Abdallah Daar intends to tell a story rooted deeply in his identity.
Through both his book, Garment of Destiny: A Surgeon’s Global Identity and the Ties that Bind, and his reflections on philosophical, ethical and religious aspects of grace, Daar will argue to his interfaith lecture audience that “all life is interrelated.”
“Some of (the book) is about identity, and a lot of it is about how we, as human beings, are interrelated,” said Daar, an author and professor emeritus of global public health and of surgery at the University of Toronto. “And of course, it’s partly a memoir.”
At 2 p.m. Tuesday, August 7 in the Hall of Philosophy, Daar will weave a “Garment of Destiny” through his interfaith lecture, as part of the Week Seven series, “Grace: A Celebration of Extraordinary Gifts.”
“Much of the reflection on grace and religion will be from the Islamic perspective, but not exclusively,” Daar said. “I am, in a way, representing Islam, although I am not a religious authority.”
According to Daar, Garment of Destiny has many examples of grace that he plans to use in his lecture.
“This week’s theme is about the many forms of grace, encompassing also the way we may use our gifts, our grace to lift up others,” he said. “I’ll give a few examples of that in my work, particularly in global health.”
Daar said that his personal identity is part of what informs his understanding of grace.
“The link to grace, for me, is that the rich tapestry of my cultural, geographic and genetic heritage have been a blessing to me,” he said. “ ‘Blessing,’ is another way of saying ‘grace.’ ”
Originally from Tanzania, Daar said he first went to medical school in Uganda.
In August 1972, when the president of Uganda, Idi Amin, declared that Asians had to leave the country in 90 days, Daar said he had to scramble to figure out his next move.
“I was caught up in that maelstrom,” Daar said. “There were a lot of close calls. There was risk to limb and life, but I managed to escape. I ended up finishing medical school in England, and went to teach for a short period in Houston, Texas. Most of my graduate studies were in Oxford, in England, where I later joined the faculty.”
Daar was working as a transplant surgeon when he was invited to a meeting of international parliamentarians in Bangkok.
“They invited me to come talk about organ transplantation,” he said. “In my talk, I mentioned the religion of Shinto, which is a Japanese religion. When I finished, someone came to me and said, ‘Would you mind coming backstage? There is an important guy who wants to say hello to you.’ The important guy turned out to be the secretary-general of the World Health Organization.”
According to Daar, the secretary-general happened to be a Japanese practitioner of Shinto, and was impressed with Daar’s knowledge of his religion and of transplantation ethics in general.
“He told me, ‘I’d like you to be my adviser,’ ” Daar said. “I said, ‘Sure.’ A little while later, I got a letter inviting me to go to Geneva, which is where the headquarters of the World Health Organization are. One thing led to another, and I ended up working with WHO for a very long time as an adviser on many issues: infection, transplantation, global health, genetics, genomics, things like that.”
For his lecture today, Daar said he wants his main message to be that “we’re all connected.”
“I think my argument in the end will be that we’re one species, we’re all human,” he said. “We have one human civilization. That, in and of itself, is the greatest form of grace: the realization that we’re all one.”