In the latest Living Leeside column, Roisin Burke speaks to Dr Amanullah De Sondy about how he set up life in Cork and why he loves it here
FROM umpiring at Wimbledon to lecturing in Miami, Glaswegian Muslim, Dr Amanullah De Sondy, who is a senior lecturer in contemporary Islam at UCC, is a well-travelled soul with several stories to tell.
Amanullah’s profound fondness for life in Cork stems from a Celtic connection with his Irish friends, students and colleagues that he feels exists thanks to his upbringing in Scotland.
“The Celtic comradery, being quite earthy, looking out for the underdog and taking the p**s out of each other, they are all things I am very familiar with,” Amanullah said.
After a tough secondary school experience, marred by bullying for being different, Amanullah went on to become a secondary school teacher in religion.
“I think this bullying put me off physical activities,” Amanullah explained.
He then did a Masters in the History of Jerusalem and went on to do a PhD in Islamic culture.
While studying for his PhD, Amanullah became a tennis umpire and went on to work at Wimbledon, attending a vast number of big games with huge stars playing metres away from him.
After a year working in New York, Amanullah was snapped up by the University of Miami where he lectured for five years before taking up his current post as a Senior Lecturer at UCC in contemporary Islam.
During this time, Dr De Sondy wrote his first book on Islam Masculinity and has recently finished a second book, written with two of his Miami colleagues, on the links between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
When he is not studying, or flying home to catch up with his family or to appear on BBC Radio Scotland, Amanullah enjoys hitting the gym with his personal trainer which he claims keeps him trim.
As the youngest of seven with 18 nephews and nieces, Amanullah tries to get home once a month to maintain the close-knit family connections.
“With such a large family there is always a dinner to attend or an invitation to some social occasion,” Amanullah said. Being active is also being a stress-buster for Amanullah and a mental health haven.
“When I was in Miami for five years, I started at the gym. I continued that when I moved here to Cork.
“I go to the NRG Gym at River Lee Hotel and I train now three to four times a week with a personal trainer, Shane Murray.
“It has helped me physically and mentally - there have been some tough times here in Cork for me and I firmly believe the gym helped me a lot.”
Dr De Sondy also said that ‘gyming it’ is important to him from a style point of view.
“I am quite vain and I like wearing nice suits and they fit better when I am working out frequently!”
For the past four years, Amanullah has run the Cork City Half Marathon, which he takes on as a personal challenge and he has also completed the Glasgow Half Marathon twice with his sister, Asea Akhtar.
The UCC lecturer has completed 11 half marathons overall.
In 2019, Amanullah ran the Cork City Half Marathon with the Sanctuary Runners a movement that shows support with those in Direct Provision.
All Sanctuary runners wear the tops with the words ‘Solidarity, Friendship and Respect’ emblazoned on the back.
Over the winter, Amanullah was also appointed as a Volunteer director with NASC and hopes to spearhead the discussion on Islamaphobia in Cork.
“I think people are starting to appreciate we are not that different and I think Cork is starting to appreciate that.
“When you realise that, you see a different side to the world. It is very enlightening.”
While enjoying his time in Cork, Dr De Sondy’s residency has not been without controversy, receiving death threat voicemails on his UCC office phone.
“Cork and Ireland, in general, is moving to a new chapter of diversity - there will clearly be some who are angry about this.
“Not everyone wants diversity so I’m not surprised that some people hate the fact that I live and work here. I’ve been told to piss off back to Scotland and Pakistan but I know that the vast majority of folk from Cork love having me here just as much as I love being here.”
Amanullah said that while a ‘few goons’ have made things uncomfortable for him, the outpouring of support he has received since this incident has kept him in Cork.
“I focus on the support, the people who come up to me and say, ‘we are with you’, that is amazing.”
Despite this unfortunate incident, Dr De Sondy said he very much enjoys life in Cork.
“It is a great place to be based. I am very happy here.
“My diverse mix of identities keeps things interesting!
“There is something unspoilt about Cork, it has great character although I don’t understand the demand for tracksuits!
“People often say to me I’m mad to have left Miami for Cork but I love Cork.
“The ability to walk into the centre so quickly and walking alongside the river always gives me a sense of calmness. Long may it last.”