Born into a small working class suburb of Cape Town in 1935, Shaykh Yusuf da Costa has his origins in families, from both his parents’ sides, who embraced Islam. His father and his mother’s grandfather were reverts. He received his initial schooling at local church schools, matriculated from Trafalgar High School in 1952, and entered the teaching profession after a course in teacher training at Hewat Training College in Cape Town. While at the College, he became involved in anti-government politics.
While teaching at Salt River Muslim School, he completed a Bachelor of Arts degree with Geography and History as majors, and later moved to Livingstone High School where he taught senior History and Geography. At the same time, he commenced the study of Arabic. In 1976 he became principal of a high school, Crestway Senior Secondary, and in the meantime completed a B.A. (Hons), M.A. and D.Litt et Phil degrees, in the field of Geography. In 1987 he joined the Faculty of Education at the University of the Western Cape, teaching Geography Education and other modules in Education. At the time of his retirement in 1996, he was an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Didactics in the Faculty.
Shaykh Yusuf da Costa has published on a variety of subjects including different aspects of Islamic thought, the history and sociology of the Muslim community in Cape Town, and Geography Education. Most of his time was spent teaching Islam to children and adults. He was, until the end of 2000, the rector at the Islamic College of South Africa in Cape Town and was regularly interviewed on the Muslim community radio stations, Radio 786 and Voice of the Cape.
Through Shaykh Hishām Kabbani, Mawlana Shaykh Nāzim appointed Shaykh Yusuf da Costa as his khalīfah in Southern Africa, in 1998. The khilāfat of Shaykh Yusuf da Costa and the visit to South Africa by Mawlana Shaykh Nāzim in 2000, sparked decades of remarkable growth of the Naqshbandi Order and its contribution to the promotion of Islam in Southern Africa.
Shaykh Yusuf da Costa passed away in Cape Town on 3 December 2018. His khilāfat was transferred to his son, Shaykh Shamiel da Costa.
“I have come to see Islam, not as a religion in the ordinary sense of the word, but as a means of approach to the Divine. And so, all my religious activities have become part of this approach, become part of my listening to the Call of Allah Almighty. Understanding Islam as the sacred because of its heavenly origins develops in one a deep sense of respect and regard for its teachings and practices, and a refusal to compromise, even in a small way, what comes from Allah.”
Shaykh Yusuf da Costa
The South African Deputy (Wakil), by Mawlana Shaykh Muhammad ‘Adil ar-Rabbani, December 2018
“We say may Allah bestow upon us a good life. The good span of time, the good life, is the one which is spent with worship to Allah and listening to Him. It becomes a guidance for himself and others, then it becomes a benefit for himself and for others.
Why do we say this? Our South African deputy passed away five days ago. He was about eighty-five years old. He was a teacher during the time of the old government and of the new. He was a respected man. He also respected Shaykh Effendi ق; he welcomed him and showed him around. He gathered students, [and] he became the means for people’s guidance. He was a teacher in a school, [and] later become a headteacher. He was well-respected and gave benefit. He lived so many years, but not in vain: he left an effect. Thanks be to Allah that he met Shaykh Effendi and joined him there.
He was an old man, [and] even though he was a bit ill, he would still try. He would come from there to Shaykh Effendi, then stay with him for about fifteen or twenty days or sometimes a month then return home and would become the cause of others’ guidance. He was a man of iḥsān. If one has iḥsān, then Allah too helps him, hearts come together. The last time we had seen each other was four years ago, [and] even though he was not well, he did not abandon the duty. He would even send his students amongst the black people there and made fifty thousand of them Muslims through his ikhlās. When there is ikhlās, the work is done well. Each person’s reward goes also to him without being lessened.
“One person becoming the means of another’s guidance has more khayr than all the world,” says the Prophet ﷺ. All of this is to say that he lived life in a good state, and he left for the Next World in a good state. May Allah have mercy on him! May the number of men like him be increased. InshāAllah, those he educated are people of ikhlas too, and are humble. They did not even give news of his death. It does not matter; what matters is our testimony. InshāAllah, we all witness that he was a good man.
May his station be high. Shaykh Efendi will welcome him. May Allah have mercy on him! May his station be paradise! Fātiḥa for him and for the souls who have crossed over.”
An oak tree falls, by Journalist Shafiq Morton, December 2018
“One of the co-founders of SANZAF, Shaykh Yusuf da Costa, passed on last week after a long illness. He was aged 83. An educator of renown, a wise leader, a political activist, a da’ee, a respected scholar, an author, a keen historian and a towering human being, he has left a huge gap in our community.
Born in 1935 in Salt River, he matriculated from Trafalgar High School in 1952 and enrolled at Hewatt Teacher’s Training College. He first taught classes at the Salt River Muslim School in Kipling Street, later transferring to Livingstone High in Claremont after completing a Bachelor’s degree in History and Geography.
A member the Non-European Unity Movement, he was cut from the same political cloth as Dullah Omar, South Africa’s first post-apartheid Justice Minister. But when it came to faith, he was uncompromising on its centrality, insisting that Livingstone learners be allowed to attend jumu’ah.
Whilst teaching, Shaykh da Costa studied Arabic and the Islamic sciences and went on to earn a doctorate in the field of Geography. He became the principal of Crestway Senior Secondary in Retreat in 1967. Crestway was the first ‘coloured’ school to offer Xhosa as a subject.
In 1987, he joined the Faculty of Education at the University of the Western Cape, where he became Associate Professor and Head of Didactics until his retirement in 1996. A stalwart of Islamic education, he served as rector of the now defunct Islamic College of South Africa (ICOSA), before moving on the International Peace College (IPSA).
A measure of his integrity is revealed by former colleague, Dr Auwais Rafudeen, who tells the story of salary negotiations in a financially testing time for the college. Aware of this, Shaykh Yusuf – worth infinitely more than what IPSA could offer – said he would accept whatever remuneration it could afford. After payday, he would then donate his salary back to the institution.
His interest in Geography and History imbued him with a unique skill to understand our history, about which he was passionate. Together with Dr Achmat Davids and Prof Suleman Dangor, he penned the iconic Pages from Cape Muslim History in 1994, and conducted ground-breaking research on a host of historical topics.
In 2000, Shaykh Yusuf became a khalifah of the Naqshbandi Muhammadi, building mosques, educating imams and bringing Islam to thousands of people in the townships
Decades earlier, his compassion for the poor – and interest in Zakah as an agent of change – had been piqued by the fact that it was being dubbed the ‘forgotten pillar’ of Islam, despite it being a vehicle for poverty alleviation. During apartheid, he saw the need for the community to have access to welfare, at a time when Muslims were regarded as unworthy second-class citizens.
In 1975, together with Shaykh Faaiq Gamildien, he founded the South African National Zakah Fund (SANZAF). Today, SANZAF has become an iconic institution, offering relief and uplifting – with dignity – hundreds of thousands of people.
Claremont Main Road Mosque imam, Dr Rashied Omar, writes that Shaykh Yusuf’s “sterling work among the poor resonated with his inspirational and radical views” on the third pillar of Islam. In his Preface to an English translation of the renowned Arabic text, Fiqh al-Sunnah on Zakah by Sayyid Sabiq, Shaykh Yusuf penned the following:
“Zakah is essentially a means devised to solve the problem of poverty, and it involves taking from the rich of their property for re-distribution among the poor, and the doing of this until such time as ‘the wealth ceases to circulate between the wealthy’.
Zakah is therefore a means of bringing about socio-economic change and development; and by taking from the rich it ensures a more equitable distribution of the wealth of a country and so helps to bring about the end of the exploitation of man by man.”
Towards the end of his life, Shaykh Yusuf said that it was through the Basmallah that Allah introduced us to His two most important Names, Al-Rahman and Al-Rahim. Both these Names embraced mercy, and in his senior years he found these names were a major anchor for what he did as a Muslim.
Always to the point, always compassionate, always humble and always God-fearing, Shaykh Yusuf da Costa’s passing is like that of an oak tree falling in the forest. We will all miss his presence greatly. May Allah, the Merciful, grant him Jannah, ameen.”