Ebrahim Moosa – Cii News (19-07-12)
“When I came to Islam, we used to pray in my dining room. We used to make Salaah there, call the Azaan from the house and push the chairs and the table one side. Then I asked them one day, will it be wrong to make a shack – to pray inside a shack – ’cause I considered a shack to be very low. They explained to me how Masjid Nabawi was. So we made that shack – and Islam grew in the township.”
With a gleaming smile and calm sense of conviction, Ahmed Khoalane reminisces about the formative days of the fledgling Muslim community of Sharpeville. He can be considered a pioneer of Islam in one of South Africa’s most innocuous yet historic townships. Situated some 50 kilometres south of Johannesburg, between the industrial cities of Vereeninging and Vanderbijlpark, Sharpeville in 1960 came to epitomise the spirit of defiance against oppression when thousands gathered to peacefully protest the then Apartheid regime’s notorious pass laws. The steadfastness of its inhabitants, and their sacrifices on that fateful day, which included 69 martyrs, made March 21 a watershed day in South Africa’s history. Sharpeville Day, now immortalised as Human Rights Day, had set into motion a programme of resistance and mobilisation that ultimately culminated with the dawn of freedom in 1994. 52 years on, Khoalane and the numerous other residents gathered at Raporoko Street too are commemorating the culmination of the heroic sacrifices of some of the township’s persevering residents, albeit of an entirely different kind.
The prize of a 23 year journey, this weekend Sharpeville inaugurated its first ever mosque in an uplifting and cheerful ceremony. Aptly named Masjid ul Huda(or the Mosque of Guidance), the spacious structure welcomed residents and visitors to its mosque, Madressah, ablution facilities as well as dawah and skills development centres. The journey to the achievement was nothing short of epic. Still none at the occasion were eager to claim the credit.
Speaking at the ceremony, Khoalane confided that when the project started more than 2 decades ago, he had never imagined a structure as large as the current one. In 1989, after setting up a humble structure of his own that could barely house 6 people, he approached businessman Zaheer Saley in the nearby town of Roshnee for assistance in establishing something more viable. The outcome of the meeting was favourable and shortly thereafter, Anver Moolla, a resident of Roshnee, donated a prefabricated structure that was installed in Khoalane’s yard. The 10mx7m Zozo served as both a Musalla and Madressah. However, practical challenges soon forced the dedicated founders to begin collecting funds for a larger structure on the same premises. Abdullah Sujee, Abdul Haq Nathie and the learners of the Roshnee Islamic School breathed fresh life into the project. In fact, pupils went as far as volunteering to go from door to door to collect money for the project. Saley recalls the striking incident of an old lady who, over the years, had been collecting small change in a jar with the intention of donating it to a project to establish Islam. When the students knocked at her door, she felt that her prayers were answered and enthusiastically handed over her savings to the kids. In yet another such incident, a woman donated a full Kruger Rand from her wedding gifts to the cause.
In 1999, the community managed to purchase 2 houses at the location where the new structure now stands. These served as a Madressah as well as a so-called Foundation Home. Project co-ordinator Abdullah Sujee explained the relevance of the Home as a sheltered environment where Islamic knowledge and Tarbiyya would be imparted to a small group of young high school learners whilst also catering for their food and boarding requirements. Separately mothers of some of pupils were also invited to improve their knowledge of Islam at the adjoining Madressah. Sujee says the two-pronged approach reaped incredible results. “This is the miracle of the Quraan. People who cannot speak Arabic were suddenly reciters of the entire Surah Yaseen, then Kahf, Sajdah, Mulk and many shorter surahs of the 30th Juz. Then these mothers went home and they started teaching their children the Quraan. And that played a fundamental part in the growth of Islam.”
A 1999 meeting held in the Zozo structure, mapped out a 10 year plan for Islam in Sharpeville that listed amongst its goals the establishment of a Masjid in the township. Many meetings with the residents of Sharpeville ensued, culminating with the building of the new mosque.
Soweto community leader, Moulana Abbas Hlatswayo Mkize, commended the communities of Roshnee and Sharpeville for their collaboration in the endavour. “This is a very great achievement that two communities came together with the concern of the Deen,” he said. “These are big achievements that we are seeing in our lifetime now. Under the previous regime it was not even in the minds of Muslims that we would have masjids in the townships. This is worth acknowledging.”
Mkhize nonetheless cautioned residents that the process of community building in Sharpeville had only just begun. “Allah builds houses in Jannah for those who build Masjids for him in this world. But Allah builds palaces for those in the vicinity of the Masjid who do the work and fulfill the responsibility that comes with masjid. Even the RDP of Jannah is like a palace,” he quipped.
He urged the community to hasten in adopting a vision for the growth of Islam in Sharpeville and beyond. “Allah has given you a structure. But what is your vision for this structure? The structure of Masjid un Nabawi was so insignificant and weak and the least beautiful, yet it produced results that brought Islam to us even in the Zululand and Sotholand.This country has a potential of being a Muslim country, but is it in us to take it to the people?”
Sujee acknowledged the supportive role played by the Jamiatul Ulama since the project’s inception. He also highlighted the efforts of the Tableegh Jamaat as being key to the success of the endeavour saying that the best way for new Muslims to learn was through the practical application of Islam, as is taught in Jamaat. He recalled the sacrifices made by visiting Jamaats to Sharpeville over the years, in particular those of the Eldarodo Park Jamaat who he said had to sleep in a combi due to the lack of facilities early on. Despite that, Sujee said, they always advised the Muslims of Sharpeville to keep up with the work and not give it up. According to him, Jamaats today are very happy in Sharpeville and find all needs now catered for in a very ordered fashion.
Sujee says the same spirit of resilience that helped the people of Sharpeville conquer apartheid, is now reflected in their enthusiasm to educate themselves about Islam. Moulana Mahmood Hasan Sujee, a young Ustaad at the Madressah, revealed that there are currently mothers and children who sometimes walk upto 2 kilometers daily to come to madressah. He says results from regular examinations conducted by the Jamiatul Ulama were favourable and future success looked very promising.
Humbled in his celebrations, Ahmed Khoalane says he is ever grateful to the many individuals who made the journey possible. “I was an atheist, Allah used me in his path to establish the Deen. My grandparents, who were Christian, allowed me to establish a place of worship on their premises.” He acknowledges that there were many obstacles encountered along the way, but advises those involved in Islamic work to never lose sight of their ultimate goal. “The little bit of effort you make, you’ll be surprised by the barakah it will bring to you and your progeny. Please never give up. The little bit of effort that you are doing you might undermine, but you’ll be surprised, you’ll see on Yowmul Qiyaamah when your records will be brought forward, what your effort has done to bring a lot of change.”
TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF MASJIDUL HUDA, SHARPEVILLE HEREAbdullah Sujee, Ahmed Khoalane, Dawah, Ebrahim Moosa, Islam, Jamiatul Ulama, Masjid ul Huda, Moulana Abbas Hlatswayo, Musallah, Roshnee, Roshnee Islamic School, Sharpeville, Township, Vereeninging