Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tana Baru, Cape Town - a Photo Essay

Established in 1805, the Tana Baru (which means “new ground”) was South Africa’s first official Islamic burial site. For 200 years previously, Muslim burials had been “unofficial”. It was closed in 1886, not without protest, after the smallpox epidemic. Today the Tana Baru Trust administers the cemetery as a memorial to local history.

The tombs of Tuan Guru (left) and Tuan Sayyid Alawi (right), Tana Baru, Cape Town, South Africa.

Tuan Sayyid Álawi, a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), hailed from Mocha in Yemen. After being imprisoned as an exile, he became a policeman and confidante of the slaves in the lodge at the bottom of Adderley Street.

The symbolic structure that houses the tomb of Tuan Guru, Imam Qadi Abdus Salam, a scholar and Prince of Tidore with Moroccan ancestry, who built SA’s first mosque and established its first madrasah in 1798. He was imprisoned on Robben Island by the Dutch and wrote the Qurán from memory.

Tuan Nuruman, Tana Baru, Cape Town.

The burial place of Tuan Nuruman, a 19th century imam and holy man of spiritual powers, who was imprisoned on Robben Island.

A marked grave in the Tana Baru.

An identifiable grave overlooks the vista of Table Mountain and the Bo Kaap, where the first Muslims lived in Cape Town in the 17th century.

The Lutherans, like the Muslims, were prohibited from freedom of worship by the Dutch statutes of India. This church, in a surviving pocket of historical Cape Town seen from the Tana Baru, was disguised as a barn.

Grave under a gumtree with city backdrop.

Engraved slate headstone, Tana Baru.

Shaikh Naazim Ádil al-Haqqani from Cyprus visited the Tana Baru in 1998.

Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki from Makkah visited the tomb of Tuan Sayyid Alawi in 1997.

All photos copyright Shafiq Morton.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Gazan conflict and the winds of change

Gaza is a place of humanity, warmth and hospitality.
ISRAEL’s Operation Pillar of Defence in Gaza may be over, but the biggest issue of all – the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – still remains unresolved. With the Oslo Accord’s promises of a two-state solution long dead, and Israeli settlement building insidiously eroding the Palestinian West Bank, there appears to be little hope.

The recent Israeli onslaught, flying in the face of international law and the Geneva Convention, ravaged Gazan infrastructure and saw over 150 Palestinian civilian casualties. It was the cynical outcome of a hawkish Prime Minister trying to look the part before a crucial national election.

The official line on how the conflict started (which belies the complexities of the situation) was that low-key tension between Israel and Gaza had escalated with an increase of rockets being fired into Israel. Israeli response – a deliberate provocation – was the assassination of Hamas’ military commander, Ahmad al-Jabari.

As expected, it set off a retaliatory barrage of Gazan rocket fire that in turn killed three Israeli civilians and ratcheted up the fear index in southern Israel, the target of most the rocket attacks.

This laid the ground for Gaza to be taught a lesson. Israel could show mastery of the sea, air and land to convince the electorate of its security, as well as test the waters for international alliances post-Arab uprising.

Or as the Arab e-zine, Jadaliyya, put it: Gaza is the expendable testing ground for Israel’s hegemonic and colonial experiments; it is a laboratory for the fulfilment of the personal ambitions of various Israeli politicians.

But lost in the cynical details of Operation Pillar of Defence was the fact that Hamas, the convenient Israeli bête-noire, was only responsible for a fraction of the rocket fire from Gaza.

Also lost in the details was that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, having played the Iranian nuclear card to the hilt inside Israel, had failed to convince US President Obama to support a strike against Teheran.

Instead, Netanyahu having failed on that count had to fall back on Gaza, and pump up the volume against Hamas. Indeed, if he was to be believed, Hamas – a government without a standing army – had unilaterally created the “security situation” in Israel.

We had to believe that Hamas – also without a navy and an air-force – was at the centre of terrorising Israel, a country with one of the world’s most powerful defence forces and defence systems. But as with most hasbara (propagandistic falsehood) the truth is in the opposite of what is said.

This is because Gaza, a densely populated sliver of land 42 km long and 10 km wide, is not besieging, illegally occupying or even seriously threatening the existence of Israel – and by being blockaded for six years, it has certainly not violated any humanitarian conventions, or international laws on the scale that Israel has.
It is Gaza – and not Israel – that is dubbed the world’s biggest outdoor prison. It is Gaza – and not Israel – that has its water summarily cut off in summer so that illegal West Bank settlements can water their lawns. It is Gaza – and not Israel – that has had its crumbling infrastructure bombed by F16 jets and Apache helicopter gunships.

My own personal experience of visiting the territory tells me that Hamas is not Gaza. Gaza is a community. It’s a diverse society of one-and-a-half million people. It’s not a terrorist ghetto as Netanyahu would have us believe, but a place of humanity, warmth and hospitality.

Israel conveniently calling a bombed ministry or school a“Hamas” installation as it did during Operation Pillar of Defence, is like saying the Union Buildings in Pretoria are an ANC installation. It is mischievous and misleading. Hamas is merely the ruling authority in Gaza.

And lots of those people who work in the schools, administration buildings and banks are not necessarily Hamas. Nor were the journalists covering the conflict, who were targeted by the IDF. How can a computer geek in Tel Aviv with a drone joystick determine that unarmed civilians sitting in their houses, or behind their desks, are Hamas or not?

The problem is that the Israeli conversation largely airbrushes out the fact that the majority of Gazans, or Palestinians inside Israel or on the West Bank, actually have genuine socio-political aspirations based on peace. Instead, Palestinian political discourse – particularly if it is at odds with the Israeli hegemonic one – is belittled, and its players dehumanised.

It was Raphael Eitan, a former chief of staff, who set the pace in 1983 when he stated that when Israel “had settled the land”, Palestinians would “scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle”.

The tragedy of this dialogue is that outside of Gaza, few ever seem to ask why some of its young, hungry and angry men – brought up on their parent’s humiliation and frustration – are driven to manufacturing rockets.

And as the Gazans pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, and as Israel goes to the polls in January, Netanyahu will realise that the Middle East political landscape has shifted dramatically. Not only will he have to face a fractious electorate being torn apart by religious fundamentalism and militarism, but a new Arab political order.

The question, as Cairo analyst Dr Hisham Hellyer says, is not if the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will change after the Arab uprisings, but how it will change. The role of Egypt in brokering the Gazan ceasefire is the first indicator of this. No longer will Israel be dealing with Mubarak whose security chief, Omar Suleiman, was a submissive client.

I agree with Dr Hellyer who comments that military options with regards to Israel in the Arab political sphere are off the table. And that’s what makes it so interesting.

For what is on the table is a raft of Arab expectations with President Obama, and other players such as the European Union, coming under pressure to seriously re-examine their engagement with the Mid-East peace process.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cape Town Late Spring Moods

The late spring moods of Table Bay.
Copyright all photos Shafiq Morton

Cape wakes to a brisk morning as south-easter
gathers strength before an afternoon blow.

Pincushion Proteas are at their best in late October
early November.

 Shrubs you don't normally notice become fill of flower.
 Fynbos flowers all year round.
 Lions Head gleams in bright morning sunshine.
The city bowl is a backdrop for a runner.
All pics Copyright.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Travels with the Pious: Muádh ibn Jabal, the Father of Ijtihad

SITUATED in the Jordan valley, and surrounded by hills, the grave of Mu’adh ibn Jabal – one of the Ansar of Madinah – used to be a lonely spot. When we first visited it in the 1990’s, the maqam was marked by an open air forecourt and a humble, domed burial chamber.

Though lovingly tended, it was slightly rundown. I can remember an old man from Kuwait making impassioned du’ah.

Today the site has been restored. A mosque and a garden are now attached to the mausoleum. This tasteful renovation, incorporating the old with the new, is a far cry from Saudi Arabian policy with regards to heritage.

The Salafi-Wahhabi vindictiveness – of constructing urinals over 1,400 year-old sites in places such as Makkah – is counterpoised by the sensitivity with which the Jordanians honour Prophetic legacy on their soil.      

We arrived at the grave of Mu’adh ibn Jabal after midday. It was one of many stops in a busy schedule, and I can remember an officious caretaker trying to prevent me from taking pictures.

It was annoying.  My driver, Salim, became agitated with this and while he argued with the caretaker, whom he felt had insulted his guest from South Africa, I did manage to sneak a few images – but none inside the burial chamber.

After discarding my cameras and visiting the tomb of Mu’adh ibn Jabal, where there was the distinct subtle, musky smell of sanctity, we prepared to pray Dhuhr, the post midday prayer. It gave me time to gather my thoughts.

In his Companions of the Prophet, author Abdul Wahid Hamid describes Mu’adh ibn Jabal as being a “handsome and imposing character” distinguished by sharpness of wit and black eyes and curly hair.

Mu’adh ibn Jabal had become Muslim at the hands of Musaib ibn ‘Umair (ra), an emissary whom the Prophet (SAW) had sent to Madinah.  As a citizen of Madinah, Mu’adh ibn Jabal had been one of the Ansar, the residents who’d helped the destitute Muslim émigrés from Makkah.

It was Mu’adh ibn Jabal’s keen intellect that the Prophet (SAW) had polished during his 13 years in the Yathrib oasis. Mu’adh ibn Jabal had not only been one of the six acknowledged compilers of Qur’anic Revelation, but had received the accolade that he was most knowledgeable on matters of halal and haram.
His talents had seen him being posted to Yemen by the Prophet (SAW) as the leader of a group of educators; this after the region had embraced Islam. Before departing Madinah by caravan, the Prophet (SAW) had put the following questions to his Companion:
“O, my beloved son of Jabal, according to what criteria will you judge?”
“Ya Rasullulah, by Allah’s word, the Qur’an,” he’d replied.
“And if you find nothing therein?”
“Then I will judge according to your traditions, ya Rasullulah.”
“And if you find nothing therein?”
“Then, my beloved Rasullulah, I will exert my intellect to form my own judgement,” Mu’adh ibn Jabal had answered.
This had pleased the Prophet (SAW), who’d said:
“Praise to Allah, the Almighty, who has guided the son of Jabal,  the envoy of the Rasullulah, to that which pleases him.”
The Prophet (SAW) had then accompanied Mu’adh ibn Jabal to the outskirts of the city, suggesting that he would perhaps not meet him again, and that when his Companion returned to Madinah he would only see the Prophet’s (SAW) mosque and grave.
Scholars articulate that this moment was a clear sign that the Prophet (SAW) had – through Mu’adh ibn Jabal – officially opened the doors of ijtihad, the academic process of logical deduction on legal or theological questions.
Mu’adh ibn Jabal might have been the first Islamic scholar to have been granted permission to practice ijtihad, but he would never see the Prophet (SAW) alive after that. I’ve often wondered how he must have responded to the Prophet’s (SAW) final words.
The stories of Mu’adh ibn Jabal are many – like his wife complaining that he’d returned from distributing Zakah (alms tax) without a dirham and her disbelief at his cryptic excuse he’d taken no payment for his services because a “supervisor” had been “watching” him. She’d approached the Caliph, ‘Umar (ra), who’d laughed at her words and given her his salary.
It was Mu’adh ibn Jabal who’d testified via the tongue of the Prophet (SAW) that Allah, the Highest, looks upon the Muslim community on the 15th of Sha’ban and forgives all His Creation, except for polytheists and those hell-bent on hatred.
Mu’adh ibn Jabal is also a key narrator in the Hadith (via Muslim and Ahmad) that those who recite the tahlil “la ilaha ilallah” (there is no God except God) as their last words will enter the gates of Paradise.
During the Caliphate of ‘Umar (ra) the territories of Sham, or greater Syria, needed teachers due to Islam’s rapid expansion. The three of the six Qur’anic compilers were sent away. Ubaidah ibn Samit was ordered to Homs; Abu Darda was dispatched to Damascus and Mu’adh ibn Jabal to historical Palestine.
It was in Palestine that Mu’adh ibn Jabal inherited the political leadership of Sham. This occurred after the death of Ubaidah ibn Jarrah (ra) during a plague that would eventually decimate thousands of  Prophetic Companions.
Sadly, Mu’adh ibn Jabal would be destined to fall ill too, and it is recorded that on his deathbed he’d turned towards the Qiblah and welcomed death, “a visitor” that had come after a “long absence”.
Mu’adh ibn Jabal, a humble servant of Islam, passed away hundreds of kilometres from home while unquestioningly performing his duties. For the Companions of Muhammad (SAW), overseeing a growing empire,  there would be no such thing as a quiet autumn to their lives.
In the next article of this series, insha Allah, we’ll focus on one of these Prophetic Companions who fought in every battle from Badr until the siege of Istanbul, and who died outside the city ramparts – not from war wounds – but of old age.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Travels with the Pious: Ubaidah ibn Jarrah, the Trustworthy Companion

Tomb of Abu Ubaidah ibn Jarrah, Jordan.
Copyright Shafiq Morton
THE Jordan River Valley is the northernmost point of the Great African Rift Valley that stretches for over 1,000 kilometres from Kenya to the Arabian Peninsula. The Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, one of the lowest places on earth.

Linked to the West Bank highlands and the Jordanian plateau by a series of wadis, it is one of mankind’s oldest agricultural hubs. Crops were first planted here nearly 10,000 years ago.

We’d driven down from Amman, and my driver, Salim, had taken us to visit a cousin of his where we’d been plied with bunches of juicy Jordanian grapes. In the summer heat, this had been a great relief.

Our destination was the burial site of Abu Ubaidah ibn Jarrah (ra), one of the ten Prophetic Companions promised Paradise by the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Like so many Companions, he’d migrated to Sham – or greater Syria – after Muhammad’s (SAW) demise in 632 CE.

As a member of the Quraish tribe, Ibn Jarrah had embraced Islam in Makkah a day after Sayyidina Abu Bakr (ra), the Prophet’s closest confidante. He had taken him together with other illustrious Companions Abdurahman ibn ‘Awf, ‘Uthman ibn Madh’un and Ibn Arqam (ra) to meet the Prophet (SAW).

Depicted in traditions as being slim and striking of presence, but with a sparse beard, Ibn Jarrah was also described as being eloquent, yet shy in nature. He was dubbed as the “amin”, or trustworthy custodian, of the Muslim community.

The Prophet (SAW) himself praised Ibn Jarrah, saying that there were three persons (Abu Bakr, Uthman ibn ‘Affan and Ibn Jarrah) amongst the Quraish who had the best of character, and who were the most modest. If they spoke to you, he said, they would not deceive you.

As one of the earliest Prophetic Companions in Makkah, Ibn Jarrah lived through all the tribulations of the early years of Islam, hallmarked by Sumayah becoming the faith’s first martyr. And when the Muslims finally came to blows with their Makkan persecutors outside Madinah, the city of the Prophet’s migration, Ibn Jarrah had faced another test.

It’s related that at the Battle of Badr (where he’d been a fierce combatant), a Quraish warrior had relentlessly shadowed him. Curiously, Ibn Jarrah had done his best to avoid this person, but eventually, they’d been forced to confront each other.

Lifting their heavy swords, Ibn Jarrah had been the first to strike – and after a hefty blow – his opponent’s head had toppled to the ground. It belonged to his father, ‘Abdullah. Qur’anic scholars say that the verses of Surat ul-Mujadilah, in which it is said that the party of God would be successful, were revealed after this incident.

An indication of the Prophet’s (SAW) regard for Ibn Jarrah was him being sent as an arbiter between Christian tribesmen, and then, as the leader of the Expedition of the Fish in 629 CE. On this mission, the Prophet (SAW) had sent Ibn Jarrah with 300 men to waylay a coastal Makkan caravan.

After their rations had diminished to one date a day, the starving expedition had found a whale carcass. This incident is mentioned in Sahih Bukhari, and it’s recorded that the whale fed the Muslims for 18 days. Bukhari and Muslim both report that Ibn Jarrah made an archway of the whale’s ribs, and that his tallest soldier was able to ride under them on his biggest camel.

But Ibn Jarrah’s greatest moment, by far, was his defence of the Prophet (SAW) at the Battle of Uhud, which took place in 625 CE on the outskirts of Madinah. The battle had turned against the Muslims and the Prophet (SAW) had come under attack. Ubaidah ibn Jarrah had been one of the Companions defending him.

When Ibn Qami’ah from the Quraish struck the Prophet (SAW) with his sword, Talha had jumped in its path and deflected the blow, but two rings of the Prophet’s (SAW) helmet had become embedded in his cheek. Ibn Jarrah had immediately torn out the rings with his teeth, losing two as he did so.

In later years Ibn Jarrah became the leader of the Muslims in Sham, conquering many territories until the River Euphrates. It was at this stage that a plague devastated the region, causing thousands of Companions to die.

The Caliph, Sayyidina ‘Umar, sent an urgent message to Ibn Jarrah. He ordered him to leave the region immediately. The Islamic realm could not afford to lose a man of his calibre. Ibn Jarrah’s reply was firm, but apologetic. He had no desire to divorce himself from what was afflicting his men, and could not leave them.

When Sayyidina ‘Umar received Ibn Jarrah’s reply, his eyes had filled with tears, and he’d informed his court that Ibn Jarrah was near to death.

On his deathbed in the Jordan Valley, Ibn Jarrah passed his mantle on to Mu’adh ibn Jabal (ra), telling his men to observe the pillars of Islam, to remain united, to be true to their commanders and to not be seduced by the material world. Having done so, one of Islam’s greatest sons passed on.

Today Ibn Jarrah (ra) is honoured by a simple, domed mosque framed by palm trees, greenhouses and rolling hills. Renovated in the 1990’s, the tomb is an elegant blend of simple limestone, wood,  green metalwork, gold fittings and veined marble.

The mausoleum and mosque complex are fronted by a garden. To the right is the tomb, and to the left a cool, but spacious prayer room. Here, modernity blends ever so subtlely with the old. There’s none of the chintzy crassness of the Gulf, or the polytheistic paranoia of Saudi Arabia.

As I entered the cool interior I could feel a peace, a sacred tranquillity, which seemed to permeate the pores of my skin. I thought: how could anybody ever demean the honour of standing in the spiritual presence of the blessed Prophet’s most Noble Companions?

In the Jordan Valley I was not merely standing before an Arab called Abu Ubaidah ibn Jarrah. No,  I was standing before a son of Paradise. This was a person who’d not only touched the perfumed hands of the Prophet (SAW), the most blessed of Creation, but who’d risked his life to defend him at one of the most critical junctures in human history.
Also see the next issue of Muslim Views, Cape Town.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Saudi Footprint: a reply to the reply

What the Wahhabis would love to demolish.
DO Sufis worship the saints and prophets?

Saudi Arabian scholars have thought so, as have Salafi-Wahhabis world-wide. Victims of oil-dollar da’wah, traditional Sunni communities have been seeded with doubt, propaganda and socio-political fitnah with regards to their classical beliefs.

Response to my article (The Saudi Footprints, Muslim Views, September) has indicated that in Cape Town we’re not exempt from this unfortunate syndrome, a syndrome where uncertainty is deliberately cast over established tradition to systematically undermine it.

The basic assumption that those who follow tasawwuf, or Sufism, are fundamentally “wrong” is the direct consequence of Ibn Abd ul-Wahhab’s pseudo-reformist creed being exported to the rest of the Muslim world.

As a clumsy and discredited dogma, it would have evaporated in the hot sands of the Najd had not Ibn Sa’ud, an 18th century chieftain, used its crude tenets for political purposes – the subjugation of his fellow tribes.

The fact that Salafi-Wahhabism has its roots in desert imperialism – where by its very nature there has to be a “right” and a “wrong” – is the most forgotten factor in its chequered and bloody history.

Its sharp dichotomy of believer/unbeliever creates the climate for the band-aid ideology that so characterises extremism. From the black-and-white laager of absolutes it’s just so easy to marginalise anything outside the ring of camels. It’s a model used by dictators and fanatical religious figures alike. You’re either with us or against us.

But, like so many ego-driven dogmas, Salafi-Wahhabism has glaring flaws. Borrowing religion to shape a socio-political destiny is fraught with theological pitfalls. Reductionism cuts corners, and the Salafi-Wahhabis have been the biggest theological corner-cutters in history.

Take their concept of tawhid, the Oneness of the Creator, for example.

Hamstrung by literalism, and having completely sacrificed the metaphor so resplendent in Qur’an and Islamic tradition, Salafi-Wahhabism is forced to assert that Allah, the Unimagineable, actually has a head and a body, and actually sits on a throne.

When faced with the Qur’anic verse which states that Allah, the Highest, will destroy everything save His Face, Salafi-Wahhabis stumble and stutter. This is because they’re unable to explain away the absurdity of their reductionism – the indivisible Creator destroying parts of Himself!

Yet these very same people, unable to understand tawhid, will turn around and accuse Sufis of violating the same because they visit graves. The validity of grave visitation (clearly indicated by Prophetic tradition) was dealt with in my first article. For a sane Muslim there is nothing polytheistic about visiting, and paying respect to, a dead person.

Of course, there have been fraudulent and impious charlatans who will contravene the Shari’ah in this respect. They’ve been roundly condemned by all major scholars from Imam Junaid Baghdadi in the 9th century to modern times.

But the biggest Salafi-Wahhabi bugbear, by far, is the insistence that building over graves, if not a bida’h (an undesirable innovation) is shirk, or polytheism. This is arrant nonsense supported by whimsical superstition.

The point is that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) requested before his death that he be buried in his house, a structure that had walls and a roof. No serious scholar has ever contested this, or requested the demolition of the green dome in Madinah, which makes the Salafi-Wahhabi view that you can’t build over graves even more baffling.

And if they want to argue that those other than prophets can’t have decorated tombs, there is the case of the Prophet (SAW) allowing the Companion Ibn Madh’un’s grave to be marked in Jannat ul-Baqi'.

To honour our prophets and saints with beautiful mausoleums is not to worship them, but to remember and to respect them. Sayyidah A’isha’s Hadith that the Prophet (SAW) did not fear shirk after his passing is a sober reminder that sane Muslims – and Sufis – will not fall prey to worshipping the dead.

Countless scholars agree that martyrs and saints enjoy a similar status, the Qur’an clearly stating that the pious – who are not “dead” – do not suffer or grieve in the afterlife.

It was, after all, the Prophet’s (SAW) confidante, Sayyidina Abu Bakr (ra), who said that to - God forbid - worship the Prophet (SAW) would be to render him truly dead to Islam. What Muslim alive today would want to do that?

Then there is the celebrated Hadith that to visit the Prophet (SAW) in his grave is the equivalent of visiting him while alive, and the further tradition that he greets everybody who greets him. This is corroborated by the sound saying of the Prophet (SAW) that prophets are alive in their graves, and that he would answer Nabi ‘Isa (or Jesus) from the grave.

In spite of overwhelming evidence, Salafi-Wahhabis will blithely brush these classical arguments aside. They will even ignore, or re-interpret, the verses in Surat ul-Kahf (the Chapter of the Cave) that specify a “masjid” could be built over the Seven Sleepers.

Oh, that’s “pre-Islamic” they will say, blithely disregarding the classical application of Qur’anic context and the core, universal understanding of Islam. Of course, the “pre-Islamic” argument is as specious a supposition that elephants can fly.

The Prophet (SAW) was given permission by Allah, the Merciful, to visit his parent’s graves because they’d died on their fitrah, their primordial Islamic essence.

Yet it was the Salafi-Wahhabis who poured petrol on his mother Aminah’s grave and set it alight, claiming that she was kafir. And when the grubby minions of the Saudi muftis dug up his father Abdullah’s grave, his body was found to be as fresh as the day he died.

What is forgotten here is that the prophets also died on their fitrah, Ibrahim (as) being described in the Qur’an as “hanifan Musliman”.Of further interest is that during the Mi’raj, the Heavenly Ascension, the Prophet (SAW) discovered that Ibrahim (as) looked exactly like him. This is a subtle message of prophetic universality, something totally lost on the Salafi-Wahhabis.

So is the tenability of their views. They removed the boulder upon which the Prophet (SAW) sat before the battle of Uhud in Madinah, saying we were worshipping it. But, strangely, have never called for the demolition of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Fortunately for all of us, the rock upon which the Prophet ascended into the Heavens is way beyond their imagination.