Remembering Deedat

“There is no end to what a [wo]man can achieve if [s]he does not mind who gets the credit.”

Growing up, Ahmed Deedat was a staple in the house. We used to have beta max cassette after cassette (do you remember those, they were smaller than the VHS tapes) of his talks, his debates and discussions with theologians and pastors across the globe. His fiery oratory skills kept us mesmerized – even at a young age. Although I didn’t realize it then, I know now that it was because of him that I appreciate Islam as a religion of reason. Why I have no patience for those who say there’s no room to question in Islam – those who preach rote memorization and not a critical engagement and understanding of the Quran, Hadith and all that come with it. Why I understand Islam to be a religion that requires of it’s followers to seek knowledge constantly, to dig deeper and value rigorous and respectful intellectual conversations and discussions. Why I came to appreciate the power of words and the power of articulation and eloquence. Why I wasn’t afraid to debate religion with my teachers in a missionary school where I was the only Muslim in my class for 10 consecutive years. He also taught me to appreciate that to be a scholar or a theologian didn’t mean one couldn’t have a sense of humor. He was witty and generous with his smiles and emotions.

Ahmed Deedat passed away in 2005 at the age of 87 after battling a stroke that left him paralyzed and unable to speak, nine years prior in 1996. His life story is incredible – here are a few lessons I glean:

1. A man known for his incredible oratory skills is left in his final years, unable to speak. subhan’Allah. Nothing is forever.

2. The doctors tell him he won’t live after the stroke and yet he lives for nine more years before taking his final breath. There’s no time like God’s time.

3. The unsung (s)heroes. His wife, Hawa Deedat, who stayed by his side and believed in him more than he himself did was essential to him being able to carry out the work he did.

4. Despite a stroke that left him unable to speak, swallow or show expression, he continued to study and engage on these topics until he died. This was how dedicated he was to intellectual pursuits.

5. He is by any standards, undoubtedly an intellectual and a scholar and yet his formal education didn’t go past the age of 16. To be learned doesn’t mean to be schooled.

Sometimes we don’t realize the profound effect someone has in our lives until they’re gone and only with the benefit of hindsight.

May we always question. May we always seek answers and may we never stop learning and growing.

Rest in peace and power Ahmed Deedat.

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