In the history of Islam, there have been many occasions when individuals or groups faced major challenges. When one thinks back to the time when the Prophet (ﷺ) received the first revelation and was instructed to deliver the message, this must have been an incomparable challenge to him (ﷺ). He was living in a society that was primarily polytheistic and a society characterized by different forms of decadence. He could not reject his Lord’s commands. He had been informed that he was his Lord’s Messenger and he (ﷺ) had certain tasks to perform; the most important of which was to deliver the Divine Words to all of humanity. When I think back today, I ask myself, how did he (ﷺ) manage it at the initial stages? Of course, his Lord was with him and he (ﷺ) later had a number of Companions (r.a.) that gave him substantial support. Despite this, this religious function that he had to perform must have been a major challenge to him. He (ﷺ) did not run away from his responsibilities. He carried them out with a determination, the consequence of which we have experienced in the southern most part of this continent.
I sometimes think of his strength, and of course, his worries. Before the Battle of Badr, he (ﷺ) spent the whole night in prayers, pleading, pleading, pleading, for Divine assistance. It is strange, he (ﷺ) never took anything for granted. He (ﷺ) has come down in the history as the greatest of human beings, as the most beloved by his Lord, as the most respected by us. Allah (ﷻ) knew him better than he knew himself, and He knew that he (ﷺ) was not a shirker. He (ﷺ) was the final Messenger and he (ﷺ) placed the final stamp on all revelation. After him (ﷺ), different challenges arose. The challenge of his (ﷺ) demise caused even an individual like Sayyiduna Umar (r.a.) to waiver. He could not understand that the Prophet (ﷺ) was dead. It was the strength of Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (r.a.) that took the Muslims through this challenge. When things looked bleak, Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (r.a.) stood tall and it is this stature of his, this stature of a tall human being, that took Islam over the problems the Muslims faced at the time. After Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (r.a.), each khalifah was able to withstand the different religious and social challenges that came his way as Islam spread and was consolidated. Of course, there are moments of great sadness in these challenges; the sadness of assassinations and the sadness of dishonesty. The new Islamic state was not a state of perfection. It had to go through all the trauma and anguish that other states also had to go through, but this trauma and anguish had in themselves deep religious meaning.
During this period, Allah (ﷻ) sent different men and women, those with special character, those who could accept challenges, those who were not afraid to put their feet forward and those who rose high the banner of Islam. Without them, Islam would either have died or just degenerated. In the centuries down to our time, Islam has been characterized by such revivers; deeply religious people; people intensely concerned with their fellow men who have come down in our history as of the greatest figures of our time.
Today, when I look back at our own history, and I imagine the first boats coming here with our forefathers, some of them slaves, others political exiles. And when they came ashore, to what did they come? They came to a country without any trace whatsoever of Islam. The challenge they faced was: how were they going to preserve the religion which was in their hearts in such a way so that that religion could pass down to future generations? I sometimes think of the Qadiri shayks with almost nothing on their backs, and in chains, taken to a shack in Constantia forest. They were our forefathers in Tasawwuf. We must salute them. Despite their chains and whatever else went with that, they kept the Shahadah of Islam alive in their hearts. They faced an antagonistic environment as political exiles in chains. They did not shirk their responsibilities. They were men of God. They were people of the remembrance of God. They were not common people. What they believed was way beyond the beliefs of those who kept them in chains. They did not shirk their responsibilities. They called out the Adhan, made their prayers and spread the message. They were our forefathers, our heroes. They kept Islam alive despite everything.
You see, we must understand that every time we are given a responsibility and we shirk it, we are breaking our connection with those who were at the beginning of Islam in Mecca and those who were at the beginning of Islam in Constantia. And when we break this connection, what is it that we are telling them? If Tuangs Mahmud and Abdurahman did not accept the challenge of the times, where would their descendants have sat, on carpets or in pews? Of course, it was Allah (ﷻ) at work in Constantia. It was as He had decreed and it was as He had willed. Islam had to be brought to the shores of this country by shaykhs of the Qadiri Tariqah. What an honour for them! I am sure if they look back today at their footprints in the history of this country, they would be amazed at where those prints have gone. I would not be surprised if their status as Awliya’ had to do with these prints. I would not be surprised. They were the first people of Tariqah who made footprints for the survival of Islam in this country.
I don’t want to deal with all the history, and just want to mention some points. Twenty-seven years later, a very senior scholar, a very senior person in a different Sufi Order is exiled to the Cape as an old man. He was sixty eight years of age, and isolated from his country and his people. Perhaps he was unaware of Constantia, but he knew about the desolation of Faure. He accepted the challenge to call out “Allah, Allah”, where those holy words were never called before. He had come down in our history, as one of our greatest personalities. He was Shaykh Yusuf of Macassar, and despite the desolation and the isolation, he brought together the few Muslims at the Cape into the social structures associated with teaching and the making of dhikr. He also did not shirk his responsibilities and, if we should look back today at his footprints, we would see them mingled with the footprints of the shaykhs of the Qadiri Tariqah of 1667. There are also Naqshbandi prints there and the prints of other Tariqahs; all brought by Shaykh Yusuf.
It is now our turn. We have behind us more than 300 years of history in which certain individuals and groups accepted the challenge of preserving Islam in the hearts of people. They did not run away. They did not shirk. The one desire they had was to keep Islam throbbing in the hearts of all Muslims in this country. Today we are part of that generation. We have not been asked to go to war or to defend our position; as the first generation of Muslims in Mecca and Madinah had to do. We have not been asked to work in highly antagonistic environments with no religious structures and no literature. We have not been asked any of these. History is asking us to preserve what our forefathers brought and spread that understanding of Islam in the communities in which we live. Allah (ﷻ) has given all of us the determination and the courage to raise His banners and to call “Allah, Allah” in congregation. We ask Allah (ﷻ) not to let us shirk our responsibilities but to do what He had decreed for us. There lies in these activities endless potential for our spiritual growth. I do not know whether one can get anywhere in the world similar circumstances and similar factors; all brought together for spiritual achievements. Allah (ﷻ), as part of His Generosity to us, has provided those circumstances and factors for us. What are we going to do with it? We ask our Lord for guidance for us, amin.