Spirituality Reflected Through Activism – By Shaykh Sadullah Khan

In this article, Shaykh Sadullah Khan deeply reflects on the life of Imam Abdullah Haron RA. Imam Abdullah Haron RA was a South African scholar, community leader, and political activist who stood against the apartheid regime in South Africa. He was martyred during his incarceration under the apartheid regime.

* The original source of this article is from the Muslim Views (March 2019):

Hafidh-ul-Quran at 14, Imam at 31, Martyred at 45: ash-Shaheed Imam Abdullah Haron.

Having lost his mother in infancy, reared lovingly by his dear aunt Mariam and tutored in Makkah by the likes of Shaikh Abdurrahman al-Alawi al-Maliki, all impacted on the spiritual roots of this noble icon in our historic struggle against racism and injustice in South Africa.

As one who loved to constantly recite the Quran, as one who fasted every Monday and Thursday, Imam Haron’s spiritual consciousness demanded of him that he engage the world around him in a proactive manner.

As imam and spiritual leader of Al-Jamia Mosque (Stegman Road), in Claremont, he promoted youth programmes, initiated adult male and female classes, organised study circles and encouraged women to participate in the mosque’s executive activities.

He created discussion groups, established the progressive Claremont Muslim Youth Association, publishing the monthly bulletin Islamic Mirror, co-founded and edited the community newspaper Muslim News and, through these, he addressed spiritual, cultural, religious, social and political issues.

All of these played a functional role in engaging the community, informing the community, binding the community and enlightening the community.

Imam Haron’s spirituality was informed by the Quran, which imbued his life with clarity of moral purpose, and was exercised through social engagement rather than withdrawal from society. His moral depth and spiritual strength was evident in:

  • his fiery determination in standing up and publicly denouncing the apartheid state when his peers were cowed by the racist government. And it was highly uncommon for religious people to engage in ‘politics’ because it was neither socially safe nor politically correct to do so;
  • his preference was to walk the walk rather than talk the talk, living his ideals in practice by active involvement with all strata of civil society rather than sermonising and projecting beautiful visions and solutions without practical implementation;
  • his stand when the Group Areas Act threatened Al-Jamia mosque by forced removals. He said, ‘The precincts of the mosque are inviolable and the building sacred forever. No mosque can be sold or destroyed.’
  • his active involvement with the Defence and Aid Fund to assist freedom fighters, political prisoners, exiles, those who were banned and their families (who were often forgotten);
  • his ethical commitment to physically go and uplift the impoverished through personal interaction despite laws that were designed to keep people apart; so much so that even those not of his faith recognised his spiritual stature by calling him ‘mfundisi’ (holy/ religious man);
  • his physical ability, enormous courage and selfless dedication to endure harassment, interrogation, torment and torture for 123 days (even till death) without ‘selling out’ to the notorious brutality and power of the oppressors.

Imam Haron’s activism personified the ethical message of the Quran that he had memorised. Bearing witness (shahadah) is the foundation of spiritual life and Imam Haron lived the Shahadah and died a shaheed (martyr).

A martyr is never defeated nor conquered; they killed his body but his mission is alive. They silenced his voice but his message continues to inspire. His body lies buried but his spirit lives on; it lives in every person he taught and helped (young or old, male or female), in every poor home he visited (in Bonteheuwel or Langa), in every life he touched (Muslim or not).

The pain of his death and the memory of his martyrdom should evoke a moral responsibility on our collective conscience to ensure that the blood of martyrs is never spilled in vain.

Biography of Shaykh Sadullah Khan

Shaykh Sadullah Khan memorized the Qur’an at the age of eight, studied law in South Africa, journalism in Britain and Islamic studies in Egypt. He has spearheaded youth development programs in South Africa and the USA for two decades; has been an inspiring religious leader, motivational speaker and an educator for the past 25 years. Shaykh Sadullah is currently the COO of the Islamia College, in Cape Town, South Africa.


The Trodden Path: A Glimpse At the Lives of the Illustrious Scholars and Saints of the 20th and 21st Century.

In this newly anticipated series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed of South Africa will take us on a journey through the lives and biographies of some of the most celebrated and well known scholars of the twentieth and twenty – first century. These historical accounts will provide us with refreshing insights and lessons, and motivate us to follow in the footsteps of our pious predecessors.

In this first article of the The Trodden Path series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed writes on the life of one of the most well known scholars of Cape Town, Shaykh Salih ‘Abādi (RA).

Shaykh Salih ‘Abādi (1328-1420=1910-1999)

Muhammad Sulayman ‘Abadi, the father of Shaykh Muhammad Salih came from the town of Ta’iz in Yemen. He had five children from his wife, Rufi’ah Adams.

Muhammad Salih attended the Talfalah Primary School in Claremont. He studied some of the basics in Quranic recital under Shaykh Muhammad Hanif of Wynberg.

He stared memorizing the Quran under Imam Mu’awiyyah Sedick who was teaching at the school at the time. Imam Mu’awiyyah was of Turkish origin as his grandfather had arrived from Istanbul and settled in the Cape.

By the time he was fifteen, Muhammad Salih had memorized the Quran and in 1927 on the inspiration of his father and his teacher he left for Makkah to further his studies. He remained there for about twelve years. He returned home after eight years to get married after which he returned to continue his studies.

Some of his teachers were:

  • Shaykh Muhammad Jamal Mirdād under whom he studied the mode of recitation according to Hafs. Shaykh Muhammad Jamal as the Imam of the Maqam al-Hanafiyyah at the time in the Masjid al-Haram in Makkah. He was granted a sanad in the recitation of Hafs with permission to teach (ijazah). Years later, Shaykh Jamal would recall that he never had a student like Shaykh Salih. In fact Shaykh Jamal’s family even visited Cape Town in search for Shaykh Salih’s family until they met with his youngest sister, Fatimah.
  • Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ubayd who taught him the mode of recitation according to Warsh.
  • He also studied some aspects related to the Islamic Sciences in the famous al-Madrasah al-Sawlatiyyah in Makkah. This institution was established by the scholar, Maulana Kirānwy.
  • He attended private lessons with renowned scholars like Shaykh ‘Alawi al-Maliki (d. 1391=1976). This scholar and his family are famous for their piety and scholarship. He led the Tarawih Salat and conducted lessons in the Grand Mosque of Makkah. He also received ijazah from the illustrious Moroccan scholar, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Kettani.
  • He attended some private lessons with Shaykh ‘Isa Rawwās (d. 1365=1946) who studied and graduated from al-Madrasah al-Sawlatiyyah and benefited from scholars like Shaykh ‘Abd al-Bāqi al-Laknawi and Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahman Dahhan.
  • Shaykh Hasan al-Mashshāt (d. 1399=1978) who studied under Shaykh ‘Abd Allah Sunnari and in al-Madrasah al-Sawlatiyyah. He received many ijazah’s from prominent scholars. He also taught in the Grand Mosque of Makkah.

When Shaykh Muhammad Salih returned to the Cape there was an established tradition of memorizing the Quran. Within a short time he had established himself as a qārī and a hāfiz and he founded a small madrasah at his parents home. Two of his students were: Imam Shams al-Din Ibrahim and Ahmad Moos. Occasionally he was permitted to lead the Salat on Friday at the Yusufiyyah Mosque in Wynberg.

Shaykh Salih played an important role in the Khatm al-Quran Jamā’ah that was previously established. This group would meet often solely to recite the Quran. One of the objectives of this group was to unite the huffāz in the spirit of friendship while at the same time critically listening to one another’s recitation. Many of the senior scholars of the Cape participated in this initiative. This practice continues today and the reciters meet every Sunday to recite the Quran.

Shaykh Salih was considered the doyen of the hāfiz fraternity during his time. No other religious leader in the Cape received the respect and honor that was shown to him. Many would attend the mosque which ShaykhSalih attended simply to here his recitation or to meet him. Allah had blessed him by allowing him to visit Makkah and Madinah frequently and on one occasion, Shaykh Muhammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki saw him and took him to his institution where he was received with great respect.

His life revolved around the Quran. From the time he awoke until the last minute before going to sleep, he was reciting the Quran. The breaks he had were for the Salat, other dhikr, research and eating. Although he honoured his invitations, he used to be agitated at the thought of having spent some time in such functions without reading the Quran. Many of those who drove him from place to place, confirmed that from the time he got in the car until he reached his destination he used to be busy reciting the Quran. In fact he never read less than five juz daily. He strictly adhered to various adhkār like the rātib al-Haddad and ratib al-‘Attas.

His day started about one hour before Fajr when he prepared for the Salat and he recited Quran until the time of Fajr. After breakfast he recited Surah’s Ra’d, Nūr, Yāsin, Mulk, Dukhān and Wāqi’ah. Occasionally he would invite a student to participate in the recitation. Even though he spent most of his time reciting the Quran, he increased his recitation while he was in the Holy Lands.

He was a very disciplined person and uncompromising in fulfilling Allah’s and His Prophet’s commands. He never missed Salat al-Duhā (forenoon prayer) and he never allowed anyone to delay him in performing the obligatory Salat. Anyone who visited the Shaykh would not be welcomed unless he was wearing proper Islamic attire and a fez. Even if it meant that the visitor would have to wait a few minutes extra at the door, it would not be opened until the shaykh was properly clothed. Even when he performed his Sunnah Salat, he ensured that he was appropriately dressed because he was standing before Allah.

Many have regarded him as a true wali of Allah believing and trusting none but Allah. Often he would advise his students to leave everything else and devote their lives to the Quran. His love and conviction in Allah could clearly be seen in the simple remarks made by him.

Shaykh Salih passed away in 1999.

Students from all over South Africa studied under and benefited from Shaykh Salih. Some of them are:

  • ‘Abd al-Rahman Salie (Cape Town)
  • Shams al-Din Ibrahim (Cape Town). Many students completed their hifz under his supervision. He was very humble and had tremendous respect for Shaykh Salih.
  • Shaykh ‘Abd Allah Awal al-Din (Cape Town)
  • Fu’ad Gabier (Cape Town)
  • ‘Abd al-Haq Makdah (Durban). He has his own hifz class where many have studied.
  • Shabir Kajee (Durban)
  • Abu Bakr Muhammad (Durban)
  • Maulana Farouk Patel (Johannesburg). A person with an exceptional memory of the Quran and regarded by many as the walking Quran. He too teaches Quran to this day.
  • Shaykh Sa’dullah Khan (Vryburg)


* The biographies provided for this series have been extracted from the book written by Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed, Muslim Scholars of the 21st Century (published by DTI).

Biography of Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed

Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed is a well respected South African Islamic scholar who lives in Pretoria, South Africa. He studied at the King Saud University in Riyadh and the faculty of Shariah at the Islamic University of Madina. He has attained a M.A. in Islamic Studies from the University of South Africa. Through his extensive travels he has met and benefited from many senior scholars from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, India, Turkey etc. He has received numerous Ijazahs from the various scholars that he has met, studied with and served. He is currently a senior educator at the al – Ghazzali College in Pretoria.

He has authored two books:

  1. Muslim Scholars of the 20th Century.
  2. Muslim Scholars of the 21st Century.

He was one of the translators of Shaykh Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al – Maliki’s work: The Way of the True Salaf.






The Hymn of Muslim Slaves: Ratib al-Haddad in Cape Malay History

Our qari (Qur’an reciter) for the month of Ramadan is a young hafidh (one who has has memorised the Qur’an) from the heart of the Cape Malay tradition of South Africa.

At a special gathering at SeekersHub Toronto, Hafidh Abdullah Francis recited the Ratib al-Haddad, which is a collection of invocations and supplications from the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet, compiled by Imam Sayyid Abd Allah ibn Alawi al-Haddad (1634-1720), may Allah have mercy on him.

The Ratib al-Haddad is recited by hundreds of millions across the Muslim world but the Cape Malays of South Africa have an extraordinary history with it.

The Ratib came to this part of the world with the Muslim scholar, Shaykh Yusuf Makassar, exiled by the Dutch colonisers of 17th century Indonesia. Little did his slavemasters know that through him would spring forth the birth of Islam in this part of the world.

In this very special recording, you’ll hear the following:

  1. A brief history of how Islam flowered in the Cape, despite the colonial ban. Discussion between Dr Yusuf Patel of Cape Town and Abdul-Rehman Malik of SeekersHub Global.
  2. How the Ratib al-Haddad was guised by Muslim slaves with hymn-like melodies, making the litany so distinctive in this part of the world
  3. A brief snippet of the Ratib Al-Haddad as it is sung today in congregation at Masjid Auwal in Bo Kaap, Cape Town (from 7 min 22 seconds)
  4. A full recitation of an extended version of the Ratib al-Haddad in the Cape Malay style by Hafidh Abdullah Francis at SeekersHub Toronto (from 10 min 27 seconds)
Photo: The burial place of Shaykh Yusuf Makassar in Cape Town, South Africa