Muhammed Muhajir Haron - Cape Town
‘That man will have nothing but that for which he strives.’ (Sura Najm)
This is a well known ayat* of the Noble Quran which one of the greatest Muslim political activists of the 20th century lived by. This man was Imam Abdullah Haron who fought for the spread and preservation of Islam during the era of the South African Apartheid regime. At the core of the Imam’s dynamic essence was an innate sense of justice and a deep love of Islam.
The Imam was born in 1924 in an area known as Claremont in the Southern suburbs of Cape Town. His father Amarien and mother, Asa, bore five children, the Imam being the youngest. Whilst he was just a few months old, his mother passed away, and due to the difficult circumstances of his father, the Imam was adopted by his paternal aunt, Maryam. She was very stern and instilled in him an ardent love of religion and the finer things in life. She was a constant source of support for the young man, until his marriage at the age of 27 to Galima Sadan, when she left for Mecca out of her disappointment in his choice of marriage.
The time he was living in was a tumultuous time not only for South Africa but for the rest of the world. It was an age which saw the rise of Communism and also the birth of the Second World War - events that would inevitably affect the life of the Imam in South Africa.
Throughout his life the Imam had many teachers; however, the first teacher to have a major impact on the Imam was Shaykh Abdurrahman ‘Alawi. The Imam was 14 at this time, yet, in order to gain this knowledge he had to first leave Cape Town for the Majestic City of Mecca. During this period of his tutorage, a young Abdullah Haron learnt a great deal of Arabic, Tafsir*, Hadith* and Islamic History. Regrettably his studies were cut short when he was informed that it was required that he return home as many feared the impending outbreak of World War II. Before he left, the Imam and two other fellow students were asked what they would do to gain the pleasure of Allah. One insisted that he would ask his father to build an institution that would propagate Islam, and the other said that he would ask his father to contribute financially to the mosque that they frequented. However, the young man, now at the tender age of sixteen, acknowledged the fact that unlike his fellow pupils, he did not possess the means to undertake such tasks, and so he took it upon himself to fast every Monday and Thursday for the rest of his life. In this, the Imam remained consistent, steadfast and unwavering.
The Imam’s education in the Middle East was more than academic. It also possessed a political aspect. He also saw the rise of modernism in Saudi Arabia, that was coupled with the discovery of oil and the rise of the Wahhabi school. The attitude of the Wahhabi school inevitably had some affect on the Imam. However, it did not influence him to the extent to condemn the practice of Tasawwuf. The Imam lived in an age of Islamic reform, a time that is remembered for figures such as Jamaluddin al-Afghani (d.1897) who believed all religions were essentially the same and whose goal was to dismantle Islam by attacking it from the inside through reforming of Islamic Law. Another man remembered from that time is Rashid Reda, best known for legalizing riba*, by making an absurd distinction between riba al-fadl* and riba al-nasiah*. Because of this rise of Islamic reformers, the Imam is sometimes categorized and placed in the same category. But the Imam never pushed for the change of Islamic concepts to fit in the Modern State. He simply spoke out and acted against what was wrong and did what he thought was right in his own knowledge and capacity of Islam - calling for the unification of the Muslims and the re-establishment of Islamic leadership.
The Imam returned to South Africa in 1941 and studied under Shaykh Abdullah Gamieldien, who had studied in Mecca, and Shaykh Ismail Ganief, a graduate of al-Azhar University, Cairo. The Imam continued his studies under these two men of knowledge until 1945, the year in which Shaykh Gamieldien, passed away. This resulted in the Imam becoming closer to Shaykh Ismail Ganief, who now became his sole teacher. The Imam received valuable training in teaching and also received a vast amount of knowledge, as a result of Shaykh Ismail allowing him to tutor his colleagues. This was an invaluable benefit for the Imam, and would help him throughout his life.
As mentioned earlier, the Imam lived in a turbulent time for the Muslims. However, as a Muslim in South Africa, there were other things that affected him, most notably the Apartheid regime, the literal meaning of which would be separateness.
All of these matters that in anyway impinged on the Muslims and the sphere of the Deen* were dealt with by the Imam in his Khutba’s* the first of which he did as the permanent Imam of the Jami’a Mosque in Claremont, October 1955 on the night of the Mawlid*. As the Imam of the mosque, he stood apart from his contemporaries in many aspects. Firstly he refused to receive payment from the mosque, by which he showed nobility and vastness of character. To make ends meet the Imam would run his aunts grocery store, but this was a difficult business for the Imam due to is his immense generosity and clemency which often landed him in trouble, while many took advantage of his reputation as a generous man.
During this period the Imam developed the C.M.Y.A (Cape Muslim Youth Association), an organization that not only equipped young students with necessary knowledge of the Deen*, but also imparted to them the qualities of leadership. This acted as a check against the secular education at that time, which resulted in the stripping away of Islam* until it became little more than a name; an Islam based on morals and beliefs. Through this organization and his active involvement in basic media, he pushed forward the idea of education and its importance to counter the Secular Educational System. He attempted to establish a Muslim school after a secular school, which was not very successful, but fortunately it was taken on later by his student and the students’ brother – Saliem Davids and Ibrahim Davids. From that point, this Muslim form of teaching has continued up until today to a larger extent.
Around this time the Imam also began teaching women, making known to them the role they played in society. He introduced many other aspects into the community, that revitalized the mosque and the people, such as the full recitation of the Qur’an during Ramadan* followed by short talks regarding the Qur’anic recitation; he insisted on the Zakat ul-fitr* being paid correctly in kind and on time. He also introduced the idea of the Bayt al-mal*, which did not take shape, as there was a lack of support from the so-called Muslim representatives - the M.J.C (Muslim Judicial Council)*.
When the grocery business fell, he was given a position with Wilson-Rowntrees as a sales representative which turned out to be more strategic, allowing him to reach out to the downtrodden, poor and needy. He had access to certain areas that he would otherwise have been prohibited from entering; this allowed him to spread the teachings of Islam – which he knew to be the only solution to the injustice of that time because it removed the differences of color and race altogether.
Eventually the Imam came to be feared by the apartheid government and also those around him who disliked his ‘rocking of the boat’, fearing to step out of their zones of comfort. In the year 1969, the Imam was detained under Section 6 of Act 83 of 1967, referred to as the Terrorism Act. He was detained the day of the Mawlid* celebration. During his detention he was severely beaten and died whilst in captivity. On the day of his funeral, thousands took to the streets to mourn the loss of the Imam. The night after his burial the earth shook from Cape Town to Tulbagh 150 kilometers away, then later on the 40th and 100th night – these nights being significant to the Muslims after one dies.
The people of South Africa often speak about his death and fail to see how he reached such a honorable station. Also his image has been hi-jacked by many Islamic movements which have no clue of what the Imam was calling for, the Imam had a different understanding of freedom and equality. He was a man that recognized the major issues of his time and strove to counter it. His focus was Islam because he sincerely believed that it would be the only way to create justice, freedom and equality.
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