SCHOOL OF AHLUL BAIT IN SOUTH AFRICA
HOW IT STARTED?
Islam was brought to South Africa by political exiles from South East Asia (Sumatra and Java Regions) where they had been waging battles against European colonisation. The Muslim immigrants from India joined them thereafter. This established Muslim community who were predominantly Shafi’e or Hanafi over the years had become a very strong and influential part of the broader South African society.
The Islamic Revolution in Iran planted the initial seed of Shi’aism in this region. There were those Muslims and non-Muslims who identified themselves with the Islamic Revolution, not only within a political context but also with its ideological status. This started off with whatever material they could find on the subject from whatever sources. Shi’a institutes in East Africa, Pakistan, Iran and UK played an important role in reinforcing the belief in AhlulBait (as), but more importantly provided the argument to convince others thereby slowly swelling the ranks of newborn shi’a community across the country.
The early followers of Ahlul Bait in South Africa formulated small groups and Jama’ats in different parts of country and initiated small activities like Dua Kumayl every Thursday night mostly in their homes.
Another milestone in the history of the Shia was an Educational Camp organised by Sh Ahmad Irvani (an Iranian Alim) under the auspices of International Centre for Islamic Studies (Southern Africa) in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1989. A good number of brothers from across the country attended this month long jamboree with eminent teachers like Prof Ezzati (UK) and Prof Sadat (Iran). Majority of those who attended this camp were extremely charged with fervour for the Ahlul bait School and on their return became centres of propagation and circulation of Shiite teachings in their respective areas.
AHLUL BAIT (AS) FOUNDATION OF SOUTH AFRICA – AFOSA
This thirst had grown and there were requests for a Shi’a ‘Alim to come and lay a solid foundation of Shi’aism. This request was met, and a Shi’a Alim (Syed Aftab Haider) came to settle in South Africa for this speical purpose in 1990. Initially, Syed Aftab Haider started a branch of the International Centre for Islamic Studies (Southern Africa) in Cape Town. This gradually in itself served to bring together various scattered Shi’a groupings throughout the country under one umbrella, the Ahlul Bait (AS) Foundation of South Africa (AFOSA).
AFOSA was established in 1991 to serve as an umbrella body and spokesperson for the Shi’a and their rights on various national and international forums. Jama’ats, groups & organisations affiliated received the principle guidance, support and direction from the mother body but at the same time they were independent in management and running of their affairs and activities.
Naturally the community has grown ever-since. Today it represents a vibrant Shia Community similar to other parts of the world. We have Pakistanis, Iranians, Lebanese, and Iraqis etc. who have settled in South Africa and became members of the local community. In addition to that many people who had sought refuge in South Africa for various reasons from Nigeria, Somalia, Congo and many other countries also joined.
In spite of the vast growth and expansion of the community in recent years, AFOSA continues to be the encompassing body of majority of the Shias.
In later years, there has been a steady growth of the School of Ahlul Bait in various parts of the country. Various mosques and centres were established and a variety of major and minor activities took place over the last two decades.
In these tough and testing years the Ahlul bait community faced various challenges from being declared “Kafir” to being classified as destabilising agents for the social structure of the Muslim community.
Numerous anti Shia campaigns in this period rose on national and regional scenes by almost all the Sunni Organizations in the country at different junctions of time with various labels and slogans but Alhamdulillah didn’t succeed in extinguishing this divine light. Finally, the Shia community gradually was recognised as a proactive vibrant reality and an inseparable part of the Rainbow Nation.
What is really important to note is that the Ahlul Bait community in all these difficult times stood to its principals and never indulged itself into sectarian politics. Despite being ostracised by the majority, the Shia played an important and active role in common issues affecting the Muslim Ummah like Bosnia/Herzegovina, Palestine, and Lebanon.
The Head offices of AFOSA are located at Ahlul Bait (as) Islamic Centre in Cape Town. The affiliated Jama’ats and other Shia groups are spread across the country.
For the list and contact details of all the Shia Centres, Please refer to “Centres” link on front page.
MAJOR ACTIVITIES AND FUNCTIONS
1. Network of Muballigheen
They represent the backbone of Tablighi activities across the country. The realisation of most of our activities are chiefly dependent on them. There are presently more than 10 Muballigheen and religious scholars who are active throughout the country in educational and tabligh work. Due to the great need for Muballigheen local individuals are also continuously trained & nurtured through short courses.
2. ISLAMIC CENTRES – ESTABLISHMENT & MAINTENANCE
As the community grows in various towns & cities there arises a need for the establishment of a permanent presence. This takes the form of an Islamic Centre which hosts the various activities of the emerging community. Presently there are 15 Shia Centres nationally that are active and some of them are Alhamdulillah well-established with full scale mosque and other facilities like Imam Husayn Mosque in Durban. Furthermore, other projects continue to take place in Cape Town and Soweto.
3. Tarbiyya Programs
The purpose of these programs is to educate and ideologically develop the followers of the Ahlullbait(as) through following programs:
A. Educational Courses:
Numerous courses are continuously conducted in various subjects like: Aqaid, Fiqh, Tafseer of Qura’an, History, Contemporary Religions, Akhlaaq, Nahjul Balagha etc.
These courses are conducted in the evenings on a weekly basis at Centres by Mubaligeen or other capable brothers and sisters across the country.
B. Educational Training Camps:
Numerous national camps and gatherings as well as regional retreats are organised with the participation of different brothers and sisters across the country.
Each of these camps was a major success in the Islamic Ideological Development as well as fostering brotherhood & unity amongst the followers of the Holy Ahlul Bait. These gatherings also allow the momineen to exchange ideas and contribute to the alleviation of common difficulties.
C. Madrasah For Youth and Kids:
Islamic School is held countrywide for children and youth in many areas. Classes are held either on a daily or weekly basis by Muballigheen and capable brothers and sisters. There are 8 Madresahas that are presently active. AFOSA provides the National Syllabus for these Islamic Schools.
All important dates in the Islamic calendar such as birthdays & martyrdoms of the Ahlul Bait (as), the months of Muharram and Ramadan, etc are revered by the community nationally. All followers converge at respective centres in the various regions for these important events. These occasions are significant tools at our disposal to introduce the culture and teachings of the Ahlul Bait (as) to this nascent community of Orphans of Ale Muhammad (sawa).
E. Public Awareness Programmes:
In addition to the commemorations organized by our Shia communities internally on different occasions, AFOSA felt the need to introduce the rich & flourishing culture of the School of Ahlul Bait (as) to the broader society in a way that is relevant to the present situation. We mainly used the following important occasions over the last decade to educate and enlighten the general public and also to foster relations with the broader Muslim Community.
1. Milad un Nabie(sawa) – Unity Week
2. Martyrdom of Imam Hussain (as)
3. Birthday of Lady Fatima Zahra (as) – Muslim Women’s Day
Over the years various seminars and conferences were being held in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban in commemoration & celebration of the above events. Gatherings were well attended and addressed by a wide spectrum of society, which included Sunni Ulama & prominent political and social persons.
These programmes played a crucial role in the promotion of Islamic unity and at the same time helped public awareness about the Ahlul Bait (as) and their message immensely.
For the past decade we have sought to introduce the name of Imam Husain (as) through this programme in society. Previously, the days of Muharram were an occasion for celebration according to the Ummayad traditions. As a direct result of this programme and similar efforts, the face of this society has changed dramatically.
Similarly for the past years, we have celebrated the birthday of Lady Fatima Zahra (as) nationally. This programme’s phenomenal success has been nothing short of a miracle in introducing the personality of this lady as a role model for Muslim women.
4. Representation & Defence of The Legal Rights Of Shi’a
AFOSA proactively represents the South African Shia on different levels of Society. Internationally we are affiliated with World Ahlulbait Assembly while we enjoy positive and strong working relations with other organisations like The World Federation/Africa Federation of KSIMC, WABIL (World Ahlul bait League), Imamia Medics International etc.
On the National scale, we are permanent members of National Interfaith Leaders Council (NILC) as well as on the Council of Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum (WCRLF).
AFOSA also continues to fight for the legal rights of the South African Shi’a Community which has been undermined by the Sunni majority on various occasions. This task has been pursued on various levels like the Muslim Personal Law Commission in National Parliament and South African Hajj & Umrah Council etc.
5. Interfaith & Interfaith Efforts
1. Islamic Unity
AFOSA strongly believes in the principal of Islamic Unity as a prime obligation of every Muslim. The South African Shia Community has always been in the forefront of any efforts which promoted this noble mission. Our continuous strive for better relations with the main stream Sunni Muslim Organisations such as MJC, ICSA, IUC etc. and regular participation in Islamic Unity initiative programmes like Hajj Seminars and Unity Conferences are few of our many activities in this regard.
2. Interfaith Harmony
At the same time AFOSA is also a robust supporter of interfaith dialogue which promotes cooperative and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions for the common good of our society. We have played an instrumental role in the establishment of “Committee for Theological Dialogue” with various faith leaders and academics. This Organisation was responsible for organising the international conference on “Religion & Xenophobia” in Cape Town in 2007.
We are also members of the Council of Cape Town Interfaith Initiative.
6. Information and Guidance
AFOSA receives and distributes relevant local and international information to all branches, endeavouring to keep the South African Shi’a community in contact and abreast with the Shi’a worldwide.
The head office has become a central point for the dissemination of important information regarding Fiqhi issues (Istifta’at from the Grand Maraji’) like moon-sighting, khums & other personal-law related matters.
7. Publications/ Distribution of Literature
One of our main tablighi activities is through the medium of local publications. Numerous translations of articles, newsletters & books have been published.
A. AL HUJJAT –QUARTERLY BULLETIN
Al Hujjat is the official mouthpiece of the Ahlul Bait (as) Foundation. It deals with a host of contemporary & topical issues relevant to the followers of Ahlul Bait (as) as well as the broader Muslim community. The primary objective is to present the pure & pristine image of the School & defend it against baseless accusations.
In addition to Al Hujjat some of the centres publish their own newsletters for regional distribution.
B) QUR’AN IN ISLAM BY ALLAMAH TABA’TABAI
C) KARBALA – THE REVOLUTION CONTINUES
D) IMAM HUSSAIN (AS) – A COLLECTION OF ARTICLES
E) Dua Kumail
It was printed in Arabic, English, Zulu and Arabic transliteration. The Zulu translation was done by local brothers.
F) Contradictions in Quran – A Cogent Response and Refutation.
The book is a response to a few misconceptions and misinterpretations about the Quran.
G) Slavery: Islamic and Western Perspectives by Marhum Allamah Sayyid Sa’eed Akhtar Rizvi.
This book was re-published on the occasion of the UN World Conference on Racism & Xenophobia in Durban 2001.
H) Streams of Hope
(A Compilation of Short Chapters from the Holy Qur’an & Supplications from the Ahlul Bait (A.S) With English and Zulu Translation)
Beside publications, one of the main functions of the AFOSA is to organise books and literature from different centres in the world and distribute them among the local people for the purpose of propagation.
8. RADIO & TV/ MUSLIM COMMUNITY RADIO STATIONS
AFOSA has also exploited this medium for the purpose of tabligh. In this regard numerous programs have been presented on the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) as well community radio stations.
We also have two Islamic Radio Stations operating in Cape Town region with the huge listenership of over 300 000 and the teachings of Ahlul Bait (as) has featured prominently on several occasions. We recognise this as an important medium for propagation.
9. HAJJ AND ZIYARAAT PROJECT
In addition to educating the community about Haj & Ziyarat, numerous caravans comprising of local Shi’a have successfully fulfilled these obligations under the auspices of AFOSA.
10. Ramadan Relief Project
AFOSA also organises this important project annually with the help of various donors and sponsors. In the spirit of Ramadan more than 15 centres, numerous needy families, Muballigheen and Prison inmates amongst other groups greatly benefit from this Project.
11. Social Welfare
AFOSA also embarks regularly on various social welfare projects in communities. Sometimes these projects are managed with the cooperation of the governmental sector and on other occasions with cooperation of NGOs etc.