Rabbishrah lee sadree wayassir lee amree wahlul ‘Uqdatam-mil-li saanee yafqahoo qawlee.’
O my Lord! Expand for me my chest; ease my task for me; and remove the impediment from my speech; so they may understand what I say.
Surah Ta-Ha, 20:25-28
I’d like to thank Imam Rashied for giving me the honour of this platform and the oppourtunity to follow the sunna of my grandfather and to stand in his steps and to get a glimpse of what he saw.
I want to share with you the glimpse that I feel I have received from looking at and trying to understand the legacy of Imam Haron, of my grandfather.
I feel that the core of it is the idea of breaking in order to gather. Linked to the divine attributes of Allah, Al Khaafidh, The Abaser and Al Jami’
60 years ago Imam Abdullah Haron was appointed as the youngest ever Imam in the Cape. I believe that he intentionally sought to break traditions that he saw had long since stifled and subdued his community. He sought to break them in order to bring his community together.
Perhaps it was part of his natural disposition to work against formailsed structures but I like to think that he consciously chose to work against those structures for a greater good.
South Africa at that time was in a totally abnormal situation, forcing its people into accepting it as normal. So when someone acts contrary to it, it is seen as abnormal.
Islam came to break traditions and was seen as abnormal when in fact it is, when properly understood, accepted, digested and acted upon, the most natural and normal way to be with Allah and His creation.
There is an unspoken tradition here in the cape of attending the masjed of one’s father. This is known as bangourooskaap. It was a strong tradition that kept the community intact but I think that the Imam saw it as a means of control, as an extension of the segregation that apartheid had laid in the land.
Imam Haron’s father, from the family of the abderaouf’s, attended this masejd that we are in and so when the Imam, then just Abdullah Haron, was asked to be the Imam at Steghman road, just a stones throw away from this spot he took it without a pause for thought. Steghman road masjed at that time was surrounded by controversy over where the money to support the mosque came from but the Imam saw this as an oppourtunity to create a new space of gathering for the youth.
The choice he made to become Imam at Stegman road was a political decision to unite the community.
In his work in the townships with the black communities he sought to break the segregation that apartheid had instilled in order to gather those who were suffering more under apartheid, to give them belonging and hope. For that he was derided by his peers and looked down upon even after his death.
Whilst looking at his life and hearing all the stories, all the intimate moments that had been shared with this man, for me he broke perceptions of how a community leader should be, how a Muslim man can walk amongst enemies, amongst friends, family, community. He broke the stereotype of the Imam and who this abstracted martyr figure, this elevated hero actually was. Within me was a gathering of blood and an understanding of not ‘the Imam’ but my mother’s father.
In prison, during those four lonely months of isolation and torture before they could break his will the Imam broke his own desire for food by gathering himself in fasting everyday in anticipation of the great breaking with the world and the great gathering with Allah. I think he knew it was the end and he prepared himself.
We live in a world where we are taught to gather things. We teach ourselves to gather, we teach our children to gather, we compete with each other in gathering. we hold, we horde, we even hide what we have but rarely do we seek to break what we have, to break habits, to break our banks, to break our selves.
In Islam there are mechanisms that make this breaking obligatory:
Fasting in Ramadan is an obligatory breaking of our eating habits and gathers energy from the far reaches of the body.
The prayer is a literal breaking or shutting down of the system of the time in the day that we usually dedicate to the world, in the prayer we gather ourselves together to focus on the One.
Zakat is how we break the wealth we gather in order to gather for those in need in our society.
Hajj is the great breaking of status and position, the great leveler where rich and poor, high and low stand side by side indistinguishable from one another. It is the great gathering before Allah on earth.
The shahada breaks the hold of the self over the self by attesting to other than the self. Allah is al Jami’ (what would be Allah’s name for the Disperser or the Breaker?)
There are mechanisms in Islam that help us to break but rarely do we take it upon ourselves to break instead of gather. In this we can draw from the life of Imam Haron to see just where he broke in order to gather. In small things and big things. for the community and for himself…
`Subhanaka Allahumma wa bihamdika, ash-hadu an la ilaha illa Anta,
astaghfiruka wa atubu ilaika
O Allah, You are free from every imperfection; praise be to You.
I testify that there is no true god except You;
I ask Your Pardon and turn to You in repentance.