By Sameer Mandhro/Express Tribune
Matli (Pakistan) August 26: Such were Deen Mohammad Shaikh’s powers of persuasion that he had converted 108,000 people to Islam between 1989 and 2011. It was in 1989 that he himself left Hinduism behind.
His multi-colored business card described the Matli dweller as the President of the Jamia Masjid Allah Wali and Madrassa Aisha Taleem-ul Quran – an institute for conversions to Islam.
The reedy 70-year-old brandished an embellished cane. A red-and-white keffeiyah perched on his shoulder offers people a hint to his theological leanings.
He spoke to The Express Tribune, his arm sliced an invisible arc through the air. He was gesturing to a vast expanse of nine acres of donated land where converts were invited to pitch a tent and stay.
“My heartfelt wish is that the entire world becomes Muslim,” comes his response, when asked about the en masse conversions. His piety was matched only by its ambition.
But contrary to the grandiose proclamation, this preacher wasn’t a repository of rehearsed sound bites. It was only after he settled down on a charpoy that he deigned to embark on the journey of a Hindu named Jhangli who became an expert in evangelism.
“I always loved Islam,” he begins. “I read the Holy Quran and realized that 360 Gods were not of any use to me.”
At first he had to study the Holy Quran in secret. There was the risk of being misunderstood if a Muslim caught him with the holy book. He started fasting and in fact he would begin a day before Ramazan started.
Shaikh’s mother grew alarmed at her son’s forays into another faith. She thought that if she married him off, he would not ‘leave’. Thus, he was barely 15 when his wedding took place, followed by a quick overtaking by nature – four girls and eight boys.
But despite this, he was drawn back to his curiosity and managed to find a teacher, Sain Mohammad Jagsi, who instructed him in the Holy Quran and Hadiths or sayings of the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh).
Fortunately, Shaikh’s uncle was of the same mind and the two men agreed that they would give each other the strength. Shaikh held off until his daughter was married to a Hindu as planned, since he had already “given his word”. Then there was no turning back.
After his conversion, Deen Mohammad Shaikh made it his mission to woo others. He began in his own backyard, preaching to family, before venturing beyond this comfort zone. Encounters with the rich and powerful helped pave the way. Retired Pakistan Army general Sikandar Hayat, who owned a sugar mill in Matli, offered Shaikh money, which he turned down. Instead, he urged Hayat to give jobs to some of the new converts. Hayat and his daughter proved extremely helpful in providing assistance.
His fame has spread and people came to him from as far as Balochistan, members of all religions and sects, who would like to convert. A small mosque had sprung up in his residential compound along with a number of rooms where children – mostly girls – were taught how to say their prayers and recite the Holy Quran.
One of the teachers was 14-year-old Sakina,
“Only a few students are difficult to teach,” she said while commenting on their ability to recite a text in an unknown language.
Shaikh was aware of the difficulties converts faced while taking on what appeared to be the initially daunting rigors of a brand new system. He made life easy for the first 40 days.
“They only had to pray farz!” he said while referring to the mandatory parts. This relaxed schedule ensured that they could ‘confirm their faith’.
Other than this, he was reluctant to actually explain how he influenced the people. All he offered was a nugget of fire and brimstone:
“I tell them that I was a Hindu too and that they would burn in Hell if they are not Muslim.”
More than saving a soul
There were other practical considerations that accompanied conversions. In order to ‘save’ the converts from influential Hindus in other districts, Shaikh packed them off to Hub Chowk while the Kalima was still moist on their lips.
“Their families would beat them up (for converting) otherwise,” he explained.
This trick of the ‘trade’ he learnt from personal experience. He alleged that he was kidnapped along with his daughter-in-law by influential Hindus who threatened him so that he would stop converting people.
“They don’t want these poor Hindus to stand up to them when they become Muslims,” Shaikh maintains.
Despite 108,000 conversions, for which a record was kept, Shaikh did not feel his work was done. He wanted everyone to be a Muslim and learn from his example. He also attended the Tablighi Jamaat’s annual congregation in Raiwind, although he didn’t believe in sectarian divisions.
“All groups are like brothers to me,” he declares.
(The featured picture at the top Deen Mohammad Shaikh)