All of us or most of us must have heard the word karamat. We here in Cape Town usually use the word kramat to refer to the grave of a Wali or the Wali himself but I am talking about something else. I am talking about miracles that are performed by very, very pious people. Many people say that this is nonsense, and that people hallucinate or imagine that those things have happened. Well, they may have their views.
We know of course of the miracles performed by the Prophets (a.s.) and Messengers (a.s.) and we refer to those as mu’jizat. These were not things that were always deliberately performed. Many times they were performed as a matter of course. I do not want to talk about the miracles of the Prophets (a.s.) and Messengers (a.s.). I want to come to something else, about very pious people who can perform extraordinary things. I firstly want to take you to a hadith of the Messenger (ﷺ) in which this matter is mentioned. I have already explained part of this hadith on another occasion. I want to deal mainly with the latter part of the hadith. In this hadith, Allah Almighty speaks to Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). It is called a Holy Tradition, a Hadith Qudsi. In this hadith, Allah Almighty says: “Whosoever shows disrespect to a Wali of Mine, I shall be at war with him. My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than those religious duties that I have made obligatory upon him, and continues to draw near to Me with those things that I have not made obligatory upon him, until I love him.” In other words one can obtain the love of Allah Almighty, according to this hadith, by approaching Him at two levels or integrating the two into one level, which ever way you want to put it, the obligatory and non-obligatory. In the latter part of the hadith, Allah says: “When I love him, I am the hearing with which he hears …” Now this is a major thing. I want to repeat this to you. Allah says: “I am the hearing with which he hears.” That means that that person can hear almost everything. Allah Almighty is All-Hearing. Of course, that person does not even have a speck of that, but it appears that he has been given very special blessings, which enable him to hear things that we cannot hear. Further in the hadith Allah says: “… and I am the seeing with which he sees…” In other words, that person can see over massively long distances and see things we cannot even dream of seeing. And further: “… I am his hand with which he strikes and the foot with which he walks. Were he to ask of Me, I will surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant it to him. I do not hesitate about anything as I hesitate about (taking) the soul of My faithful servant. He hates death and I hate hurting him.” This is an authenticated report from Bukhari.
The question that arises is: What are these very special blessings of hearing and of seeing and of travelling that these people have? Do you get people like that on earth? In a previous talk I had explained to you the miracles of Sayyiduna Umar (r.a.) and Sayyidatuna Mariam (r.a.). They are classic examples of persons who fall into the category mentioned in the hadith. Let me give you another example. Two years ago  I was in a place called Lefke. We all know I go there sometimes. There is an intensely pious man there. His name is Mawlana Shaykh Nazim. He is a Sultanul Awliya’, one of the most pious people on the earth today. One day I was sitting in the dargah. I was thinking about a certain kind of knowledge, knowledge from the Presence of Allah (عِلْمٌ مِنْ لَّدُنْهُ). I was thinking about that subject and wondering if I could ever get that. You must read Surah Kahf (a chapter in the Qur’an). That kind of knowledge is mentioned there. Nabi Musa (a.s.) asked Sayyiduna Khidr (a.s.) for some of it, for knowledge from the Presence of Allah. Of course, it was only my crazy imagination that caused me to think about obtaining that kind of knowledge. My imagination sometimes goes wild. At that moment Mawlana Shaykh Nazim comes into the dargah, and we all pray Zuhr. After the salah, he sits down, turns to me and gives me a full lecture on the subject. And he did this on two more days after that. On three days he lectured to me on something I had only thought about.
You may say that it is pure coincidence but it is a very strange coincidence. How do we explain this? How do we explain what Sayyiduna Umar (r.a.) and Sayyidatuna Mariam (r.a.) did? These people are able to do these things without us being aware of it. And we condemn these matters because we do not understand. The question I ask myself so many times when reading some of these reports about the very pious persons is: What is it that Allah had given these people that enabled them to perform miracles? One day, for example, Sayyiduna Uthman (r.a.) told a man he met, that there were signs of fornication in the man’s eyes. The man replied to Sayyiduna Uthman: “O Sayyiduna Uthman, I walked passed a lady and looked wrongly at her.” Sayyiduna Uthman (r.a.) could see that in his eyes. Sayyiduna Abu Bakr (r.a.), for example, predicted that his wife was pregnant with a baby girl. How did he know? There were no scans at that time.
Now I want to come to the other part of my talk. We here in Cape Town are said to be very fortunate because many of our forefathers who had come here were intensely pious people, and they have come down in our history as Kramats or Awliya’. Now there is a story that I will tell you very quickly. This is about the Cape Peninsula’s Holy Circle. This idea of a Holy Circle was started by K.M. Jeffreys, the editor of the Cape Naturalist, a local magazine, in 1934. He described the distribution of the graves of the Awliya’ as being in a circle, and he called it a Holy Circle. It appears that he had picked up this term from the Muslim community, and it was said that no natural disasters or major social disruptions could occur in the Circle.
This is not true. I had experienced all kinds of natural disasters in the Circle, such as the famous tornado, and a variety of storms. In addition, we know how people are suffering from major social ills inside the Circle. I had checked all of these. I also found many graves of Awliya’ inside and outside the Circle, and it appears that the Circle was artificially imposed on the distribution of the graves. We must be careful of things that are not substantiated. And if the Circle has to do with spiritual safety, how do we measure that?
However, there is something else of major religious importance about the people whose bodies lie in these graves. Most came here from the 1600s to the 1800s. I just want to tell you very quickly what some of them did and why we remember them. For example, Tuans Abdurahman and Mahmoud from Constantia, who came here in 1667, what did they do? They established perhaps the first small Muslim social structure here in South Africa. And they were also the first people with Tuan Matirim of Robben Island who brought tasawwuf to this country. They brought the Qadiriyyah Order here. So the first tasawwuf shaykhs to arrive here were of that Order, and the dhikrs of that Order must have been the first to be recited in this country.
In 1694 Shaykh Yusuf arrived here as a political exile. He came here when he was 68 years and died when he was 73. During these five years, he firmly established Islam in the hearts of the growing Muslim population at the Cape. He, therefore, played a major role in the establishment and survival of Islam.
Tuan Guru, Imam Abdullah, came off Robben Island where he had been incarcerated, in the middle of the 1790s. He made a number of major contributions to the survival of Islam. He established the first masjid, the Awwal Masjid, and the first madrassah in Dorp Street in Cape Town. He wrote two Qur’ans by hand. His contribution was invaluable. For the first time the Muslims had Qur’ans they could consult. He started an alternative system of education for the Muslims in his madrassah and he told the people not to send their children to the Christian schools but to send them to his school. He also wrote Ma’rifatul Islam wal Iman, which covered a number of Islamic disciplines, and which could be used as a reference book.
When Tuan Said came off the island, he found that the women were being raped in the slave lodges. He became a policeman so that he could have entry into the lodges to protect the women.
If you go through the history of these very pious people, you will see that they made invaluable contributions to Islam at the Cape. There is one other contribution that I want to go through very quickly. Because there were no Qur’ans here or any other Islamic literature, nor any religious structures it was difficult for Islam to survive. In addition, the slaves were spread all over the Cape Peninsula and elsewhere. What did these people do? There were two things they did. First of all, they established Jumu’ah although it was illegal. Religious freedom was only granted in 1802 or 1803, somewhere around there. Despite it being illegal, every Friday the Muslims, slaves and Free Blacks would go up Strand Street to the quarry to make Jumu’ah. And so they established the first important religious structure, the first social structure. What did this mean to the slaves? It meant that the slaves had a space in which the slave owner could not come and interfere. I want to tell you this solely because it gave the slave honour and pride. When the slave entered the religious structure, the slave owner was excluded, and so the slave could perform ibadat without any interference from his owner. The establishment of Jumu’ah was important in the survival of Islam here.
Secondly, many of the Muslims were also involved in local Sufi Orders. People used to come together to make dhikr. In these dhikrs they were also in their own private religious space which the slave owners could not penetrate. Thus for certain parts of their lives they had a strange kind of freedom. These structures were established by the very pious people at the Cape. They do not need fables, myths and stories. They did so much to save Islam. With Imam Haroon also, there are so many myths and stories today. I find it quite embarrassing. He doesn’t need that. He had sacrificed his life for his beliefs.
We must be very careful when it comes to our forefathers. Let us speak the truth. Let us say, yes there is some kind of circle but we do not in fact know if it has any spiritual or other significance. And that the people in the graves made contributions so important that Islam survived at the Cape. We are Muslims today, as we say, because Allah decreed that they should come to the Cape. I told you before, and I will tell you many more times, that at the same time our forefathers came here millions of slaves were sent to America. They all lost their Islam. Their descendants sat in churches whereas the descendants of our forefathers are saying: لاَ إِلٰهَ إِلاَّ اللهُ مُحَمَّدٌ رَّسُوْلُ اللهِ (La ilaha illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah).
So sometimes when we go pass their graves, pause and say: “O Allah, I thank Thee for sending these people here. If Thou had not sent them here what would I have been today?” Allah had sent them here to establish Islam in the lowest part of South Africa. Al-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]