DR Syed Mutawalli ad-Darsh, who has died aged 66,
was an outstanding scholar, thinker and journalist whose contribution to the British
Muslim community was outstanding. Highly respectable, approachable and sensitive, he was
the peoples' Imam (leader) who conducted his affairs with dignity, wisdom and
style. Nobody was better qualified to perform the task of guiding British Muslims in their
struggle to build a vibrant and dynamic community.
He was born into a religious family in a village in the Eastern Delta region of Egypt and by the age of 12 was a Hafiz - somebody who had memorised the entire Qur'an. By the time he entered Al-Azhar University in Cairo he was already showing signs of outstanding intellectual ability. On graduation he was appointed an Imam and lecturer in the university's faculty of theology.
In the mid-1960s he spent a year at Dundee University, where he got a diploma in English. He followed this with teaching and missionary work in Lagos, Nigeria.
In 1970, ad-Darsh and his mentor and friend, Shaykh
Abdul Halim Mahmoud, rector of the Al-Azhar, introduced a plan to guide Islamic missionary
work, the university's publication policy and the strategy of sending graduates to work
abroad. With the mission completed, ad-Darsh was posted to London.
He arrived in December 1971 and for the next nine years was an Imam at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Regent's Park Mosque. In 1980 he left to embark on a second career as columnist and broadcaster.
Ad-Darsh contributed to Al-Sharq al-Awsat and Al-Muslimoon, two of the leading London-based Arabic newspapers, and to an Arabic satellite station. But it was with his agony uncle column in the magazine, Q-News, aimed at second generation Muslims, that ad-Darsh was to make the most impact.
When I first approached him a few weeks before the paper was launched, in March 1992, neither of us imagined the success the feature would have. During the last five years he answered questions ranging from contraception to marriage, usury to the national lottery. The sensitivity, knowledge and vision displayed in the answers made the column popular world-wide.
His other contributions ranged from youth work to relief efforts. He was one of
the founder trustees of the charity, Muslim Aid; a patron of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies in the UK and Eire (FOSIS) and the Muslim Student Societies (MSS); and a friend of women's organisations such as the north London-based An-Nisa Society and the Association of Muslims with Disabilities. He was also the President of the UK Islamic Shari'ah Council.
His death is a big loss for the entire community. Dr ad-Darsh's training in the traditional Islamic sciences, combined with his grassroots experience, practical wisdom and courage to deal with real issues head-on, leaves a gap that will be hard to fill. He will be especially missed by young British Muslims for whom he was the one "Mullah" they had come to trust.
He leaves a wife, Fathia, two sons and two daughters.