Prayers, film to honour anti-apartheid legend Imam Haron

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Anti-apartheid icon Imam Abdullah Haron is being remembered with series of events over the next few days, including a prayer gathering at his gravesite and a film screening.

Haron died in detention on September 27 1969 at the hands of apartheid era police who said at the time he died when falling down a staircase.

His grandson Khalid Shamis yesterday remembered Haron’s “four lonely months” in detention at the Claremont Main Road Mosque.

Khalid Shamis, grandson of the late Imam Abdullah Haron. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Khalid Shamis, grandson of the late Imam Abdullah Haron. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Haron was detained on May 18 1969 under the Terrorism Act after it became evident he had strong links with the Pan African Congress. Apartheid authorities had banned that political party.

Shamis delivered the Friday sermon at the weekly Islamic prayer, reflecting on his grandfather’s life and work.

“In prison, during those four lonely months of isolation and torture before they could break his will the imam broke his own desire for food by gathering himself in fasting everyday in anticipation of the great breaking with the world and the great gathering with Allah (God),” said Shamis.

“I think he knew it was the end and he prepared himself.”

Shamis told the mosque congregation he wanted to “share with you the glimpse that I feel I have received from looking at and trying to understand the legacy of my grandfather”.

“Sixty years ago he was appointed as the youngest ever imam in the Cape. I believe that he intentionally sought to break traditions that he saw had long since stifled and subdued his community,” said Shamis.

Haron was appointed religious leader at Al-Jamia Mosque in Stegman Road, Claremont, near the Main Road mosque.

Shamis said his grandfather did not follow the tradition; that of attending the mosque one’s father went to.

“Perhaps it was part of his natural disposition to work against formalised structures, but I like to think that he consciously chose to work against those structures for a greater good,” he said.

Haron also preached Islam in black areas, prohibited under previous racist laws, to “break the segregation that apartheid had instilled in order to gather those who were suffering more under apartheid, to give them belonging and hope”.

“For that he was derided by his peers and looked down upon even after his death,” said Shamis.

“He broke the stereotype of the imam and who this abstracted martyr figure, this elevated hero actually was.”

Shamis, who is a documentary filmmaker, will screen ‘Imam and I’ at UCT’s Zoology Building on Monday. The film tells the story of Haron’s anti-apartheid activism and community work.

The Islamic Unity Convention will meanwhile host a prayer gathering at Haron’s gravesite at the Mowbray cemetery tomorrow (SUNDAY) from 10am.


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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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