Merryl Wyn Davies: A short tribute, by Ibrahim Sheme

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In our culture, it is said that it is never too late to submit condolences over somebody’s demise. So I felt obligated tonight to pray for the soul of Merryl Wyn Davies and wish that Allah reward her with paradise.

We lost Merryl last February 1. She returned to her Maker at the age of 71. Before then she was one of the leading Muslim intellectuals on the planet.

I will not bore you, dear reader, with Merryl’s biography. However, suffice it to say that she worked mainly in the field of Islamic anthropology, da’awah and politics. She wrote many books, most of which she co-authored with another leading Muslim intellectual, Ziauddin Sardar (the current Chairman of the Muslim Institute in London, where Merryl was a director before her death). I told you about Prof. Sardar a few days ago.

Many years ago (I have to check my diaries to know exactly when), I had the unique opportunity of accompanying Merryl Wyn Davies from Kano to Sokoto so that she could meet with the then Sultan Muhammadu Maccido of blessed memory. It was the British Council that put me on that guide job (as a private consultant). We were given an SUV with a driver by the Council and we drove through Funtua, Gusau and on to Sokoto, where the Sultan was expecting us. His Eminence and Merryl had a very fruitful discussion the next day, after which we left.

From Sokoto, we went to Katsina via Kaura Namoda in Zamfara State. In Katsina, Merryl met with some Muslim scholars. After a day there, we drove on to Kano.

Now, imagine spending all those days together with such an intellectual giant who had been my mentor right from her time as editor of the world-class monthly Afkaar/Inquiry magazine. We talked and talked and talked – for Merryl loved to talk, and I loved to listen when giants spoke.

Merryl, who was Welsh, sent me a thank-you card together with the photograph of a giant baobab tree she took on the road from Katsina when she was back in London and we kept in touch for some time before we cut off. But I followed her movement, especially when she lived in Malaysia serving as an adviser to Anwar Ibrahim, the main opposition leader there.

Merryl had been passionate about serving Islam ever since she converted at the age of 31. She gave her all to it. Her death, therefore, was a huge loss to Muslim scholarship. Her thoughts are, however, preserved in her writings and her BBC radio programmes. I don’t think those will ever be lost.

Ibrahim Sheme is a bilingual writer based in Abuja

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