The Ummah may soon lose one of it’s most eminent personalities with the illness of Dr Abdur Rahman As-Sumayt. At almost sixty four years of age, he was a true luminary who strove to uphold and make the Word of Allah uppermost. More than seven million people are said to have accepted Islam through his efforts in Africa. He spent more than twenty nine years of his life propagating Islam in the African continent; participating in the construction of approximately 5,700 mosques, provisioning care for than 15,000 orphans, the drilling of around 9,500 artesian wells and the establishment of 860 schools, 4 universities and 204 Islamic centres.
Life and Upbringing
His full name is Abdur Rahman bin Hamood As-Sumayt, a well-known Kuwaiti Islamic daa’ee (caller to Islam) and founder of the Kuwait based charity, “Direct Aid Organization” (جمعية العون المباشر) previously known as the Africa Muslim Agency (لجنة مسلمي أفريقيا). He served as its President of the Board of Directors as well as the Chairman of Research and Islamic Studies. Born in Kuwait in 1947, he was a qualified doctor specialising in internal diseases and gastroenterology, before becoming involved in charity work; graduating from the University of Baghdad with a Bachelors degree in Medicine and Surgery then going on to obtain a diploma in Tropical Diseases from the University of Liverpool in 1974 then completing his postgraduate studies specialising in internal diseases and the digestive system at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
Throughout his life As-Sumayt was awarded a vast number of honours, awards, trophies and certificates, in acknowledgement of his efforts in charity work. This included one of the highest most prestigious awards, the King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam; the beneficiaries of which also donated 750 Thousand Saudi Riyals as an endowment for the education of the children of Africa. The fruits of this endowment are visible today by way of a large number of Africans who received and are continuing to receive education at various universities throughout the continent.
The pursuit of his vision however was not always a smooth task, often he was faced with dangerous and perilous situations. As-Sumayt was the target of several unsuccessful assassination attempts by various armed militias perturbed by his wide reaching and overwhelming presence and influence amidst the poor and needy, as well as a number of close calls with the deadly cobra which almost took his life on more than one occasion in Mozambique, Kenya and Malawi, being saved by Allah each time. He was also subjected to the hardship of imprisonment, the worst of which came at the hands of Arab Ba’athists.
A quarter of a century of his life was spent in undertaking his charitable works in Africa, returning to Kuwait only for short visits or to receive medical treatment. He remained undeterred by obstacles and undertook a number of trips deep into the African jungles and subjected himself to the dangers and terrors of travel through its remote forests (in order to carry out his work). These were selfless actions which can be considered to be from the acts of a living martyrdom frequently subjecting himself to danger in his relentless efforts to bring peace, aid and relief to Africa; be it with a loaf of bread in his hand (food), or a lamp (essential supplies) or a book (education).
His Journey towards Compassion for the Poor
Dr Abdur Rahman As-Sumayt’s journey towards his compassion for the poor and needy began during his days as a high school student in Kuwait. He would observe poor workers waiting without shade in the extreme heat for their transport to arrive. Moved by this scene, together with some friends he collected some money and purchased an old car. From then on every single day, he would drive these workers for free; an act stemming from his mercy and compassion for them.
At university he would set aside the majority of his monthly stipend for the purchase of Islamic books which he would then distribute at various mosques. He once received an academic grant of forty two dinars yet would not eat more than one meal a day and would not ‘indulge’ in sleeping on a bed, even though the price of one was not more than two dinars; considering it to be an unnecessary luxury. During his postgraduate studies in the West, he would collect money every month from Muslim students to pay for the printing of Islamic pamphlets and then would have them distributed throughout South East Asia and Africa. These are just a small number of examples of his earliest righteous actions.
Detention and Imprisonment
As-Sumayt twice was imprisoned. The first time was in Baghdad in 1970, almost being executed. The second time was in 1990 when he was arrested by Iraqi intelligence forces during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. He was completely unaware of what his fate would be at the time. They shipped him to Baghdad where he faced severe torture to the extent that flesh from his face, hands and feet tore off, yet he remained steadfast and patient. Later in his life when looking back at this terrible ordeal he stated, “I had no doubt whatsoever that I would not die except at the moment Allah had ordained for me”, demonstrating his unswerving reliance upon His Lord.
As-Sumayt’s keen interest and concern for Africa in particular developed as a result of a field study carried out by the African Muslim Agency which confirmed that millions in the continent knew nothing about Islam except myths, legends and unfounded superstitions. As a result of this the people, and in particular their children, became vulnerable to Christian evangelisation. This was already the case with tens of thousands in countries such as Tanzania, Malawi, Madagascar, South Sudan, Kenya, Niger and others, who had converted to Christianity, affiliating themselves with this religion even though their parents and forefathers were all Muslim.
As-Sumayt firmly believed that Islam precedes all theories, all ideologies, all cultures and civilisations when it comes to social and humanitarian voluntary work (as well as in every other sphere). His story dates back to his return to Kuwait at the completion of his post graduate studies. It is here in his home country that he witnessed an enormous potential for charity that lay dormant, a capacity he wished to split asunder so that that it’s benefits would pour forth and rain help, aid and goodness upon those most in need of it. Thus he proceeded to the Ministry of Endowments and presented to the officials his desire to participate in charity work. However the immense amount of beauracracy and red tape he was forced to deal with almost nullified his headstrong efforts and nearly killed off his enthusiasm. Despite this eventually he was willed by Allah to travel to Malawi to help build and setup a mosque on behalf of a charitable female Kuwaiti benefactor.
Upon his arrival he witnessed first hand the scene of millions of human beings slowly being killed by hunger, poverty, ignorance, backwardness and disease. He also witnessed the literal fall of the Muslims under the influence of Christian missionaries, who gave them crumbs to eat and education for their children in their own missionary schools. Hence forthwith a deep love for this spot took root within him, settling over his heart and conscience, taking control of his thinking and shaping his actions for what was soon to come.
As-Sumayt began his foray into charity and da’wah; his efforts to raise up and advance the poor and needy of Africa from the humblest of beginnings while still in Kuwait, completely enveloped by great aspirations. This was during the late 1970’s. He initially spent three months toiling wearily in earnest, networking with many many people yet despite his arduous efforts and the sheer amount of wealth present in a rich nation such as Kuwait, he was only able to collect the sum of a thousand dollars. As disappointed as he was he refused to raise the white flag and give up just yet. He decided to change his strategy by instead shifting his attention from the rich and upper class to the middle class masses, in particular the female demographic. He soon realised that this was the great treasure of Abdur Rahman As-Sumayt that had been lost to him, and by the Grace of Allah it had been unlocked and bestowed upon him after three difficult and lean months.
With provision in hand he finally set off vigorously in pursuit of his dream of uplifting and changing forever the African continent; a place many would associate with desolation and barrenness. Yet it is only the eagerest souls, in love with challenge and adventure, who actively seek out such trials. A challenge that would eventually result in a resounding success by any standard.
Commencement of the Islamic Call
Amongst the things that affected As-Sumayt the most, such that he would be frequently brought to tears, was something that occurred regularly in areas he would visit. Upon his arrival into a new area he would successfully convert a large number of the youth into Islam. Many of which would cry profusely, their emotions overtaking them as they reflected upon the passing of their parents who died as non-Muslims. They would often ask the questions, “Where were you O Muslims! What took you so long to finally reach us after all these years!” As-Sumayt would weep bitterly over these words as he would feel a sense of partial responsibility and accountability for those who died upon disbelief.
As-Sumayt left behind him a life of ease, comfort and abundant wealth and moved to Africa with his wife, who was also a prominent figurehead in her field. They took residence in a very humble abode in the city of Manakara in Madagascar, close to the indigenous “Antaimoro” tribe. The two of them alone began inviting to Islam, an invitation whose hallmark was humanitarian work with pure intentions, enshrined in principles of mercy and compassion. As a result, thousands accepted Islam. The two of them continued to live amongst different peoples in villages and forests, providing them with medical, social and educational services. More importantly, As-Sumayt implanted the love of bestowal and magnanimity and the art of leadership to all those around him, becoming among the most distinguished in this methodology. A methodology he adopted from his wife; a woman who donated her entire wealth and estate for the benefit of their humanitarian work.
As-Sumayt vowed to himself that he would spend the rest of his life here in Africa, calling to Allah. Frequently he would travel long distances by road and sometimes would spend up to forty hours on a train journey, eating nothing but bits of bread he had with him. He would even visit extremely remote areas, hours away from the nearest roads having to traverse forests, thick dark frightening jungles, desolate rivers in tiny boats and unpleasant swamps, in order to reach them. Whenever he would reach a village he would gather the people and say,
“ربي الله الواحد الأحد الذي خلقني ورزقني وهو الذي يميتني ويحييني.”
“My Lord is Allah, the One, the Absolute. He Created me, Sustains me and is the One who will cause me to die and once again, give me life.”
This statement is concise and powerful yet simple to understand and remember. Through the power of these words and their deep meaning, a great number accepted Islam.
As-Sumayt’s methods of da’wah were wide ranging and varied. One specific method he used was to buy new clothing and present them as gifts to the heads and elders of any village he entered, as a way of softening their hearts towards Islam. He would gift the children with sweets hoping simply to bring them happiness. He fully involved himself with the people, becoming familiar with the life of African villages and the various tribes, the issues that affected them as well as their customs and traditions. He was known to bring his workers to account with extreme precision for each and every little thing and was the most stringent with his own self, right down to the food of the orphans even. He would say,
“It is not possible for me to indulge in (or be negligent towards) a single riyal of the money donated by the people for charity”
Every evening just after nightfall, As-Sumayt would observe the various study circles in which the orphan children would be gathered to study and recite the Qur’an, as a reassurance of the progress of their hifdh, smiling at them proudly as he did so. After the ‘Isha prayer he would once again check up on the children to make sure they were all safely asleep. Whenever he was questioned about his extreme dedication and workmanship he would say,
“My dear brother, we are not awaiting the reward or approval of any individual. We are busy in fieldwork and are awaiting nothing except the acceptance of our deeds by Allah”
Dr As-Sumayt mentioned once in a Kuwaiti newspaper, “We rarely offer cash to the poor. Rather we offer development projects such as opening a small grocery store or the provision of sewing machines or the establishment of fish farms. This generates a regular income for the people and helps lift them out of poverty. This kind of help leaves the greatest impact upon them and as such is the most helpful in guiding them to Islam.”
The efforts of Abdul Rahman al-Sumayt resulted in the conversion to Islam of at least 10 million people including tens of thousands from tribes which became Muslim in their entirety, tribal leaders and even propagators of other religions who in turn, themselves became callers to Islam. As well as receiving deliverance from the good doctor, by the Grace of Allah, he contributed in helping them through the provision of housing, employment, hospitals, schools and the fulfilment of many other needs.
More than seven million people in the African continent alone accepted Islam through him. Some directly and others, indirectly through his efforts and the hard work of his ambitious team. The “Direct Aid Organisation” which he had set up there, soon became the largest global organisation in all of Africa. There are currently more than half a million students studying in their educational institutes including four major universities, as well as a large number of broadcasts and publications. They dug more than 8,600 wells and trained more than 4,000 Islamic callers, teachers and academics in this time period. He helped transform the lives of thousands who were able to go from being recipients of charity and Zakah to fully able donators. Firmly keeping his faith at the root of his principles, he kept the Islamic methodology as the backbone of his endeavours in creating sustainable development of nations and peoples.
No Stranger to Harm or Hardship
He would take frequent long journeys spending twenty or so hours in a car in order to reach extremely remote places and sometimes would even travel on foot through mud and wetlands. Dangers were always apparent and he, his wife and his children many a time were exposed to volatile and potentially harmful situations. One time he passed by a large gathering of people (not knowing why they had gathered) when he sat down next to them out of fatigue after a long journey. Suddenly, one by one each member of the gathering came to him and began spitting on his face! Shocked, he later found out that indeed the gathering was a tribal ‘court hearing’ to which outsiders are strictly forbidden from entering!
Another more dangerous encounter took place when As-Sumayt and his wife met a tribe for the very first time. These people were so shocked (for some strange reason) at the site of a woman in hijab, they wanted to attack her and almost killed her had they not sprinted back to the car (and gotten away)!
Lessons from his Legacy
It is worth mentioning that when Steve Jobs was close to his death, there was hardly an individual (in general) who did not comment on it or searched Google to learn more about his life and achievements, or discussed his contributions to culture and civilisation at large. So here we are, having heard a man who was both uncommon and unparalleled in this day and age (in his life and work) and thus it is his right upon us that we learn about him through his life story.
May Allah bestow His Infinite Mercy upon you and grant you an abode in Al-Firdaus in the company of the prophets, the steadfast affirmers of truth, the martyrs and the truly righteous. What an excellent companionship they are!
So who now will carry forth the life story of this man to every place? A beautiful biography that will leave a person amazed, shocked even and questioning his own self.