Habibia Centenary 2005

The origins of Qira'ah

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When we listen to a qari's recitation of the Quran, there is undoubtedly a spirituality that is awakened in us. We feel the beauty of Allah's Word touching a cord deep within ourselves. It is a cord that connects us to our Creator. This occurs even if we do not understand the language of Arabic.

It is true that the source of such spiritual feelings is due to us listening to the Eternal Word of Allah. All Muslims are conscious of this. But there is also another reason why such strong spiritual vibrations occur at such occasions. It is because a qualified qari is not simply one who recites beautifully. Rather, such a qari is one who has studied under a teacher who has in turn studied under another teacher and so on in a chain that goes right back to the Messenger of Allah, the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him. It is the barakah (the blessings) of this chain- or silsilah as it is called in Arabic- that also contributes to the spirituality that is felt at occasions of qira'ah (Quranic recitals). To appreciate the true value of qira'ah we need to know the origins of this chain.

What is Qira'ah

At its most basic and most important level qira’ah means to recite the letters of the Quran carefully and correctly- in other words with what is called tajwid. This also implies having knowledge of how and when to stop and restart one' s recitation when one is not able to complete the recitation of an entire verse in one breath. This is so since the meaning of the verse is always taken into consideration and stopping or restarting incorrectly may change or distort the desired meaning of the verse.

Tajwid, which means "beautification", is of two types: beautifying the letters of the Quran by attempting to pronounce them as close to the Arab accent as possible; and beautifying them by being aware of the conditions in which they have to be recited with an empty and flat or full and rounded sound. One must also be aware of when they have to be applied with a slightly lengthened nasal sound (ghunnah) or read with an added elongation (madd) and so on.

To read the Quran with tajwid is Fard ‘Ayn- compulsory on every Muslim. This is the consensus of the 'ulama. The study of the theory of tajwid is Fard Kifayah which means that there need to be some people in each Muslim community acquainted with this branch of knowledge.

The seven Ahruf of the Prophet (The Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him)

The seven Ahruf were seven ways of reciting the Quran which the Prophet, the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him, was permitted to teach his Companions to recite with, easing the process of learning and memorizing the Holy Book. While the Quran was revealed in the dialect of the Quraish, the tribe of the Holy Prophet, there were of course many other tribes in Arabia who spoke in different dialects of Arabic. The Holy Prophet, Allah's Peace and Blessings be upon him, wanted to facilitate the absorption of the Quran across Arabia. To this end, the following hadith is narrated in Sahih Muslim: "…Verily Jibril a.s. came to me saying: "Indeed, your Lord, the Almighty and Honoured, commands you to teach your people the Quran in one way." I said: "Oh Allah, make easy on my people (bring them relief)". He (Jibril a.s.) returned saying: "Indeed, your Lord, the Almighty and Honoured, commands you to teach your people the Quran in two ways." I said: "Oh Allah, make easy on my people (bring them relief)." He (Jibril a.s.) returned saying: "Indeed, your Lord, the Almighty and Honoured, commands you to teach your people the Quran in seven ways…" [A hadith contained in the Sahih Muslim].

As far as the method in which Jibril a.s. conveyed these ways to the Prophet, Allah's Peace and Blessings be upon him, if they took the form of general guidelines or if they were individually varying recitations each time one was received, we do not know. We do however know that annually during the month of Ramadan a revision of all received revelations occurred between the Prophet, Allah's Peace and Blessings be upon him, and Jibril a.s.  and that in the final year of Prophethood this revision was done twice. The final revision also included a revision of all the seven Ahruf.

Two years after the conquest of Makkah, the Holy Prophet, Allah's Peace and Blessings be upon him, passed away. In those two years the Holy Prophet was fundamentally engaged in conveying these means of recitation practically as opposed to having it theoretically documented. Time was of the essence and the Prophet, Allah's Peace and Blessings be upon him, chose to train and teach certain Companions in certain of these ways so as to preserve them and have it taught appropriately to others.

Among the Companions that the Holy Prophet chose to train in the recital of the Quran are the following:

Sayyidina ‘Uthman ibn Affan ra.
Sayyidina ‘Ali ibn Talib ra.
Ubbay bin Ka'ab r.a.
Zaid bin Thabit r.a.
Abdullah ibn Masud r.a.
Abu Musa al-Ashari ra.
Abul Darda Uwaimir bin Zaid r.a.

The Imams of Qirah

These Companions were spread throughout the known Islamic world at that time. Many students- the Tabi'in- would gather around them, absorbing their knowledge and turn later on teach it to their students (the Tab' Tabi'in) and so on. Knowledge was thus spread over the various parts of the Muslim world. In particular, there were five prominent centres of learning at this stage of Islamic history: Madinah and Mecca in Arabia, Basrah and Kufah in Iraq, and Syria. The students of these centres quickly expanded. Each of these five centres contained people who dedicated their lives to documenting, preserving and conveying what was taught by these noble emissaries of the divine message.

A high degree of precision was noted amongst certain individuals to the extent that they were unanimously chosen to fill the places of their predecessors as senior teachers of the Noble Quran. The documentation of each of these individual's teachings, which was ultimately what he had received from his chain of teachers- and the source of which was the Holy Prophet, the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him- is known as his Qira'ah [recital]. These individuals- who emerged from the ranks of the Tabi'in and the tab'Tabi'in became known as the Qurra [the reciters]. They were recognised as the leaders (A'imma) of the science of Quran recitation. The most famous of them were as follows:
Imam Nafi’ al-Madani (d. 169h.) of Madinah.
Imam ibn Kathir (d.120) of Makkah.
Imam Abu Amr al-Basri (d.154) of Basra.
Imam ibn Amir (d. 118) of Syria
Imam al-‘Asim bin Bahdalah (d.127) of Kufah.
Imam Hamzah bin Habib al-Zayyat (d.156) of Kufah.
Imam ‘Ali al-Kasa'i (d. 189h.) of Kufah.

The modes of qira'ah transmitted by these Imams are recognized as the seven most authoritative ones, although there are a number of other Imams in the field as well.

Later, scholars such as Abu Amr ad-Dani of Spain (d.444h) made a thorough record of all these modes of recital, thereby helping to preserve them for posterity.

The taqwa of the Imams of qira’ah

It is important to note that these scholars not only recited and taught, but lived the message of the Quran in their daily lives and were blessed by being engaged in this activity solely for the sake of Allah. We will just give few examples for the sake of illustration although there are many others.

For instance, with regard to Imam Nafi it is related that the scent of musk came from his mouth whenever he spoke. When asked whether he used scent before sitting to teach, he replied: 'I do not touch scent nor do I go near it. But I have seen the Prophet, the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him, in a dream reciting into my mouth and since then I have this scent in it." He was described as the "purest of people in character". On his deatbed his advice to his children was as follows: "Fear Allah and solve your differences. And obey Allah and His Messenger if you are true believers."

With regard to Imam ‘Asim, no less a person than Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal r.a. described him as "a very trustworthy, good and pious man." On his deathbed he was found repeatedly reciting the verse "Then they will be returned to Allah, their true Master."

Imam Hamzah bin al-Habib al-Zayyat was also recognized for his simplicity, humility and piety. The great Imam Abu Hanifah said to him: "There are two things which you have surpassed us in and about which we will never argue with you: the Quran and the laws of inheritance." It is narrated that whenever he was free between Dhuhr and Asr or between Maghrib and Isha, he would pass his time in prayer. One of the 'ulama said of him : "I do not think that Allah keeps bala (great trials and calamities) away from Kufah except through the presence of Hamzah.

The differences between the qira’at

The differences between these qira'at relate to minor, but equally acceptable, differences in the pronunciation of certain words in the Quran. Such differences, of course, do not change the fundamental meaning of any Quranic verse. The different pronunciation, though, may provide another shade of meaning to a word. It must always be borne in mind that the source of these allowable differences is the Holy Prophet himself, the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him.  

The most widespread form of qira'ah today
Due to inevitable historical circumstances, some qira'ahs became more well-known than others. Only two of the seven Qira'at mentioned are in widespread currency. The Qira'ah of Imam Nafi’ as narrated by his student Warsh is widely read in North and West Africa. Elsewhere in the Muslim world the qira'ah of Imam ‘Asim bin Bahdalah, as transmitted by his student Hafs, is dominant. The Quran as we read it in South Africa is in this qira'ah.

Sanad, Ijaza and Silsila

The basis of all Islamic sciences, be it Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh, Qira'ah and so on is sanad and ijazah. Sanad means that one is certified as competent in a particular Islamic science that has been studied under a teacher in that field. Ijazah means that, in addition, that the teacher gives one license and permission to teach others in that field. People who are declared competent in the field, and have been given license to teach others, are part of a continuous chain [silsila] stretching right back to the Holy Prophet, Allah's Peace and Blessings be upon him. When one listens to a qualified qari’, it is worthwhile noting that he or she has in this way a spiritual link to the Holy Prophet. It is also our duty as Muslims to be conscious of the enormous sacrifices that the Companions, tabi'in, the Imams of qira'ah and others have made to document, preserve and continue the modes of recital authorised by the Holy Prophet, the Salutations and Peace of Allah be upon him. We would have not known how to read the Qur'an otherwise.

Sheikh Ismail Londt

Mosques and Muslims A view of those who build them and those who pray in them

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More than three and a half centuries ago many of our forefathers were exiled and enslaved by the colonising Dutch and transported from the Indonesian archipelago and the Indian subcontinent to the southern tip of Africa, a land unfamiliar to their traditional homes, alienated from their places of worship. Islam is a communal way of life, but for over a hundred and fifty years the Dutch at the Cape denied the adherents of the Muslim faith basic freedom of religion and worship. They were shorn of the basic right to propagate the tenets of Islam, on punishment of death. Compounding religious restrictions, the Muslims were further prohibited from congregating in a place they could call a mosque. Obligatory congregational prayers were surreptitiously performed in the private homes of Muslim “Free Blacks” (those who were not slaves, e.g. political exiles and free-tradesmen).


In 1795, and again in 1806, the Cape came under British rule. Under British rule in 1798 Muslims were permitted, under the aegis and through the force and teachings of Tuan Guru (Abdulla Kadi Abdus Salaam), to construct a small mosque in Dorp Street – The Auwal (First) mosque. It was constructed on a piece of land “dedicated by a lady called “Saartjie van de Kaap.” The Auwal mosque was both a mosque and a school for “Free Blacks and slave children.”


Over the centuries the Cape Muslims have had many ethnic, religious and doctrinal disputes. When I was a young man I used to hear that the men-folk were dressing up formally on Sundays to attend the latest “Pitchara” (dispute discussion) at the Avalon cinema in District Six. Sadly some of these episodes of rancour became intensely personal resulting in communal schisms and the building of unnecessary mosques for egotistical reasons, and what I would term, “Imam fan-club” groups. This type of rancour and “cult of personality” was not unique to South Africa; they are universal traits particularly in religion, politics, academia and a host of other fields.  Thankfully much of that penchant for petty disputes in Cape Muslim affairs is history and hopefully the “cult of personality” is as dead as the Soviet Union.


Looking back in time, many of the mosques of Cape Town have rather interesting histories. Those of the Bo-kaap are well documented by the late Dr Achmat Davids in his book, The Mosques of the Bo-kaap. A book just recently published by Fagmie Gamieldien, On the History of the Claremont Main Road Mosque, its people and their contribution to Islam in South Africa, promises to be a good read. It certainly has first-class production values, and judging from a cursory perusal, should have a wide readership. But, it is on the Habibiyah mosque that emerged in the “wilds of the distant Doorhoogte” that I wish to briefly dwell on. It had a fascinating birth and a colourful history.


The centenarian Habibiyah mosque has recently had a make-over. On a clear day it stands like a pinnacled white jewel etched against the blue sky. Its beginning, however, was concretised in the wishes and desires of a truly humble, pious soul, much loved and respected: the revered gentleman of the Chisti Sufi order, who was, and is still, affectionately known as “Sufi Sahib.” Shah Ghulam Muhammad Habibi, (Sufi Sahib) “a man of faith, action, and vision,” came to South Africa from India in 1896 with a personal mission to erect pillars of learning, mosques and orphanages where the poor and the needy could stand proud in the Muslim brotherhood. Travelling alone he was resolute in furthering the call of Islam in this southern part of Africa. To this effect he initiated the building of many mosques, particularly in what was then the Province of Natal, now KwaZulu, where many indentured sugar-cane labourers from India, and the so-called “Passenger-Indians,” settled in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The so-called “Passenger-Indians” were men and women from the Indian sub-continent who paid their own passenger-boat fare to settle in South Africa, either to join family, or to work in various endeavours, particularly retail vendoring, in Natal, the Witwatersrand Gold mine areas and in Cape Town.

In 1901 Sufi-Sahib arrived in Cape Town. Early one morning he set off to the distant boundaries of Cape Town, arriving around noon at a farm called Doornhoogte on the sparsely populated sandy Cape Flats. Soon he measured out and negotiated for land where a mosque, Khanaqah (Sufi centre) and orphanage would be built. The puzzled local Muslims could not understand why this holy man was building such a large mosque in the wilderness complete with a staircase to the roof for the muezzin to call the faithful to prayers. Sufi-Sahib assured them that one day the mosque would be too small for the Muslims of the area. True to his words, Habibiyah Mosque has since had several enlargements, and with its recent modifications and extensive artistic embellishments, it is one of the largest mosques in the Cape area. Teaching and the care of the orphans have been hallmarks in the legacies of Sufi Sahib and those who followed him, particularly his brother-in law, Imam Abdul Latif Qadi, but also many others who did sterling work.

The chandeliered Habibiyah mosque is striking on the eye, with famed Achmat Soni calligraphy gracing the drum of the dome. Ismail Adam’s work decorates the ceiling. Many other artists, woodworkers and artisans worked on the project of modernisation and enlargement of the whole complex. Their work are particularly laudable and of a very high standard. The mosque’s plethora of minarets is embellished with geometric, zigzag neo-Ndabele patterns; the first use of this particularly “African” style I’ve seen in a semi-classical “Oriental-baroque” mosque. Functionally the mosque, the orphanage, the school and the concepts are tributes to the memory of many, but most of all it is a precious jewel left to the community by the vision of a man of action - Sufi-Shahib.

Five times a day the rapidly expanding millions of Cape Town are called to prayer from the minarets of over a hundred mosques. The faithful crowd these venues of prayer on Fridays and on the festive days. But on many days these costly structures are neglected; mere monuments to the clever hands of artisans and artists. Perhaps there are very valid reasons for this. If that is so, then the building of any new mosques need rethinking regarding multi-functionality, modesty in artistic embellishment and with cost-effectiveness in mind. These are vital imperatives. It is accepted that everything in the universe is ever-changing. Needs change and therefore mosques have to evolve with those changed requirements. It is time to reflect about mosques, their functions and their values to society. Wisdom dictates that we revisit the ancient mosques, course through their construction and history, and learn from the evolution of mosques before we draw more lines on paper. Remember, each and every line on the architect’s mosque plan costs money. Each cent of publicly collected, or government-taxed money, should be wisely spent; Islam demands that the administrators of all public funds should be answerable to the whole community   and in no uncertain terms, they, the administrators, are accountable to the Almighty.


A mosque can be lines drawn in the sand, for “the entire world is a mosque for Muslims.” We do not need walls to enclose us in prayer, but practicality is a task-master that forces us to consider the elements of the wind and the weather. We build four walls and then a myriad needs and necessities inexorably multiply the complexity of the structures.

The first mosques were probably simple structures, built of mud walls and palm fronds, and surrounded the compound of mud-brick houses where the Prophet (PBUH), his Companions and their families lived. During long prayers or sermons, the blinding desert sun called for a roof to provide shade. At first a stone in one of the walls marked the direction of Jerusalem, the first Kiblah. The Kiblah was later changed to Mecca. With time the Mihrab replaced the Kiblah direction stone and its curved hollowed surface acted as an amplification chamber for the chanting of the Imam at prayers. As the number of Muslims increased and the mosques became bigger, a minbar, or raised platform, from which the Imam could address the congregation, became a necessity. Water wells or fountains for ablutions became necessities. With the expansion of the Muslim Empire new concepts were introduced. It is said the first Minaret was introduced in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. Some mosques became so large that they had to have platforms from which men could repeat the words of the Imam to the back rows. In 836 AD the Abbasid Caliph, al-Mutasim, built two huge mosques when he moved the Muslim Capital city from Baghdad to Samara, a few kilometres north of Baghdad. They now stand in ruins. The largest of these mosques measured a massive 240 metres x 156 metres. It has a free-standing minaret with a spiral road on the outside. In its functioning days the Bilal, who called the faithful to prayer, had to have a donkey-ride to the top five times a day to call the prayers.


Many beautiful mosques comes to mind, particularly the incomparably tiled Isfahan mosque built during the Shah Abbas era in Iran (1858 -1629), the Great Mosque of Cordoba, the unique Ibn Tulun mosque in Cairo, so large that it could virtually accommodate the Mameluke ruler, Ibn Tulun’s whole Cairene army at Jum’a. The supreme mosque builder of all time, however,  was the Turkish mosque-builder, who lived till the age of 99 years, Mimar Koca Sinan (“Great architect Sinan”).

Born of Greek Orthodox parents as Josef in 1489, he was inducted into the Turkish Janissary corps of the Ottoman Caliph Süleyman 1, the Great. For 40 years he was the Chief Architect of the Ottoman Empire. He constructed 79 Mosques, 34 palaces, 33 public baths, 19 tombs, 55 schools, 16 poorhouses, 7 madressahs and 12 caravansaries (camel-caravan-inns). He considered the Selim Mosque in Ederne as his masterpiece, but world scholars are at one that the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, built 1550-57 is his crowning glory. Those of us who have been are fortunate enough to have visited the main mosque sections that are still extent, can but agree with that view. The Süleymaniye mosque is the largest mosque ever built in the Ottoman Empire. It has a massive dome with 32 openings giving the dome a feeling of lightness and airiness so unlike the dark, dank, dingy European cathederals. In earlier times mosques had to be lit with lamps and candles at night, yet the air-flow and ventilation were so effectively and efficiently designed  that the domes of the roof were not smeared with soot as happened in Michael Angelo’s St Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican and the Sistine chapel in Christian Rome. Besides the worship spaces the Sülymaniye mosque also contained vast social complexes, including four madressahs, a large hospital, a medical school, huge kitchens, baths, shops (a forerunner of the shopping malls?) and even stables. To crown it all, the art work was and is stunning. I was breathlessly-enthralled at the magnificence of the stained glass work when I visited what remained of this mosque in Istanbul. This was truly a functional mosque that could be financially self-sustaining. To Sinan’s added credit is that he was also the teacher of  Mehmed Aga, the architect of  the justly famous Sultan Ahmed Cami- the incomparable “Blue Mosque”.

This is not just an essay into the creative wonders of times gone by. No! It is a plea for our architects to study the masterpieces of the great ones and improve upon their skills. We do not need great sterile edifices, but what we need is value for money hard earned, often by disadvantaged communities. Mosques must be meaningful, where the young and the old can relax and a enjoy themselves, not only in lilting  evocative thikrs and heart-touching prayers, but also in creative classes, self-help lessons, empowerment education, cultural shows and displays and even sports events and pleasures that stimulate growing minds and soothe those that have paid their dues with goodness and kindness to the welfare of the community. Quassidas and Qawallies should “ring from the rafters” with joy. This “mosque-warmth” atmosphere, where facilities are attractive to the young and senior citizen-friendly and inviting, is an excellent way that the community can repay its debt to them. Mosques must not be stagnant monuments for prayers; they should be places where meaningful debating with reason and maturity of mind and tolerance of attitudes are the accepted norm and where adverse opinions are tolerated. Those who climb the minbar should not be dictatorial and divorced from the communities and the realities of life, and they should be answerable in black and white to the communities who pay for the lights, water and the occasional coat of paint. They must have ideas pertinent to the times cognisant of the stresses and demands on the young, their needs, their tribulations, their family situations and even their times of relaxation and what, where and how that should be apportioned in a good Islamic way. In turn the communities have an obligation to remunerate the staff of the mosques with work and labour related salaries commensurate with the sweat and service these people offer. My grandmother always said that: “you should pay those who render you a service before their sweat evaporates.” It is demeaning, un-Islamic and an insult for the staff of any mosque or madressah to be inadequately paid and to wait “kufiyah in hand” at the backdoor for his or her remuneration.

The news in the last few years is good. Sense and sensibility are ascending. Bickering and community dissension are slowly fading with the waning moon. Newly erected Mosques are being constructed with circumspection of cost and maintenance. Their cultural centres have implemented many of the above empowerment suggestions and it pleases all of the community. Females are playing a greater role in decision making and implementation of directives. This is vital and laudable. Those with political ambitions should heed the voices of their constituents and plough back tax money into useful schemes of self-help and employment and make begging the sin it should be. Mosques and their programmes of academic learning and applied skills training are ideal vehicles to drive poverty from our land. Make use of it.

Mosques and their environs according to Islamic teaching should be vibrant, living entities. Sinan has shown what can be done and what a building central to Islamic living should be all about. Sufi-Sahib trod a similar path in his inimitable capacity as a slave of the Almighty. He was, like Sinan, a man of action, and made mosques living and breathing oases of caring and being cared for. May the monuments to his work last as long as those of the great Mimar Koca Sinan. The Almighty has blessed them both, for their names and spirits are alive long after they have passed on.

© M. C. D’ARCY  2 May, 2005  WC: 2535

Islam as a universal civilization

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Spiritual luminaries such as Moulana Abdul Latif (RA) have always been aware that Islam is not a religion of extremes, but of the middle road. They experienced Islam’s spirit as essentially universal, embracing all humanity. It is not dictated by class, race, ethnicity or any other boundary. The result of such an approach is gentleness, tolerance and humility in dealing with any fellow human-being. The adoption and realization of such an approach is all the more urgent in the Muslim world today, given our current crisis.

The central concept that imparts to Islam its identity as a civilisation is the Quranic phrase "Ummatan wasatan" (a balanced community or middle nation).

The Qur'an states:
“Thus we have made you a middle nation that you might be witness over the whole human family or the world community” (2:143)

With respect to this verse Osman Bakar makes the following pertinent observation,
“If we look at the present geographical world, we can see that the Muslim world is sandwiched between   China, Korea and Japan to the east and Europe to the west between Russia to the norh and sub-Sahara Africa and Australasia to the south...
This geo-demographical fact alone, which more or less has remained a constant throughout the greater part of Islamic history, is sufficient to qualify the Muslim World as the "middle nation."... It is Islam's destiny to be the "middle nation" not only in a geographical sense, but also... in a theological, cultural and civilisational sense.”

 

 

For approximately the first 600 years of its existence Muslims had admirably discharged themselves in this role as an "Ummatan wasatan". In every field of intellectual activity from the Sciences to the Arts they remained pre-eminent. But not only did they sustain a condition of pre-eminence in this respect, they also made available to both Muslim and non-Muslim alike the benefits of their institutions. A Christian priest in fact headed the famous Bait al-Hikma in Baghdad. The famed Maimonides and Roger Bacon were graduates of Muslim universities in Andalusian Spain. Jewish and Christian scholarswere boarded and lodged at the expense of the Muslim State. Jewish historian Max Dimont has in fact made the observation that the Jewish Golden Age in the medieval period coincided with the Golden Age of Islam


After the Roman Catholic conquest of Spain hundreds of Jews fled their persecution and settled in the Ottoman Empire. During those days Muslims opened their doors to persecuted refugees, irrespective to their religion. Unfortunately, the Mongol invasion and the Crusades radically changed this outward looking attitude of Muslims to a more suspicious and cagey one. The colonialist invasion of Muslim territories merely exacerbated this new attitude.

The impact of colonialism had enormous consequences for the very nature of Islam. The history of twentieth century Islam has been a chequered one - one which has not only known its isolated moments of glory but also moments of extreme tension and animosity, and, at times, even perversity. The challenges, demands, and tasks of the contemporary world that confront us are immense and varied. Our responses to all of this, while not exactly being immense, have indeed been equally varied. However, the factors that precipitated these challenges need to be looked at. In the opinion of scholars as diverse in their approaches as Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Akbar S. Ahmad the impact of colonialism, stemming from the days of the renaissance, cannot be ignored or underestimated. Nasr locates the awakening of Muslims to the realities of European power and domination to Napolean Bonaparte's capture of Egypt in 1798. This awakening was a rude and confused one. Instead of it being accompanied by a sober and critical consciousness of those factors (such as complacency and political corruption, for example) which led to our decay or decline, it spawned in its wake a spirit of internecine conflict rarely known at that scale in the history of Islam. While conflict within the Muslim world was not novel, it had previously occurred within a context where Muslims enjoyed - as world leaders - the necessary confidence to absorb the potentially disruptive influences inherent in any conflict. With the emergent new colonial order, however, and their confidence in tatters after being deemed unfit to participate in that order even within the perimeters of their own habitations, the prognosis seemed bad. By the turn of the 20th century three broad - and mutually hostile - streams of Islam had emerged. There was the neo¬Kharijite movement of takfir (which declared many other Muslims to be kafir). There was also the millennial movement with Mahdis' promises of liberation and salvation to the Ummah. Finally there was the modernist apologetic movement that viewed the shifting of technology and all other trappings of the modem era to the West as a sign of God's dissatisfaction with the Muslims. By returning to the Quran and Sunnah (on their terms), it was supposed we could once again repossess our lost camel. Beneath all this chaos, however, traditional Islam sauntered on - albeit with uncertainty and trepidation in the khanaqahs, ribats and zawiyas of the vast silent majority.

The most disturbing feature of all of this was the fact that by now all the elements for a community infected with a high potential for internal structural violence were in place. With dispossession come poverty, a high degree of insecurity, a demeaned self-image, and other forms of crippling inferiority.

Any civilisation, including the Western one has the dual aspects of universalism and particularism. "Islam" says Osman Bakar "is as much defined by its distinctive religious traits as by its universal doctrines and perspectives." It is entirely dependent on the Muslim ummah, and particularly its leadership, whether it will emphasise - in its exposition of Islam - its universalist or particularist aspects. As Muslims it is not our duty to convert; it is our duty to expound. And we need to do that in the spirit of the Quran where Allah states,
“And invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and sound reasoning; and argue with them in ways that are best and gracious. For your Lord knows who have strayed from His path and who receive guidance.” (16: 25).

This kind of "da'wah", as an order to us from the Quran, can never be made effective if we choose to confine ourselves, in an exclusivist way, to the boundaries of our own cultural ghettos. The Prophet did not slavishly compromise with the antagonistic Quraish at the Treaty of Hudaibiyya. Nor did he compromise in that way with the Jews in drawing up the Pact of Madinah. On the contrary, it was a measured tolerance that recognised the weaknesses of ignorance. This kind of tolerance, Marmaduke Pickthall correctly observed, "is the attitude of truth." Why? Because it is the attitude that leads to the realisation of truth - the Fathun Mubin (the Clear Victory) that the Prophet (SAW) was promised on his way back to Madinah after the Treaty of Hudaibiyya. "Unfortunately" as Bakar avers, "there are many contemporary Muslims who are prone to erecting such barriers (of prejudice and hatred), thus displaying their lack of discernment concerning the distinction between universalism and particularism. Such an image also tends to magnify the image of Muslim society as one that espouses particularism and exclusivism.”    

In discussing some of the causes of this hardening in some of our twentieth century attitudes, Akbar Ahmed’s reflections are pertinent. "Perhaps" as he says in his book Postmodernism and Islam, "in the atmosphere of violence and blind hatred, of injustice, and inequality, they have a certain logic in their position. At least they will be heard." "Nevertheless" he continues, "violence and cruelty are not in the spirit of the Quran, nor are they found in the life of the Prophet, nor in the lives of saintly men."

Akbar is in my view quite correct. We do not need to reinvent our Islam in the spirit of belligerence and mindless violence. If our concern is the continued existence of Islam, our love for Islam, or justice for all in the event of Islam regaining its central position in world affairs, then we need to temper our conduct with wisdom and compassion, not hatred and aggression. Our legacy, and particularly that up to the Crusades and the Mongolian invasion, is one we can learn from immensely. Needless to say there are outstanding examples of Muslim conduct at every level even after that period. There is also the wisdom of our "saintly men" throughout these trying times.

As a last observation on the condition of Muslims in the "present hour" I would like to quote from Gai Eaton (Hassan Abdul Hakeem) from a paper entitled "Islam Today". It concerns the intellectual rigidity within the Muslim ummah. To understand this rigidity, or fanaticism, he proposes what he calls a "Theory of Leakage'. After speaking about the essentials of Islam that constitute matters of certainty in our perspective - such as acknowledging that Allah is One without partner, that Muhammad (SAW) is the final and conclusive messenger, and the Quran is His (Allah's) word, eternal and unalterable - he ventures to articulate the view that a peculiar confusion of categories has invaded our understanding of things. To explain this confusion he says: "Since we are accustomed to being certain about the essentials, we tend very easily to lend this same quality of certainty to convictions, beliefs, and opinions which carry upon them the mark of human fallibility. In other words, the sense of certainty leaks out from its proper domain into the realm of relativity, which is, almost by definition, the realm of uncertainty. We are not content to believe that our personal opinions are correct. We make them articles of Faith, claim that they are infallibly based upon the Quran and Sunnah, and condemn as kafirs all who do not share these opinions. That is what I would define as fanaticism, and it is a source of weakness in the Ummah. What we most need, if we are to cooperate together for the general good is a touch of humility concerning our opinions. If we cannot achieve this then we are likely to face a bleak future."

Understanding the distinction between the shari' concepts of Ma huwa m'alum min ad-Din biddarura (or self-evident certainties) and that which is Mujtahad fihi (the product of human intellectual effort), and, above all, the simple truth that "what we need most... is a touch of humility" are what generally distinguished the earlier generations of Muslims from later generations.

Humility provides the key to wisdom and compassion - the two necessary correlatives of justice. That is, if any act is to warrant the appellation 'justice".

On the other hand, we need to understand precisely the challenges that we face as Muslims in the non-Muslim world. These features of fanaticism are not representative of the vast majority of Muslims. It is the Western media image that is unfortunately fueled by those fanatics who are intent on imposing their version on both non-Muslims and the "deviant' majority. Biased perceptions of Islam predate the explosion of the modern era of media and information. Roger Du Pasquier, a convert to Islam, writes : “Ever since they watched (Islam) appear on the world stage, Christians never cease to insult and slander it in order to find justification for waging war on it. It has been subjected to grotesque distortions the traces of which still endure in the European mind. Even today there are many Westerners for whom Islam can be reduced to three ideas: fanaticism, fatalism and polygamy.”

Despite these prejudices in the West, it might be pertinent to end with some advice given by a Christian scholar. He suggests five strategies: One, (though specific to Americans might well apply to us) there is the need to develop an indigenous American Muslim leadership. They should be thoroughly trained for positions of leadership in order to avoid being classified as a cult. Two, the stereotypical negative image of Islam must be transformed through proper use of the media. Three, provocative anti-Christian polemics should be avoided. Four, Muslims should attempt to reach more achievable goals by promoting co-operation amongst themselves instead of focussing their concern on homogenising diverse Muslim ethnic groups. Five, Muslim individuals should become involved in Da’wah (social welfare and missionary) activities in order to overcome the powerful assimilative influence of the American mainstream.

This is sound advice, and many Muslims on their own have proposed even more extensive strategies. But the single challenge remains: to what extent will we be successful in internalizing the universalistic spirit and ethos of Islam? With a number of new scholars that have emerged at the forefront of Muslim thought, the prospects for the future look bright.


by Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

The Significance of Habibia’s Centenary

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The foundation of the Habibia Mosque complex was laid in 1905. The centenary year of the event is an opportunity for celebration, consolidation and reflection.

It celebrates the remarkable legacy of a mosque complex which remains a vibrant beacon of Islam in the Cape Flats area. This legacy manifests Islam in various dimensions: Islamic spirituality in terms of the activities of the mosque itself; Islamically grounded education by virtue of the schools and library associated with the mosque complex; and Muslim compassion reflected in the orphanage which has always been an integral part of the complex.

But we not only celebrate the continued vibrancy of these activities. Commemorating the centenary allows us to consolidate such activities by reminding us what the mosque complex is essentially all about and not to be sidetracked by peripheral issues.

Most importantly, perhaps, the centenary provides us an opportunity for reflection. The mosque complex was founded by Soofie Saheb (R.A.) and Maulana Shah Abdul Latif (R.A) – two personalities who sacrificed hearth, home and familiar trappings for the sake of Islam. Propelled by devotion to their guide to Allah, the great spiritual luminary Khawaja Habib ‘Ali Shah of Hyderabad, India, they bore the difficulties of an unknown and inhospitable country with great patience, humility and overwhelming love for their fellow human beings. Their remarkable sacrifices allow us an opportunity to reflect on our own lives and the direction in which we are moving. We are off course if we find our values not matching theirs. We are on course if we find their values ones we aspire to.

Message from Durban

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All praises and thanks to Almighty Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful, Lord of the Worlds. Salutations upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad SAW, the Ahle Bait, his sincere companions and dedicated followers.

On behalf of the Soofie Saheb - Badsha Peer Darbar of Riverside/Kenville in Durban, I send my humble felicitations and good wishes on your highly commendable achievement- a hundred years of dedicated service to the people of Cape Town.

The Habibia Soofie Darbar of Cape Town has been blessed with tremendous success in its efforts. This can be attributed to one quality only, LOVE- love for Almighty Allah, love for the Holy Prophet SAW and love for the Awliya. It is this love that has inspired all those associated with the Darbar over the years to place SERVICE before SELF. This service gradually became a way of life. The results bear ample testimony. This is in keeping with the aims and objectives of our spiritual mentor, Hazrath Soofie Saheb RA, the original founder of the Darbar.

We also pay tribute to the following, whose leadership and guidance played an important role in a century of service:-

1. Hazrath Shah Moulana Abdul-Latief Qadi RA
2. Hazrath Shah Mohammed Yusuf Habibi
3. Hazrath Shah Imam Abdul-Karriem Qadi
4. Hazrath Shah Imam Abdul-Latief Habibi (Imam Baboo).

May Almighty Allah shower His choicest blessings upon them and grant them Jannatul Firdous.

Our best wishes to the present Khuddaam, Hazrath Shah Moulana Goolam Qutboodien Qadi Habibia, Imam Muhammad Yusuf and Imam Goolam Hoosain Purkar Habibi for their inspiration, dedication, and continuity in the work of the Darbar. May Almighty Allah grant them, their families, and all those who are associated with the Habibia Soofie Darbar in Cape Town the strength to continue with their mission. We pray for every success in their endeavours. Ameen.

Hazrath Shah Mohammed Saeid Soofie
Soofie Saheb-Badsha Peer Darbar
Riverside/Kenville
Durban, South Africa