Imam Haron and Empowering the Youth
Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar
We are once again celebrating `Id al-Fitr in the same month during which we commemorate the martyrdom (shahada) of Al-Shahid Imam `Abdullah Haron.
On September 27, 2010, we will commemorate the 41st anniversary of the martyrdom (shahada) of Imam`Abdullah Haron. Imam Haron was a towering figure in the struggle against apartheid and he paid the supreme sacrifice for his witness to justice.
On September 27, 1969, the apartheid security forces claimed that Imam Abdullah Haron had died as a result of a fall from a flight of stairs at the Maitland police station. A subsequent autopsy report revealed 28 bruises on the Imam’s body, mostly on the legs. His stomach was empty and his 7th rib was broken. Imam Haron had been tortured to death after being held for 123 days in an apartheid police cell under the Terrorism Act of 1967.
Empowering Muslim Youth
One of the greatest contributions that Imam Haron made was that of empowering the Muslim youth. His motto was that in order to change a society, one must start with the youth. He thus developed a symbiotic relationship with the youth, teaching them a more dynamic and socially responsive understanding of Islam, and he in turn learnt from their non-racialist, anti-apartheid political perspectives.
Imam Haron galvanized the youth not only in Claremont but across Cape Town and was the patron of Claremont Muslim Youth Association as well the District Six Muslim Youth Movement.
In 1956, one year after his appointment as Imam at Stegmann Road masjid, he introduced the novel idea of encouraging young students in his congregation to deliver short post tarawih lectures. On `Id day, after the salah and khutbah <;/em>all the children, boys as well as girls, were invited to come and sit in the front rows of the masjid, where Imam Haron would then hand over to some of them the microphone to recite the `Id takbir. This brief programme with the children would conclude with the adults giving them sweets and gifts.
These wonderful traditions speak to Imam Haron’s love for children and the encouragement he instilled in them of being an important part of a masjid community. In this Imam Haron had re-invigorated a prophetic sunnah, for this is exactly the manner in which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) welcomed and affirmed everyone in his community, especially children, on the joyous day of `Id.
I conclude by sharing a story taking from the hadith literature which Imam Haron was fond of relating during his sermons on `Id al-Fitr.
Imam Haron’s `Id Story
The parable goes as follows:
It was the morning of `Id and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) led the `Id prayers on an open area on the outskirts of Madina. After completing the `Id prayers and sermon everyone was returning to their homes in a very pleasant and joyous mood. The children in particular were extremely happy in the new clothes and looking forward to receiving their `Id gifts at their homes.
As they reached close to the city of Madina, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) noticed a young boy sitting on the side of the road with his face on his knees as if he was in distress and grave anguish. This scene moved and affected the Prophet (pbuh) deeply. He immediately went to the boy and inquired from the distressed boy with the following words:
“My son, why is it that I see you so sad and unhappy on this great Day of `Id and celebration and everyone else around you are happy and Joyous.’’
Without lifting up his face to see who was speaking to him, the boy replied with tears flowing down his cheeks: “I am sad today because I have no-one to share my joy and happiness with and no family to care for me. My father was martyred fighting in defense of Islam and my mother remarried another man. Unfortunately, I could not agree with my step-father who is a very stern and oppressive man, and so I decided to leave home and find my own way.”
The boy’s story so deeply touched the heart of Prophet (pbuh) and saddened him that he immediately responded by asking the boy: “How would you like to have Muhammad as your father, Aisha as your mother, Fatima as your sister and Hassan and Husain as your companions?
Hearing these words the boy for the very first time raised his head with tears still flowing from his eyes and he saw that it was the Prophet (pbuh). The Prophet smiled at him and said: ‘Come and give me your hand’. The boy stretched forth his hand and walked off with the Prophet (pbuh).
When they reached home, the Prophet (pbuh) called out to his wife, saying:
‘Aisha I have brought a present for you’. It is said that when Aisha met the boy, she was so moved by his story that she immediately got together all the material she could find and set about sewing a new robe for him.
Not long thereafter the boy emerged from the house handsomely dressed in his new robe and he was jumping and running around with happiness and joy. The young boy’s joy was not merely brought on by his new clothes but rather by the knowledge that he had acquired the best family any person could have on this earth. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had adopted him as a member of his family. Thereby bringing great happiness into the heart of the boy.
The moral of the story is as follows:
Prophet (pbuh) could have given the boy some charity, he could have given him some food or he could have asked his wife, `Aisha, to sew him some new clothes. This may have brought a little joy and comfort to the boy. But by one action – giving him a family – a relationship of love and affection – the Prophet had given him the greatest gift and brought great comfort, happiness and joy to his heart.
This favourite story of Imam Haron reflected his own love of children and at every occasion he sought to acknowledge and engage their curiosity and energy.
Celebrating Imam Haron’s Legacy
Reflecting on Imam Haron’s legacy allows us to ponder how we too can find creative ways of involving and incorporating our youth in our masjid programmes and activities. During Imam Haron’s time, the youth of the day grappled with reconciling their anti-apartheid political convictions with their Islamic world view. Importantly, they sought guidance and inspiration from Islamic texts in their struggle for social justice.
Today, our youth grapple with many more, broader social issues that come into conflict with their Islamic world views. This cannot be easy for them, and so creating opportunities for youth voices to be heard in our masajid should be embraced as an opportunity for dialogue between older and younger generations, and to come up with appropriate responses from which we can all learn and grow. The legacy and heritage that Imam Haron has bequeathed us is rich and socially relevant. His life can be summarized as that of a Muslim leader, who was passionately concerned with improving empowering the youth and indeed all human relations across racial, cultural and religious lines.
Allah, the Sublime, teaches us in the Glorious Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah, chapter 2 ayah/verse 154:
“Do not say that those who are killed in Allah’s cause are dead,
they are alive, though you do not realize it”