Video link at end of text
In the Name of Allah,
the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
Assalamu `Alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu
All Praise is due to Allah, the Nourisher and Sustainer of the Worlds,
and the Lord of all Humankind.
May Allah’s Peace and Blessings be extended onto our illustrious leader and Prophet,
Nabi Muhammad, sallallahu `alaihi wassallam, his family and companions.
Allah, the Most High, proclaims in the Holy Qur’an,
in Surah al-Baqarah, Chapter 2 Verse 90:
And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction; but do good; for Allah loves those who do good. (Surah Baqarah (2) verse 90)
Thank you, Imam Rashied and the Claremont Main Road Masjid Board of Governors for your invitation to deliver this pre-Khutbah talk.
I was recently honoured to have been selected to chair the Imam Abdullah Haron Educational Trust. When I took up this position, one thing I was certain of was that I would have the full support of Imam Rashied Omar and the congregation of the Claremont Main Road Masjid during my tenure as chairperson of the Imam Abdullah Haron Trust.
It may surprise many of you in this masjid, but there are Muslims in other parts of our country who don’t know and have never heard of Imam Abdullah Haron. I for one, am originally from Louis Trichardt, situated in the Limpopo Province, and it is only when I settled here in the Cape that I got to learn about Imam Haron. Needless to say, there are also many non-Muslims, both here in the Cape and the rest of the country, who have never heard of Imam Haron, and don’t know about his legacy and contribution to this country.
I stand here today in the very suburb in which Imam Haron was born and where his “Imamat” took shape, and it humbles me. It was just down the road, at the Stegman Road Masjid (Al-Jaamia), where Imam Haron was officially appointed the Imam at the young age of 31. It thrills me to see the progressive Muslim intellectual tradition still emanating from this suburb Claremont, and right here in this masjid, including me standing in front here and delivering this pre-khutbah talk.
I felt vindicated in my decision to accept this invitation to deliver the pre-Khutbah talk when I was told by the daughter of Imam Haron, Fatima, that her dad believed that women should be empowered. That women should be at the forefront of social struggles.
So what is this legacy of Imam Haron? It is a great and rich legacy, and I’m going to pick on just three aspects.
This First is that of Education
Among the progressive innovations Imam Haron introduced at the Al-Jaamia masjid was the creation of discussion groups and adult education classes. At that time, Muslim education was about rote-learning and repeating parrot fashion what the Imam or Madrasa Teachers taught you. Sadly, this is still the case in many places in South Africa and around the world, where there is no space for questioning minds or even higher learning about the deen beyond the basic essentials of learning to recite the qur’an and making salaah.
Higher learning in Islam, at the time of Imam Haron, was for those who wanted to become a sheikh so they were invariably male and had to go to Saudi Arabia or Cairo.
However, Imam Haron made higher learning in Islam egalitarian, not only to empower ordinary Muslims who had no ambitions necessarily of becoming an Imam or Sheikh, but also extending this to women. At that point in time, this was new. Learned Imams and Sheikh’s guarded their knowledge, deeming it sufficient that ordinary musalli’s need only be aware of the basics of faith and practice, and dishing out pearls of wisdom only in their weekly khutbah’s or to a select few initiates.
A spin-off from this egalitarian view of education, was the establishment of the Muslim News newspaper. The Imam, along with several other individuals at the Cape, established the newspaper in 1960, and he would be the editor until his death in 1969. The Muslim News would come to play a very functional role in keeping Muslims informed about Islamic issues taking place in the Cape, other parts of South Africa, and in the Muslim heartlands. The critical notion here, was the need to be informed about matters beyond your immediate community.
The Second Important Aspect of Imam Haron’s Legacy was an Investment in Young People.
Imam Haron was instrumental in organising young people in his suburb to form the Claremont Muslim Youth Association. Many progressive non-Muslim political thinkers and activists at the time, were invited to address to the CMYA. These ideas gave the Imam and CMYA members clearer perspectives on other opinions, and how they needed to respond to contemporary issues in the country. These exchanges also helped them to formulate their own ideas about Islam and society.
The formation of the CMYA sent out several messages:
- that young people need to become organised among themselves;
- that young people do need a space to grapple with issues of faith among themselves, and
- that young people also need to grapple with contemporary issues around them.
A Third aspect of Imam Haron’s Legacy I wish to Highlight, is that of Bold and Selfless Giving.
Imam Haron was involved in alleviating the plight of the poor beyond his own community. He was involved and assisted black African communities in Langa and Gugulethu at a time when Muslim engagement and involvement with these communities was unheard of. He developed close ties with particularly the banned Pan African Congress and assisted the families of those who had been imprisoned or killed. But over and above this, Imam Haron joined the ranks of those who spoke out boldly against the apartheid injustices at the time. In the broader Muslim Ulama at the time, this was both frowned upon and even heavily criticised. Ultimately it was also this involvement that led to his detention and eventual martyrdom in custody.
In the current times, these three aspects of Imam Haron’s legacy set great examples of inspiration for us all. Most importantly though, and which I wish to celebrate here, is that the legacy of Imam Haron has indeed filtered down into many areas of the Muslim community across the country, whether they know it or not. It would be disingenuous on my part to bemoan a total lack of survival of the legacy of Imam Haron in South Africa today.
Muslims in South Africa have made great investments in education over the years, both individually and institutionally. A great many Muslims, men and women, continue to pass through our institutions of higher learning annually, at graduate and post-graduate level. We could so easily have become a community that shunned secular education and was reduced to parochial traders and artisans. But the ranks of doctors, scientists, lawyers, engineers, accountants and academics in South Africa, are well populated with Muslims. Imam Haron would indeed be proud of this, and so should we.
Within the Muslim community itself, education in the deen, beyond the basics of prayer and recitation, has become the norm at many Masajid. However, the egalitarian and critical nature of this education still leaves a lot to be desired in many communities. To what extent are differing viewpoints grappled with? To what extent are actual efforts made to progressively change as opposed to consolidating archaic viewpoints? How are ordinary Muslims empowered to grapple with issues of faith themselves as opposed to following rote teachings from their Imams, Sheikhs or Moulanas? These are areas we need to evaluate in the spirit of Imam Haron’s legacy.
In terms of the investment and empowerment of youth there is a lot that Imam Haron would be proud of, but also some areas that will disappoint. Over the years since the death of Imam Haron, we have seen courageous Muslim youth in the front ranks of the progressive struggle for transformation in the country. Feroza Adams, Firoz Cachalia, Omar Badsha, Farid Essak, Yunus Carrim,, Ebrahim Rasool, Adli Jacobs, Naeem Jinnah, Shamima Shaikh, the late Imam Hasan Solomons and our very own Imam Rashied Omar…to name but a very few, are some of the young Muslim people who stood up and spoke out with courage against the injustices of apartheid. Even now, we see young Muslim people in the ranks of the Rhodes Must Fall and Fees Must Fall movements, the Economic Freedom Front and the ANC Youth League. Young Muslims in progressive formations seeking transformation in the country.
They keep the flame of Imam Haron’s legacy alive in the country, even while many Muslim youth are stuck in the consumerist mall culture, or trapped in conservative family cultures where politics is disavowed, or even worse, attracted to extremist Islam exemplified by the likes of ISIS, Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram. Yes, it is mainly young people that these extremist groups have attracted the world over, and South Africa is no exception.
While it requires a whole separate khutbah on that topic, as to why young Muslims are being attracted to these extremist groups, my quick observations here is that it speaks to a lack of dedicated spaces for young Muslims to grapple with issues of their faith, and also to be exposed to other and even differing points of view. These are areas of the community that Imam Haron made a a great commitment to, and which more and more Ulemah should be mindful of following.
At the Imam Abdullah Haron Education Trust, we have translated these two legacies of the Imam – Education and Young People – into an investment in children. Apart from our bursary programme, 80 percent of our funds are spent on Early Childhood Development projects in under resourced areas such as Gugulehtu, Belhar, Bonteheuwel, Langa and Valhalla Park. It is in these areas where access to early learning opportunities are either limited or non existant. Whereas children from the middle and upper class families grow up in environments that are conducive to their early education needs, the situation is very different for the majority of families who live in dire conditions. Stretched for time and resources, these parents are not able to provide the optimal environment for the development of literacy and numeracy – the effect is felt 12 years down the line in poor school-leaving results. The trust believes that early childhood is a crucial stage of life in terms of a child’s physical, intellectual, emotional and social development. As such we recognise the importance of investing in very young children so as to maximize their future well-being as adolescents and eventually adults.
The trust has rolled out a wide-ranging programme involving:
- Parent Workshops, to empower parents with innovative educational tools;
- the training of home visitors who to date support close to 1 400 households
- The establishment of playgroups for children under the age of six; and
- a daily feeding programme for children.
In this way, the Imam Haron Trust has expanded Early Childhood Development services to communities where these services are absent. The trust offers an opportunity for your financial donations and pledges to be used to strategically impact on young children in disadvantaged communities, allowing them to embark on a whole new world of learning and future development.
Which brings me to my final point about the Imam’s legacy, that of selfless giving. An overall observation of our country, is that Muslim giving is in many respects off-the-scale. The range and magnitude of Muslim charitable giving in South Africa alone is quite tremendous. This is reflected in the vast infrastructure and charitable initiatives undertaken by local organisations such as Gift of the Givers, Nakhlistan, Mustadafeen Foundation, Africa Muslim Agency, Muslim Hands, AwQaf South Africa, the South African National Zakaah Fund and the Saabri Ashrafi Relief Fund. Hundreds of thousands of people benefit annually from the work of these organisations. And then of course, there are the much smaller organisations and initiatives, including the Imam Abdullah Haron Education Trust and this mosque’s very own Jihad Against Poverty programme. We each do the best we can to assist the needy in different ways, and on the strength of the giving power of ordinary Muslims.
In reflecting on Imam Haron’s legacy in broadstrokes, I am both humbled and thrilled to recognise that it is not lost in our greater community. At a time when Muslims in other parts of the world are suffering great violence and injustices, and when constant reports surface of horrors committed by Muslims in the name of Islam, we here in South Africa should reflect more often and seek inspiration from our great heritage of courageous Muslims and a tradition of assisting the needy, which has grown into a large movement of numerous big and small organisations.
Allah says in the Holy Qur’an in Surah Baqarah, verse 90:
“And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to (your) destruction; but do good;
for Allah loves those who do good.”
Imam Haron exemplified what it means to do good, not only for your own community, but also beyond. Not only to give in charity, but also of your time and effort. Not only to identify injustice, but also to actively speak out against it.
We pray that Allah bless and have mercy on the soul of Imam Haron, and that he be admitted into the paradise of the martyrs. We pray that his name and his legacy be remembered and extended throughout South Africa. We pray that Allah expands the charitable works of all the big and small Muslim organisations operating in the country, and that our young people be ever more inspired onto the bold path of service and devotion to their community.
We also pray for the unsung hero in this inspirational story and great legacy, Aunty Galiema Haron, the wife of Imam Haron, who at the age of 90 is infirm and struggling with her health. We ask Allah to bless her and grant her shifa’ and comfort.
Shukran for your patience in listening to me.