Monday, June 14, 2010

Radical Muslim Leader has Bohemian Past

The 20 February 2010 edition of the Telegraph, and their on-line version, telegraph.co.uk, both ran an article entitled: Radical Muslim leader has past in swinging London. According to the Telegraph, the author and playwright Ian Dallas, who in the 1960s was purported to have been part of the hip London scene, had since become a “Radical Muslim” going by the name of Abdalqadir as-Sufi, and was now “The leader of an extreme Muslim group”. As someone with firsthand knowledge, who has known Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi for forty years, I would like to take some of the most salient points raised in the Telegraph article as a springboard to offer the public a more balanced and informative introduction to a most fascinating and politically significant contemporary figure.

Ian Dallas is more accurately of the 1950s generation, as he was born in Ayr Scotland in 1930. He had already achieved both recognition and success as a playwright and author prior to the 1960s. He did once tell me that he had, as a young man, driven through the streets of Paris in a Rolls Royce, with Edith Piaf.

As the Telegraph mentions, Ian Dallas did, indeed, know Edith Piaf as well as Eric Clapton, to whom he did, in fact, give a copy of the beautiful love story, Layla and Majnun. However, this was nothing to do with Eric’s love affair with Pattie Boyd (the wife of Eric’s best friend, George Harrison) but rather, the terrible tragedy connected to the death of Eric’s son. The metaphorical tale tells of the all-consuming longing of a youth named Majnun (a word whose literal Arabic meaning is one possessed) for the love of his life, Layla (night in Arabic) who, in the coded language of the Sufis, stands for Allah as the Beloved.

As I only met Ian Dallas (or Shaykh Abdalqadir, as I have long been accustomed to refer to him) in 1970, I did not meet all of these people, although George Harrison would send over his driver with a large hamper of ‘goodies’ from Fortnum & Mason at the start of the New Year. I sat with Shaykh Abdalqadir when his friend from university, the celebrated psychiatrist R.D. Laing came by to meet him. Laing had just returned from India where he had gone with his wife to meet a guru. His wife had stayed on and moved in with the ‘spiritual master’. Needless to say, Ronald was very upset, and as I recall, not too impressed with Eastern Mysticism.

I was also present when Shaykh Abdalqadir had invited Fritjof Capra, the rising star in the world of nuclear physics, over for tea. The Shaykh’s wife, Zulaikha, had baked a plate of millefeuille. Capra had possibly just published The Tao of Physics. Over tea he explained his latest idea, which he called the ‘boot-strap theory’. Science was not my strong point, so all I can recall is that the image of the loops commonly used to pull on a certain kind of boot, were somehow being offered as a metaphor to convey his basic idea of how ‘matter came into existence’. Shaykh Abdalqadir listened very carefully, and here I remind you that he was, and still is, the most brilliant mind in Europe. He then said, “I think I’ve got it, except for the exact point at which the entire plate of French pastries disappeared and matter came into being.” Naturally, Capra was mortified, as he had not till that moment, realised he had eaten the entire plate of millefeuille. I too was most disappointed! Nevertheless, I do remember, as if it were only yesterday, the realisation from this episode that self-knowledge is over and above all other sciences. Dr. Capra is undoubtedly a brilliant physicist and this incident is in no sense intended to infer otherwise.

There are countless anecdotes, from Ian Dallas giving Bob Dylan his first copy of Rimbaud’s poems, to the wonderful story that appears in his Collected Works of how he had an acute attack of appendicitis while visiting friends on Martha’s Vineyard, and had to be rushed to hospital. He tells of a large warm-hearted nurse with a shining black face, who said one day, while he was sitting-up reading, “My grandfather caught Moby-Dick!” The nurse then told him that a very kind lady had come every day and sat in the room while he rested, and then left the books for him to read. The woman was Lillian Hellman, the American dramatist whose works include the hugely popular Little Foxes (1939), and was married to the famous writer, Dashiell Hammett, whose stories were at the centre of the Film Noir movement in Hollywood.

As is recounted in Ian Dallas - Collected Works, Hellman and Hammett were both ruthlessly persecuted by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Witch Hunts. Mr Dallas quotes the entire speech made by Lillian to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. I will never forget the impact it made on me after reading this speech to realise that this same great woman had sat everyday at the bedside of a young intellectual called Ian Dallas who, in the fullness of time, I would also meet and come to know and admire as Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi.

Returning to the Telegraph article, it goes out of its way to reveal that Shaykh Abdalqadir’s teachings are said to include the claim that, “movies and football degrade the proletariat.” I am pleased to confirm, for the record, that Shaykh Abdalqadir is an aficionado of cinema and possesses a vast DVD film collection. He recently sent over to my house a copy of the French film ‘A Prophet’ directed by Jacque Audiard. He considers it one of the best films recently made. I can also confirm, as the Telegraph states, that he did, as Ian Dallas, act in Fellini’s 8 ½, but far more interesting is the fact that he re-wrote the ending of the film, the wondrous ‘dance of life’, which ends the film. The version we all know today is, of course, Fellini’s ending; he took it and made it his. The ending opens the way - after the total failure of a film director to fulfil the expectations imposed upon him - to give up and surrender, even his greatness. That is where the film ends, but it is also, in truth, where the real story begins.

As for football, it is true that he dislikes it, together with the increasingly unsavoury tendencies from which it has become inseparable. He is rather an avid rugby fan and is almost a fanatic when it comes to cricket, especially five-day test matches. He sees in the game of cricket a means by which young men can develop good character. He does attend, from time to time, at Newlands cricket ground in Cape Town, a match in order to enjoy the game in the company of his choosing.

The Telegraph also makes mention of one of his plays acted in by Albert Finney, and another starring the late Sir Alan Bates. All this is true, but what about comments in the paper that he is a, “radical Muslim leader” and also, “the leader of an extremist Muslim group”? Putting aside his “bohemian past”, as it was referred to, what about his radical change and his espousal of an extreme interpretation of Islam? The quantity of evidence to the contrary contained in Shaykh Abdalqadir’s writings, both published and non-published, is so vast that, like the Telegraph, I too shall have to be extremely selective in my choice of observations. However, contrary to the Telegraph, whose sparse and tenuous claims seem to be dictated by negative bias and cheap sensationalism, my own primary concern will be to avoid over-burdening the reader with the sheer weight of bona fide material available to me. Before I continue, I should also, for the sake of clarity, remind the reader that Shaykh Abdalqadir continues, on occasion, to write under his Scottish family name of Ian Dallas.

There is The Book Of Strangers, published in 1972, a novel that is about the search for knowledge and the awakening to Islam told in the form of a semi-autobiographical parable (Pantheon Books). There is Letter To An African Muslim (1981), which helped inspire a whole generation of South Africans to enter Islam at a time when apartheid still restricted the options available to most blacks. Shaykh Abdalqadir was the only white European who could freely walk the streets of Soweto, although the Apartheid regime banned both him and his book.

There is Root Islamic Education, first published in Norwich in 1982 and re-released in 1993, in London. This text is based firmly on the soundest and irrefutable classical Islamic texts that have come down to the Muslims throughout the centuries. There is the Technique of the Coup de Banque, published in Spain in 2000, which takes as its thematic corollaries Machiavelli’s Renaissance classic Il Principe (The Prince) and Curzio Malpararte’s 1931 masterwork Technique Du Coup D’√Čtat. Unfortunately, it is beyond the scope of this article to give an adequate appraisal of the invaluable contributions these books have made in furthering the understanding of their respective subject matters. However, Technique of the Coup de Banque is one with which I have had a special connection.

Travelling from his base in the Scottish Highlands, Shaykh Abdalqadir made an extended visit to Cape Town in early 2001. I had already moved from Scotland to Cape Town a few months prior to this in anticipation of what we all hoped would lead to his permanent move to the city. Whilst there, he had the opportunity to overhear a conversation in a local bookstore between two young men, both of whom were University of Cape Town students. One was relating that he had heard that there was a Shaykh visiting from Europe who sounded very interesting, and that he hoped somehow to meet him. Hence, with the refined courtesy and habitual discretion which have long distinguished him, Shaykh Abdalqadir approached the student and prudently ventured, “I believe you wanted to meet me.” The next day the young man, extremely gregarious and outgoing by nature, came to have morning coffee at the house the Shaykh was renting.

Shaykh Abdalqadir did, in fact, return to the Highlands but it had become clear that a move was imminent. Therefore, in preparation for this I was asked by our local Muslim Community leader, Orhan Wadvalla, to start an evening class based on Technique of the Coup de Bank. The UCT student he had met in the bookshop, and several of his friends, some Muslims and some not, were invited to come along to a weekly reading, which was held at my small cottage in Newlands. These sessions were dynamic and exciting and soon increased to twice a week. As I did not yet have any bookcases we were surrounded by stacks of books; reading, discussing and drinking espressos, while I rummaged around for Plato’s Republic or whatever other text the Shaykh may have indicated, that I knew to be somewhere in my ‘library’, and on we went!

A few months later Shaykh Abdalqadir moved to Cape Town and I had by then assembled a good group of young guys, the one non-Muslim had become Muslim, and some basic ground work had been done to prepare these dynamic men to sit with and benefit from the Shaykh’s generosity. They were all healthy young men, interested in what most young people their age are interested in, but they had also acquired an appetite for real knowledge, and whatever you really want out of life, you’ll get!

From that first group new ones have come. Most of those men are now married and have started families of their own. All of them, without exception, are more advanced on the path to knowledge than myself, but I was privileged to have, by the Generosity of Allah, the opportunity to play a part in this phase of their education. The one last thing I want to mention about this particular text is that everything that Shaykh Abdalqadir spoke of has come to pass. The financial crisis of 2008-2009, which continues to worsen into 2010 as I write, was laid bare in his brilliant exposition. With rare exceptions, only a few have listened, certainly not the so-called leaders of the Muslim World. Nevertheless, the number of those taking notice of Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi continues to grow day by day.

There is the Ian Dallas book, Time of the Bedouin (2006) - on the politics of power, and also his latest publication Political Renewal (2009) which by juxtaposition in one volume of two exceptionally penetrating essays, produces a devastating historical survey of the relentless degeneration that has characterised the British political class and its social and constitutional apparatus over the last century and more: The End of the Political Class by Ian Dallas and Hilaire Belloc’s The House of Commons and Monarchy (1920).

There is the series of four books by Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi, that were all composed from lectures given in a Cape Town mosque: The Book of Tawhid [Unity of Allah] 2004, The Book of Hubb [Love of the Divine] 2007, The Book of ‘Amal [Behaviour] 2008 and finally The Book of Safar [Travel] 2008. Imagine one of those Hollywood post-apocalyptic fantasies; the world has been all but totally destroyed, and you, say a young black man, happens to rescue a copy of the Qur’an from a heap of burning rubble, and then after many a close call, you produce an act of heroism that saves the life of a pretty blond headed girl on the point of despair, whose only worldly possessions happen to be these four slim texts. It turns out that this incredible encounter contains all that is needed as the basis for recovery of civilised human society; an interesting gene pool and ready access to Divine guidance and useful knowledge. They are simple yet utterly profound texts that, based upon the love and knowledge of our Prophet Muhammad, Allah grant him blessings and peace, can, with the Qur’an, be all you would need to start anew.

There are more books and countless anecdotes and taped discourses. When I am fortunate to be invited to his house for lunch, he often, while waiting eagerly for the meal to be announced, recites whole passages from Shakespeare, or the opening of Elliot’s The Waste Land or W. H. Auden or W. B. Yeats, replete with an Irish accent. He has a library of some several thousand books, some in English, French and Arabic, an extensive collection of classical music CDs, and I have already mentioned his film collection. He is mostly surrounded by men who are all the very brightest young people you could ever wish to meet. The Shaykh is the master. Most of all, he has guided a whole generation to knowledge of Allah and a deep understanding of the practice of Islam. To sit in his company is an honour and you learn things even without realising it.

Robert Luongo, Lecturer in Shakespeare & Rhetoric at Dallas College in Cape Town

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