Even if Islam is complete as a faith and perfect as a religion, Muslims are nonetheless human beings, with their qualities and faults. Therefore, you are bound to find a Muslim who is arrogant, egocentric, blasphemous, racist… A Muslim is not excluded from error or sin. Yet, whoever models his behavior on the Quran and the prophet Muhammad (ppuh) will truly be a remarkable person in this life and the afterlife. A main component of Islam is preaching it, in speech, and especially in deed. This is in fact the essence of Islam and that is what the prophet did for 23 years of his life.
This brings me to the story of a man who passed more than half his life on this path, the same path taken by prophets and messengers; and whoever follows this path knows that it is a long and arduous one. This man is Abdul Rahman Al-Sumait. Unfortunately, I can’t elaborate enough on this incredible person since this is only a blog and not a book, so if you want to know more about him and his work, look up the links at the bottom of the page.
So back to his story, Abdul Rahman was born in Kuwait in 1947 in a well-off family. He was accustomed to praying at the mosque near his house and never missed morning prayer (morning as in before sunrise). He had a passion for reading and was a talented student. He always had a sense of wanting to help others. And when I mean helping, I don’t just mean helping an old lady cross the road, I mean investing time and money to solve problems. While still in high school, he and his friends chipped in to buy a used car that they would use to drive poor laborers to their place of work every morning before they would go to school. As in most regions, especially where the disparity between rich and poor is noticeable, the transportation system is not at par. So, instead of watching poor workers scorching away in the desert sun, he took action. Just as a sidenote, when you want to change the world, you shouldn’t wait for others to move, you get going first and others will follow.
But Abdul Rahman’s appetite for helping did not stop there, he pursued his education in medicine and became a doctor and specialized in internal medicine. He graduated from Universities in Bagdad, Liverpool, and Montreal, where he worked as a practicing physician in the late 70’s. Even then, he would use a good chunk of his salary to translate religious books into English and to print pamphlets on Islam to distribute in Canada and abroad. How he accomplished this, by living a life of necessity and not of want. He would have everything he needed to live but not all he desired. He would have a car, but a used one; he would live in an apartment, not a villa; He would have clothes, but not a wardrobe. Hey! We are talking about a doctor! Generally speaking, the highest-paid civil servant. If he wanted, he could afford a new car every year!
When he finished his studies and moved back to Kuwait, he could now resume his life in the lap of luxury, right? He could have, but he didn’t. He could have occupied any prestigious position in any hospital in Kuwait… Kuwait! That was like the Dubai of the 70’s moneywise. Instead, he concentrated his efforts in Africa.
Islam has always had strong roots in Africa, and I do mean Sub-Saharan Africa, Black Africa. Islam has no boundaries of geography nor race. Since the time of Negus of Abyssinia, at the time of the prophet, there have been Muslims in that region to a point that half the continent was Muslim in number and in area. This is the flame that Dr. Al-Sumait wished to rekindle. At the start, it was just supposed to be a little stint to build a mosque and return home, but that stint turned into 29 years of relentless aid, support, building, and preaching. 29 years of fighting poverty, ignorance, and tribal squabbles. 29 years of braving the elements, living in huts, and navigating through dense forests to barren lands. 29 years of preaching and living by a mindset that can change the present and forge the future.
That’s nice to hear, but what does it mean in numbers? This is a list of realizations and accomplishments by organizations he founded and was part of:
- 4 universities
- 124 hospitals/clinics
- 200 training centers for men and women
- 860 schools
- 5 700 mosques
- 9 500 wells
- 95 000 students financed (schooling/school material/tuition)
- 150 000 orphans sponsored
- 6 000 000 Qurans distributed
- 11 000 000 Muslim converts
I mean, entire countries aren’t as productive as this! I would just like to focus on the last number, 11 million converts to Islam. Skeptics would be quick to point out that these people converted out of need, which is false for two reasons. First, charity and humanitarian relief were offered regardless of faith, whoever was in need received help. Secondly, if someone just believed out of need, he would revert right back to his previous way of life as soon as he got the chance.
Moreover, what opened and won the hearts of the people that Abdul Rahman Al-Sumait rubbed shoulders with is exactly that; he rubbed shoulders with them. He wasn’t a missionary that lived in a villa and ate meat every day, he lived in the same conditions as the people he served and helped. It was his honesty, his sincerity, and his manners that enticed millions of Africans to embrace Islam. One must not forget that the vessel is as important as the message. This is comparable to the 8th-century Muslim merchants who traveled to South East Asia, and through their attitude and manners helped convert an entire region to Islam (contrary to the grave misconception that Islam was spread by the sword). Not one single Muslim soldier set foot in that region. To this day, Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population at around 230 million Muslims.
Fortunately, he was not alone in this endeavor, thousands of people chipped in to help financially and on the ground, may Allah bless them all and accept their deeds. However, it is more often than not the people closest to the heart that keep you striving forward. In Abdul Rahman Al-Sumait’s case, it was his wife, Um Suhayb, who was his trail mate and spent wisely her entire inheritance on humanitarian causes. It is one thing to have an understanding wife, but it is another thing when she keeps you steadfast on the right path. The prophet (ppuh) said:
“Whomever Allah blesses with a righteous wife, He has helped him with half of his religion, so let him fear Allah with regard to the other half.”
Saheeh al-Targheeb wa’l-Tarheeb, Al-Albani.
We have mentioned multiple times before that results are not the goal, the satisfaction of Allah is the goal. Yet, seeing these results encourages us to be better. Let’s face it, we are not all forged from the same ore as Abdul Rahman Al-Sumait, but seeing our contemporary’s actions and accomplishments inspires us to greater heights.
In sum, spreading the word of Islam is an integral part of this religion. However, it can only be done accompanied by exemplary conduct and righteous action. This is something that Abdul Rahman Al-Sumait understood fully and applied rigorously. May Allah accept his good deeds, forgive him for his shortcomings, and enter him in the gardens of Paradise.
If you’re still hungry to find out more about this Muslim hero and role model, here are a few links that just might satisfy your tastebuds. Just don’t forget, nothing can replace righteous action for the sake of Allah.
Direct Aid Organization: Abdul Rahman Al-Sumait was one of its founders
Magazine article on the life of Abdul Rahman Al-Sumait
Video from The Great 100 Muslims, episode 18 on Abdul Rahman Al-Sumait
And if you enjoy reading Arabic, here is a good read:
Fi Suhbah Al-Sumait, Rehlah Fi A’maq Al-Qarrah Al-Mansiyya (In the Company of Al-Sumait, A Journey to the Depths of the Forgotten Continent) A book about preaching, humanitarianism, and adventure. I enjoyed it, hope you will too.