Saturday, November 16, 2019

Azzawia Mawlud : feeling happy for the Prophet is faith

IT is strange that the late Mufti Bin Baz’s fatwa forbidding the celebration of the mawlud is seen by some as the only edict on the matter. This is strange because there are literally hundreds of legal opinions that differ with him on the permissibility of remembering the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.

Yet, bizarrely, Bin Baz’s solitary view is often seen as Islam itself.

These were the words of Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, an imam at the Azzawia mosque in Cape Town, where mawlud was first observed on its premises in 1920 by his grand-father, Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks. Shaykh Muhammad Salih, who passed on in 1945, introduced the Barzanji mawlud, which he brought from Zanzibar, where he spent a year as its chief Qadi, or judge, in 1903. 

To feel happiness at the birth of the Prophet, said Shaykh Ahmad, was a part of Shari’ah, or Sacred Law. It was endorsed by Ibn Taymiyya, who affirmed that people celebrated the mawlud out of joy for the Prophet. Joy at the birth of Muhammad (pbuh) was, therefore, permissible.

He added that this was borne out by the experience of one of the Prophet’s uncles, Abu Lahab. In a validated tradition, it is recorded that Abu Lahab – who became one of the Prophet’s worst enemies – is granted temporary respite from the flames of hell due to his celebrating his nephew’s birth, which he did by freeing a slave girl, Thuwaybah.

We are not given to insulting people, stated Shaykh Ahmad, but based on this single Hadith alone, one would have to doubt the faith of anyone who was not happy about the birth of the blessed Prophet (pbuh).

This was further corroborated by the Messenger of God informing his Companions he fasted every Monday. Why? Because Monday was the day he was born. This is clear proof that the Prophet (pbuh) celebrated his own birthday.

That was the underlying principle: the Prophet (pbuh) celebrated his birthday. How could there be any other interpretation? This could not mean that remembering birthdays was forbidden.

Leading from this, continued the Shaykh, was an accepted notion that the Prophet’s voluntary fasting commemorating his birthday could be replaced by other praiseworthy devotion – such as sadaqah (voluntary charity), salawat (citation of blessings on the Prophet) and dhikr (remembering God) – without contravening the Shari’ah.

Furthermore, due to the Prophet fasting throughout the year, there was the explicit social benefit that mawlud could be commemorated at any time, from the month of  Muharram right through to Dhul Hijjah, and not just be confined to Rabi ul-Awwal, the month of his noble birth.

Quoting the famous scholar, Imam Hajr al-Asqalani, Shaykh Ahmad said that the Prophet (pbuh) also commemorated historical events. For example, the fast of the Jews on Ashura, in remembrance of their liberation from the Pharaoh, inspired the Prophet to recommend that Muslims fast during the first ten days of Muharram, which marks the beginning of lunar New Year.

As for those who patronisingly accuse us of mimicking Jewish or Christian customs: we fully respect their festivities, but the truth is that we act on our own principles and beliefs, he said.

Shaykh Ahmad continued that the Holy Qur’an has ordered us to be happy with Allah’s Mercies, with the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – the first light of His Creation being the first one created by God and the last one sent by God.

As the Qur’an states, “(O Muhammad)…have we not sent you except as a Mercy to the all the Worlds”. Surely this was proof enough to celebrate his existence?

In another instance, Allah calls the Prophet a prophet of “deep caring and mercy” in the most praiseworthy language possible, in terms not used for any other prophet, at the end of Surat ul-Tawbah (the Chapter of Repentance and Return).

Therefore, it is highly recommended to show happiness at the life of the Prophet.

Shaykh Ahmad stated that Surat ul-Hujjarat, an excellent chapter on outlining noble human conduct, also ordered us to honour the Prophet (pbuh). For instance, we are told: “Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet…”

Then there was the verse exhorting us to perform salawat, the constant citation of peace and blessings upon the Prophet, as practiced by the Angels.

Shaykh Ahmad went on to say that naysayers would often evoke the idea that because the Prophet did not practice something in his lifetime, it would not be permissible after his lifetime. This was a fallacious argument, and not one accepted by any credible faqih, or legal scholar.

Besides, if this principle were to be applied, on one level we would still be riding donkeys and praying in mosques without loudspeakers. On another, we would not be able to practice the tarawih prayers during Ramadan, for instance, regarded by Sayyidina ‘Umar, as a “bida’h hasanah”, an acceptable innovation in Islam.

Nor for that matter, would we be reading the current version of the Qur’an, its sections gathered together after the Prophet’s earthly demise.

Furthermore, the notion that if the Prophet left off something it became forbidden, was as equally fallacious as the idea that if he didn’t practice something in his life it became unlawful. Shaykh Ahmad recalled the incident when the Prophet refused to eat roasted lizard. When quizzed by his Companions, he replied that he didn’t eat it because it wasn’t to his taste, not because it was haram.

Shaykh Ahmad said that the practice of the mawlud was regarded as a bida’h, yes, but a bida’h hasanah. It was a permissible practice for whom the innovator of a “new Sunnah” would get a due reward from the Divine for its benefits to others.

So what do we do on the mawlud?  We make salawat, the citation of peace and blessings upon the Prophet, said Shaykh Ahmad, adding that salawat was an integral to forgiveness and invocation, and that the Prophet himself had said that a person who did not make salawat was a spiritual miser.

All the mawlud kitabs reminded us of the Prophet; they reminded us in soaring verses about his life and his qualities. So how could they be haram?

We should imbue the values of the Prophet (pbuh) by getting as close to him as possible by remembering his qualities, his life, his miracles and his mercies. This should inspire us to strive to do our best for mankind; to do this without anger, arrogance or aggression, but by being humble and compassionate.

For this reason, every component of the mawlud is Deen, the practice of our faith. What protects us from the fitnah, the great mischief, of our times is our love and link to the Prophet (pbuh). We should make the salawat repeatedly until the very essence of the most merciful of mankind takes root in our souls, said Shaykh Ahmad.

Preparing for the mawlud.

Perfuming the Zawiyya with buhur.

King Protea for the best of mankind.

Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks addresses the occasion.

Listening attentively.
Reciting verses on the Prophet (pbuh).

Photos copyright Shafiq Morton

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Prophet's Birthday Centred on Mercy

God has Mercy on the Merciful

THE Dai'rat us-Salihiyyah Dhikr Circle, led by Hajjah Naeema Manie, celebrated its 16th annual Mawlud un-Nabi (the birth of the Prophet Muhammad) at Grassy Park mosque this month.

Attended by nearly 500 women exquisitely dressed in white, riwayats (accounts of the Prophet’s life) were recited as well as verses from the Qur’an  together with dhikr (the melodious remembrance of Allah).

Keynote speaker was Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, imam at the Azzawia mosque and a well-known local scholar, who framed his informative talk around the concept of mercy and the famous Prophetic axiom: “The merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth, and Allah will have Mercy upon you.”

According to Hendricks, who quoted from Imam al-Ghazali to reinforce his point, the whole ethos of humankind had to be supported by mercy; mercy combined with a wise use of our God-given intellect that things such extremism, hate and marginalisation were not part of  being Muslim.

The Dairat us-Salihiyyah Dhikr Circle meets on a weekly basis and is involved in various outreach programmes throughout the year.

Sh Seraj addresses the gathering.

© Shafiq Morton & Dai'rat us-Salihiyyah 2019

Yes, we are Uyinene

A tribute to Women’s Month

ATTACKS by men on women – an endemic problem in our society condemned by all but still in practice – has shot to prominence due to the particularly tragic homicide of University of Cape Town student, Uyinene Mrwetyana.

Mrwetyana, a bubbly 19-year-old first year film and media studies student, went to the Clareinch post office to inquire about a parcel, but was told by the accused – a 42 year old clerk Luyando Botha –  to come back later because the electricity was off.

She returned, and Botha now alone at the post office, assaulted and raped her. According to the police, her spirited resistance caused him to bludgeon her to death. He later burnt and dumped her body at Lingelethu West in Khayelitsha.

Uyinene’s horrifying demise had been preceded by the cold-blooded shooting of 25 year-old champion boxer, Leighandre Jegels, by an ex-boyfriend (who had a restraining order against him), and Meghan Cremer, an avid horse rider, killed by three men known to her who tied her up and took her car.

Uyinene’s brutal murder awoke the nation, reeling from gender violence, into an unprecedented outpouring of anger and grief. A march to parliament saw police minister, Bheki Cele, booed by an impassioned crowd when he tried to address it.

For South African women traumatised by violence, Uyinene’s killing has proved to be the final straw – and the gauntlet has been thrown to government to act with real purpose and genuine political will.

But the sad fact is that the killings will continue, because South Africa is a world leader in what is known as “femicide”, the murder of women by men. South African Police Service figures reveal that in 2017-18 one woman was killed every three hours. And if that statistic doesn’t jar enough, 15.2 women out of every 100 000 will be killed in South Africa this year.

The World Health Organisation has our murder rate of women at 4.8 times higher than the global average, and out of 183 countries, we are fourth on the league of shame – only after Honduras, Jamaica and Lesotho.

Tragically, much of our gender violence brews in deprived environments. Angry, hungry and unemployed males, emasculated by their lack of skills, a lack of education and crippled by economic despair, are very often perpetrators. Due to their low self-esteem, violence creates the only power dynamic they know.

Sadly, the latter is not just confined to the poor. Gender violence can be a middle-upper-class thing too, the recent convictions of sociopathic wife-killers Jason Rohde and Rob Packham in Western Cape courts, an established case in point.

Of course, whatever I say cannot lift the very real grief and calm the justifiable fury so many South Africans are feeling right now. But it is in such moments of darkness that I become grateful to know Islam – not in the patronising sense of thinking it makes me better than anyone else, no. That is not the case.

Rather, my consolation is in the sense that our history shows us how gender violence and gender apartheid were done away by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). By changing perceptions on women through his wise actions, the Prophet (SAW) ensured that women did not have to be the victims.

He forbade the practice of female infanticide practiced by the Arab tribes, especially in times of drought. This cruel custom of burying baby girls alive, so that there could be more boys, came to an end in the 7th century. The Prophet (SAW) also prohibited the social isolation of women during their haid, or monthly courses.

Then the Prophet (SAW) broke the patriarchal mould, and all the stereotypes, by not only working for a business woman, Sayyidah Khadijah, but marrying her after she had proposed to him as an older woman. This would set the trend later on when women would play a central, and affirming, role in the development of Islam.

For instance, the ways of the Prophet (pbuh) would drive out the notion that women had to play specific roles in society when he did his own housework, mended his clothes and fixed his sandals. Wives are the truest witnesses to exactly whom their men are, and Sayyidah A’ishah once said in response to a question that at home, the Prophet (pbuh) embodied the mercy of the Qur’an.

The Prophet even used to comfort the slave women of Madinah and Makkah. And at a time of great stress – when the Companions were angry with him after he signed the Treaty of Hudaibiyya – it was his wife, Umm Salama, who consoled him, and gave him the advice that broke the impasse.

When it came to war, it was Nusaybah bint Ka’b, a nurse who took up a sword to defend the Prophet (pbuh) at Uhud, who became one of Islam’s fiercest battle commanders. In the field of knowledge it was Hafsah, another wife of the Prophet, who was entrusted with keeping the first compilation of the Qur’an.

There are just so many shining examples of how women were at the forefront during the establishment of Islam, contributing economically, socially, militarily and academically. This is what always gives me hope. Allah tells us in the Qur’an that women are the partners of men, and that men are the partners of women, and that men and women are equal before the Divine Court.

And as I conclude this, there is a consoling image in my mind. It is of a radiant Uyinene, freed from her earthly bonds and liberated from her injustice, being reassured by the noble Prophet that all is going to be fine.

Thursday, March 14, 2019



Book details Muslim scholar Tuan Guru’s life and a glimpse into the lives of the oppressed

LETTERS penned by one of the Cape’s Muslim icons, Tuan Guru, have offered evidence of colonial rule from the perspective of the oppressed.

Usually the colonial narrative, and ultimately South African history, has been informed by writings of those who ruled. But these letters, which have not been made public before, share a different first-hand experience of the Cape in the late 1700s.

Author Tuan Guru was a Muslim scholar who lived in Bo-Kaap.

He was born Abdullah bin Qadi Abd al-Salam in 1712 and was part of the royal family in Tidore, an Indonesian island.

He was popularly known as Tuan Guru, which means Master Teacher.

When Dutch colonisers landed in Tidore they banished members of the royal family, including Tuan Guru (who was 68 at the time), to the Cape when occupying their land.

Local author and journalist Shafiq Morton used the letters as research for his latest book, From the Spice Islands to Cape Town: the Life and Times of Tuan Guru.

The book details the icon’s life until his death in the Cape at 95 in 1807.

Tuan Guru is buried in the historical Tana Baru cemetery in Bo-Kaap and his descendants still live in Cape Town.

“One family showed me Tuan Guru’s kitaabs (Arabic for books), and in it we found the letters.
“We then had it translated and we were blown away,” said Morton.

“We were able to see the personality of Tuan Guru coming through.

“He was a very patient man and had a very steadfast character.

“He makes his feeling about the Dutch plain. They were his oppressor.

“He wrote duas (prayers) in Arabic and Malay against the Dutch, who would smile when the slaves recited the duas, not knowing the meaning of the words.

“The biggest thing I had to do with this book was to decolonise myself.

“The tragedy in researching history is that even in Indonesia our sources are colonial. It’s all written in Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and English.

“I had to look at those sources and re-interpret them. I had a very lopsided narrative.

“I had to start looking and thinking about what it was like for the slaves.”

Morton said Tuan Guru’s aim was to uplift the slave community’s spirit through faith and education during very tough times.

Tuan Guru, a direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad, had spent his life teaching others about Islam.

He had also hand-written the Qur’an at least five times while in the Cape. One of these copies is held at the Auwal Mosque in Bo-Kaap, where he offered Islamic lessons.

“His way of getting back at the colonial authorities was to educate the community. Slave conditions at that time were dire. He had to lift his community out of that.

“He was a social activist who knew if he built up a community that it would be a form of resistance.

“His school started with over 300 pupils in Dorp Street. It was a madressa, (Islamic school) but was open to all.

“The community that he was bringing together came from African countries, India, the local Khoisan and Europeans.

“Every nation on Earth was coming to the Cape and he brought everyone together at his school. This shows you why the Cape Muslim community is so unique. It is a mixture of everybody. You will see faces from everywhere in our mosques.

“Tuan Guru should be given the freedom of the city (Cape Town) for his contribution. He started the (multi-racial) rainbow nation.”

The book’s publisher, Awqaf South Africa, said it is part of its Leaders and Legacies series, which “aims to honour our past and present leaders”.

Awqaf chief executive Zeinoul Cajee said the book series will focus on people who “made the ultimate sacrifice against Dutch and British colonisers and slave masters” as well as anti-apartheid activists.

“When history books are written, they are invariably written from the perspective of the powers that be.

“Their intention is always to portray themselves as superior beings and others as an underclass.

“They drive the idea that their history is important, their heroes are important. They would love the history of the oppressed and underclass to be obliterated, as if they had no history. We need to change that.” From the Spice Islands to Cape Town: the Life and Times of Tuan Guru launches on March 17 at the Centre for the Book in central Cape Town.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Dhairat us-Salihiyya double birthday celebration

THE Ad-Dhairat us-Salihiyya Dhikr Group in Cape Town held an auspicious commemoration of the Prophet Muhammad's birth at Masjid ul-Khair in Mitchells Plain recently. It was also a celebration of the birthday of its Shaykhah and leader, Hajjah Naeema Manie.

A special guest of honour was Shaykh Muhammad ibn Yahya al-Ninowy of the Madinah Institute, who gave a short talk. Also present were the mosque imams, Shaykh Riyad Fataar and Shaykh Zaid Fataar and Hafiz Mahmood Khatib. 

In a touching ceremony, Hajjah Naeema asked Shaykh Ninowy for the traditional baya (oath of allegiance). In response, Shaykh Ninowy said he would not only give Hajjah Naeema his ceremonial  hand, but give her ijaza (permission) in all the Sufi Orders he is permitted to practice.

The moving mawlud was concluded with exquisite birthday cakes given to Hajjah Naeema and Shaykh Ninowy by the members of the Dhikr Group.

Shaykh Ninowy gives his ijaza to Hajjah Naeema.

Masjid ul-Khair's beautiful interior.
The crowd stands for the final verses of the salawat, greetings of peace on the Prophet Muhammad [pbuh].

From l-r: Shaykh Zaid Fataar, Shaykh Riyad Fataar, Hafiz Mahmood Khatib and Shaykh Ninowy.

Shaykh Ninowy delivers his talk.

Hajjah Naeema reads the riwayat, the verses of the Barzanji Mawlud, or devotional poem.

A large crowd attended bedecked in white with green scarves..

From l-r: Hafiz Mahmod Khatib, Hajjah Naeema and Shaykh Ninowy.

Cutting the cake.

Friday, February 1, 2019

#Cliftongate, the real legacy of Cape Town's Clifton beach

The pristine sands of Cifton. Courtesy flickr.

#CLIFTONGATE – or whatever one wishes to call it – provided us with our guaranteed year-end dose of racial drama. Every year, it seems, crowds at our beaches set off the nation’s racist trolls. Come Christmas, and like the Grinch, the Penny Sparrows of this world rush out to play.

#Cliftongate occurred on a balmy late December evening when the Secretary General of a prominent political party – the one that doesn’t support Israel – was asked to leave the beach by a private security company, the one that allegedly has links to the Cape underworld.

Exact reasons for this distinctly apartheid-style forced removal are fuzzy. Some reports say that there was an issue with crime, and that for unspecified ‘safety reasons’ the beach had to be cleared by 8 pm. The central question is why this was done by a private company, and exactly on whose authority.

Another political group – say ‘red designer overalls’ – protested a day or so later, as did another grouping, which ritually slaughtered a sheep on the beach in a traditional cleansing ceremony. Matters became Kafkaesque when counter protests centred on animal rights, ignoring the principal issue, human rights.

It underlined that Clifton, originally called Skoenmaker’s Gat (after a 17th century Dutch East Company deserter), is a sign of our post-apartheid disorder of historical ignorance, amnesia and privileged arrogance. An absolute postcard of a beach, Clifton is hugged by the sandstone and granite cliffs of the Twelve Apostles, or the Hoerikwaggo range.   

Clifton’s Riviera profile belies the fact that it was originally where the Goringhaiqua Khoe of Camissa, or Table Bay, gathered shellfish, collected fresh water and sheltered in the caves above Second Beach. This was part of a route via the established Camps Bay and Oudekraal settlements (destroyed by the Dutch in the 1659 Khoe war) to Hout Bay, where the Gorachoqua lived.

The runaway slaves, who rallied around the Sufi masters, Tuan Sayyid Jaffer and Shaykh Nurul Mubeen in the 17th and 18th centuries, would have been informed by the Khoe of this passage to their former Oudekraal pasturage, where its rocky terrain, deep gullies and thick fynbos would have made it difficult for Dutch officials to capture them.

There is little institutional memory of this, other than hundreds of scattered graves on the mountain slopes and the well-known tombs of Tuan Sayyid Jaffer and Shaykh Nurul Mubeen. There are no plaques, or any other attempts at the commemoration, of what Clifton and the whole area once signified.

Today, the coastal strip from Sea Point to Hout Bay enjoys a ‘Peter Stuyvesant’ imprint of wealthy mansions and Top-Billing sunsets, where any sense of history and heritage is as meaningful as the last sipped Campari. 

Historically, then, Clifton is a gloomy narrative of colonial land theft and socio-economic disempowerment, the signature forgotten event being the wrecking of a Portuguese slaver, the Sao Jose Paquette, on its pristine shores on 27 December 1794.

The ship had returned from a slaving expedition in central Mozambique. It had over 400 slaves chained in its hold as it embarked on its four month journey to Brazil. When the Sao Jose rounded the Cape after 24 days, it found itself facing a raging south-east gale. As it beat around the Maiden’s Cove headland, and made for the wind shadow of Clifton, it struck a rock and started to sink.

The Sao Jose was only 100 metres from the shore. But with over 400 slaves cowering in its dank hold, there was a problem. The ship was going down fast. The crew and captain had to hasten to liberate its human cargo. This was not chivalry. It was business. Living slaves were precious capital, dead slaves were not.

By the time the Sao Jose finally sank under the icy Atlantic, there were still 211 people shackled to the bottom of the ship. Two days later, the surviving slaves were sold to the highest bidders under the trees on the Grand Parade.

All of this would have been known to the community of the time. Indeed, the sadness at the treatment of the Mozambican slaves at Skoenmaker’s Gat would have reverberated throughout the underclass of Cape Town.

Indeed, our people would have understood well European flippancy on the value of their lives. The fiscal Denaus, a company agent, had frequently raided their homes. A thoroughly spiteful character, research reveals that he had confiscated a letter from General Craig authorising Tuan Guru to build Cape Town’s first mosque.

The colonial authorities had condoned it, but clearly the Penny Sparrows in the streets of 18th century Cape Town had not, and Tuan Guru would have to perform the Friday prayers in the Chiappini Street quarry as a protest, the mosque only officially opening years later.

#Cliftongate, the saga of the Sao Jose and the gentrification of the Bo Kaap are all related. They are designed to bury our history and our heritage – a socio-economic airbrushing – where the ignorant and moneyed can pleasure themselves to death at our expense.