Sheikh Ahmed Deedat: Debunking Islam and Debating Christianity
Profiles from South Africa
Sheikh Ahmed Deedat
Demystifying Islam and Debating Christianity
In the context of IslamOnline.net Special coverage of Muslims in South Africa, we feature a series of profiles of prominent South African Muslim personalities. Below is the profile of Sheikh Ahmed Deedat, a man who debunked Islam for the West and formed a formidable enemy of the Christian missionary agenda.
When I consider how my light is spent
Before half my days, in this dark and vast world,
And this talent that he died of hiding
Lodged with me useless, though my soul is more bent
To serve with my Creator, and present
My true account, lest he come back to scold me, –
Does God demand the working day, the light refused?
– John Milton, On His Blindness (1-7)
Unwavering, unnerving and inimitable, Deedat’s approach continues to serve as a lesson to many young Muslims in the post-9/11 climate.
On a cold August day in Verulam, Durban, the Muslim world lost one of its most dynamic and arguably most controversial voices, Ahmed Hoosen Deedat. It had been years since he had spoken his last words, and almost a decade since his last charismatic and spellbinding appearance before an attentive audience in Sydney, Australia, who had picked up and devoured his every sentence.
Leaving him unable to speak or even smile, the stroke Deedat suffered in 1996 was akin to the blindness of the great writer John Milton or the Parkinson’s disease that struck boxing champion Muhammad Ali. It is utter torment for ordinary human beings to endure to see a great individual’s greatest assets become permanently mute in an instant. Deedat carried his burden with stoic determination and total submission to the One he had so easily served all his life.
Nine-year-old Deedat migrated with his family from Surat in India to what is now known as Kwazulu-Natal on the east coast of South Africa. Seven years later, while still a teenager, young Deedat was forced to drop out of school in order to help his family’s depleted finances. For some people, being pulled out of the school system at a young age often turns out to be a disaster that pushes them into a host of societal vices. This was not the case for this 16 year old. As a furniture salesman, he had encounters with Christian missionaries who were determined to convert him from Islam and their faith. Deedat was unwittingly preparing for an unofficial doctorate in comparative religions.
South Africa had deep racial divisions and Calvinist Christian ideology was used by the authorities to numb and pacify the masses.
The proverbial spur to sting his intention had arrived. Young Deedat was desperate to learn about Islam in order to counter the missionary effort. Naturally endowed with the gifts of a razor-sharp mind, a reliable memory, an above-average height for an Indian, and a handsome, pleasant face, Deedat set to work. The marked difference between Deedat’s approach and that of his contemporaries, however, would prove decisive in catapulting this simple man from humble beginnings to the forefront of the world stage. The Quran and Hadith were not the only components of Deedat’s arsenal of knowledge; Deedat would also turn, with studious effort, to the Bible.
Within the context of his upbringing and his time, Deedat became a visionary. The South Africa of Deedat’s youth was a nation rife with deep racial divisions, and the disparity between whites and non-whites grew steadily. It was also a nation that found convenience in Calvinist Christian ideology, finding it a stable servant of the authorities through whom they could numb and pacify the masses.
Deedat was a threat to Christian missionary work. He didn’t hesitate to shy away from stirring up heated debates.
Missionary activity was booming, and on the whole the majority of those who took it upon themselves to spread the gospel were sincere and well-meaning Christians, convinced of the absolute truth of their faith. For some, however, the more blacks and mestizos (those of South Asian descent) and Indians (those of Indo-Pakistani descent) converted to Christianity, the more willing they were to accept their “legitimate” places as than subordinate and younger brothers. of their white colleagues in the faith. Deedat’s response to any missionary who slandered Islam and aimed to show the absolute certainty of the Bible was hardly for the faint-hearted.
He delivered his first lecture, titled “Muhammad: Messenger of Peace”, in 1942. There were 15 people present in a quiet Durban movie theatre. In 1957, Deedat led the opening of the International Islamic Propagation Center (IPCI) in Durban. The IPCI continues to operate to this day with the overriding objective of da`wah.
Deedat was thrust into the consciousness of the Arab public after a television interview in 1986, and the people of the Arab and Muslim world have never forgotten him since. Deedat strove to expose the truth about Christianity. Most of the Bible consists of a collection of small books written by different authors that Christians believe were inspired by God. Deedat strategically set out to expose the historical inconsistencies present in Christian scripture. Using Islam as a point of reference, Deedat was a threat to Christian missionary work, and he was unwilling to stray from stirring up heated debate. His efforts won him the King Faisal Prize of Saudi Arabia in 1986 for outstanding service to Islam.
One of Deedat’s most memorable debates was with evangelical figurehead Jimmy Swaggert. In retrospect, a great irony of the debate is the ferocity with which Swaggert attacked Islam’s acceptance of polygamy. Deedat didn’t hesitate, while Swaggert proudly claimed, “I’m happy with my wife!” Swaggert was later exposed for having a series of encounters with prostitutes.
Although crippled by illness since 1996, he continued to be an inspiration to the Muslim community, even from his sickbed.
Unwavering, unnerving and inimitable, Deedat’s approach continues to serve as a lesson to many young Muslims in the post-9/11 climate. However, some elements of his work will remain rooted in their own socio-political context and cannot be applied to contemporary discourse. For many of today’s Western intelligentsia, the mere exposure of inconsistencies in the Bible proves nothing about the truth of Islam, because the secular spirit is antagonistic to religion.
Deedat has traveled to Saudi Arabia, UK, Morocco, Kenya, Sweden, Australia, Denmark and Iran during his long service to Islam. He was deeply moved by his visit to Iran in 1982. Upon returning to South Africa, he began encouraging unity between the Sunni and Shia factions of Islam and spoke enthusiastically of his meeting with the Ayatollah Khomeini:
There were about forty of us waiting for the Imam and the Imam came in and was about ten meters from where I was, and I saw the Imam. He gave us the lecture for about half an hour, and it was nothing but the Quran, man is like a computerized Quran. And the electric effect he had on everyone, his charisma, was incredible. You just look at the man and tears roll down your cheek. You just have to look at it and you have tears. I have never seen a more handsome old man in my life, no photo, no video, no television could do this man justice, the most handsome old man I have ever seen in my life was this man. … But they are waiting for the Mahdi, not Khomeini. They want to clean the stables and prepare for the arrival of the Mahdi. In the Sunni world we also expect the coming of the Mahdi but we want him to clean the stables for us, make us masters of the world and make us sit on thrones. (“Sunni-Shia unity”)
Sheikh Ahmed Deedat, although crippled by illness since 1996, continued to be an inspiration to the Muslim community even from his sickbed. Although his facial muscles were paralyzed, he never refused visitors and had developed an innovative method of coordinating a form of communication with his eyes and the letters of the alphabet on his bedroom wall.
When his stay in this earthly kingdom came to an end in 2005, tributes poured in from all corners to remember a man who had debunked Islam for the West and formed a formidable enemy of the Christian missionary program. Over the years, thousands have flocked to Islam as a result of Deedat’s preaching, and thousands more continue to marvel at the magnetic effect the Sheikh had and continues to have. on human beings from all walks of life.
By Imran Garda