The last time Crazy John Ilham and I communicated, it was by text message.

The beautiful toddler had thrown my mobile phone into the bath, and it needed more help than the hairdryer.

No, the Telstra Shop couldn’t assist, nor Optus. Surprise Surprise. It was the guys from Crazy John’s who pointed me towards the fella with the technology who could dry it out and save the SIM card, in the time it took for me to melt with relief.

Thankyou, I texted John, with the name of the guy that helped me. “That service thing of yours knows no bounds!” And he texted straight back. “My pleasure. Will contact the shop personally and congratulate them.” Decency meant the world to him, for all sorts of reasons.

I interviewed him in 2005 for Sunday Life magazine. It’s the only time on record John spoke about his faith.

This guy was a really amazing person; a great salesman yes, but a deeply spiritual man who strove to be an integrated Muslim in Australia, despite all sorts of prejudice hurled his way, from all corners – including from his in laws, in the early years.

Here’s a glimpse (for the piece in full click here):

This is a man who knows it’s important to look good but that appearances only go so far. “I’m a Muslim and I realise that arrogance is a no-no,” says Ilhan, who was born Mustafa in Yozgut, Turkey, and moved to Australia with his family at age five. He took the name John after his best mate at primary school; the “Crazy”, he says, came later, inspired by a customer’s remark that giving away hundreds of dollars worth of free phone accessories was just that. “I think I will struggle in life spiritually unless I do good things. It might sound naive but I think life is as simple as that. If you are kind to your staff, they will probably work harder. Arrogance kills CEOs. I think life gives you what you deserve. But I think there is a higher being that controls us.”

He believes in destiny because “I’m a coward. Being a coward, you think somebody else is determining your life. I’m not so courageous to be an atheist. That just scares the hell out of me. I need to have someone looking after us.”…

Ilhan is aware that coming out as a Muslim in Australia right now is a risky cultural business. “Some of my staff probably haven’t met a Muslim before,” he reflects. “When I was young, I used to hear all about the wars in the Middle East. And then you come to a country like Australia and make so many wonderful friends who are Jewish, it’s like, what are we talking about?”

John Ilham is one of the most impressively decent people I have met on the high achievement scale. This is so sad for his family, and unfathomable for those of us that liked and admired him.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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