Famed Muslim preacher and debater Sheikh Ahmed Deedat died Monday, August 8, 2005, at 87, leaving behind a legacy of propagating Islam and defending it against missionaries. Known particularly for his work on comparative religions, Deedat was the founder of the Islamic Propagation Center International (IPCI), the largest Islamic Dawah organization in the world.
He was perceptive, fiery, and daring, with an insight of the Bible that made many Christians whom he came into contact with re-examine their faith.
From working in a shop in a remote area of KwaZulu Natal, to debating the famous American reverend, Jimmy Swaggart in the USA – the story of Ahmed Deedat is amazing.
Born in Surat, India, in 1918, Ahmed Hoosen Deedat had no recollection of his father until 1926. His father, a tailor, had immigrated to South Africa shortly after the birth of Deedat. The son went to South Africa in 1927 to be with his father. His mother passed away a few months later, back in India.
In a foreign land, not knowing the English language, his passion for reading helped him gain promotions until he completed standard 6. Lack of finance interrupted his schooling and at the age of about 16 he took on the first of many jobs in retailing.
The most significant of these was in 1936 when he worked at a Muslim-owned store near a Christian seminary on the Natal South Coast. The incessant insults of the trainee missionaries hurled against Islam during their brief visit to the store infused a stubborn flame of desire within the young man to counteract their false propaganda.
Ahmed Deedat, by God’s will, discovered a book entitled “Izharul-Haq”, meaning the truth revealed. This book recorded the techniques and the enormous success of the effort of Muslims in India in turning the tables against Christian missionary harassment during the British rule of India. In particular, the idea of holding debates had a profound effect on Ahmed Deedat.
Armed with this newfound zeal, Deedat purchased his first Bible and began holding debate and discussions with the trainee missionaries. He published over 30 books and distributed millions of copies free of charge. He delivered thousands of lectures all over the world and successfully engaged Christian Evangelists in public debates. Several thousand people have come into the fold of Islam as a result of these efforts.
The first opportunity to go abroad arose in 1976, when a good friend, Ebrahim Jadwat, travelled to Riyadh for a conference.
“When I asked the people from Saudi television to interview him, they laughed at me, saying that they had 50 or 60 of the greatest scholars from all over the world, so why should they interview him?” recalls Jadwat. “So I said: ‘Give him two minutes of your time and I’m sure you’ll find something interesting.’ So they humored me and gave him the opportunity to come on television.” The rest, as they say, is history…
Sheikh Deedat with his entertaining approach, dynamic personality, deep knowledge of Christianity and unique ideas, swept the Arab world off its feet. Going to Riyadh opened many doors for him, and his dream of printing and distributing the Qur’an and other literature soon become a reality. He was awarded the King Faisal International Award in 1989.
On May 3, 1996, Sheikh Ahmed Deedat suffered a stroke, known as “lock in syndrome,” which left him paralyzed from the neck down. He was no longer able to speak or swallow. He delivered his last lecture in Sydney, Australia, in 1996, just before his chronic illness.