One must always try, when one has the opportunity, to recite the Shahadah, to reaffirm one’s acceptance of the Testimony of Faith. One says: “O my Lord! I declare to Thee that there is no god other than Thee. And I declare to Thee that Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) is Thy Servant and Messenger.” It’s good to do that. It’s good at regular intervals to pray
أَشْهَدُ أَلاَّ إِلٰهَ إِلاَّ اللهُ وَ أَشْهَدُ أَنَّ مُحِمَّدًا عَبْدُهُ وَ رَسُولُهُ
(Ash-hadu alla ilaha illallah wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan abduhu wa rasuluh).
In any event, during this week  I was looking at the newspapers when I saw not only in one but in two newspapers a photograph of a mother, whose daughter is standing trial for murder, being hounded and screamed at by a number of other women. What did this woman do? She is the mother of the accused. Like all mothers and all fathers, when our children get up to stunts, do wrong things, we sometimes have to stand by them although we oppose what they had done. We are parents. We are fathers and mothers. Our hearts are soft towards our children. But it was not that that worried me. It was the behaviour of the women. And from the photograph it appeared that many of the women who were doing this were Muslim women because they were dressed like Muslim women. Non-Muslim women do not wear scarves like that. And I ask myself: “What is the nature of the Islam of these people that they must howl at an innocent mother like that? What is the nature of their Islam? What is operating in their hearts?”
What is going on with us? The other day after Jumu-ah, I was having my lunch, and of course my lunch was spoilt, when I heard on the radio some shaykh making du’a for the Cuban leader who was sick. It reminded me of one of our local imams making du’a at the burial of a member of the politburo of the South African Communist Party. They made du’a for persons who reject Allah Almighty, who stand by a way of thinking totally against all religion. Allah says about these people:
إِنَّ اللهَ لَعَنَ الْكَافِرِيْنَ وَ أَعَدَّ لَهُمْ سَعِيْرًا
Verily Allah has cursed the unbelievers and prepared for them a blazing Fire (xxxiii: 64).
We say, “No! They must not be cursed. You must ask Allah to make them better so they can continue their corruption.” The whole of the Qur’an is a major statement against unbelief and unbelievers, but who cares?
Now with the latest Big March (2006), the same member of the politburo of the South African Communist Party who spoke at the meeting at Vygieskraal, was again allowed to speak at the march. And, of course, all the Muslims cheered just as they had cheered at Vygieskraal. What is our problem? Can we be for Allah and at the same time embrace and be for His enemies? What kind of religion are we practising? Is there no loyalty in our hearts? Are we not saying: “O my Lord! I am only for Thee and for Thy Cause.” No, we are not saying this. It is more important to be “politically correct” than to be religiously correct, and so if the moment arises we get into bed with anyone. And so those who claim to be inheritors of the Prophets are in the same bed with those who are the inheritors of the founders of Communism. My word, what next?
There is a verse in the Qur’an, whenever I think about it, it shocks me because of our negligence of this verse. Allah Almighty says:
وَ قَالُواْ سَمِعْنَا وَ أَطَعْنَا غُفْرَانَكَ رَبَّنَا وَ إِلَيْكَ الْمَصِيْرُ
And they say: “We hear and we obey. We seek Thy forgiveness, Our Lord, and to Thee is the end of all journeys” (ii: 285).
Allah is talking to us. He is addressing us. The words of the Qur’an are an address to all of us. Allah tells us to commit ourselves to listening to Him and obeying Him as the Messengers (a.s.) had done.
We must listen and we must obey. What are we listening to? We are listening to the Sacred Words spoken to us by Allah Almighty. So we say: “O My Lord, Thou art talking to me! I am listening.” Allah’s Words come in the Qur’an. The Quran is a major talk to all of us. A major speech! When we read the Qur’an, Allah is speaking. To whom? To us, of course. Our response to His Holy Words must be: “O my Lord. I am listening to Thee. I have absorbed Thy Words, and I commit myself to obeying them.” And then in response to all of this we seek forgiveness from Allah, knowing full well that every matter is returning to Him, and this includes all our matters. At present, of course, large sections of our community are in major states of “forgetting” Allah and of being in disobedience to him.
I wonder a lot about this because I am seeing signs that are worrying. When the early Muslims came here, there were two dominant streams operating from those days already. There was the more conservative people intent on looking after their Islam, and there were the others who neglected many of the Islamic practices mainly as a result of the devastation caused by slavery and social isolation. Standing out in the first group were the Awliya’, the “kramats” who lie buried in the Cape Peninsula. We very seldom want to talk about the activities of many of the early Muslims because we always give the impression that all our forefathers were intensely pious people. This is not true. From the time the early Muslims set their feet on the shores of this place, they fought with one another. I’m not talking about the Awliya’. I am talking about the others. So many major fights! There were so many court cases, especially involving the affairs of mosques. The fact that there are so many mosques on top of each other in the Bo-Kaap tells the story of the quarrels and the building of mosques as a consequence of such quarrels. We must not give the impression that our forefathers were spending all their time in prayer. It’s not true.
The fighting in this community hasn’t stopped. The quarrelling has not stopped. The arguments have not stopped. Today, for example, in the Cape the religious leaders are divided into five different organizations. This is other than those who are not in any of these organizations. Why must this be so? They say they are looking after our affairs but they are divided. Why even at this level when we should have people whose hearts are together, are they so divided? Why is it happening? In a hadith of Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ), and this is so important, speaking about the pious people, referred to them as those
المُتَحَابُوْنَ فِي اللهِ
(Almutahabuna fillah: they love each other in Allah). Look at that statement! And now measure. He (ﷺ) also said that if one looks at them, they remind one of Allah and they are always busy with the work of the Hereafter. Their hearts are locked together, loving each other, as they participate in the Cause of Allah, working for Allah. Measure! And I ask, “What is going on?” Are we destroying our religion that we quarrel like this, even at that level? A small community like ours cannot even enjoy a single Eid together.
And then there are the many factors operating in the community that are destroying its fabric and social cement. And what are the consequences of all of these? All of us know of large numbers of students at high schools who are not fasting. This is common knowledge today. Children whom we are giving an education to, who are going to become the leaders of our community with regards to many matters, are not fasting. Large numbers of them have dropped this pillar of Islam. And I am positive that they are also not praying. We know about that. And you know what? Nothing is being done about it, nothing, nothing, nothing! Nothing is being done about the fact that large numbers of high school children, our children, our boys, our girls, not other people’s children but our children, our grandchildren, are not fasting and most probably not praying. This is such a serious matter that is happening while we are playing religious and political games.
There are also other things that are causing massive social and religious destruction, such as drugs, crime, and poverty, and, of course, the large-scale invasion of Euro-American culture into the lives of our children especially at the educational institutions. The question that I am asking is: Is the way we are practising our Islam not a barrier to protect the hearts of our children and our families? Is it not a barrier anymore? Surely there is no other conclusion we can come to. You cannot say that I am not talking the truth. If Islam was a barrier we would not have found this community in this state. Is there something wrong with our practice?
Let me come back to what I spoke about at the beginning. With the early Muslims, Allah sent a number of intensely pious people. Their coming to South Africa was not an accident. There are no accidents in the events of the world because Allah Almighty’s decrees operate over His whole creation. So the fact that these pious people came here was part of the Divine Decree. There were no Qur’ans here, no books, no mosques, no madrassas, just bush. He sent them here because they had to plant the first seeds of Islam at the Cape. And the first seeds were planted in Constantia. These early pious pioneers brought the people together, and they made dhikr. They must have said: “Come let us celebrate the praises of our Lord although we are slaves, although we are in chains. When we’re busy with our Lord, we are not slaves and we are not in chains. We’re with Him.” This was the great thing about them.
These people brought the slaves together and said: “Let’s make dhikr. Let’s remember our Lord.” And Allah made the celebration of His Praises strengthen their hearts with Islam despite their social degradation and isolation. On a Friday they would go up Strand Street to the quarry to pray Jumu’ah. It was against the law of the country. It was illegal. Islam only became legal in 1802-1803, somewhere around there. The Muslims: slaves, free blacks, exiles, criminals would walk up Strand Street and they would make Jumu’ah, and they created for themselves a private religious space in which the colonists could not come. They were busy with their Lord. They created a private religious space just like in this mosque now. This is a religious space that we are all occupying. From the back, right around, is our religious space! The slaves would sit and call: “Allah, Allah” or
لاَ إِلٰهَ إِلاَّ اللهُ
(La ilaha illallah: there is no god other than Allah)) or
(Subhanallah: Glory to Allah). They connected with their Lord.
Those practices, in fact the lifeblood of the religion, that kept Islam alive in the hearts of the slaves have continued and continued and continued right down up to today but to a lesser and lesser degree. Of course, you see, we have now become modern. We want to be westernized. We don’t do these things anymore. These things are innovations. Why must we sit together and make dhikr? And so our connection with Allah has decreased and decreased. Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) said in a hadith that when we go past the gardens of Paradise, we should participate in them. He was asked what the gardens of Paradise are, and he replied that they are the groups making dhikr. Every evening I sit in the Goodwood Mosque, and when we start the dhikr, many people walk out. What did Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) say? He said: “Don’t walk out. Don’t go away. Stay there! Make dhikr with them.” What do we say? “No, no, no! It doesn’t matter what he says. We are walking out.”
What’s happening to us? And I’m starting to worry. What is happening to the stream that kept the celebration of the praises of Allah going? Is this stream dying or is it still operating very, very quietly in our community? If it is dying then this community is in grave danger. And does part of the reason for what is happening in our community not lie in the fact that this stream is drying up? I am not going to give any answers but I want to end off with what an imam told me the other day. He said: “Islam is eventually only going to survive in those structures in which the celebration of the praises of Allah takes place.” Perhaps prophetic words! May Allah help us with 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]