Anti-Apartheid Imam and Activist: 50th Anniversary

In Cape Town, I recently met family members of Imam Abdullah Haron, who is known in South Africa as one of the most renowned martyrs of the anti-apartheid struggle.

This year, South Africa is marking the 50th anniversary of Imam Haron. He died in 1969, at the age of 46. 

Imam Haron’s name is not known to many, but the imam was one of the most prominent Muslim leaders of his day, known for his political involvement at a time when many Muslim leaders were silent about South African Apartheid’s injustices and oppression.

He was made the Imam of the Al-Jamia Mosque in Claremont, Cape Town in 1955 where he setup discussion groups, which were inclusive of women, and engaged in anti-apartheid activities.

In the 1960s Imam Haron made contact with Pan African Congress (PAC). Imam Haron gave a number of speeches and sermons against apartheid policies and laws including a notable speech at the Cape Town Drill Hall on 7 May 1961 where he described the Group Areas Act as “inhuman, barbaric and un-Islamic”.

His mosque was the base of operations for 15 years. It was at his mosque where he showed what it meant to transcend political, religious and racial barriers.

The Prophetic example teaches us that an Imam ought to be an activist in his community, being an exemplar for the wider community and a voice of moral clarity to people. Imam Haron sought to implement that model in his circle of influence.

The Killing Of The Imam is a book about Imam Haron’s struggle and his time in detention. Accoridng to the book, Imam Haron’s activities were not limited to South Africa. He was instrumental in lobbying members of the World Muslim Council. He tried to seek help from governments of Muslim majority countries against the injustices of the apartheid South African regime. 

Due to Imam Haron’s activities against the apartheid government, he was arrested and tortured by the security forces. Imam Abdullah Haron died in prison on 27 September 1969. There were 30,000 mourners at Imam Haron’s burial: “The vast assembly, gathered to show its esteem for the dead Muslim priest, turned into a spontaneous demonstration against the government and its police force, as speech after speech at the graveside abominated Apartheid and its agents.” 

According to Ursula Gunther’s comprehensive study published in the Journal for the Study of Religion, “The Memory of Imam Haron in Consolidating Muslim Resistance in the Apartheid Struggle”, Imam Haron became a “symbol and icon for the Muslim struggle against apartheid in the late 1970s, though his sacrifice had nearly fallen into oblivion.”

There is travelling exhibition about Imam Abdullah Haron in South Africa that is being organised by Imam Haron Foundation.

May Allah Almighty accept Imam Haron’s efforts and sacrifices, and may he be in the company of the martyrs. 

May the Most Just and Compassionate help those suffering abuse, injustices and oppression around the world.

Imam Qari Asim, MBE

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