Monday, August 29, 2005

BOY, 5, Converts 1,000 To Islam.

There are orphans and street children everywhere. So much so that the sight of another small child standing o­n a street corner hardly merits a second glance.

But o­nly when a boy opens his mouth to speak do o­nlookers realize that Shariff Idd is special. The five-years-old speaks in five languages - English, French, Italian, Swahili and Arabic - even though he is completely uneducated.

Shariff is a preacher who draws crowds of thousand in Kenya to his increasingly regular sermons. The Lybian leader, Colonel Muammar Al-Gaddafi, is a great supporter following an audience with him earlier this year.

Last week was a milestone for the child introduced to gawping throngs as the "Miracle Boy" of East Africa. He smiled triumphantly when told he had notched up his o­ne thousand conversion to Islam in a country where Muslims are a minority.

Tours of France and Britain now beckon, according to Haji Maroulin, o­ne of the boy's four guardians. He will travel as a missionary o­n a trip to be financed by a businessman from the Ivory Coast.

"When he is not preaching he is just like any other kid," Haji Maroulin said. "But when he preaches he changes.

At o­ne year old he was able to recite the Quran and went o­n to be able to preach in Arabic, Swahili and French without any learning. The number of his converts is growing daily."
For a child he has strangely adult mannerism. He speaks confidently, mainly in Swahili unless he is delivering a sermon. Then, he fixed his piercing brown eyes o­n the person he is addressing without inhibition.

His squeaky child-like voice mesmerizes audiences.
According to Haji Maroulin, Shariff was born into Swahili-speaking Catholic family in Arusha, north Tanzania, in December 1993: "At the age of two months he refused to suckle his mother's milk and at the age of four months he started reciting verses from the Holy Quran."
The boy's first words - "You people repent and you will be accepted by God" were in Arabic. He concerned parents believed him to be disturbed by "demons" and called pastors to pray for the baby.

Eventually Muslim neighbors interpreted their son's alien speech and his parents later converted to Islam themselves. Although his father died in 1997, his mother remains in Tanzania while her worldly son continues his travel.

There is no doubting his pulling-power and in a commercial world his entourage has been quick to produce videos of the high-pitched sermons. He has also been deemed genuine by Kenya's Muslim World League.

Kaplich Barsito, 35, from Nairobi, saw Shariff in action addressing a crowd of more than 1,000 in an open area of the Pumwani districts of Kenya's capital, and is in no doubt of the boy's abilities.

"He was like a politician, very confident," he said. He seemed as though he would have been disappointed if there had been less people.

The power went off and his minders wanted him to stop, but he grabbed the loud-speaker and carried o­n in Swahili, English and Arabic. It was very impressive and he mesmerized the audience with a focused sermon."

Shariff himself seemed mystified about his powers. He said last week that he picked up languages as soon as he heard. "I went to Congo and heard people speaking Lingala (the local language). I just was able to start speaking it."