In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
1st Dhu al-Hijja 1435
This weekend we will commemorate two momentous events. On Saturday the 27th September 2014 we shall be remembering the 45th anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Abdullah Haron, who was killed in an apartheid prison in 1969. On Sunday 28th September 2014, we shall be marking the 160th anniversary since the establishment of the Claremont Main Road Masjid (CMRM) in 1854, by hosting a khatam al-Qur’an in honour of its founder, Imams, administrators and congregants.
It is fortuitous, that both of these commemorations, the martyrdom of Imam Abdullah Haron and the 160th anniversary of CMRM, takes place during the week that we are celebrating Heritage Day. For some time now, we have been advocating the view that Heritage Day should not only be about celebrating diversity by getting to know other cultures, but more importantly it should also be about getting to know one’s own history, heritage and culture. Such a purpose for Heritage Day celebrations becomes all the more critical in our globalizing context which erodes local traditions and cultures.
In this khutbah, I would like to briefly reflect on the significance of these two commemorative events which form an important part of our Cape Muslim heritage, history and legacy. I conclude with a word of advice on how we can memorialize and institutionalize these treasures.
Imam Haron and the Claremont Muslim Youth Association
It might be useful to begin by reminding ourselves of the integral link between these two seemingly disparate features of our heritage, namely the history and legacy of CMRM and the life and martyrdom of Imam Abdullah Haron.
It is significant to note that not only was Abdullah Haron born in Claremont in 1924, but his early Islamic formation took place in CMRM. It was the Imam of CMRM, Shaykh Abubakr Abderoef (d.1932), who officiated at both Abdullah Haron’s name-giving and circumcision ceremonies. Moreover, in 1955 when Abdullah Haron was appointed as the Imam of the Al-Jamia Masjid in Stegman Road, Claremont, his father and many of his closest relatives and friends remained staunch congregants of CMRM.
During the 14 year period of his imamat at the Al-Jamia Masjid, from 1955-1969, Imam Haron forged a close relationship with the alienated Claremont Muslim youth. He developed a symbiotic relationship with the youth in which he revitalized their faith in Islam by teaching them a more dynamic and socially responsive understanding of Islam, and he in turn learnt from their political activism and involvement in anti-apartheid struggles. By the end of the 1950’s their alliance led to the formation of the Claremont Muslim Youth Association (CMYA). Together, they sought guidance and inspiration from Islamic texts in their struggle for social justice. This youth movement articulated a more comprehensive and socially responsive understanding of Islam and was particularly critical of the discriminatory policies of the apartheid system. In 1962, CMYA played a leading role in the production of a document entitled ‘The Call of Islam’ in which they declared apartheid a heresy. As a result of these developments Imam Haron became a towering figure in the struggle against apartheid and he paid the supreme sacrifice for his witness to justice.
After being held by the state security for 123 days incommunicado Imam Haron died in an apartheid prison on September 27, 1969. According to police reports the Imam’s death had been caused by a fall from a flight of stairs at the Maitland police station. A subsequent autopsy report revealed 28 bruises on the Imam’s body, mostly on the legs. His stomach was empty and his 7th rib was broken. The Muslim community never believed the apartheid police version of the cause of Imam Haron’s death. More than thirty thousand mourners coming from all sectors of Cape Town’s diverse population turned his funeral into a ritualized form of defiance against the apartheid regime. They found great solace and inspiration in verse 154 of Surah al-Baqarah, Chapter Two of the Glorious Qur’an in which Allah, the Sublime, proclaims:
وَلَا تَقُولُوا لِمَنْ يُقْتَلُ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ أَمْوَاتٌ بَلْ أَحْيَاءٌ وَلَكِنْ لَا تَشْعُرُونَ
Do not say that those who are killed in God’s cause are dead,
Nay, they are alive, though you do not realize it (Q:2:154)
There are many different ways in which Imam Haron’s life and legacy have been and continues to be remembered by different groups and organizations in Cape Town.
The ‘Liberation’ of CMRM
For us at CMRM, Imam Haron’s life and legacy has special significance. Since it was the former members of the CMYA, who were mentored by Imam Haron, who played an integral part in supporting the community of Claremont in the 1970s to reclaim CMRM as the rightful property endowed to the community of Claremont by its founder in 1854. This founder was a visionary mason and coachman, by the name of Slamdien.
For 110 years (from 1854-1964), CMRM saw a hereditary succession of Abderoef imams, who regarded the masjid as their family property and sole domain. After the death of Imam Abderoef Abderoef in 1964, members of the Claremont Muslim community started to challenge the Abderoef’s claim to ownership of the masjid. They persevered for 14 years of court battles before eventually ‘liberating’ CMRM from the Abderoefs, getting support particularly from former members of the CMYA, who had drifted away from Stegman Road Masjid after the death of Imam Haron.
In the immediate aftermath of the ‘liberation’ of CMRM from the ‘Abderoef Dynasty’, the Imamat duties at CMRM were coordinated by one of Imam Haron’s closest confidantes, Dr. Abu Bakr Fakier, and former members of the CMYA. In 1979 a new CMRM Board of Governors was elected, and I, as a young hafiz al-Qur’an was invited to lead the tarawih prayers in Ramadan. In June 1980 the Board appointed Gassan Solomon as the Imam, despite opposition from some elders who objected to Imam Gassan’s familial relationship (from his mother’s side) to the Abderoefs. This heralded the start of a new era at CMRM.
Building on the Legacy of Imam Haron and the CMYA
Since 1979, the Claremont Main Road Masjid has strived to continue to build on the great social justice legacy of Imam Haron and the CMYA. The social and political upheavals in South Africa during the 1980s were inescapable realities, and Imam Gassan Solomon, inspired by the legacy of Imam Haron, used his khutbahs (sermons) to address issues of oppression and the broader struggle for social justice. He used his unique charismatic oratory style to deliver powerful anti-apartheid messages from the mimbar (pulpit). His inclusive style and message attracted youth from the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and the Muslim Youth Movement (MYM). Imam Gassan gave them opportunities to deliver talks and lead prayers increasing their participation in masjid activities and developing their leadership skills. It was also a time during which youth speakers became entrenched practice at CMRM, once again following in the tradition of Imam Haron. As Imam Gassan’s political activism drew the attention of a wider audience, he also became a threat to the Apartheid State. Consequently, in 1985 he was forced into exile and went to live in Saudi Arabia.
Since the 1980s CMRM has sought to build on the legacy of Imam Abdullah Haron and the CMYA by critically reflecting on and engaging with issues that affect us as Muslim citizens, locally and globally. Our mission is to build an institutional legacy for future generations, of bearing witness to Islam that upholds the virtues of social justice and compassion.
The empowering of our youth is one of the great legacies that Imam Haron has left us. Imam Haron was keen to learn from the youth of his time. He and all those who have sought to emulate his example have been witnesses to the profound manner in which young people can open up our eyes to the signs of the times. For they truly live at the cutting edge of the real and rapidly changing world.
During Imam Haron’s time, the Muslim youth of the day grappled with reconciling their anti-apartheid political convictions with their Islamic world view. Today, our Muslim youth grapple with many more, broader social issues that come into conflict with their Islamic value system. This cannot be easy for them, and so CMRM seeks to provide a platform for our youth to discuss contemporary issues, to open a dialogue between older and younger generations, and to come up with appropriate responses from which we can all learn and grow. The critical challenge facing us is to find creative and innovative ways of passing our socially responsive vision of Islam to new generations of youth.
Memorializing the Legacy of Imam Haron
In this regard CMRM is blessed with a talented group of youth leaders who are ready to take up this challenge. On the weekend of 10-12 October 2014, they will be convening their annual high school youth camp. I urge high school students who have not yet registered to do so promptly. We wish our youth well and pray that they will have an educationally enriching and fun experience, insha-Allah.
Last but not least, I commend the efforts of the Imam Abdullah Haron Education Trust (IAHET) to memorialize and institutionalize Imam Haron’s legacy by supporting and empowering marginalized youth and communities through education. The Trust provides funding across the entire spectrum of education, ranging from the provision of infrastructure for pre-primary educational institutions to grants for post-graduate study. The IAHET has also instituted an annual Imam Haron Memorial Lecture. This annual lecure provides an opportunity not only to honour the legacy of Imam Haron, but to keep his memory alive in the consciousness of today’s youth. Mr. Trevor Manuel, the former Cabinet Minister will deliver the seventh annual Imam Haron Memorial Lecture at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), Bellville Campus on Monday evening the 29 September 2014. I would like to encourage everyone to attend this lecture and more especially our youth.
At this special time let us celebrate all people who have contributed to our shared history and legacy. Let us celebrate those people who spend their lives helping to make the world a better place for all. And most of all let us pray that Allah, the Most Compassionate, Most Merciful helps us all to emulate their noble example.
We implore, Allah, the Most Compassionate, to grant all of those who established and maintained CMRM as well as Imam Abdullah Haron and all those who built on his legacy, a continuous reward (sadaqa jariya) and salvation in the hereafter, insha-Allah.
اَللّٰهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَرْحَمْهُمْ وَسَكِّنْهُمْ فَي الْجَنَّةِ
O Allah Pardon them, have Mercy on their souls
and grant them the Abode of Paradise.