I have had the good fortune to live in this community for a very long time, and I have become very sensitive to things that go on in the community. Because of my concern with the Muslims, especially now in my senior years, I have been trying to find out what is going on in the community, and why. I can remember, for example, when I was very young, that the amamah had almost totally disappeared. I remember the imams of the mosque in Tennyson Street, Salt River wearing amamas, but very few other people did. The amamah was very common amongst the Muslims at the Cape in previous years. Later it was replaced by the fez, the red one and the black one. If one had gone on haj a little tassle was attached to the fez. The fez was worn for quite a long period. Later the fez also disappeared, and was replaced by the skull cap. Today there is a tendency not to wear anything on the head at all. This is nothing if you compare it with some of the other things that have now disappeared.
Things that have caused great concern for me is the steady disappearing of those matters that are considered sunnah. Here I’m referring to those things that if you do them, Allah will reward you, and if you don’t do them, you will not be punished. Many of these things have disappeared. Today in most mosques it’s very seldom that any dhikr, even a short piece, is made after the fard salah. In most mosques the imams will only make du’a after the fard salah. I was amazed when I was in the mosque in Woodstock one Jumu’ah to find the imam making all the dhikrs and du’as after the salah that were so common in the Cape at one time. These things have all disappeared. In addition to this, many people today ignore the sunnah salahs after Jumu’ah. The emptying of the mosques during Tarawih Salah is another indication of what is happening. Even on Laylatul-Qadr so many people walked out of the mosque in Goodwood, for example, before the proceedings ended. It was as if the night meant nothing to them.
When a community becomes weak, when the Islam in the community becomes weak, the first things that disappear are what we call the sunnah things; but things are much worse when some of the fards start to disappear. It’s very common today, for example, to see ladies not properly covered. This is so common that nobody worries about it anymore. Go to any wedding celebration and you see how Muslim women dress, and there is no shame attached to it anymore. And then when the recital starts the scarves go on and when the recital stops the scarves go off. What are all these games in aid of? Unfortunately we’re visitors, we’re guests. We must honour our hosts. So we deliver the speeches and we deliver the recitals, and then as soon as we can, we get out. What’s happening? I do not know why we still want these recitals and speeches on Islam at these celebrations.
Now there are even more serious matters. Large numbers of Muslim boys and girls that are at high school are not fasting. This is common knowledge. They are eating openly! It’s not a disgrace anymore. It is the accepted thing today at high schools that Muslim boys and girls do not fast. Accepted! Nobody worries about it anymore. Nobody appears to be concerned about it either, except the radio station, the Voice of the Cape. This is a very bad “development” in our community. What is going on with a community that at one time was known for its adherence to Islam? And while the community is “burning”, its “guardians”, as is claimed, are acting as voting agents for one or other political grouping.
And I’m convinced that a person who doesn’t fast doesn’t pray. Don’t tell me that the person who deliberately doesn’t fast, prays. The person will just make the movements to please his or her parents. A person who prays, will never “bunk” fasting. A person concerned with praying five times a day to his or her Lord will never “bunk” fasting. Check and see whether you know anybody who prays regularly five times a day who will not fast the month of Ramadan, unless the person is an old person or a very sickly person who can’t fast.
Of course, there are people in our community for whom I have a tremendous amount of admiration. Every evening I see certain people in the masjid. They are those who are carrying this community. They are those who are carrying the religion of Islam. They are in the masjids every night in the month of Ramadan carrying their Islam. These people are trying very hard to look after their families and to look after their religion. I have great admiration for them for the extent to which they have applied the rules and regulations of Islam in their homes. Great admiration for them! Under difficult circumstances they keep their homes going. I see it here. I see it wherever I go. This is especially among ladies. I don’t always like to talk in favour of them but they’re a little bit special. They phone me and ask me for things to do, and they tell me what they are doing. And I’m amazed at some of the ladies who are at home during the day, the amount of ibadat they do. These people are the salt of our community. They are busy for Allah. Their hearts are solely for Him.
Of course, one of the indicators of what is happening to Islam at the Cape (as has happened with Christianity throughout the world) is the growing commercialization of our religion. Important symbols of Islam are used to sell commodities and services. The talbiyyah and the tawaf, sacred features of the haj and umrah, are used to sell aeroplane tickets to Mecca. The du’a for the deceased is used to sell kafan and provide catering for those who attend janazahs. The sacred month of Ramadan, a month of abstinence in obedience to Allah, and Eid, a day of intense remembrance of Allah, have become major business “hypes” to sell unashamedly all kinds of commodities. Mosque notice boards advertise all kinds of goods and services. The Qur’an says that mosques are “for Allah”. Every year some firms issue calendars indicating important times for us during the day, and the calendars are used to advertise anything from insurance policies and investments (Shari’ah-compliant, of course!) to a variety of commodities. The calendars have little to do with “daily times” and everything to do with using Islamic symbols to advertise goods and services. Massive amounts of these calendars find themselves in mosques for distribution to the congregations. And some of them with large adverts hang in “easy to see” places in the mosques. Many of these matters mentioned are encouraged by the “Muslim” media. It helps to “pay the rent” as they say. In one mosque I told the imam to tear off the adverts. I said to him: “Here we only advertise Allah and His Messenger (ﷺ).” Of course, the teachings of Islam on halal have become a major “industry” (with large profits) under the control of Muslim religious leaders. And so we go on. The sacred teachings and symbols of Islam, essentially of Divine origin, and which have to do with our relationship with Allah Almighty, are quietly trampled underfoot for rands and cents (the “profits” of religion, some say). And nobody says anything!
One of the things that is having a devastating impact on our youth is the onslaught on their minds by a variety of elements of Euro-American culture that have diffused to this country. In fact, it is devastating young people throughout the world. Schools have become one of the major pipelines through which these elements reach our children. Our children and even some of us have become copy-cats of the worst elements of the culture that streams out of Europe and America to the rest of the world. And it has devastated our youth because in Euro-American culture there is no haram. This culture has been adopted as a way of life by large numbers of our children, and the result has been that the Islamic practices of these children have been steadfastly watered down. To me this is an extremely sad thing because I can’t see much of Islam left in twenty, thirty or forty years’ time.
I do not think that there are any major social solutions for the problems we face. Things have gone too far. I do not think that we have the capability to use Islam to withstand the anti-religious forces that are sweeping through the community. We have already failed. That is why large numbers of our children and adults are not fasting and praying, and crime and the use of drugs have become major features of our way of life. People are deserting Islamic practices because they see no value in them as far as their lives are concerned. These practices have no meaning for them. And one of the reasons for this is the fact that the lifeblood of the religion has steadily been squeezed out. The lifeblood that kept Islam alive in the hearts of our forefathers under the most appalling social conditions has been made to dry up. This lifeblood is the celebration of the praises of Allah that keeps His Name alive in the hearts of the ahludh-dhikr. Our hearts have been emptied of His remembrance. A heart that remembers Allah will respond to His Call.
It is not only degrading social conditions and drugs and crime that empty hearts. It is also teachings, straight out of Wahabi educational institutions, that aim at emptying hearts of His remembrance through adhkar. When, for example, the Muslim Judicial Council took over part control of the Islamic College of South Africa, one of the first things done was to drop the courses on Islamic Spirituality. There is no doubt that Muslim clerics from Wahabi institutions have played a major role in emptying the hearts of this community of Allah’s remembrance. When, for example, we wanted to celebrate the praises of Allah (of Divine origin) in a masjid in Mitchell’s Plain, we were refused. This is part of the reason for the Muslims finding themselves in a mess today.
Why is it that most of the people who have come into Sufi Orders look after the teachings of Islam so conscientiously? This is not accidental. It is because in these Orders people are trained to keep the remembrance of Allah alive in their hearts. And when this happens, obedience to the teachings of Islam comes as a matter of course. Allah says:
قُلِ اللهُ ثُمَّ ذَرْهُمْ فِى خَوْضِهِمْ يَلْعَبُوْنَ
Say: “Allah.” Then leave them to plunge in vain discourse and trifling (vi:91).
While some of these Muslim clerics entertain politicians and “tout” for a political alliance that includes communists, people in Sufi Orders are saying Allah.
We ask Allah for the blessings of Suratul Fatihah …
And Allah knows best, and I ask forgiveness for any mistakes or distortions in what I have said, Amin.
Selected Talks by Yusuf da Costa [Published 2008]