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On Praise and Celebration – Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, a leading and renowned scholar of South Africa, discusses the spiritual and internal dimensions of Eid.

On Praise and Celebration

The two salahs (prayers) – along with the khutbahs (sermons) – of the two Eids are significantly placed at the beginning of the day of these two great Islamic occasions. They act as a singular reminder that no matter how joyous a celebration might be for us, the centrality of the Divine and normative spirituality in our lives ought never to be ignored. Our celebrations, festivities and commemorations are invariably configured within the orbit of that quintessentially Islamic practice of spirituality. Nevertheless, it remains a Sunnah to rejoice – to, in effect, feel and experience that joy – regardless of how bleak and dim matters might appear to be.

Our rejoicing, however, need not be read as a moment of insensitivity towards the suffering of others. On the contrary, our rejoicing is an expression of the Qur’anic verse: “Do not despair of the Mercy of Allah, for Allah forgives all sins.”(39: 53) We have to rejoice at the fact that even if we have nothing other than Islam and Iman (secure faith) that this is enough cause for celebration. “Indeed, the true religion with Allah is Islam.” (Qur’an, 3: 19). Here Islam is not presented as a falsification of other prophets and religions, but as a crystalline distillation of those beliefs, rites and practices that found both their manifestation and actualization – in all their multifarious forms – throughout our sacred history from the time of the Prophet Adam (Peace be upon him) and Hawa (Peace be upon her) to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and salutations upon him). With the advent of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and salutations upon him) the sacred chain of prophets and religions had come full circle and found its perfection in him.

In the latter sense Islam is the ultimate ni’mah (Divine Grace). Within the starkness of this condition we need to remember that in Islam the emphasis is on optimism, not pessimism. This will remain so even though it appears as if we are going through one of our most trying moments in history. There are media and cultural biases against Muslims, religiously bigoted views about Islam and active distortion about the political and social conditions in some parts of the Muslim world. But when we venture below the surface, we encounter another story – that Islam is in fact the fastest growing religion on the planet• despite the best efforts by propagandists to smear and demonize Islam and Muslims. For those in the know in the non-Muslim world, it is not bombs, bullets and the behavior of emotionally disturbed individuals speaking in the name of the ummah that will get Islam and Muslims anywhere, but potentially this demographic fact of the massive conversion rate in the world today – particularly in the Western world. Yet care should be exercised in this regard. Demographics alone is not good enough.

So, what is the position of Muslims vis-à-vis all of this? The Qur’an tells us, “When the help of Allah comes and victory; and you see people entering the religion in droves, then hymn the praises of Allah, be then grateful and seek forgiveness.” (110: 1-3). The message is clear: Islam is not the property or possession of any particular person. It does not belong to “me” to boast about when there is an increase in fortune and capital. It is not a self-aggrandizing condition that entitles cradle Muslims to sport and parade their newly acquired wares. What indeed are required are gestures of humility and thanksgiving that speak of hearts that are fully aware of the fact that Islam requires change founded in a sacred and transcendent order that seeks to spiritually liberate the human condition from the most blameworthy qualities that blight that condition. Qualities such as malicious envy, rancor, belligerence, bigotry and both internecine hatred and hatred of the “other”. In other words, celebrating the entrance of droves of humanity into Islam is meant and designed to celebrate the great qualitative changes that may precipitate from those who adopted Islam as their new faith, on the basis of choice and free will. Choices that may well contribute to elevating those cradle Muslims fossilized in an arrogance and self-righteousness that serve to undermine rather than proclaim the universal message of Islam.

The social importance of events such as Eid, however, should also not be overlooked. These are times during which thousands of Muslims fill our mosques to capacity in a collective moment of elevated togetherness. They are also times of unconditional giving and sharing – moments that know no borders, whether personal, individual, or organizational. Those who fail to participate in this unity of experience can hardly claim to be of the ‘Ai’din (participants in the celebration of Eid).

The very fact too, that it is a sunnah for women to attend the salah of the two Eids underscores the importance of a border-free participation in these two events. Like Hajj and ‘Umrah, they are designed to represent the ultimate in human togetherness. But this “human togetherness” we experience in our mosques – as Muslims proud of our religion, proud to be the bearers of the message of Islam – needs to be transferred into the broader arena of our social living.

As part of our own contribution to this togetherness my brother, Shaykh Ahmad, and I have long ago decided to join hands with those who are both firmly rooted in and creatively linked to our classical legacy and, more specifically, to that great normative Tradition of Islam that finds its expression in the voices of the likes of Hujjat al-Islam Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, al-Shaykh al-Akbar Muhyi l-Din ibn al-‘Arabi, Shykh Abdal Qadir al-Jilani, Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhuli, al-Faqih al-Muqaddam, Shaykh Junayd al-Baghdadi, Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi and others far too numerous to mention. It is a Tradition, too, that has never failed to recognize and acknowledge that the Qur’an and the Sunnah form the twin sources of spirituality and Divine Grace (barakah) – a spirituality and a grace that have found their infinite space and flow upon the shores of those hearts receptive to the perennial rhythms of Divine Providence.
Upon these shores, and across the ages, stand these gladiators of Islamic Spirituality who wield those radiant staves – enlightened and enlightening – of Sufism.

In these representatives, we find an Islam that combines fearlessness with wisdom, methodology with sanity and a state of being imbued with confidence and dignity. It is an Islam that tells us when we invite to the Way of Allah that we do so with hikmah (wisdom) and maw’idht al-hasanah (beautiful exhortations). It is an Islam that tells us that representative Muslims are those who “are guided unto good speech and are guided unto the path of the Praiseworthy.” (Qur’an, 22:24). It is an Islam that teaches us that while it is permissible to requite a wrong, that it is yet better to forgive. It is an Islam that teaches us that if we are oppressed and removed from our homes that we are entitled to fight for the restoration of our natural rights. It is an Islam, moreover, that teaches that if our enemies stop their hostilities with offerings of peace that we, in turn, reciprocate with peace and get on with our lives.

In short, it is an Islam the essence of which is taught in the madrasah of Ramadan. Here we are taught the virtues of taqwa (God-consciousness), the virtues of disciplining the will and aligning it with the Will of Allah, the virtues of purifying the heart and the soul, and the virtues of sabr (patience and endurance), namely, that extraordinary and richly rewarding capacity to live with fortitude in the long term.

In this madrasah we are taught to be truly human. And we can only be truly human, in Islamic terms, if we live up to the highest standards demanded by Islamic Spirituality. It is in the context of realizing the greatness of spirit within each and every human being that we come to recognize the greatness of Allah. Moreover, we need to live up to the greatness of that spirit within each and every one of us in order to realize, not only the meaning of the takbir (magnifying Allah) on both Eids, but also to rediscover that spiritual umbilical cord that connects us to Allah:

Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar…La ilaha ill Allah wa l-Llahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar wa lillahi l-hamd – Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest. There is no deity other than Allah, for He, indeed, is the Greatest. Allah is the Greatest and to Him belongs all praise.

Ultimate Praise is for Allah alone for it is nothing other than an echo that found its first articulation when the children of Adam (Peace be upon him) and Hawwa (Peace be upon her) were asked to bear witness to their Lord in their original state of primordial nativity: “Am I not your Lord?” They proclaimed: “Verily, we bear witness!” (Qur’an, 7: 172).

But we should not forget our praise and thanks for those upon whom and within whom the imprints of that Lordship have found their resonance and expression. They are those prophets, saints and savants who have been touched – in varying degrees – with the radiance of Divine Grace. As living symbols of all that constitutes the sacred, these are the people, too, we should never forget in our commemorations and celebrations. They form as much a part of sacred history and memory; as sacred, – if not more on occasion – as those divinely selected and sanctified moments of space and time.

 

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

Azzavia Institute 2020

Ramadan: A Time for Spiritual Nourishment (2) – Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, a leading and renowned scholar of South Africa, provides scholarly insights and spiritual reflections through a collection of essays on how we can make the most of Ramadan.

The Greatness of Ramadan

شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَىٰ وَالْفُرْقَانِ ۚ
The month of Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed as a guidance for humanity, as a clear proof of that guidance, and as a criterion for distinguishing between right and wrong. (Q, 2: 185).

In as much as celebrating the Prophet’s birthday can be read as a celebration of the greatness of the Prophet (saw) in his aspect of the perfect man (al-Insan al-Kamil); and in as much as Yaum Ashura (the 10th of Muharram) can be read as a celebration of the saving of the Prophet Musa (Allah’s peace be upon him) from the tyrannical pharaonic oppressors; similarly Ramadan can be read as a celebration of the revelation of the Quran during this month. It stands as living proof of the divinity of Allah, as living proof of the authenticity of the prophethood of Muhammad, and as living proof of the supremacy of revelation over all else.

But the Quran is also a Huda (a guidance). And as Huda – as true guidance – it teaches us how to live our lives as complete human beings. It teaches us how to live our lives with respect, dignity, honour, and love. It further teaches us that Allah is a divinity that embraces the concerns of all humanity.

It is also important to remember that the guidance and concerns of Allah are not limited to mere theoretical or idealistic utterances. The guidance of Allah plunges us into the mainstream of our earthly existence. One of the ways in which Allah has done this is by making the fast obligatory upon all of us.

Not only are we required to sympathize with the poor and the hungry, but we are thrown into the very experience of hunger.

Not only are we required to reflect upon our condition in a society with its mores, customs, habits, rules, and general routine – which looms far greater than the sum of its individuals – but it forces us to reflect upon the very nature of that society. It is so easy to become a cog in the political, economic, social, and industrial machine. In short, to become a spiritually forgetful being in the material and mechanical processes of ordinary life.

Fasting forces us to break this forgetfulness and forces us to anchor the consciousness of truth and spirituality in every domain of our existence i.e. to act upon the truth of Islam and to live by its spirituality.

Fasting, by depriving us of the daily luxuries and niceties of our mundane existence asserts the supremacy of our essential condition as beings endowed with a soul (ruh) over our condition as material and temporal beings. Fasting, therefore, at once draws us into the bosom of Allah (swt) and allows us to reflect upon the high moral, social, and spiritual values that Islam sets for us. In other words, fasting focuses our attention on the broader meaning of Taqwa (a heightened consciousness of Allah) as expressed in the following verse:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed upon you as it has been prescribed upon those before you so that you may learn Taqwa. (Q, 2: 183).

The Arabic of the phrase in the above verse “so that you may learn Taqwa” reads as “l’allakum tattaqun”. The term “taqwa” – in its narrower meaning – has been variously translated as fear, piety, self-restraint, and guarding against evil. However, to do justice to its meaning, and to better understand the link between the Quran as Huda (true guidance) and Taqwa as one of the most desired virtues, a more comprehensive understanding of the term is required. That understanding is dependent on our understanding of the nature of man and woman.

The Islamic perspective is that we, as people, are composed of both body and soul or matter and spirit. We are also considered to be both the vicegerents of Allah on earth and His bondsmen. As vicegerents we are commanded to perfect our earthly existence whether it be in our private, domestic, social, economic or political lives. As bondsmen of Allah we are ordered to perfect our spiritual existence. Taqwa circumscribes both these conditions. In other words, and as alluded to earlier, it means to observe our duty towards Allah in all our social and communal relations (towards Muslims and non-Muslims alike); and in our spiritual relations towards Allah Himself. This is a difficult task, and one of the means that Allah has given us to attain this level is Ramadan. But, and typical of Quranic “pragmatism”, there are no false promises. In the Arabic the emphasis is quite clearly on the phrase “l’allakum” (“so that you may” or “perhaps”). The means to Taqwa, through the great institution of fasting, have been placed at our disposal. It is up to us to use, misuse, or even ignore the means. This condition is encapsulated in the following Prophetic saying:

“For those who do not refrain from lying or acting on such lies, Allah has no need of their abandoning their food and drink” (Bukhari).

Taqwa can further be realized through three opportunities provided for us by the fast:

1. The disciplining of the will (tarbiyat ul-Iradah)
2. The purification of the self (tazkiyat un-Nafs)
3. The purification of the soul (tasfiyat ur-Ruh)

The potential of fasting as such, and Ramadan in particular, in making available these opportunities cannot be denied.

With regard to the disciplining of the will the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and salutations upon him) said:

“For everything there is a purification and the purification of the body is to fast; and fasting is half of endurance.” (Ibn Majah).

All acts of endurance are naturally a function of the strength (or otherwise) of the will. If the will is strong, endurance is strong; if weak, then endurance is weak. One of the primary aims of Sabr – as an act of will – is to bring the will of the human being in harmony with the Will of Allah. This is essential if we wish to be acknowledged as true ‘ibad (servants) of Allah.

As for purification of the self (nafs) – here understood as the egotistic self – the following Prophetic saying is a clear reference to the fact that fasting is intended as a conduit for such purification:

“If anyone of you fasts then do not speak obscenely nor act obscenely. If anyone picks a fight with him or insults him then let him say ‘I am one who fasts, I am one who fasts.’” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Here the outer manifestations of the nafs viz. that of obscene speech (rafath) and obscene behaviour (jahal), are addressed with a view to bringing under control, and hence purifying, the inner self.

The purification of the soul, on the other hand, is contingent on the extent to which it is absolved from all sin. The Prophetic saying: “Those who fast with absolute faith and absolute contentment will have all their previous sins absolved” (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmdhi, Nisai), may be read as a definite promise to the effect that the absolution of one’s sins is guaranteed if the two ostensibly simple conditions of fasting with total faith and total contentment are met.

These three processes are intrinsic to the cultivation of genuine Taqwa, and few religious acts provide a greater opportunity for its cultivation than Ramadan.

Allah says at the conclusion of the verse initially quoted:

وَلِتُكْمِلُوا الْعِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَاكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
That He wants you to complete the prescribed period (of fasting) so that you are able to magnify the greatness of Allah for His having guided you, and so that – perchance – you may be thankful. (Q, 2: 185).

The greatness of Ramadan therefore lies in the opportunity it offers for the development of Taqwa – a virtue that allows us to truly participate in that great cosmic celebration in honour of the revelation of the Quran as a Huda to all people, which is, as mentioned earlier, Ramadan itself. It is a virtue furthermore, that allows us to magnify Allah  as He ought to be magnified, namely, with complete awareness of our earthly duties and spiritual vocation; and, therefore, to be of those who are truly thankful to Allah. It is a virtue too, which is ultimately celebrated in the Quran itself, for Allah says:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
O humankind! We have created you from male and female; and fashioned you into peoples and tribes that you may come to know one another. But indeed, the most honoured amongst you (in the sight of Allah) are those who are the most righteous and God-conscious. (taqwa). (Q, 49: 13).

 


Biography

Shaykh Seraj Hasan Hendricks is an internationally recognised leading scholar of normative Sunni Islam, steeped in the rich legacy of the classical heritage, based in Cape Town, South Africa. He is Resident Shaykh of the Zawiyah Institute in Cape Town, and holder of the Maqasid Chair at the International Peace University of South Africa. Shaykh Seraj studied the Islamic sciences for more than a decade in the holy city of Makka, and was appointed as khalīfa of the aforementioned muaddith of the Ḥijāz, the distinguished al-Sayyid Muhammad b. ʿAlawī al-Mālikī, master of the Ṭarīqa ʿUlamāʿ Makka – the (sufi) path of the Makkan scholars.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks was a high school English teacher between 1980 and 1982 in Cape Town before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 1983 to study at the Umm al-Qura University in Makka. Before this, he spent many years studying at the feet of his illustrious uncle, the late Shaykh Mahdi Hendricks – erstwhile Life President of the Muslim Judicial Council and widely regarded as one of the foremost scholars of Islam in southern Africa. Shaykh Seraj was actively engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa during the 80’s and early 90’s.

Shaykh Seraj spent three years at the Arabic Language Institute in Makka studying Arabic and related subjects before being accepted for the BA (Hons) Islamic Law degree. He specialised in fiqh and uūl al-fiqh in the Faculty of Sharīʿa and graduated in 1992. During his studies at Umm al-Qura University, he was also a student of the late Sayyid Muhammad ʿAlawī al-Mālikī in Makka for a period of eight years and from whom he obtained a full ijāza in the religious sciences. He also obtained ijāzāt from both the late Sayyid Ahmad Mashur al-Ḥaddād and Sayyid ʿAbd al-Qādir b. Ahmad al-Saqqaf (d. 1431/2010). These scholars are all known as some of the pre-eminent ‘ulama of the ummah in the 20th century, worldwide.

After his return to Cape Town he received an MA (Cum Laude) for his dissertation: “Taawwuf (Sufism) – Its Role and Impact on the Culture of Cape Islam” from the University of South Africa (UNISA). He is currently at the tail-end of completing his PhD at the same institution.

Apart from fiqh and uūl al-fiqh, some of Shaykh Seraj’s primary interests are in Sufism, Islamic civilisation studies, interfaith matters, gender studies, socio-political issues and related ideas of pluralism and identity. He has lectured and presented papers in many countries, sharing platforms with his contemporaries.

He has translated works of Imam al-Ghazālī, and summarised parts of the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Iyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn), most notably in the Travelling Light series, together with Shaykhs ʿAbd al-Hakīm Murad and Yaḥyā Rhodus.

Some of his previous positions included being the head of the Muslim Judicial Council’s Fatwa Committee (which often led to him being described as the ‘Mufti of Cape Town’), lecturer in fiqh at the Islamic College of Southern Africa (ICOSA), and lecturer in the Study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Currently he is a member of the Stanlib Sharīʿa Board, and chief arbitrator (akīm) of the Crescent Observer’s Society, and has been listed consecutively in the Muslim 500 from 2009 to 2018. He was also appointed Dean of the Madina Institute in South Africa, a recognised institution of higher learning in South Africa and part of the world Madina Institute seminaries led by Shaykh Dr Muhammad Ninowy. Shaykh Seraj is also a professor at the International Peace University of South Africa, holding the Maqasid Chair for Graduate Studies.

Shaykh Seraj has also been teaching a variety of Islamic-related subjects at the Zāwiyah Mosque in Cape Town, which together with his brother Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, he is the current resident Shaykh of. Alongside his brother, he is the representative (khalīfa) of the aforementioned muaddith of the Ḥijāz, the distinguished al-Sayyid Muhammad b. ʿAlawī al-Mālikī, master of the Ṭarīqa ʿUlamāʿ Makka – the (sufi) path of the Makkan scholars.


 

Ramadan: A Time for Spiritual Nourishment – Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, a leading and renowned scholar of South Africa, provides scholarly insights and spiritual reflections through a collection of essays on how we can make the most of Ramadan.

The Fellowship of Rayyan

 

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

O you who have faith! Fasting is prescribed upon you in as much as it has been prescribed upon those before you, so that perhaps you may learn God-consciousness.” (Q, 2: 183).

This verse makes it quite clear that fasting during the month of Ramadan is an obligation on every Muslim who has reached the age of legal responsibility (taklif/mukallaf). The key phrase in this verse, however, is the one that declares “so that perhaps you may learn God-consciousness”; or, in the original Arabic “la’allakum tattaqun”. This phrase – and similar ones occur with great frequency throughout the Quran – also demonstrates how eminently practical the Quranic commands are. There is no promise that the mere act of fasting would result in taqwa. The reason for this is captured in numerous hadiths that speak about the spirit of Ramadan. While the “letter” is important in the form of the law, there can be little doubt that without an awareness, an understanding and an internalisation of this spirit, that no legal rules would be able to secure the benefits of fasting. While we may argue that knowledge of the legal rulings is a platitudinous necessity; we need to argue with even greater force that knowledge of the spirit of Ramadan is essential to the actualization of ourselves as people who fast.

Amongst the prophetic sayings that clearly point to this are the following:

 “How many a person fasts without gaining anything except hunger and thirst?” (Nisa’i and Ibn Majah).

This hadith is elaborated upon and explained by the following hadith:

“Those who refuse to renounce preaching and spreading falsehood and then acting upon such falsities, Allah has no need of their abandoning their food and drink.” (Bukhari).


In another narration the Prophet (Peace and salutations upon him) said:

“Fasting (siyam) is a fortress. Therefore, if the day of fasting arrives for any of you, then refrain from any obscene behaviour and any acts of rage. And if one is insulted or physically abused then respond with the words ‘Inni Sa’im’ – I am fasting!” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Those who have the capacity to exercise such discipline, patience and restraint while fasting, will certainly be amongst the Companions and Fellowship of Rayyan. Said the Prophet – and narrated by Sa’ad ibn Sahl:

“Indeed in Paradise there is a door called Rayyan. On the Day of Resurrection those who have truly fasted shall qualify to enter that door. None other than them shall enter it. Once they have entered, the door shall be locked and barred, and none shall ever leave it.” (Bukhari, Muslim and Ibn Khuzaymah).

We can only strive and qualify for entry into this illuminated Fellowship of Rayyan if we are able to fulfil the exacting tasks of the moral and spiritual demands of the month of Ramadan.

Sacrifice and Sincerity

 

وَالصَّائِمِينَ وَالصَّائِمَاتِ وَالْحَافِظِينَ فُرُوجَهُمْ وَالْحَافِظَاتِ وَالذَّاكِرِينَ اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا وَالذَّاكِرَاتِ أَعَدَّ اللَّهُ لَهُم مَّغْفِرَةً وَأَجْرًا عَظِيمًا
For men who fast and women who fast; for men who guard their chastity and women who guard their chastity; for men who remember Allah abundantly and women who remember Allah abundantly – for them Allah has set aside forgiveness and a great reward. (Q, 33: 35)

The Prophet (Peace and salutations upon him) said that Allah says:

“‘The reward for every deed of a person is multiplied by ten till seven hundred, except for fasting. Fasting is solely for My sake and I shall personally grant the reward. The fasting person abandons all desire and food for my sake.’ There are two occasions of joy for the one who fasts. The joy one experiences when breaking one’s fast and the joy one will experience when one meets one’s Lord.” (Bukhari, Muslim, Nisai, Ibn Maja, Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi).

Two vital aspects of the condition of the fasting person are highlighted here. The first is the question of sincerity (ikhlas) and the second, that of sacrifice. The first will be dealt with here; the second in the next segment.

Unlike most sacred rituals, such as the salah for example, the act of fasting is not visible to anyone. It is almost impossible to determine whether a person is fasting or not. It is a matter entirely between the individual and Allah. In other words, it is an act of pure renunciation. As an act of pure renunciation, it brings us face-to-face with our basic human limitations and needs. And in exposing these needs – these limitations – we are in fact reminded that the normal and natural human condition ought to be one of humility and sincerity. It is only the Divine Condition that is exclusively and uniquely independent. Allah, stands alone and inimitable in His Lordship. We – as a composition of human beings, and often arrogantly so – are both dependent on and defenceless in the face of Allah’s Rububiyyah (Lordship). Allah is Rabb; the human is ‘abd. In other words, one of our defining conditions is ‘ubudiyyah (bondsmanship) and not Rububiyyah. It is in the recognition and acceptance of this state of ‘ubudiyyah that the paradox of the potential for a merciful coexistence with our fellow human beings reside – the male of us and the female of us. For it is in the recognition of this state of ‘bondsmanship’ that we discover the liberating rhythms of sincerity and humility. Humility is neither slavery nor subservience. It is a deferential state that finds its life in the hearts of the sincere and that bursts into a reverential song that celebrates the humanity, the diversity and the humanness of another. It is in this song – this song of humility and sincerity; this song of the heart – that we come to discover the meaning of respect. Hence the Prophetic command to avoid any form of obscenities (rafath) and raging (sakhab) during the month of Ramadan. No amount of hunger and thirst can either undo or even legitimise the iniquitous results of the latter two conditions.

Severing our ties with the material world during this month is merely an aid to accomplishing these elevated states of spirituality and morality. In essence, fasting is an act of self-extinction. Those, therefore, who fast the month of Ramadan with faith “(imanan) and with selfless anticipation of Allah’s generosity and reward in the hereafter (ihtisaban)” [Bukhari and Muslim] will find their reward inexpressibly immeasurable. It is for this reason – as mentioned earlier – that only Allah as opposed to any other sacred and divine reward – knows the measure of the reward of the one who truly fasts for His sake alone.

Sabr: Patience, Endurance and Perseverance

 

Sabr (patience and endurance) is mentioned in the Quran more than 90 times.

Amongst these verses is the following:

وَأَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَلَا تَنَازَعُوا فَتَفْشَلُوا وَتَذْهَبَ رِيحُكُمْ ۖ وَاصْبِرُوا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ
Obey Allah and His messenger. And do not fall into disputation amongst yourselves; for in such disputation you will lose your strength. So be patient, for indeed, Allah is with those who patiently endure (sabr). (Q, 8: 46).

Apart from the Divine rewards for this sacred human quality there are also earthly rewards. Very few things of worth come without a struggle. The joy a mother feels at giving birth is a result of nine months of patience and endurance. Likewise, the joy of graduating, of having completed a successful assignment at work, of completing a brilliant work of art, and so on, are all the fruits of sabr.

The month of Ramadan is also referred to as the Shahr as-Sabr (The Month of Patience and Endurance). On the other hand, as the Prophet (Peace and salutations upon him) said:

“Clemency is from Allah and haste is from satan.” (Tirmidhi).

Things done in haste, unthinkingly, impulsively and rashly are invariably bereft of barakah (divine grace). Even our struggles against the worst of oppression need to be conducted with wisdom and deliberation. One of the most touching hadiths dealing with the overzealous and reckless nature of haste is the following narrated by Khabbab ibn al-Aratt (May Allah be pleased with him) in Sahih Bukhari. The Companions (May Allah be pleased with them) were distressed by the persecution of Muslims in Makkah and – close to despair – they turned to the Prophet (Peace and salutations upon him) for help.

The narration is as follows:

We raised a complaint with the Messenger of Allah while he was reclining on a shawl spread out in the shade of the Ka’ba. We said: “Do you not seek assistance for us? Do you not pray for us?
The Prophet (saw) then said: “There was a time before you when a man would be taken and partially placed and buried in the earth. They would then approach him with a saw, place it on his head and slice him in two. He would then be lacerated – both flesh and bones – with rakes of steel so that he may stop pursuing his beliefs. But I swear by Allah, that Allah desires your freedom to worship to the point where one may travel from Sana’a to Hadramawt fearing none other than Allah, even while a wolf is stalking his flock. But you…you are impatient!” (Bukhari).

However, to some, the question of sabr can be an elusive matter. What we need to understand first is that this world which we inhabit is a Dar al-Bala’ (An Abode of Appraisal). We will be tested, and our attitudes and responses evaluated. The best of us would be those whose attitudes and responses most closely approximate to that of the Prophetic standard and the Quranic ethos. Allah says:

تَبَارَكَ الَّذِي بِيَدِهِ الْمُلْكُ وَهُوَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَاةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا ۚ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْغَفُور
Blessed is He in Whose Hands lie all dominion. And He has power over all things.
The One who has created Death and Life so that He may test those who are best in deeds. (Q, 67: 1-2).

In the sacred order of things, nihilism is absent. In this passage of the Quran, Death and Life are personified aspects of a real existence – aspects through and by which we will be tested. Those who pass this test are the people of ihsan – those whose thoughts, conduct and behaviour are marked by excellence, both outwardly and inwardly.

In three striking passages of the Quran Allah (swt) reveals three blessings of which the sabirin will be the fortunate beneficiaries. Says Allah:

وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُم بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوْفِ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الْأَمْوَالِ وَالْأَنفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الصَّابِرِينَ

الَّذِينَ إِذَا أَصَابَتْهُم مُّصِيبَةٌ قَالُوا إِنَّا لِلَّهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ

أُولَٰئِكَ عَلَيْهِمْ صَلَوَاتٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ وَرَحْمَةٌ ۖ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُهْتَدُونَ

We shall indeed test you with something of fear and hunger, and some loss in wealth and life and the fruits (of your labour). But give the Good News to those who patiently endure.

Those who say – when afflicted by a calamity – “To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return.”

They are those on whom the blessings of Allah descend and upon whom the Mercy of Allah is; and they are the truly guided. (Q, 2: 155-7)

It is clear from these verses that those who patiently endure are the recipients of the following three unique rewards:
1) The Grace and Blessings of Allah (Salawat)
2) His Mercy (Rahmah) and
3) The beneficiaries and recipients of His direct guidance (Huda).

Nonetheless it is important to understand – as so many mistakenly do – that sabr does not include all forms of tests and hardships, regardless of the nature. This is a seriously incorrect understanding.

Sabr eminently belongs to a domain of testing and suffering that is largely out of our reach. Such as, for example, being diagnosed with a deadly illness, the loss of a loved one or an economic crisis for which there is no immediate solution etc.

Other than the above, such as abusive husbands, tyrannical rulers, discrimination and injustice which are all within our reach to change, these are all conditions that demand, as our Islamic duty, that we attempt to try and change. Said the Prophet (Peace and salutations upon him):

Those of you who witness an abomination, let him change it with his hands; if he is unable to do so, then let him speak out against it; and if he cannot do even that, then let him reject it in his heart – and this latter is the lowest form of Iman. (Muslim).

May Allah cast us all in the mould of those who are able to patiently endure those vicissitudes of life that are often not within our reach to change or alter. But let Allah also provide us with the moral strength and courage to change those forms of unwarranted tyranny, abuse and injustice, all of which are nothing less than a reprehensible slap in the face of Islam.

 


Biography

Shaykh Seraj Hasan Hendricks is an internationally recognised leading scholar of normative Sunni Islam, steeped in the rich legacy of the classical heritage, based in Cape Town, South Africa. He is Resident Shaykh of the Zawiyah Institute in Cape Town, and holder of the Maqasid Chair at the International Peace University of South Africa. Shaykh Seraj studied the Islamic sciences for more than a decade in the holy city of Makka, and was appointed as khalīfa of the aforementioned muaddith of the Ḥijāz, the distinguished al-Sayyid Muhammad b. ʿAlawī al-Mālikī, master of the Ṭarīqa ʿUlamāʿ Makka – the (sufi) path of the Makkan scholars.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks was a high school English teacher between 1980 and 1982 in Cape Town before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 1983 to study at the Umm al-Qura University in Makka. Before this, he spent many years studying at the feet of his illustrious uncle, the late Shaykh Mahdi Hendricks – erstwhile Life President of the Muslim Judicial Council and widely regarded as one of the foremost scholars of Islam in southern Africa. Shaykh Seraj was actively engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa during the 80’s and early 90’s.

Shaykh Seraj spent three years at the Arabic Language Institute in Makka studying Arabic and related subjects before being accepted for the BA (Hons) Islamic Law degree. He specialised in fiqh and uūl al-fiqh in the Faculty of Sharīʿa and graduated in 1992. During his studies at Umm al-Qura University, he was also a student of the late Sayyid Muhammad ʿAlawī al-Mālikī in Makka for a period of eight years and from whom he obtained a full ijāza in the religious sciences. He also obtained ijāzāt from both the late Sayyid Ahmad Mashur al-Ḥaddād and Sayyid ʿAbd al-Qādir b. Ahmad al-Saqqaf (d. 1431/2010). These scholars are all known as some of the pre-eminent ‘ulama of the ummah in the 20th century, worldwide.

After his return to Cape Town he received an MA (Cum Laude) for his dissertation: “Taawwuf (Sufism) – Its Role and Impact on the Culture of Cape Islam” from the University of South Africa (UNISA). He is currently at the tail-end of completing his PhD at the same institution.

Apart from fiqh and uūl al-fiqh, some of Shaykh Seraj’s primary interests are in Sufism, Islamic civilisation studies, interfaith matters, gender studies, socio-political issues and related ideas of pluralism and identity. He has lectured and presented papers in many countries, sharing platforms with his contemporaries.

He has translated works of Imam al-Ghazālī, and summarised parts of the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Iyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn), most notably in the Travelling Light series, together with Shaykhs ʿAbd al-Hakīm Murad and Yaḥyā Rhodus.

Some of his previous positions included being the head of the Muslim Judicial Council’s Fatwa Committee (which often led to him being described as the ‘Mufti of Cape Town’), lecturer in fiqh at the Islamic College of Southern Africa (ICOSA), and lecturer in the Study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Currently he is a member of the Stanlib Sharīʿa Board, and chief arbitrator (akīm) of the Crescent Observer’s Society, and has been listed consecutively in the Muslim 500 from 2009 to 2018. He was also appointed Dean of the Madina Institute in South Africa, a recognised institution of higher learning in South Africa and part of the world Madina Institute seminaries led by Shaykh Dr Muhammad Ninowy. Shaykh Seraj is also a professor at the International Peace University of South Africa, holding the Maqasid Chair for Graduate Studies.

Shaykh Seraj has also been teaching a variety of Islamic-related subjects at the Zāwiyah Mosque in Cape Town, which together with his brother Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, he is the current resident Shaykh of. Alongside his brother, he is the representative (khalīfa) of the aforementioned muaddith of the Ḥijāz, the distinguished al-Sayyid Muhammad b. ʿAlawī al-Mālikī, master of the Ṭarīqa ʿUlamāʿ Makka – the (sufi) path of the Makkan scholars.


 

Covid-19: An Islamic Perspective – Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

In this essay, Shaykh Seraj Hendricks who is one of South Africa’s most respected scholars, provides clear guidance on Covid-19 and how Muslims should take confidence in the rich Islamic legacy which prioritizes the sanctity of human life and health.

Throughout history various peoples and places have been afflicted by severe plagues and epidemics. Millions of people have been wiped out by these calamities. Each of these peoples had to confront, contend with and rise to the challenge of these blighting conditions. Muslims no less than anyone else. The Covid-19 pandemic – spreading from Wuhan in China – is the latest to assail the contemporary world. 

Fortunately, we have a legacy undergirded by knowledge and wisdom, enveloped, as it were, in love and compassion. We need to embrace and share these timeless values with the rest of the world. 

We cannot, on the other hand, fall into an abyss of pietistic delusions, rigorous ritualism and self-righteousness. At this level the Shari’ah offers a plethora of texts in the Quran and Hadiths which, in turn, precipitated one of the greatest responses in human history to matters of this order. 

The following is but a sample of the many great doctors and pharmacologists who contributed to the evolution of medicine in its current incarnation: 

a) 8th Century: Harun al-Rashid founded the House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikmah). Here, many medical texts and ancient manuscripts were translated. With respect to a creative and energetic engagement of medicine, astronomy, science, mathematics and many other subjects, this marked one of the most productive periods of advancement – not only in Muslim history – but also in global history. 

b) 9th Century: Abu Bakr al-Razi. Born in Persia he was a physician, chemist and teacher. Many of his books were later translated into Latin and Greek. His contribution to building hospitals was quite immense. 

c) 10th Century: Surgeon al-Zahrawi (Abul Casis) was born in Cordoba. Apart from being the inventor of numerous medical instruments, he was the first to design an illustrated surgical book. 

d) 11th Century: In Baghdad, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) composed the Canon of Medicine (al-Qanun fi l-Tibb). This was a five-volume book that included all the known medicine up to his time. His book was prescribed for hundreds of years in European Institutions of learning. 

e) 12th Century: Ibn Rushd (Averrroes) was born in Cordoba, Spain. He was a polymath excelling in Islamic Law, Philosophy, Astronomy and Medicine. His aptitude for medicine was noted by his contemporaries and can be seen in his major enduring work Kitab al-Kulliyat fi al-Tibb (The Book Dealing with the Universals of Medicine). This book, together with Kitab al-Taysir fi al-Mudawat wa l-Tadbir (The Book of Particularities dealing with Facilitation of Medical Treatment and its Planning) written by Abu Marwan Ibn Zuhr, became the main medical textbooks for physicians in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim worlds for centuries to come.

f) 14th Century: The Ottoman, Serafeddin Sabuncuoglu was a surgeon born in Amasya, Northern Turkey. His famous work on surgery was called The Imperial Surgery. This is considered to be the first illustrated surgical Atlas and the last major medical encyclopaedia from the Muslim world. This book also features female surgeons for the first time. 

The ideas and energetic creativity contained in the works mentioned above – while representing only a fraction of Muslim contributions to these and other sciences – capture the mood and spirit that defined the Muslim zeitgeist of those periods. Let us now look at some of the sacred texts both in the Quran and Sunnah that inspired this dynamic elan in Muslim communities throughout the Islamic world. Then let us also briefly look at some of the defining principles and maxims that later scholars developed and that served to animate the sacred textual narratives of the Quran and Sunnah into a living, breathing embodiment of creative and living Fiqh

The need to address this matter becomes even more imperative in view of the dastardly incoherent responses to the current covid-19 pandemic by certain minority “Muslim” groupings. This has led to a state of shocked disbelief by both Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the world. This minoritarian madness appears to have surfaced here in South Africa too. Reports indicate that more than twenty mosques in South Africa are under pressure to open their doors to congregational prayers and activities. What these people are clamouring for are unquestionably prohibited in Islam. Let us not mistake the fact though, that most of these minority groups are obsessed with power politics. Theirs is simply shameless power play. This is often the case with those suffering from minoritarian and certain forms of extremist complexes. These people are in serious need of attention, and possibly equally in need of psychotherapy. However, under the circumstances, there is a serious need to present a reasoned and grounded perspective on the matter. 

As Muslims we need to be cognizant of the fact that we are fully responsible for the consequences of any irresponsible behaviour. The Quranic narrative is quite clear about the condition that whatever good we are beneficiaries of is what we have earned; and that whatever misfortune we might suffer is, likewise, a consequence of what we have earned.

 

لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا لَهَا مَا كَسَبَتْ وَعَلَيْهَا مَا اكْتَسَبَتْ

No soul is burdened beyond its capacity. It receives every good that it has earned; and it suffers any ill that it has earned. (Baqarah, 2: 286).


The Quran is replete with references of this nature. Three of these are pertinent to our point: 

 

ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

Mischief (and corruption) have appeared on land and on sea because of what the hands of people have wrought. (Rum, 30: 41). 

وَمَا أَصَابَكُم مِّن مُّصِيبَةٍ فَبِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِيكُمْ وَيَعْفُو عَن كَثِيرٍ

And whatever assails you of misfortune (and calamities) is a result of what your own hands have wrought, but He forgives many. (Shura, 42: 30). 

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ رَهِينَةٌ

Every soul will be held responsible for its deeds (Mudaththir, 74: 38) 

It is clear from these – and many other verses – that as people obligated (mukallaf) to observe the precepts of Islamic Law, that a huge measure of personal responsibility is vested in us. This is particularly pertinent with respect to circumstances such as Covid-19. The Quran prohibits us from wanton exposure to life-threatening situations: 

 

وَأَنفِقُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَلَا تُلْقُوا بِأَيْدِيكُمْ إِلَى التَّهْلُكَةِ وَأَحْسِنُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

And spend of what you have in the Way of Allah; and do not let your hands contribute to your own destruction. (Baqarah, 2: 195). 

There can be little doubt in the minds of most Muslim scholars, and lay people alike, that a wilful – and senseless – disregard for these Quranic precepts is shameless. A larger context for these precepts is provided by the many hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the position of his Companions with respect to plagues and epidemics. 

Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: 

لَا عَدْوَى لَا يُورِدُ مُمْرِضٌ عَلَى مُصِحٍّ

Infection (and contagion) is not a matter of superstition! Do not mix the sick with the healthy. (Muslim). 

In his encyclopaedic commentary on the Hadith collection of Muslim, Imam al- Nawawi states that the command “Do not mix the sick with the healthy” is a clear instruction to the effect that anything that causes harm must be avoided; and that, moreover, this act of avoidance would be in consonance with the concepts of preordainment and predestination as understood in Islam. 

In Islam the question of the Decrees of Allah is one that envisages them as multiple and manifold. There is no one decree that forces a person in a particular direction.  

The manifold nature of Divine Decrees, therefore, allows for a large margin of choice. This is evident too – mentioned later – by the response of Umar al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) during a time when he and his army encountered a plague while out in the battlefield. However, in the case of infectious and contagious diseases, the Hadith is clear about the fact that quarantine – or isolation – is mandatory. 

Another Hadith that forcefully speaks about quarantine is the following: 

 

Sa’ad reported that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: 

إِذَا سَمِعْتُمْ بِالطَّاعُونِ بِأَرْضٍ فَلاَ تَدْخُلُوهَا، وَإِذَا وَقَعَ بِأَرْضٍ وَأَنْتُمْ بِهَا فَلاَ تَخْرُجُوا مِنْهَا

If you hear about a plague in a particular place then do not enter it: and if it occurs in a place where you are present, then do not leave that place. (Bukhari). 

A particular Hadith that has caused some unnecessary concern for some people is the following: 

‘Aysha (may Allah be pleased with her) reported that she asked the Prophet (Peace be upon him) about plagues and he said: 

أَنَّهُ كَانَ عَذَابًا يَبْعَثُهُ اللَّهُ عَلَى مَنْ يَشَاءُ، فَجَعَلَهُ اللَّهُ رَحْمَةً لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ، فَلَيْسَ مِنْ عَبْدٍ يَقَعُ الطَّاعُونُ فَيَمْكُثُ فِي بَلَدِهِ صَابِرًا، يَعْلَمُ أَنَّهُ لَنْ يُصِيبَهُ إِلاَّ مَا كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَهُ، إِلاَّ كَانَ لَهُ مِثْلُ أَجْرِ الشَّهِيدِ

It is a trial that Allah sends upon whomsoever He wills, but Allah has made it a mercy for the believers. Any bondsman who resides in a land afflicted by a plague while remaining steadfast and patient – knowing that nothing will befall him except that which Allah has decreed – will be given the reward of a martyr. (Bukhari).

This Hadith must be understood in the context of the aforementioned Hadiths. In this way it becomes obvious that the one who patiently endures the misfortune of being subjected to a plague will be rewarded if he/she exercises the choice to remain in the afflicted area. There is certainly no reward for a person who leaves that place for a non-afflicted one, thereby escalating the potential for that disease to spread further. On the contrary, that would be a criminal act according to Islamic Law. This is precisely the case with those who are demanding unqualified congregational space in mosques and elsewhere. Given the current Covid-19 state, this is criminal. Period. 

A telling case with respect to choices is the case of Umar ibn al-Khattab (alluded to earlier). The narration is as follows:  

خَرَجَ إِلَى الشَّأْمِ حَتَّى إِذَا كَانَ بِسَرْغَ لَقِيَهُ أُمَرَاءُ الأَجْنَادِ أَبُو عُبَيْدَةَ بْنُ الْجَرَّاحِ وَأَصْحَابُهُ، فَأَخْبَرُوهُ أَنَّ الْوَبَاءَ قَدْ وَقَعَ بِأَرْضِ الشَّأْمِ‏.‏ قَالَ ابْنُ عَبَّاسٍ فَقَالَ عُمَرُ ادْعُ لِي الْمُهَاجِرِينَ الأَوَّلِينَ‏.‏ فَدَعَاهُمْ فَاسْتَشَارَهُمْ وَأَخْبَرَهُمْ أَنَّ الْوَبَاءَ قَدْ وَقَعَ بِالشَّأْمِ فَاخْتَلَفُوا‏.‏ فَقَالَ بَعْضُهُمْ قَدْ خَرَجْتَ لأَمْرٍ، وَلاَ نَرَى أَنْ تَرْجِعَ عَنْهُ‏.‏ وَقَالَ بَعْضُهُمْ مَعَكَ بَقِيَّةُ النَّاسِ وَأَصْحَابُ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَلاَ نَرَى أَنْ تُقْدِمَهُمْ عَلَى هَذَا الْوَبَاءِ‏.‏ فَقَالَ ارْتَفِعُوا عَنِّي‏.‏ ثُمَّ قَالَ ادْعُوا لِي الأَنْصَارَ‏.‏ فَدَعَوْتُهُمْ فَاسْتَشَارَهُمْ، فَسَلَكُوا سَبِيلَ الْمُهَاجِرِينَ، وَاخْتَلَفُوا كَاخْتِلاَفِهِمْ، فَقَالَ ارْتَفِعُوا عَنِّي‏.‏ ثُمَّ قَالَ ادْعُ لِي مَنْ كَانَ هَا هُنَا مِنْ مَشْيَخَةِ قُرَيْشٍ مِنْ مُهَاجِرَةِ الْفَتْحِ‏.‏ فَدَعَوْتُهُمْ، فَلَمْ يَخْتَلِفْ مِنْهُمْ عَلَيْهِ رَجُلاَنِ، فَقَالُوا نَرَى أَنْ تَرْجِعَ بِالنَّاسِ، وَلاَ تُقْدِمَهُمْ عَلَى هَذَا الْوَبَاءِ، فَنَادَى عُمَرُ فِي النَّاسِ، إِنِّي مُصَبِّحٌ عَلَى ظَهْرٍ، فَأَصْبِحُوا عَلَيْهِ‏.‏ قَالَ أَبُو عُبَيْدَةَ بْنُ الْجَرَّاحِ أَفِرَارًا مِنْ قَدَرِ اللَّهِ فَقَالَ عُمَرُ لَوْ غَيْرُكَ قَالَهَا يَا أَبَا عُبَيْدَةَ، نَعَمْ نَفِرُّ مِنْ قَدَرِ اللَّهِ إِلَى قَدَرِ اللَّهِ، أَرَأَيْتَ لَوْ كَانَ لَكَ إِبِلٌ هَبَطَتْ وَادِيًا لَهُ عُدْوَتَانِ، إِحْدَاهُمَا خَصِبَةٌ، وَالأُخْرَى جَدْبَةٌ، أَلَيْسَ إِنْ رَعَيْتَ الْخَصْبَةَ رَعَيْتَهَا بِقَدَرِ اللَّهِ، وَإِنْ رَعَيْتَ الْجَدْبَةَ رَعَيْتَهَا بِقَدَرِ اللَّهِ  

Abdallah ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) left for Syria until they reached a place named Sargh. Here he met the commanders of the army, ‘Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah and his companions. They informed him that a plague had afflicted Syria. ‘Umar then addressed the people and said: “I will withdraw in the morning, so you too must return.” 

Abu ‘Ubayda then said: “Are you fleeing from the decree of Allah?” 

‘Umar replied: “Would that another had said so. O Ubayda! Yes, we are fleeing. But we are fleeing from the decree of Allah to the decree of Allah! Do you not see that if you descended with your camels into a valley with two fields, one fertile and the other barren, that you would graze the camels in the fertile one? You would graze in the fertile field by the decree of Allah and not the barren field (also there) by the decree of Allah!” (Bukhari). 

In this case – with particular reference to the nature of Divine Decrees – ‘Umar al- Khattab demonstrated a much more coherent and balanced concept of the matter. This is the approach that has defined our classical legacy with respect to the question of Divine Decrees (or Qada and Qadr). Short of that, we could all be fatalists – which, too, is prohibited in Islam. 

 

In addition to the textual evidence cited above, our classical scholars have also developed a host of precepts and axioms – based on their holistic readings of the texts – to aid and facilitate our understanding when confronted with challenges such as Covid-19. 

Under the rubric of Maqasid al-Shar’iah (the Higher Objectives of Islamic Law) a number of principles have been devised. Six of the important ones – also referred to as the Kulliyat al-Sitt (the six universal principles) are the following: 

a) The Preservation of Life – Hifz al-Hayat

b) The Preservation of Religion – Hifz al-Din

c) The Preservation of the Intellect – Hifz al-‘Aql

d) The Preservation of Progeny – Hifz al-Nasl

e) The Preservation of Property and Wealth – Hifz al-Mal 

f) The Preservation of Human Dignity – Hifz al-‘Ird 

To stand in violation of any of the above is considered a cardinal crime in Islam. To consider the Preservation of Life alone ought to be enough to wring the conscience of any Muslim. 

وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا النَّفْسَ الَّتِي حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ

Take not life, which Allah has made sacred, except through justice and law. (al-An’am, 6: 151) 

أَنَّهُ مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا

If anyone killed a person – unless it be for murder or treason in the land – it would be as if he killed the entire humanity. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the entire humanity. (Al-Ma’idah, 5: 35). 

Another subject in Islamic Law, also based on holistic and integrated perspectives, is referred to as al-Qawa’id al-Fiqhiyyah (Maxims of Islamic Law). There are five principle ones: 

a) Matters are to be judged by their purposes and objectives – al-Umur bi Maqasidiha

b) Certainty is not removed by doubt – al-Yaqin la Yazalu bi l-Shakk.

c) Difficulty must be alleviated – al-Mashaqqah Tajlibu l-Taysir.

d) Harm must be removed (whether harm to oneself or another) – al-Darar Yuzal.

e) Custom has the weight of law – al- ‘Adah Muhakkamah

The relevant maxim here is “Harm must be removed”. This is based on a Hadith of the Prophet (saw) where he stated “La Darar wa la Dirar – Intentional harming of oneself or another is forbidden.” (Malik, Ibn Majah, Bayhaqi and Daraqutni). According to the polymath Imam Jalal al-Din Suyuti, this maxim is intrinsically linked with the one before it “Difficulty must be alleviated.” In resolutely adhering to the rules and regulations imposed upon us by the deadly Covid-19 virus, we may eventually overcome the difficulties imposed upon us by this virus. It is our Islamic duty to adhere to all measures that are designed to protect us from the potential harm of the virus with the subsequent objective of alleviating the difficulties we have to endure. In this case the sabr (patient endurance) referred to earlier is an imperative under the circumstances. Human life is sacred in Islam. To disrespect the lives of others is unequivocal proof of the fact that one is undoubtedly bereft of self-respect.  

With respect to the latter imperatives, a further precept referred to as Dhu Nuz’ati Jama’iyyah has been developed. This precept states that the general and collective interests of the public take precedence over individual and/or minority interests – particularly where such individual or minority interests unequivocally militate against the greater and collective public interests. 

As it is in the case of demented groupings such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab, this is a toxicity that must be dealt with unremittingly and with firm determination. 

On a final note, let us remind ourselves that spreading fake news about a matter as serious as Covid-19 may have consequences as deadly as the virus itself. We need to shun all forms of paranoia, irrational fears and even flippancy and, instead, embrace responsible action in all that we do. We owe it to ourselves and the rest of humanity. Once again, the Quran is resolutely vocal about this: 

وَإِذَا جَاءَهُمْ أَمْرٌ مِّنَ الْأَمْنِ أَوِ الْخَوْفِ أَذَاعُوا بِهِ وَلَوْ رَدُّوهُ إِلَى الرَّسُولِ وَإِلَىٰ أُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنْهُمْ لَعَلِمَهُ الَّذِينَ يَسْتَنبِطُونَهُ مِنْهُمْ

When a matter related to public safety and fear reaches them, they broadcast it aloud. Had they only referred it to the Messenger and to those in authority amongst them, then those with the expertise would have been able to engage all the necessary investigations. (Nisa’, 4: 83). 

As Muslims we can be proud of our legacy. We need to reclaim that legacy, so that once again we may become a productive and positive force in serving both Allah and the rest of humanity. 

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks , Azzawia Institute (April 2020).  


Biography

Shaykh Seraj Hasan Hendricks is an internationally recognised leading scholar of normative Sunni Islam, steeped in the rich legacy of the classical heritage, based in Cape Town, South Africa. He is Resident Shaykh of the Zawiyah Institute in Cape Town, and holder of the Maqasid Chair at the International Peace University of South Africa. Shaykh Seraj studied the Islamic sciences for more than a decade in the holy city of Makka, and was appointed as khalīfa of the aforementioned muaddith of the Ḥijāz, the distinguished al-Sayyid Muhammad b. ʿAlawī al-Mālikī, master of the Ṭarīqa ʿUlamāʿ Makka – the (sufi) path of the Makkan scholars.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks was a high school English teacher between 1980 and 1982 in Cape Town before leaving for Saudi Arabia in 1983 to study at the Umm al-Qura University in Makka. Before this, he spent many years studying at the feet of his illustrious uncle, the late Shaykh Mahdi Hendricks – erstwhile Life President of the Muslim Judicial Council and widely regarded as one of the foremost scholars of Islam in southern Africa. Shaykh Seraj was actively engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa during the 80’s and early 90’s.

Shaykh Seraj spent three years at the Arabic Language Institute in Makka studying Arabic and related subjects before being accepted for the BA (Hons) Islamic Law degree. He specialised in fiqh and uūl al-fiqh in the Faculty of Sharīʿa and graduated in 1992. During his studies at Umm al-Qura University, he was also a student of the late Sayyid Muhammad ʿAlawī al-Mālikī in Makka for a period of eight years and from whom he obtained a full ijāza in the religious sciences. He also obtained ijāzāt from both the late Sayyid Ahmad Mashur al-Ḥaddād and Sayyid ʿAbd al-Qādir b. Ahmad al-Saqqaf (d. 1431/2010). These scholars are all known as some of the pre-eminent ‘ulama of the ummah in the 20th century, worldwide.

After his return to Cape Town he received an MA (Cum Laude) for his dissertation: “Taawwuf (Sufism) – Its Role and Impact on the Culture of Cape Islam” from the University of South Africa (UNISA). He is currently at the tail-end of completing his PhD at the same institution.

Apart from fiqh and uūl al-fiqh, some of Shaykh Seraj’s primary interests are in Sufism, Islamic civilisation studies, interfaith matters, gender studies, socio-political issues and related ideas of pluralism and identity. He has lectured and presented papers in many countries, sharing platforms with his contemporaries.

He has translated works of Imam al-Ghazālī, and summarised parts of the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Iyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn), most notably in the Travelling Light series, together with Shaykhs ʿAbd al-Hakīm Murad and Yaḥyā Rhodus.

Some of his previous positions included being the head of the Muslim Judicial Council’s Fatwa Committee (which often led to him being described as the ‘Mufti of Cape Town’), lecturer in fiqh at the Islamic College of Southern Africa (ICOSA), and lecturer in the Study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Currently he is a member of the Stanlib Sharīʿa Board, and chief arbitrator (akīm) of the Crescent Observer’s Society, and has been listed consecutively in the Muslim500 from 2009 to 2018. He was also appointed Dean of the Madina Institute in South Africa, a recognised institution of higher learning in South Africa and part of the world Madina Institute seminaries led by Shaykh Dr Muhammad Ninowy. Shaykh Seraj is also a professor at the International Peace University of South Africa, holding the Maqasid Chair for Graduate Studies.

Shaykh Seraj has also been teaching a variety of Islamic-related subjects at the Zāwiyah Mosque in Cape Town, which together with his brother Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, he is the current resident Shaykh of. Alongside his brother, he is the representative (khalīfa) of the aforementioned muaddith of the Ḥijāz, the distinguished al-Sayyid Muhammad b. ʿAlawī al-Mālikī, master of the Ṭarīqa ʿUlamāʿ Makka – the (sufi) path of the Makkan scholars.


 

Living the Ihya in South Africa – Shaykh Seraj Hendricks Full Interview

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks sat down with Mishkat Media to talk about the Ihya, Al Zawiyah mosque, the Muslims of South Africa, and our need of the Ihya today.

Mishkat Media: Assalam alaykum. Today we are present at Al Zawiyah in Cape Town. With us is shaykh Seraj Hendricks, who is of the third generation of shaykhs who have been teaching the Ihya Ulum al Din of Imam al Ghazali. Shaykh Seraj, assalam alaykum.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks: Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmat Allah wa baraktuh. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.

MM: Tell us something about the the tradition of the Ihya at this institution called Al Zawiyah. You are of the third generation that has been teaching this very beautiful book of Imam al Ghazali, Allah be pleased with him.

SH: Yes, of course. It started with our grandfather Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks, who is reputedly the first ever to bring The Ihya to South Africa. And because, of course, he also belongs to the Ba Alawi Tariqa and was one of the the chief shaykhs within that order.

It is a custom of the Ba Alawi Tariqa to teach the Ihya as one of the staple texts at all of the institutions. Throughout the world, whether it is here, or at Dar al Mustafa and so many other institutions. He was the first, but he started teaching it long before Al Zawiyah. In fact he met considerable opposition against teaching the Ihya here.

MM: The reasons for that?

SH: There was a lot of ignorance at the time. There were particular social, political circumstances that are in fact and contributed to that sort of ignorance. But the relations relations have all mended and there is no hard feelings about this. That was one of the reasons why he got together with a number of sympathizers and decided to build Al Zawiyah in 1920.

He arrived in Cape Town in 1903 as The Cape Times shows. His arrival is on the front page. For about 17 years he was teaching The Ihya at various mosques throughout the Cape particularly up in the Bo-Kaap. Also, he had private classes at home.

But I think that the opposition he encountered became somewhat discouraging and, prompted by his students, he decided to build this place with their assistance. And in 1920 it was founded.

MM: What has been the the impact and influence of the teachings of the Ihya on the students of Al Zawiyah? There must have been many people who have been affected by it.

SH: Immense. There’s a large body of students. It continues in that way up to today. We are operating on what I would call a reserve tank of the baraka of the blessings left behind by his efforts and his commitment to the religion. But it does inspire generation after generation. As I mentioned in my talk on the Kitab al Halal wa al Haram, my first exposure to the Ihya was in fact that at age of 18. I was fascinated by this book which he taught on Sunday mornings, and that went on for years. As an undergraduate, before I left for Makkah, I did my my majors in psychology.

We had a project on that here, dealing with the aged. I selected four members of the mosque committee and Shaykh Maghdie as the fifth one. In my interview with him I spoke about his relationship with the unseen and the akhira, because he was a man of about 70, 71 at the time. Invariably the issue of the Ihya came up. The influence and impact it had on him as a person. Towards the end of the interview, he mentioned to me that he had completed his 20th reading of the Ihya. I was astonished when I heard that.

Many years later coming back and after having received my own copy of Tuhfat al Labib from our great, late Sayyid Muhammad ibn Alawi Maliki, I read within the Tuhfat of Abu Bakr ibn Sumayt, that it is part of the wirds of the Ba Alawi Tariqa to complete the reading of the Ihya 20 times. I was completely amazed.

MM: Can one safely say that for at least 800 years the Ihya has been transforming the inner soul of humanity?

SH: Oh, yes. I think it has obliterated virtually everything else that has been written on Islamic ethics, islamic spirituality. What we have to recognize, to understand, is that the Ihya has gained its fame not specifically because of the legal aspects. The Kitab al Baya for example, which I did as part of this program.

If you compare that to his Al Wasit, which is on our shelves, it is a condensed, distilled version of that particular work. I suppose that he selected those few because they were the most practiced aspects of trade during that particular time. His examination of that particular aspect is immense, also.

But where [the Ihya] excels is in dealing with the human condition. That is what so profoundly influenced, altered and changed the dynamics, the course, and even the history of Islamic thought. I like what Cyril Glass says in the encyclopedia of Islam. He says that at the time that Imam Ghazali lived there were so many factions and sects, confusion, useless debates going on, vying for rank and status.

Islam to [Imam Ghazali] was, in Glasse’s vision, a scattered puzzle lying around. Imam Ghazali came along and saw all the bits and pieces. And with his acumen, his intelligence, and his connection with the essential message of Islam, which is spirituality and the purification of the soul. He had seen this and realized and recognized the cause of all this dissension, conflict, and animosity, was that people had lost sight of the greater and deeper purposes of Islam.

That is, I think, what compelled him to the point where he in fact left his family and went on this long spiritual odyssey to reconnect with the spirit of Islam. So the Ihya should not be read as a work of fiqh, but one that, in the tradition of the spiritual alchemist, tries to transform the inner nature of the human being: the heart, the soul, the mind, the spirit. Up till today, there are various works of akhlaq and spirituality, but in my opinion he remains unequaled in that particular project.

MM: You have not given us the context of who Imam Ghazali is. Now, how do you place him within the context of the traditions of Al Zawiyah itself?

SH: I think its message is one with which my grandfather connected very profoundly. It is no coincidence that when he returned to Cape Town, that was the very first work that he taught.

MM: As a matter of interest, give us some examples of the kind of works that Shaykh Muhammad Salih the founder of Al Zawiyah taught in his day.

SH: It is quite mind-boggling. I will quote this from my thesis on him. I was staggered when I did the research and realized after my research how little in fact I knew. Let me just give an example of the fiqh works that he taught here.

For example in fiqh he taught or Risala al Jami‘a by Shaykh Ahmad ibn Zayd al Habshi. A work that is taught across the world – in Indonesia, Malaysia, the entire Southeast Asia. He taught the the Matn al Ghaya wa al Taqrib, commonly known as Matn Abi Shuja. And also a commentary on Matn Abi Shuja by Shaykh Ibrahim al Bajuri. And the Mughni al Muhtaj by Mohamed al Khatib al Shirbini, another staple text at Al Zawiyah.

Then the Minhaj al Talibin of Imam Nawawi. Maraqi al Falah, the commentary on Nur al Idah by Imam Shurunbulali which is a Hanafi text, because [Shaykh Muhammad Salih] was instrumental in trying to defuse the Hanafi conflict that had emerged at the end of the twentieth century.

These were some of the fiqh books that were taught from morning to night. He had an entire entourage of the helpers, twenty to thirty of them, whom he taught from eight in the morning to ten at night. In tafsir, the famous Tafsir al Jalalayn, and of course the famous Tafsir al Kabir of Fakhr al Din al Razi. In Usul al Fiqh he taught the Waraqat by Imam Juwayni; the Mustasfa of Imam Ghazali, another staple text; and Minhaj al Wusul ila ‘Ilm al Usul by Imam al Baydawi.

In grammar, of course, the Ajurrumiyya and also the Alfiyya of Imam Malik. In theology, he taught Aqida al Awamm of shaykh Ahmad Marzuqi; Umm al Barahin and Jawhara al Tawhid. In tasawwuf he taught Tuhfat al Labib by sayyid Ahmad ibn Sumayt. Al Nasaih, which I taught on Thursday nights, by Shaykh Abd Allah ibn Alawi al Haddad. And of course Ihya Ulum al Din.

These were some of the staple texts that were taught. But students were also graded depending on the rank and the understanding of Arabic. They had the general classes and the the more specific classes in which he taught smaller groups.

MM: The more elect of students in other words?

SH: Yes, the more elect of them I would say. Most of them went on to become Imams at Al Zawiyah or elsewhere.

MM: Let’s have a look at the amazing tradition of Al Zawiyah through Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks, its founder. Your uncle, Shaykh Maghdie, Shaykh Ebrahim – unfortunately Shaykh Ahmad passed away in Makkah. Now yourself, Shaykh Seraj, and of course your brother Shaykh Ahmad. But Al Zawiyah does exist in a wider context, doesn’t it? It was founded almost before the days of apartheid. Give us something of the history of Islam at the Cape. Where do we basically come from?

SH: From all over basically. Mainly from India and Southeast Asia. Although the impact of course of the Indonesians and Malaysians has been much more significant than in any other country. Most of them initially arrived as slaves.

MM: And how many years ago did the first Muslims arrive in South Africa?

SH: Apparently the first number of Muslims of whom we have no record whatsoever, in terms of the background, who they were, their descent and where they came from, was in fact in 1657. That was before the arrival of Tuan Mahmud and Shaykh Abdurahman Matebe Shah and others in 1667. So, the history goes back quite a long way. But there is no evidence unfortunately to show what sort of impact that first group of Muslims had.

MM: There’s something that seems to make Cape Town’s history slightly more unique. That is that we have a lot of Awliya or Saints buried in our environs. It seems that these people have played a major role in shaping Cape Town’s community. Who are some of these personalities and how does that shape our lives?

SH: In a major way. In fact professor Mason did a comparative study – and he interviewed me on this – between the three slave-holding societies: Cape Town, Brazil, and the United States. To his absolute amazement he found that in both countries [Brazil and the US] Islam had been annihilated – obliterated completely.

MM: Any reason for that?

SH: Well, I have. And I share, partly, with him, his reasons. One of the reasons I believe Islam survived at the Cape is the presence of the Awliya. The quality of Muslims who came here was probably much higher in terms of learning than those who went over there.

MM: Are you saying that they were actually scholars of Islam that came?

SH: I think they made a mistake to bring them here. Ironically, the Cape is called the Cape of Good Hope. Why is it called the Cape of Good Hope? Because Henry the Navigator had the Good Hope that Islam would be destroyed from here. So he called it the Cape of Good Hope. The name stuck, of course. Very few Muslims are aware of that. But that’s a reason why.

The mistake I think they made was to bring people like Shaykh Yusuf of Makassar, like Tuan Mahmud, like Shaykh Abdurahman Matebe Shah, Sayed Tuan Alawie, Biesmillahi Shah [Bawa], a whole host of them. Some of the students of Shaykh Yusuf who stayed behind, like Shaykh Hassen Ghaibie Shah up at Signal Hill. These people kept Islam alive.

MM: How did it survive?

SH: It survived within the homes of people or the musallas. There were special, dedicated rooms in Muslim households which was called a langa. Taken in derived from the Malay word linga which has no spiritual connotations, but in terms of a culture of those people it had. For us it would be obscene to even translate the word, but it was taken from that form of worship. Even the term Puasa that we use is a Malaya-Hindu term.

MM: That does not mean Ramadan?

SH: It means some sort of sacrifice, but not Ramadan. It’s got nothing to do with Ramadan as we understand it in Islam as such. But this shows the sort of cross-pollination and the way in which the Muslims here almost Islamized certain words. Words with which they could identify.

It was in these langas, these spiritual retreats within the homes of people, that the adhkar, the dhikrs, of of people like Shaykh Yusuf [a Khalwati], of Tuan Mahmud [a Qadiri], of Biesmillahi Shah, people like Tuan Sayed Alawie who was a missionary for the Ba Alawi Tariqa [were held]. There they practiced the mawlids. These were the practices that kept Islam, because it was done outside the reach of the colonial state and government and the rulers.

In fact one of the lecturers I spoke to at Umm al Qura believed that Islam had survived in Russia in a similar way. And also in China where both possession and distribution of the Qur’an were banned. Islam they in Russia had also survived through the Sufi orders.

So that is one of the reasons why it is so difficult for these people who come here and who try to charge us with the sin of shirk, of polytheism, and bida and malicious innovations in our religion. They will have an enormous task in trying to obliterate these practices, because these are the practices that kept Islam alive in the homes of people.

Why specifically do I say that? Because by the end of the 20th century there were a number of mosques already built. But they were built in opposition one to the other. One Imam took the other Imam to court. There was enormous animosity. The mosques in Cape Town became the center points of conflict and not of unity among Muslims. This is well known.

Dr Ahmad Davids has written extensively about this. Each and every Muslim knows this. Look at the archives. You will see one lawsuit after the other to the point of embarrassment. So it was not the mosque that played this vital role in sustaining and protecting Islam. It was the home. And within the homes, the langas or the spiritual retreats, where the mawlids continued, the adhkar continued, the recitals of surah Ya Sin, and the Thursday night recitals took place. These were the vehicles and the channels through which Islam sustained itself right up until today.

But I have to remind you that while we might describe ignorance to particularly the 19th century, Islam after the death of Tuan Guru in 1807 and in the banning of slavery in 1834, and its final implementation in 1888, the slave trade stopped. There were no more Muslims coming in. And there was this massive vacuum that appeared with him Muslim culture.

Imagine any society without education for a hundred years. We need hardly think to understand how catastrophic those consequences could be. I have here a letter found in the archives along with the assistance of our late brother Dr Ahmad Davids. [The letter] is by Shaykh Abdul Kader Biesmillahi Shah to show the suffering that these people went through.

MM: This is a shaykh who is buried very, very close to Al Zawiyah.

SH: It’s just across from here.

MM: Up on the mountain side.

SH: They were from the Buginese clan in Indonesia. There were a number of Buginese out in Stellenbosch. They scattered the Muslims widely. Some of them in Macassar, as you know, Shaykh Yusuf. Across Constantia which at that time was probably quite far from the scent of things in Cape Town. Swellendam where my grandfather came from and where he was was born. And then places like Stellenbosch where they could control them.

But listen to this letter. It’s such a moving one. A number of them wrote to Biesmillahi Shah because he was a highly respected individual within Buginese society. They write:

This letter comes as a message from Stellenbosch. You sent me, brother September. I announced that I’ve been sick for two months and that no human medicine can cure me. [Brother September refers to Biesmillahi Shah. The slaves are called by months. If they arrived in September, they disembark: “Your name is September.” If they arrived on a Friday: “Your name will be Friday,” etc.]

I seek encouragement from you because I know you care our Buginese people. I request from you, brother, if you have compassion, actually, for your Buginese race. Because I know from the time we spoke with our fellow Buginese people you said we were suffering, and that this concerned you. For we are a broken, suffering people in miserable conditions. Thus my request to you, brother September, if you are compassionate to your suffering Buginese compatriots. Will you lead the children who came from this place of Bulu Bulu and Sungai?

SH: It is such a moving piece that they wrote him. They appealed to him. This letter unfortunately landed up in the wrong hands. In the hands of the state. He was either farming or tending to sheep along the slopes of Devil’s Peak. With this letter they went out they arrested him. They undressed him. He was naked. There were four or five of his followers who were there to do the burial afterwards.

They tied him to the wheel and they stretched him limb by limb and until his entire body split and tore apart. Those who stood they looked at him with all the misery and compassion and pain in the trauma of having to watch their leader being torn apart in this way. But what amazed them that for as long as they stretched him – and this is one of the most painful deaths imaginable – the man did not utter a single word of pain.

These people, like the others who had been incarcerated on Robben Island, and in the Castle [of Good Hope] where you can still see the fingernails on the walls of those dungeons. These are the people who stood for Islam. Who lived with their dhikrs and their mawlids and their love for tasawwuf, who made Islam possible and as strong as it is for us today in the Cape.

MM: Very briefly, our last point in this interview. Islam survived slavery. It managed to get its way through colonialism. But then there’s also been the Apartheid era, the Post-Apartheid era, and of course the impact that its had on the the townships. Your your quick take on that.

SH: Yes of course. Muslims were really vital in the fight against Apartheid. In fact, they are disproportionately represented in government, up till today, because of the immense contributions that Muslims made.

We can think of so many organizations. The Call of Islam, Ebrahim Rasool, our past premiere of the Western Cape Province, was the head of The Call of Islam. Dr Farid Esack, another great activist. All these muslims played enormous roles in breaking down the rather tight scaffolding of this monster called Apartheid.

Al Zawiyah, in its own way, played a very important role. For example, in 1947, my father along with your father-in-law, Shaykh Ebrahim Hendricks, and my uncle, Shaykh Maghdie, who taught me the Ihya, were offered white identity because they were trying to garner votes. The voting took place in 1948 and the Apartheid State was instituted then.

That radicalized Shaykh Ebrahim tremendously. He rejected it completely and went on a campaign of which we have documents here as witness to that. In 1955 he had his passport removed. He had to smuggle out people like Abu Bakr van der Schyff – someone I was pleased to meet in Makkah because he never returned to South Africa.

One night when I came up to class, I saw these people trying to record what Shaykh Maghdie was saying. They were hidden behind the door and when they saw me coming up the steps – they were skulking in the dark just scattering. They had their radio equipment with them and they rushed out. They were plants right in the Masjid and Shaykh Maghdie was of course aware of that.

I was probably one of the most activist and I had the good fortune of landing up in prison for a short while. But it was all done in good faith. There was no hostility, no animosity. I remember when I was asked to talk by members of The Call of Islam.

They asked me to deliver talk in the [unclear] prison. It was a risk I took. But I just reminded them, in the spirit of Islam, that people should not be judged by their color. And that we should show no hostility to the guard standing there at the door who was taking care of us. Not taking care of us, but ensuring that we were in line, obeying orders, and behaved ourselves.

I turned to him in my speech and I said: Remember that oppression is not the the provenance of a particular group of people or a particular race or ethnicity. It’s a mindset. It’s built on conditioned prejudices. And that he, as much as everyone else engaging in oppression of this country, is a dehumanized being. He needs our help as much as everyone else needs our help when it comes to freeing people from the shackles of the oppressive attitudes.

He was very angry about what I said and turned the stungun on me and then threatened to shoot us. and He was running around. People started to panic. He closed the windows. But he didn’t go beyond that. So that is a little experience I had.

I’m thankful for the fact that I could have a say in the destiny of this particular country. But the focus of course was not on revolution as such. Here it was more on education. Educating people in the ethics and in the morality of Islam. Because without that morality we could hardly call a revolution a revolution in the first place.

MM: Would you say that the major impact of Al Zawiyah on the Post-Apartheid landscape reaching out to other South Africans as well. Has in fact actually been education – an education based on the the ethos of the Ihya?

SH: I think it will always be that. I am inspired by it. My brother Shaykh Ahmad is inspired by it. All of us are inspired by that. That is a project that will never end. In the post apartheid era I think there is a need for an even greater emphasis on the spiritual and moral spiritual aspects of Islam – the ethical aspects and the genuine and authentic teachings.

Living in a society as open as it is today, when we are confronted by the cost of the sorts of ignorance that we that we are witness, it is important as Muslims that we focus on these issues. That we support institutions that have Islamic education at heart. And not only just institutions but Ihsan-excellence within those institutions.

As Muslims we are all commanded with Ihsan. And Ihsan is determined by our consciousness of Allah Most High. Consequently a consciousness to determine the quality of education and attitudes that we assist in trying to engender within our Muslim community, and also with equal respect to the non-Muslim society.

MM: Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, thanks for chatting to us.

SH: Shukran. Jazak Allah khayr. It was a pleasure to be here.

 


This interview was originally done by Mishkat Media in cooperation with Travelling Light, where Shaykh Seraj Hendricks teaches the Ihya as it was taught to him.

Shaykh Seraj also has a personal blog: In the Shadow of Pure Light.


How the Ihya Overcame Apartheid–Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

Mishkat Media have produced a wonderful interview with Shaykh Seraj Hendricks on the deep influence of Imam al Ghazali in Cape Town, and the Shaykh’s own role in the struggle against apartheid.

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks is among the third generation of scholars who have been teaching the Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din (Revival of the Religious Sciences) in South Africa. The Ihya is a 40-volume work on Islamic ethics, spirituality, and religious practice, written by the great Imam Ghazali. It has gained fame not as a manual of Islamic law, but because of its essential focus on spirituality and purification of the self. Shaykh Seraj’s grandfather was reportedly the first man to bring the book to the lands, where he was delegated to teach it.

Shaykh Seraj’s first exposure to the Ihya series, was the Book on Halal and Haram, which was when he was eighteen. He found himself fascinated by it. While studying psychology in university, he interviewed a scholar called Shaykh Mahdie, who was in his seventies. Shaykh Mahdie mentioned that he had just finished his 20th reading of the Ihya. Later on, Shaykh Seraj learned that it was part of the litanies of the Ba’lawi spiritual path, to do 20 readings of the Ihya in a lifetime.

In this interview, he speaks of the Ihya and its effects on the South African communities. Religious scholarship was established when the Dutch colonisers exiled many Muslims leaders to South Africa. Rather than cutting off the spread of Islam, ot served to establish a small community, whose leaders painstakingly kept up their religious practices. They dedicated rooms in their houses for worship, and kept up the readings of Sura Yasin and the litanies of the B’lawi tariqa, with their love for spirituality and connecting with Allah. In this way, Islam survived through slavery and colonialism. However, it still had to suffer through apartheid.

The Muslims were heavily involved in the struggle against apartheid. Shaykh Seraj himself was imprisoned briefly for his role in the movement. While in prison, he was invited by other prisoners to give a talk in the prison square. He began preaching that Muslims should not harbour hostility to others, even to the prison guards. He then turned to the prison guard in charge, and reminded him that oppression is not limited to a particular group, but is a mindset build on prejudice, and that the guard, a dehumanized being, needed their help as much as anyone else to overrule oppression. The guard got angry and threatened to shoot.

Shaykh Seraj finishes the interview with encouraging all Muslims to support institutions that teach Islam, in order to overcome personal and societal barriers.

 


Posted with gratitude to Mishkat Media. Connect with Shaykh Seraj Hendricks at Azzavia Mosque in Cape Town, South Africa.


Resources for Seekers

Why The World Needs The Prophetic ﷺ Example – Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

The world is imploding on itself and there has never been a time when the Prophetic ﷺ example was more needed to lead humanity down the path of healing – Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, Al-Zawiya Institute of Cape Town, South Africa.

In 2015, SeekersHub undertook a tour of South Africa, with Shaykh Faraz Rabbani, Shaykh Yahya Rhodus, Ustadh Amjad Tarsin, Sidi Nader Khan and Sidi Abdul-Rehman Malik. We’re pleased to release the recordings from that tour on the SeekersHub YouTube channel and here on the SeekersHub blog.

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Shaykh Seraj Hendricks’ "On the Halal and Haram" now online

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks’ exposition of Imam Ghazali’s Book 14 of the Ihya Ulum al-Din, On the Halal and Haram is now online, thanks to Classes | Travelling Light.

Relevance in the Modern World

In this book, Imam Ghazali synthesizes theory with application, discussing features of the halal and haram, and then offers a way of applying one’s knowledge to overcome day to day challenges. Shaykh Seraj navigates this difficult terrain with erudition and insight into how the words of Imam Ghazali resonate in the modern world.
All revenue from purchases will support the establishment of the Cambridge Mosque, to be built in the historical city of Cambridge, UK. Please visit Travelling Light for more information on the Cambridge Mosque project. For more lectures on the Ihya Ulum Al-Din, please visit Classes | Travelling Light.

Cover photo by Matt Harvey.