Obituary: Fuad Nahdi (1957-2020): An appreciation

24th Apr 2020
Obituary: Fuad Nahdi (1957-2020): An appreciation

Photo courtesy of the Nahdi family

Fuad Nahdi, a prominent British Muslim journalist, died in London on March 21. Fuad had been checking in and out of hospitals for over a decade, debilitated by an acute case of diabetes, which, a stoic that he was, you could never detect on his face.

He was always gracious and cheerful, even under the circumstances, to his many importuning friends like us. A number of times I was his guest in their modest residence in North London; he dragged me along to his hospital appointments so that we could spend together the precious little time we had together in my fleeting visits there, with the ever cheerful Humera driving us around.

Fuad was basically a minimalist in his habits, in his clothing and possessions. One day, in Nairobi, he let me know that he had got this opportunity to audit a series of short journalism courses, punctuated by an internship at the Muslim Institute in London.

This was the brainchild of none other than the burly and outspoken Muslim intellectual, Dr Kalim Siddiqui, the Pakistani British self-made journalist, with a doctorate in political science from University College, London. Sensing himself as a minority, a rare Muslim journalist, and conscious of the central role of this profession in the Information Age, there was an urgent need to groom a generation of Muslim journalist to put the Muslim voice in the public space.

While tuition was going to be provided for free, interested young ambitious wannabe journalists had to find private means of fending for themselves. Typical of Fuad, he impulsively took the plunge and headed to London, leaving everything to Allah to sort him out.
To support himself in London, Fuad took to cab driving after learning thoroughly the intricate network of roads and streets of this megacity.

The internalization of that network was quite a feat for a young man brought up in much simpler places like Dar-es-salaam, Mombasa and Nairobi. Fuad divided his time between his work and his apprenticeship. Not that Fuad came from an impoverished background. Far from it. He came from a family of hardworking Hadharim, just a few generations out of the Yemeni outback, to seek their fortunes in East Africa.

Fuad’s extended family include the richest urban landowners in Kenya, headed by the introvert Sheikh Swaleh Nguru (Swaleh Nahdi), a grand-uncle and an astute businessman with the Medusa touch. Fuad’s father himself was a successful businessman in Dar-es-Salaam before he was afflicted with a cardiac problem, which forced him to relocate near his close relatives in Mombasa. Abdallah, Fuad’s father, died in Mombasa at exactly his son’s age.

In Dr Siddiqui Fuad found a mentor and an embarrassing uncle. Dr Siddiqui took the Afro-Arab under his wings and showed Fuad how to play the English marionette. Fuad fine-tuned the art of scaremongering, and activism from his newfound surrogate father. Wanting to further his journalistic career, he saw himself through the recently founded City University, within London.

That stint at City University completely shaped his journalistic outlook, and also provided him with a wide network in the global journalism world. It equipped him with all the skills and tools of postmodern journalism. Later this network was to enable him to be stringer and a freelancer for such venerated news outlets as The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Independent, Reuters, AFP, Associated Press, and other less well-known channels.

Fuad’s rather bohemian excesses were moderated only when he met the sharp-witted and articulate Humera Khan, the Pakistani British future wife of his. In a sense, this was certainly a marriage made in heaven. They were both young idealists hellbent on social amelioration. Armed with a degree in social work, Humera plied her idealism at Tower Hamlet, a Bengali enclave in the heart of London.

Fuad enrolled for a master’s degree in Area Studies at SOAS. At the University of Nairobi, Fuad immersed himself fully in the academic, political and social activities of the university.

He was the Chair of the University of Nairobi Muslim Student Association, and also belonged to the coastal tribal organization, Coast Students Association, just to keep in touch with his non-Muslim classmates and college mates.

Out in Nairobi, he was active as a member of Young Muslim Association, a Muslim NGO doing active charity work among the Somali and Orma/Borana/ of the North Eastern Province, a region that shares the Kenyan border with Somalia and Southern Ethiopia. He also published a student newsletter.

Fuad was to start what was the first nationally and internationally established Q-News.
I contributed occasionally to the magazine whenever prodded by Fuad. Rowen Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was a personal friend of Fuad’s for well over a decade, and every time we drifted into discussions about interfaith matters he would mention him. Did you know that Fuad was friends with Erdogan? At that time, the mercurial Tayyip was still mayor of Istanbul.

May Allah forgive Fuad Nahdi all his failings as a human being and rest his soul in eternal peace. Ameen. And may Allah give Humera and her children the strength to bear this terrible loss.

 

Prof. Mohamed Bakari,
Vice-Chancellor, Raf International University, Kisaju, Kajiado County, Kenya.

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