Islamic Luminary al-Sumait’s Death ‘a Big Loss for Ummah’

Stung by scorpions, bit by snakes, stepping unknowingly on crocodiles, surviving on local, traditional foods and drinks, al-Sumait – a Kuwaiti – carried on for 30 long years, living among the Africans, deep into the heart of darkness, serving Islam, visiting his glittering city for only short whiles, to demonstrate that Islam is not dead. It can still produce men in the footsteps of the Salaf.

Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sumait, who helped thousands of Africans understand and embrace Islam, constructed 5,700 mosques and four universities in Africa, passed away on Thursday, 15th August 2013. He was 66. He was awarded the King Faisal International Prize in 1996 in recognition of his Islamic and humanitarian services.

Announcing Al-Sumait’s demise, his son Suhaib said his father would be buried in Selaikhat cemetery at 8.30 A.M. on Friday. Condolence messages poured in from all over the world through the social media and news websites, expressing shock and sorrow over his death.

“Al-Sumait’s death is a big loss for the Arab and Islamic Ummah,” said Mohammed Badahdah, Assistant Secretary-General of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth.

“We can find only a few individuals like Al-Sumait among the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world,” Badahdah said, and urged Muslims to spend more of their time, money and energy in humanitarian activities. He said Muslims in the past had made a lot of efforts to spread the message of Islam among people in the East and West, overcoming a lot of difficulties.

“We should follow the good example of our forefathers and exert all possible efforts to spread the message of this great religion. We should not show any negligence in informing expatriate workers about the teachings of our religion. Our students who pursue their higher studies in foreign countries should also keep this mission in their minds,” he said.

Badahdah described Al-Sumait as an encyclopedia on Africa as the late scholar had conducted detailed studies on the continent’s political, social and economic matters and published several books.

“Arab media has ignored this great man and did not give much publicity for his humanitarian activities in Africa. He is a model of a good Muslim who applied Islam to spread goodness, love and harmony in the world,” said Mahmoud, an Egyptian commentator.

“It is quite unfortunate that people like Al-Sumait is not well-known in society. He was a great personality. As a result of his activities millions of Africans embraced Islam. He had sponsored 15,000 orphans and constructed 9,500 artesian wells in Africa. His history should be written in golden letters,” said another close associate of Al-Sumait.

Born in Kuwait in 1947, Al-Sumait studied medicine in Baghdad University, obtained a diploma in tropical medicine from Liverpool University, and specialized in internal medicine and gastroenterology in Montreal General Hospital in Canada. He conducted research on hepatic malignancies in King’s College, London. He worked briefly as a consultant gastroenterologist at Sabah Hospital in Kuwait before dedicating his full time to humanitarian activities.

As a young student, Al-Sumait witnessed a scene outside his school that sparked his interest in helping the less fortunate, and this changed his life forever. He observed poor workers waiting for their means of transportation in the heat on a daily basis. He purchased a car with the support of some friends and drove these workers for free.

His interest in Africa was ignited when he felt and saw that the continent was being neglected. Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Angola, among many other nations in the area that were suffering from famine, hunger and disease, were the focus of Al-Sumait’s operations.

It was fortunate when a generous lady from Kuwait provided him with the funds to build a mosque in Malawi. When he visited the region he was perplexed by the scenes of hunger and disease. Furthermore, there was a campaign in the region from missionaries who were inviting innocent people to sell their religion for a loaf of bread. Al-Sumait sacrificed his profession and immersed himself into the problems associated with the suffering.

After 30 years of strenuous efforts saving the lives and faith of the poor in Africa, his key accomplishments included supporting 9,500 orphans with food and education; financing 95,000 students for schooling; construction of 1,200 mosques; establishment of 200 women training centers and 102 Islamic guidance centers and distribution of 51 million copies of the Holy Qur’an.

He established a network providing help to the poor. Subsequently, the beneficiaries flocked to him in their thousands. Tribe after tribe and clan after clan embraced Islam at his hand.

It is reported that once when he entered a country, the people there embraced Islam in their hundreds. The local Catholic bishop came to him and said, “Me and my father were born here and my grandfather came here as a missionary about a hundred years ago but we Christianized only a few. You spent a few days here and hundreds embraced Islam at your hand.”

In 1981, when he was 35, he established the Africa Muslim Agency (AMA) that was later renamed as DIRECTAID. This organization, where he had served as chairman from 1981 to 2008, operates in more than 40 countries, providing various social, educational, health and humanitarian services.

To Al-Sumait, the African continent stands ripe for the work of Da’wah (guidance). There are millions of people ready to embrace Islam. However, we should share their woes and sorrows. It is estimated that Arab investment inside and outside the region reaches $2.28 trillion. If even 2.5 percent Zakat worth $56.88 billion is extracted from this amount annually, it can help 10 million families (SR21,000 each) in need.

Al-Sumait is the so-called champion of Islamic services in Africa. The primary vision of his organization is to improve the standard of life, morality and education of the most deserving and needy people in the continent.

The services of Al-Sumait have been honored by leading organizations. The Islamic University Umm Durman (Sudan) conferred an honorary doctorate upon him. Likewise, Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Sudan, Benin, and Egypt presented him with many prestigious awards.

According to information on affiliated websites, 7.5 million people from 40 African countries embraced Islam through his efforts, the highest number ever recorded in world Muslim history. Whenever a word of appreciation was said to him, his reply was: “My dear brother, we do not await reward from any person. We are busy in field work. We just wait and pray that Almighty Allah may accept our sincere efforts and support us in our cause.

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[Courtesy: Arab News, Aug. 16, 2013; With inputs from Abu Tariq Hijazi’s article, “Abdur Rahman al-Sumait and Da’wah in Africa” (Arab News, 27 July, 2011)]