Dr. Abdullah’s Sydney Lecture Tour 2010 - By Madani Basha
It all began just before Ramadhan when ALMA received a telephone call from Melbourne about someone called Dr Abdullah. ALMA did not know the caller or about Dr Abdullah, who was known previously as Dr Periyardhasan. All that was told about Dr. Abdullah was that he reverted to Islam in March 2010 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and that he was a staunch advocate of atheism, a visiting professor in an American university in Los Angeles and a former film actor in India. A rather interesting and intriguing mix in the one person was the first thought.
A number of telephone calls then followed between a few others to verify the authenticity of the group in Melbourne who were so keen to organise a tour for Dr. Abdullah to visit Australia (Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane).
After appropriate consultation and discussion at an ALMA executive committee meeting in Regents Park, a sponsorship letter from ALMA via the main organisers in Melbourne to the Australian High Commission in Chennai, India followed. A week later ALMA learnt that the Tamilnadu Australian Muslim Society (TAMS) in Sydney also had received information from Melbourne regarding a planned tour for Dr. Abdullah to visit Australia. After several calls, emails with the main organisers in Melbourne and many joint meetings between ALMA and TAMS, dates for the Sydney leg of the tour were scheduled for the week of October 3-10, 2010.
Thus began further cooperation between ALMA representatives and TAMS committee members for a period of nearly two months in the process of organising a series of speeches by Dr Abdullah in Sydney, along with the necessary logistics.
Alhamdulillah, large numbers of people revert to Islam all over the world, and this is nothing new. But Dr Abdullah is a very special case in many aspects, because he has a most fascinating and an unbelievable background.
His journey from many-gods to no-god to one-god is a very unique and thought provoking journey. He was born in a Hindu family. From his early adulthood he became a strong advocate of atheism (attracted to the reformist ideologies of the legendary activist EVR Periyar, 1879-1973) and took-up the name Periyardhasan (meaning “devotee of Periyar”). He became very famous throughout Tamilnadu for his witty and punchy public speaking, praised by Mr M Karunandhi, who is arguably the most eloquent Tamil speaker and the current Chief Minister of Tamilnadu.
Around the end of 1999, in Abu Dhabi, he met one of his long-lost childhood friends. His friend’s sincere and serious parting words - “Don’t die as a non-believer of god” – got him to think and triggered him to study translations of Qur’an (over 3 years, starting in 2000 and still continuing) and hadiths (during the last 7 years) culminating in him reverting to Islam. Thus Dr Periyardhasan became Dr Abdullah. However, he is humble and considers himself to be a kindergarten student of Islam. May be so, but he sure is no lightweight in his professional field of psychology.
He holds a Ph.D from Oxford University, England, and served as a professor of Psychology in Madras University. Until recently, he was also a visiting professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, USA. He has professionally counselled and still seems to counsel people all over the world on psychological issues such as Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Schizophrenia and the like.
One would be even more intrigued to know that he has acted in a few Tamil movies, and got a national award as well.
Fascinating background, for sure, is it not?
Alhamdulillah, Dr Abdullah is putting his passion and public speaking skills to promote Islam – not as a scholar of Islam, but by sharing his journey to Islam combined with his insight into human psychology and his knowledge of Quran and Hadiths. Search the web and you will find numerous links for his lectures and of many people reverting to Islam because of his prominence in the public arena and his narration of his journey.
Every one of his speeches during his Sydney 2010 Tour has been equally thought provoking for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. These speeches proved that he is indeed a simple person, a gifted speaker, a person with great insight befitting his profession, a person with knowledge of Quran and Hadith, and passion about Islam.
In his first lecture, on the topic of “Life and Worship”, he emphasised the importance of faith, one-ness of god – Allah, urging people to follow the commandments from Quran – being the only book of revelation that to-date remains protected by Allah (SWT) Himself from any form of change/corruption. He also urged to follow the path of our beloved Prophet (PBUH) – affirming that the Prophet (PBUH) is the best human being of all times.
In his second speech (Topic: Life – A journey of Love) at the Homebush Boys High School, Dr Abdullah gave many examples to illustrate how a life of love provides the strongest and safest foundation for the upbringing of children. He highlighted the role and behaviour of parents in shaping the psychological health of their children.
There was a lately arranged lecture session at Omar Mosque Auburn in English, where Dr Abdullah gave an insightful account of the stages of psychological development of humans. In essence he said you get what you sow, and therefore the importance of practising Islamic life at all times. He stressed the fact that children absorb more of what the parents do and less of what the parents tell them to do. He drew distinction between acts of “pleasure” (which are temporary and lead to worries) and acts of “happiness” (that are lasting and lead to inner peace and strength).
In the third lecture in English on the topic of “Today’s youngsters, Tomorrow’s Leaders” he observed that today’s youth are considerably more knowledgeable than their parents. The world around the western youth teaches them to challenge everything by reason alone disregarding such good behaviours as respect for age, true love for parents etc. He hit hard the message that parents need to be good role models in terms of love and care for each other such that the youth of today also act as per “revelation” (ie., do what Islam prescribes), so that they will attain true happiness.
His last speech was on Saturday, October 9, 2010 on the topic of “From polytheism to atheism to monotheism – my journey”. Unfortunately for us – ie., my family and I, we had an unavoidable prior social commitment. But I did talk to people and looked like we had missed a wonderful speech, and also a lovely dinner / discussion.
His speech covered his disillusionment of the overt unfair treatment of poor (versus the rich) and of the caste system with its inhumane treatment of the so-called low caste people. When he was 16, he was attracted to the social reformist ideologies of EVR Periyar - the legendary advocate of the “Dravidian” people and an atheist to the core. For nearly 30 years, he was a frequent speaker advocating atheism. His search was not over yet. He was then attracted by the tenets of Buddhism but within a short space of time he came to think that most did not follow these tenets.
His study of Qur’an and Hadith convinced him that Qur’an is indeed the book of God’s words and that it indeed had remained unaltered. He did not find anything in the revelations that contradicted the sciences. He was utterly impressed with the universal brotherhood advocated in Qur’an, regardless of colour, race or status, and by the fact that Allah’s words to humanity are direct without need for any intermediaries (such as priests in many religions). He was equally impressed by the regular and frequent connection with Allah (SWT) through the daily prayers.
That Saturday also saw a unique event. A Tamil language book “Sathik-kalaam” written by Br Sathik Ali, the current president of TAMS, was published. The event was attended by the popular Sri Lankan writer/author (Matale) M Somasundaram, who had addressed the audience previously on Monday at the Homebush Boys High School in beautiful Tamil on love being the essence of life and of the harmonious life and happy co-existence of people of different faiths in Sri Lanka.
TAMS brother Ifham took care of hosting Dr Abdullah through the week. And many brothers from ALMA and TAMS took turns to host dinners and provide some sight-seeing in Sydney. We hope we made Dr Abdullah feel comfortable in Sydney. All have shared his quick wit and his down-to-earth simplicity. He sure is a good conversationalist who is never short of a quip or two.
Thus came to an end a week that was busy, filled with informative speeches, thought provoking tips and advices, and dinners of delicious Indian, Sri Lankan and middle-eastern cuisine. Some people quick to claim that they have had cholesterol free meat curries, and sugar free ice creams! Hmm … I wonder.
Our man of the week Dr Abdullah – who by now is no longer a stranger to ALMA or TAMS – was seen off to Brisbane by TAMS and ALMA people on Sunday, 10th day of the 10th month of the 10th year of the 21st century.
In short, Dr Abdullah’s visit to Sydney and his speeches on stage have given considerable material for us all to think about and urging us towards Islam, and urging us to be model parents. And that surely is a form of Da’wa.
May Allah reward him for all his good deeds.
There are attempts to make these speeches available on CD/DVD, with the proceeds going towards the community. Watch the space.