The road that we are walking is the same road that most of our forefathers also walked. Islam was established in this country when Allah (ﷻ) sent three Qadiri shaykhs to our shores. They were Tuangs Abdurahman, Mahmud and Matarin. I sometimes think back to the nature of the Decree that Allah (ﷻ) made for this country at “the beginning of time.” Allah (ﷻ) decreed that three shaykhs of a Tasawwuf Order would come here to establish His religion. Perhaps unknown to them, they were involved in a historical process in which Islam was going to be allowed to spread from Sumatra (that is so far from us) to the Cape. They were sent in exile, thousands of kilometres from their homes, their families, and their social structures. Their hearts were different from the hearts of so many others. In their hearts beat the dhikr of Allah (ﷻ) and it is with these hearts that they were placed in shacks, two of them in Constantia and one of them on Robben Island. So it was the shaykhs of a Tariqah that started our Islam here. This was in the year 1667, if I have the date correct.
Twenty seven years later, the crown of the Khalwati Order is exiled to the Cape. He had fought the Dutch in the East Indies and was exiled first to Colombo in Ceylon, and then to the Cape. He was also a Naqshbandi. Non-Muslim writers, like Theal, speak about him and how he made seawater fresh by putting his staff into the water. He was such an old man at the time. He was 68 years old and died five years later. He was a great Sufi and he kept the teachings of Islam alive from his shack on the dunes in Faure. Allah (ﷻ) had sent him here and he raised high the banner of Islam. We must remember that the first three persons who made the Adhan here and raised the banner of Islam, were people of Tasawwuf and one of them was a Naqshbandi. Our origins as Naqshbandis lie deep back in our history. The first Naqshbandi who set his foot in this country, came a little bit more than fifteen years after the coming of the Dutch.
We have to understand the significance of this. It is something that we have not spoken about before. Let us go back to the Decree, because Allah’s (ﷻ) Decree is part of our faith, for Allah (ﷻ) had decreed that the first people that He was going to send to the Cape to establish His Religion and to see to its growth were going to be two Qadiri shaykhs and one Naqshbandi. (Of course, Shaykh Yusuf of Macassar also belonged to many other Tariqahs). I want you to picture the Cape at the time. There were no mosques, there were no madrassahs, and there were no books. There was no public Islam, but there was an Islam in the hearts of these sufi shaykhs and in the many Muslim slaves that had come. Our Islam was launched from two shacks and preserved in the hearts of slaves all over the Western Cape where they worked. Allah (ﷻ) preserved their faith. It is from the hearts of the sufi shaykhs that the message of Islam was taken to the hearts of the slaves, either to strengthen their hearts or to make new openings in them for Islam. And so Islam could not die. Allah (ﷻ) had given this historical responsibility to three sufi shaykhs to see to it that Islam was preserved, and whenever they spoke, they spoke from their hearts, which was under the control of their Lord. We, who do not know, do not understand the hearts of intensely pious people, the Awliya’. Their hearts belong to their Lord and to His Messenger (ﷺ). We do not understand when they speak. They speak from another dimension or from a very unique understanding of Islam. Their hearts are not their own. Their hearts belong to their Lord. In some cases when they speak, it is from knowledge from Allah’s (ﷻ) Presence, and in other cases when they speak, they speak from knowledge of the presence of the Messenger (ﷺ). You must understand this. If we want to understand Islam, we must “tune in” to the hearts of the Awliya’. Their hearts carry the message with the understanding of Islam to a level that some of us can only dream of. Their words are theirs but their understanding is either from their Lord or from His Messenger (ﷺ). I do not know from which Presence our three shaykhs spoke. I look at their legacy today and I see a vibrant Islam with Tasawwuf practices all over. Their legacy is still alive in the hearts of many Muslims in this country today. When these Muslims call Allah (ﷻ), they are copying the calls of Allah (ﷻ) by these three shaykhs. When we make dhikr, it is their legacy. When we give our hearts over to Allah (ﷻ), it is their legacy. Many of us who should be enjoying this legacy, have trampled on it and have gone over to the teachings of Islam as advocated by enemies of spirituality and the Madhahib. They do not understand that when they condemn Tasawwuf, they are condemning the practices of Islam of their forefathers. They are off-springs of people of Tasawwuf but today they deny their forefathers and say: “We are not of them.” No, no, it is not they who are speaking, it is their forefathers who are saying: “They are not of our offspring, they are strangers to us.” These people go into the Akhirah, unrecognized by their forefathers, because they attach labels such as “kufr” on the beliefs and practices of their forefathers. By putting those labels of kufr on their grandparents and way back to all those grandparents before them, they have condemned their grandparents and all the others before them, to Hell. They should be asked to be buried alive.
The Tasawwuf Orders in this country, not only the Naqshbandis, cherish the legacy of Islam that has been left by the sufi shaykhs and many others before us. They were carriers of the banners of Islam from the 1600’s to the early 1900’s in this country. The Islam that they brought was an Islam imbued with spirituality, and this with hearts filled with intense religious feeling, enabled them to preserve the religion. Perhaps this should be put in another way. Allah (ﷻ) preserved Islam at the Cape in the hearts of those He engaged in His remembrance. It is through this engagement and their teachings that Islam was preserved. We are the inheritors of those generations of Muslims. It is not only their blood that flows in some of our blood vessels, but it is also the Islam that they brought that continues to beat in our hearts. Allah (ﷻ) had favoured the Cape in a most remarkable way by decreeing Islam for us here. Like we have said on so many occasions, at the same time of the sufi shaykhs and the slaves came here, literally millions of Muslim slaves formed part of the North Atlantic slave trade to the Americas. They lost their Islam. It was decreed that we were going to keep our Islam and it was decreed that, that Islam was going to be preserved in the hearts of the most pious servants of Allah (ﷻ). It does not matter whether there is no blood link from many of us to these pious people. Because we have inherited from them, there are important religious links which connect us with them. When we explain the history and their contributions, we do so because we feel that we belong to them. Those who today reject the Islam of their forefathers are not of them, neither of us. We ask Allah (ﷻ) to fill our hearts with love for those special servants of His who He had granted the honour and the privilege to remember Him in their hearts, amin. We also ask Allah (ﷻ) that in the Hereafter we must be recognized as their brothers and sisters, and, despite the length of historical time between us, we be of them, amin. We ask Allah (ﷻ) to place us in their company in Paradise because their company, with many others, will be the best company, amin. We ask Allah (ﷻ) that we be designated as their offspring in spirituality, amin. O my Lord, we ask so much all the time, but we know that Thy help is endless and has no limits, amin.