Shaikh Ahmad Deedat- The Great Man
Shaikh Ahmad Deedat- The Great Man
Some decades ago, countries around the world were trying to free themselves from colonial oppression. Simultaneously, the colonized countries faced an attack on their respective faiths. It was in such turbulent financial and spiritual times. In 1918, a boy named Shaikh Ahmad Deedat was born in Tadkeshwar, Surat, British India. A few months after his birth, Ahmad’s father— Hussain Ahmad Deedat, a tailor occupation, left for South Africa in search of work. Later when Ahmad was 8 years old his father called him to South Africa. Soon after his departure, Ahmad’s mother died in India. After her death, Ahmad and his father started living together in South Africa. Hussain Deedat wanted his son to be an educated person, so he admitted Ahmad to an English-medium school in South Africa. It was a challenge for Ahmad to cope-up with the children from his school since his mother tongue was Gujrati. Nevertheless, Ahmad was a dedicated boy and with his determination he overcame all challenges. He would read some piece in English, and in the same year he became the topper of his class.
Unfortunately, due to the financial crisis unable to pay his school fee, Ahmad could not continue his education. Ahmad’s pain and sadness reflected on his face which captivated a local businessman. The businessman offered to help Ahmad by paying his entire school fee. Hopeful of continuing his education Ahmad’s happiness knew no bounds. When he returned to school his teacher asked Ahmad about his fee. He told the teacher that he knew a generous businessman who was going to pay his school fee. But when Ahmad visited the businessman and asked for the money, the man started to mock him and said it was only a joke and not a promise. Devastated by this incident Ahmad became hopeless. Apart from this, he was lonely since his father used to go to work and Ahmad remained alone at the house. Both met only at the dinner table and did not talk much. Due to the financial crisis, Ahmad was forced to do the job of a salesman. The shop where he worked was situated near a country church which is 30 km far from Durban city. At the church, missionaries lived and were trained to propagate Christianity and convert the local population.
An unfortunate incident occurred when a group of Christian missionaries came to Ahmad’s shop to propagate Christianity and started attacking Ahmad’s religion. Ahmad was an ordinary person at that time; he did not know anything about Islam. The missionaries told Ahmad that his Prophet Muhammad had several wives and brought people into Islam by using the sword, so he was a false prophet. Ahmad felt sad and humiliated and was ashamed that he knew nothing of his religion to defend it. He was simply a Muslim as he was born into a Muslim family.
This humiliation and being alone put him on the quest to find the answers to the questions of the missionaries. But to challenge the missionaries he needed knowledge of facts and interpretations.
One day, rummaging for reading material in the basement of his employer, Ahmad came across a book named Izaharul-Haq (‘the Truth unveiled’) written by Rahmatullah Kairwani. The writer of the book— an Arab man, dealt with the various strategies used by Christian missionaries sent to India to convert the Muslim population. Answering all his questions, the book fascinated Ahmad. It impacted much of his thoughts because he got the exact kind of reading material that he was looking for.
Soon Ahmad turned into a bookworm. Always hungry to read, he read everything which he came across. He began to read and understand the Holy Quran and memorize its beautiful verses. Translation to English played a huge role in this. He began to read the Bible and all its different versions. Ahmad was a person who was teaching himself ‘how to read’. He read things in such a way to be able to answer and debate using facts that were now at his fingertips. This was also because he had a sharp memory. His motivation and enthusiasm led him to join a Bible class in the locality which was run by an English convert to Islam named— Dr. Fairfax. These English Classes on the Bible strengthened his knowledge of the Biblical sciences. Over time, Ahmad not only became a good reader but a good debater as well. Ahmad’s first lecture contained only 15-20 people, but soon this number turned into thousands. A man who once was unable to defend his faith, now not only began defending his faith but also questioned the same Christian missionaries. It was through his self-taught voracious reading that Ahmad became the king of debates in inter-religious faith. Through reading, he not only improved his language skills, but his presentation skills also improved.
Ergo, Ahmad confronted many Christian debaters on stage where he no longer felt embarrassed and could fluently answer their questions. He was designated as ‘the man of the stage’ by the audience. Ahmad did not become complacent or arrogant. One fine day, he shocked everyone by inviting Jimmy Swaggart to a debate. Jimmy Swaggart happens to be one of the biggest American evangelists and has millions of followers around the world. Even Ahmad’s son warned him against debating with Jimmy Swaggart.
Everyone close to him was worried that his entire legacy may disappear overnight, and he would be mocked for the remainder of his life if he loses the debate with Jimmy Swaggart. Despite all this Ahmad Deedat was confident in his reading abilities and presentation of facts. So, he went to the United States to debate with him. Ahmad won this debate too. Later on, Ahmad also invited the Pope to debate in Vatican square but the Pope rejected his offer.
Shaikh Ahmad Deedat during the debate
As a result, Ahmad Deedat became more popular than ever. Could anybody have imagined that a school dropout who was an ordinary retail assistant by rummaging through reading materials could teach himself to read and grow up to become ‘the man of the stage’, and such a renowned debater worldwide? It has also been reported that late president Nelson Mandela also called Ahmad personally to congratulate his achievement in the Muslim world.
Later, Ahmad founded an organization along with two of his close friends. They named it the Islamic Propagation Centre International (IPCI). In 1986, Ahmad got awarded the King Faisal International Prize. He has written more than 20 books on interfaith dialogues. This great man, from a small town in India, challenged the white supremacists’ ideologies of oppression and became a beacon of hope and inspiration to Muslims all over the world. Many of his students have become acclaimed debaters, Dr. Zakir Naik being one of them.
In many of his interviews, Deedat said that he achieved this status only with the help of God and his struggle to read in his loneliness. From 1995 to 2005, Ahmad suffered due to disease and on 28 August he died leaving behind a legacy of his faith.
Shaikh Ahmad Deedat with his student Dr. Zakir Naik