Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Ad-Dairat us-Salihiyyah Dhikr Circle, empowering women



THE Ad-Dairat us-Salihiyyah Dhikr Circle has a social legacy that goes back for more than 90 years when Shaikh Muhammad Salih Hendricks of the Azzawia in Cape Town initiated programmes that were to prove empowering for local Muslim women.

Having studied at Makkah at the turn of the century for 22 years, he had been steeped in the Prophetic way by his teachers, savants who were the finest exponents of classical knowledge of their age in Qur’an, Prophetic Tradition, Sacred Law, spirituality and theology.

Spending a year in Zanzibar as a Qadi (or religious judge) on the way home after the 1914-18 World War, Shaikh Muhammad Salih reached Cape Town and embarked upon a strenuous teaching programme that would see him occupied from before dawn to well after dusk on a daily basis.

Not only did he teach members of Prophet’s family – the Sayyids who’d fled the Wahhabi invasions of Makkah and Madinah in 1923 – and instruct a whole generation of imams, but he also established classes on the Ihya ‘Ulum ud-Din of the 11th century colossus, Imam al-Ghazali.

Another significant contribution was his focus on women with regards to Islamic education. So much so, that when he built the Azzawia on the slopes of Devils Peak in Walmer Estate as a Waqf Ahli (a family trust) in 1920, he decreed that the mosque space only be in the centre of the prayer hall.

The Shaikh was so keen for women to attend classes that a section extending from the walls was declared non-masjid, and women with their monthly course could attend his lessons without hindrance. Furthermore, to symbolise tolerance of the four madha-hib, or schools of thought, he built four prayer niches – or mihrabs – into the Qiblah wall.

“Die Ou Shegh” (the old Shaikh) as Shaikh Muhammad Salih was lovingly called, had a distinctive understanding of living and devotional space.

He had his house designed so that the family could move from room-to-room in complete privacy, this whilst guests ate in the dining room, or attended special classes in the front lounge. This he did by constructing a series of inter-leading doors down the one side of his residence – which itself was linked to the Azzawia via his book-lined study.

As an institution, the Azzawia had many nooks and crannies – and teaching spaces. One of them was a pillared area under the Azzawia, wrongly referred to as a “basement”. It houses storage rooms, a classroom, offices, a library and a hall.

Called the “diwan” by the old students of the Azzawia, it was here that classes were taught too, especially when Shaikh Muhammad Salih’s two sons, Shaikh Ebrahim and Shaikh Mahdi, returned from studying in Makkah in the 1940s, followed by Shaikh Mujahid in the late 1950s.

Old students remember Shaikh Ebrahim giving classes in this space, which would be enclosed by a railing and cushioned bolsters. The diwan is still used for classes for men and women – especially on Wednesday and Thursday nights – and serves as the madrasah during weekday afternoons.

Shaikh Muhammad Salih introduced the Barzanji mawlud (a poetic tribute of the Prophet Muhammad’s blessed life recited to commemorate his birth). Its melodious style of recitation – something unique to the Cape – was fine-tuned by one of his students, Ahmad Seraj.

Shaikh Muhammad Salih was the first imam to introduce the women of Cape Town to active participation in the mawlud, and they were accorded their own event, which is well-attended to this day.  

As a practioner of tasawwuf, or Islamic spirituality, Shaikh Muhammad Salih would encourage certain litanies based on the Ba ‘Alawi tradition of his Shaikhs. This is something Shaikhs Ahmad and Seraj continued when they as – third generation Shaikhs of the Hendricks family – arrived back home from studying in Makkah in 1993.  

The Dairat us-Salihiyyah Dhikr Circle was founded by the two Shaikhs and Hajjah Naeema Manie whose great-grandfather, Shaikh Mu’awiyyah Manie, had been a close friend of Shaikh Muhammad Salih. To this day, Shaikh Mu’awiyyah is the only South African Qari to enjoy the privilege of reciting the Qur’an in the Holy Mosque in Makkah.

The idea of the women’s Dhikr Circle – which salutes the legacy of Shaikh Muhammad Salih – was to broaden its base, to take the Ratib ul-Haddad litany and the mawlud to the greater community. Active for the past decade, the Ad-Dairat us-Salihiyyah Dhikr Circle has grown enormously and has expanded its activities to da’wah and social upliftment.

Its annual keynote event, the mawlud, was held at the Primrose Park masjid late in December and was addressed by the mosque's imam, Shaikh Moosa Titus. The keynote address on nubuwwah, the essence of Prophethood, was delivered by Shaikh Seraj Hendricks, who together with his brother Ahmad, is a patron of the Ad-Dairat us-Salihiyyah Dhikr Circle. 

Maulana Abdurahman Khan, a student and representative of Habib ‘Umar ibn Hafidh of Tarim, spoke about the legacy of Sayyidah Fatimah, the Prophet’s blessed daughter.

A large crowd attended.

Young and old.

Sh Seraj Hendricks delivers address.

Hajjah Naeema and Sh Seraj Hendricks.

Sh Moosa Titus addresses mawlud.

Maulana Abdurahman Khan speaks.

Time for du'ah, or reflection.

Sprinkling perfumed rose water.

Hajjah Naeema

The mawlud in progress.

The qiyam, accompanied by Sh Mujahid Toefy.

The final prayer.

Yellow roses were said to be the Prophet's favourite.

Photos Shafiq Morton