Monday, April 27, 2009

Sheikh Ahmed Hussein Deedat

Sheikh Ahmed Hussein Deedat (July 1, 1918–August 8, 2005) was a South African author, lecturer, and orator. A Muslim, he was best known for his numerous inter-religious public debates with evangelical Christians, as well as lectures, most of which were centered around Islam, Christianity and the Bible. According to David Westerlund, Deedat aimed at providing Muslims with theological tools for defending themselves against the intense missionary strivings of many Christian denominations. He used English instead of Arabic or any other language to get his message across to Muslim minorities in the western world.

Early years
Ahmed Deedat was born in Gujarat, India in 1918. His father had emigrated to South Africa shortly after the birth of Ahmed Deedat. At the age of 9, Deedat went to join his father in what is now known as Kwazulu-Natal. His mother died few months after Deedat left for South Africa. Applying himself with diligence to his studies, Deedat was able to overcome the language barrier and excel in school, getting promotions until he completed standard 6. But had to start working at the age of 16. In 1936, while working as a furniture salesman Deedat came across missionaries at a Christian seminary on the Natal South Coast. In between the deep racial divides, the religious ideology was used by the authorities to numb and pacify the masses. This is considered to be a major influence on Deedat's interest in comparative religions.

Sheikh Deedat credited his inspiration to be a book entitled "Izhar ul-Huqq", meaning "Truth Revealed", written by Rahmatullah Kairanhvi, which he had read while working at a
Muslim owned furniture store near a Christian seminary on the Natal Coast of South Africa. In particular the idea of holding debates had a profound effect on Deedat who then purchased his first Bible and began holding debates and discussions with trainee missionaries, whose questions he had previously been unable to answer.

Deedat's first lecture, entitled "Muhammad: Messenger of Peace", was delivered in 1942 to an audience of fifteen people at a Durban movie theatre named Avalon Cinema, within a short space of time, attendance grew.

Among Deedat's close friends were Gholam Hoosein Vanker and Taahir Rasool, whom many refer to as 'the 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. In 1957, Deedat, together with Vanker and Rasool, founded the Islamic Propagation Centre International (IPCI) which printed a variety of books and offered classes to new Muslims, (and remained its president until 1996). He later established an Islamic seminary at the As-Salaam Educational Institute, in Braemar, on the South Coast of Natal and published more than 20 books distributing millions of copies of free literature and pamphlets across the world. Ahmed Deedat has influenced many to take part in the course of dawah and a major part of dawah that is carried out around the world has indeed his mark in it.

Lectures & Debates
With the increased success, Deedat engaged into a broader range of activities over the next three decades. He conducted classes on Biblical Theology and conducted numerous lectures.
Da`wah (inviting people towards Islam) became the dominant factor of his life, with the audiences at his lectures reaching forty thousand. He later also went on to write a large number of books on varied topics such as Christianity, Islam, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, conducted classes on Bible studies and also delivered numerous lectures and held debates on varied topics of Islam, Christianity and Judaism to large numbers of audiences; of the most famous being a debate against a Christian missionary from Nazareth Dr. Anis Shorrosh titled “Is Jesus God?” and another being against the pioneer of Christian Televangelism Jimmy Swaggart titled “Is The Bible the Word of God” which was witnessed by about 8,000 people. Henry Hock Guan Teh, a well-known Christian writer described the debate against Jimmy Swaggart in his article The Law of Evidence as:
“The debate is on the reasonableness of their competing faiths which was held at Louisiana State University. Great expectations were generated since both were experienced public speakers. Sadly, Swaggart merely relied on TV showmanship to influence the crowd. When Deedat challenged him to prove the Bible as the Word of God, Swaggart simply quoted John 3:16 and claimed that his life was changed by it. Even such a claim was shattered to pieces when Swaggart’s personal sexual weaknesses were later exposed in the press. Although faith is necessary but without being thoughtfully presented its witness would not seem to be credible. ”

In 1981 he debated well known Christian apologist Josh McDowell.
His debates were later broadcasted online on popular sites like
Youtube, and continue to be watched by fans and adversaries. Some of his lectures have also been collected in a book titled The Choice: Islam and Christianity, published by the Islamic Book Service. His debates, such as audience-attended ones versus Stanley Sjoberg, and informal others, such as with American Soldiers stationed in the Persian Gulf, had such an impact on observers or participants, that ex-minister Kenneth Jenkins (now Abdullah al-Faruq) embraced Islam. Deedat also held a combined lecture with ex-missionary Gary Miller (now Abdul-Ahad Omar) and ex-Catholic cleric James Cunningham -who converted after debating with him- about Islam and Christianity. Furthermore, Deedat had challenged the late Pope John Paul II to a public debate, but the pope only agreed to a closed conference in his cabin.

In his book, "Arabs and Israel Conflict or Reconciliation", Deedat has frequently alleged "Jewish biases" in the western world and media, re-iterating traditional
conspiracist allegations of "Jewish Lobby" control. He writes "Anti-Semite" is the magic word that cloaks every Jewish Crime". In his book, he also attacks Israel, and the US-Israel relationship in this book as part of a "Jewish Conspiracy".

Criticism
Deedat's debates and writings have been labelled a form of apologetics. Some also consider that Deedat's emphasis on such matters as inconsistencies in the Bible does nothing to convince Westerners of the truth of Islam since Western culture is essentially secular.

In 2006, Ahmed Deedat's son circulated a DVD that denounced South African Hindus. The elder Deedat had previously circulated an anti-Hindu video in the 80's in which he said that Indian Muslims were 'fortunate' that their Hindu forefathers 'saw the light' and converted to Islam when Muslim rulers dominated some areas of India. His video was widely criticized.

i) Lloyd V. J. Ridgeon, professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Glasgow writes:
Ahmed Deedat's pamphlets are being recycled to a brand new British Muslim constituency. Thus, a new generation is exposed to his malicious new disinformation. The reason for the popularity of such polemicists as Ahmed Deedat is varied: Muslim self-understandings as "the best of all communities" leads them to suppose that Islam prevails over all religions. Combined with the wounded pride of living in a post-colonial world within the continuing hegemony of western culture, some dignity can at least be preserved by claiming moral and religious superiority.


ii) Karl Maier, former Africa correspondent for the London's newspaper The Independent, writes that Deedat's rhetoric has made him very popular "in the underground of Islamic radicalism" Still, Deedat's influence was certainly wider than confined to the underground. Islamic scholar.

Honors
In 1986, he was awarded the King Faisal Award for his services to Islam in the field of Da'awah.

Death
On May 3, 1996, Sheikh Ahmed Deedat suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed from the neck down, and also meant that he could no longer speak or swallow. He was flown to
King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, where he was taught to communicate through a series of eye-movements. He spent the last nine years of his life in a bed in his home in Verulam, South Africa, encouraging people to engage in Da'wah (Islam propagation). He continued to receive hundreds of letters of support from around the world, but was a target to many missionaries who tried to convert him to Christianity, to which he replied -via eye movements- with verses from the scriptures. On August 8, 2005, Ahmed Deedat died at his home on Trevennen Road in Verulam in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. He is buried at the Verulam cemetery.

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