Exporter and philanthropist Sulman Ahmadi
34-year-old Sulman Ahmadi from London exports spices, mainly black pepper, but above everything else he is a devout Muslim, and on no day is this better shown than the Islamic holy day of Friday.
Ahmadi, who has lived in Saigon for four years, leaves his District 2 apartment in the very early morning, arriving at Masjid Musulman (Saigon Central Mosque) in Dong Du Street, District 1, at 4am for the first of five prayers of the day.
The mosque, he says, is one of 17 in the city, and impresses Muslims from around the world. The blue of daybreak blends serenely into its lime green stone and four decorative minarets.
Before every prayer he carries out the ritual ablutions required by Islamic law in the pool near the mosque’s entrance. Sharing a few soft pleasantries that come naturally amid the fraternal atmosphere, he then returns home for a short sleep, breakfast and preparation for the main Friday prayer or jum’ah.
“Usually I don’t go to the office on Friday,” he says. “I have to greet 2,000 people in the mosque. I’m the busiest person on that day, whoever comes I say ‘salaam’ to them.”
Ahmadi wears the jalabiya, a long robe, on the holy day, and acts as a welcoming host to English speakers on behalf of the mosque’s committee, worshipping next to its president and behind the imam come prayer time at 12.45pm.
“We finish around 1.30pm then everybody gets together. I greet them, some ask questions, and we discuss about this or that brother, ask who is sick and when we are going to visit them in the hospital.”
Outside of the gate, women sell halal samosas and sweets, beggars hold out their hands, and until a month ago, an elderly Vietnamese Muslim sold ice-creams on his bicycle.
“He is a very good man, a very poor man. He recently had a heart attack and was taken to hospital, so within 24 hours we collected more than $2,000 for his operation. These sort of things I organise by talking with the people around me.”
The mosque’s worshippers are now looking to help the bed-ridden ice-cream seller travel to Malaysia, as the specialised operation could not be performed in Vietnam.
Ahmadi abides to zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam, meaning he donates 2.5 percent of his wealth every year, although his charitable work usually surpasses this.
Requesting contributions from local friends and his relatives in the UK, he recently helped provide 12 hand pumps that gave drinking water to villages in Cambodia.
After lunchtime greetings, he regularly speaks with the mosque’s president about current matters in the place of worship. These can range from building a toilet to ensure men and women have separate restrooms, to improving security at the gate so worshippers do not have their motorbikes stolen when inside the mosque.
“I’m the last person to leave the mosque then that’s it, everybody goes back to work because it is not a Muslim country.”
Ahmadi returns home once again, repeating the trip at 3.40pm, 6pm and 7.30pm later that day.
“When I come here, talking to god, I become more humble,” he says. “I reprogramme myself to see who I am and why I’m here. If I was the richest man in the world, I’m still a slave of god’s.
“Islam is peace, some people are taking advantage but that doesn’t represent us. The Qur’an teaches you how to be the best person you can be.”