Obituary: Yousuf Deedat (1953-2020), outspoken activist

31st Jan 2020

Yousuf Deedat, the son of Muslim scholar Ahmed Deedat passed away on January 17. He had been shot in the head two days earlier outside the courthouse in the town of Verulam on the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, where his family had lived for years.
Deedat was immediately airlifted to a hospital where he was stabilised by doctors, but succumbed to his injuries with family and friends at his bedside.

Yousuf was born in 1953 and grew up in rural As-Salaam on the south coast of Natal where his father had established a mission in the hope of spreading Islam among the indigenous peoples. After completing his schooling and training as a motor mechanic, Deedat joined the International Propagation Centre International, which his father had founded.

Ahmed acquired global fame in the Muslim world when he “defeated” the American Pentecostal evangelist Christian Jimmy Swaggart in public debate and was bestowed with the prestigious King Faisal Foundation’s ‘Service to Islam’ award in 1986.

The debate and the award enhanced his reputation in the Islamic world, and he spent the next decade touring the Muslim world, as well as Western countries like Australia, the US, and the UK, presenting talks on comparative religion and engaging in debates with Christian and Jewish scholars. During all these travels, Yousuf was ever-present at the side of his energetic but ageing father.

Ahmed suffered a stroke in 1996 and was bedridden until his death in 2005. During this period, Yousuf was at his father’s bedside, taking care of him while also attending to the numerous visitors who came from all parts of the world. They included the likes of the African academic Ali Mazrui, US Muslim leader, Louis Farrakhan, and Indian comparative religion specialist Dr Zakir Naik, who was inspired by Ahmed.

Yousuf was outspoken on many issues and this rankled many people. During the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, for example, Jews were irate that he carried banners seeking to declare Israel a racist state.
He also distributed the controversial video that his father produced, ‘From Hinduism to Islam’, which is critical of Hinduism at a time, ironically, when Muslims globally were demanding that the West stop its attacks on Islam.

Around 2016, Yousuf was arrested on suspicion of being an ISIS recruiter. He was also charged with threatening and pointing a firearm at a Verulam resident. Yousuf defended himself and eventually all charges were dropped with a magistrate finding that there was no ‘corroborating evidence’ to substantiate any of the charges.

Following his acquittal, Yousuf was adamant that the arrest was a conspiratorial attempt by the police to intimidate him because of his religious activities and he sued the magistrate, police and the state for wrongful arrest.

He also sued Independent newspapers for being Islamophobic for publishing articles demeaning Islam. Both cases were being heard in the courts at the time of his shooting, leading to speculation that his death may be related to these legal matters.

Goolam Vahed,
Professor of History, The University of KwaZulu Natal.

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