it was his letter of recommendation that made the difference in my application to the Islamic University. Allahu’A’lam.
Sadly, it was only this year that I sat down to really study his life in greater detail. Rather late than never. Learning about his life was extremely interesting & below are some facts that you most probably don’t know about him.
May Allah reward him.
What You Probably Didn’t Know About Sheikh Ahmed Deedat
- Ahmed Hoosen Deedat was born on the July 1st of 1918 in Tadkeshwar, Gujarat, India into a poor family.
- His father left for South Africa to seek greener pastures, while he remained with his mother.
- He left to join his father in South Africa at the age of nine & his mother passed away nine months after his departure.
- He arrived in South Africa not knowing a word of English.
- He had to leave school many times due to his fathers’ inability to pay school fees.
- He decided to move with his family from South Africa to the newly established Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1949. He did this having great hope in the country and having a desire to practise his faith better, to be a “pukka musalman.”
- He worked as a retail assistant & salesman for many years.
How it all started?
- He was working at a store near Adams College which was a christian evangelic school. He got into discussions with the students & this sparked his desire and need for further research.
- He came across a dusty copy of Izhar al-Haqq. Izhar al-Haq is based on a debate between Mawlana Rahmatullah Kairanawi and Reverend Carl Pfander in 1854. Deedat later said this book transformed his life.
Some of his statements:
“Attack is the best defense.”
“We keep our religion to ourselves. We have an idea that we want everybody to make themselves right before we tell our neighbours. Can you tell me which day a thousand million Muslims are going to stand up and say, we alright now, we must start doing dawah?”
“Wallahi if I have the means I will distribute Qurans free to everybody in the world.”
Why he resonated with the people
- He spoke the language of the people. It was simple without the academic jargon.
- He entered “enemy territory” and challenged the other.
- Many would describe his debates as “theological boxing matches.”
- He would boost the morale of the Muslims.
- He restored the dignity and pride of Muslims.
Issues some Muslims had with Deedat
- His approach in dawah.
- The claim that he lacked “wisdom” in dawah.
- He upset the relationship balance Indian Muslims and Indian Hindus had in South Africa by his controversial “Oh you Hindu Awake!.”
- Causing offence to non-Muslims.
- He entered into the domain of the Ulama.
Issues Deedat had with Muslims
- He would say “Why the inferiority complex? Why this sickness?
- He implored the Muslims to study the Quran as he wanted them to understand the text.
- Deedat felt that Arabs had failed to carry out the mission of the Prophet (saw) and should instead provide funds to those who were willing to do the work.
Many would describe him as…
- Having a love for the podium.
- Having the gift of the gab.
- Having a passion for debate.
- Determined and no one could stop him once he decided on something.
- “Deedat was not a great Mawlana but he stood up to the Christians. He taught us that we must fight back blow-by-blow. He gave a sense of respectability too Muslims.
- Deedat was a nice but demanding, a stern man. When he wants a job done, it must be done. That’s how his work was. You can’t fool around with him, don’t ask questions.
- When he got an idea, he just went ahead and would never back pedal. This was his strength and his weakness. It sometimes got us into trouble, but it also achieved a lot of things that would not otherwise have happened. If the IPC could afford 500 pamphlets, he would order 5000 and he would go out and find the money, even if he had to plead from door to door.
- Damaging Muslim-Christian relations in Apartheid South Africa.
- Deedat didn’t listen to his father’s admonition, why would he have listened to other critics?
- He was a hafidh of the bible.
- Thriving on battles and was willing to risk defeat rather than compromise.
- Having an obstinate gene that compelled him to stay the course irrespective of the consequences. Caution was not a trait one would easily associate with him.
- He did not take criticism lightly; he was highly combative and always fought fire with fire.
- He would take a hundred no’s before a yes came, but he persevered.
- He was open to ideas.
- After some years it was a big organisation, more staff, more structured, more bureaucracy and Mr Deedat became absolutely famous. The family atmosphere was gone. The IPCI became a corporate. We had lost our soul.
- Having difficult family relationships.
- He always did more than he had money for. He regarded everything as possible.
- He was driven by a deep sense of mission.
- He commanded the aura of a modern-day caliph.
Many in South Africa did not appreciate the extent of his popularity. Deedat moved Islam out of the Mosques, into the public domain and away from the notion of religion as only being about private worship.
- He practised his talks.
- He carried around thumb cards containing quotations from the Quran and bible.
- Salie Mohamed of Cape Town was called “my Abu Bake Siddique” by Deedat.
- He loved cucumbers.
- He advertised in South African newspapers, and in the USA, placed adverts in Time magazine, and USA Today.
Deedat in Charge
- All employees at IPCI had to undergo the Dale Carnegie course in public speaking.
- “Judge Mr Deedat for dawah, not administration”
- It was said he fired more people than he hired.
Deedat said to Zakir, “You have accomplished in four years what I did in forty years.”
Deedat said to Zakir that you have accomplished in four years what I did in forty years. Zakir responded that had it not been for the forty years of Deedat, the four years accomplishment would not have been possible. Zakir Naiks mother admired Dr Chris Barnard and wished Zakir would follow in his footsteps. Zakir said to her would you want me to become Chris Barnard or Shaykh Deedat? She said, “I want you to become both.” He asked again and she said, “I can sacrifice a thousand Chris Barnards for one Shaykh Deedat.”
A Loving & Caring Wife
His wife, Hawa was a pillar of support. After his illness, she took on the role of his personal nurse and never left the home. Throughout the nine years of being bedridden many doctors would praise Hawa for her dedication and care. He never developed any bed sores throughout that period.
The World Stage
Deedat was in his sixties when he became familiar to international audiences. Several individuals, mainly members of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth linked him to a network of major players in the Muslim World.
- In 1994, Nelson Mandela called him by phone from Saudi Arabia. Mandela said wherever he went people asked him about Deedat.
- He debated Gary Miller who embraced Islam soon after.
- He received the King Faisal award for service to Islam in 1985 and this gave him an iconic status among many Muslims.
- After the Swaggart debate Deedat shot to fame.
- Made hijrah with his wife, four-year-old son & three-year-old daughter to Pakistan via ship. They were stuffed into the cargo hold and travelled like animals in a pen.
- His father once publicly rebuked him in front of thousands of people at the Durban City Hall for debating Christians.
- Mohammed Makki of the Muslim Digest was an ardent critic of Deedat. He often lambasted Deedat in his publication.
- His brother, Abdullah Deedat was also a harsh critic.
- He was assaulted outside a Port Elizabeth Mosque.
- Later in life when he grew in fame, most ulama organisations and bodies distanced themselves from Deedat and most Mosques were not open to him.
- Deedat spend 15 years trying to get the as-Salam Seminary to match his dreams but it was not meant to be.
- Internal wrangling and court cases between trustees of IPCI led to ‘internal hemorrhaging’ and sapped a lot of energy. Instead of carrying out the mandate of the IPCI they were massaging egos.
Health & Passing
At the age of 78 he suffered a stroke on the way home after a tense 5-hour trustee meeting that left him bedridden for nine years. He passed away on the 8th of August 2005 just before 7am.
For further information see
1. Ahmed Deedat, the man and his mission, Goolam Vahed
2. My Golden HandSheikh with Ahmed Deedat, Shafa’at Khan
4. Letter Shaykh Deedat gave to Shaykh Bilal Ismail