Sunday 19 May 2018 (14th night of Ramadaan 1440)
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Respected religious leaders, my great colleagues and friends who blessed and graced us today by joining us in our Iftar at this Masjid, as well as those Muslim leaders who could not stay longer due to needing to continue with programs at their mosques, and those who stayed behind, I would like to greet you once again with the universal greeting of peace, Assalaamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakaatu.
And also, of course and indeed, our broader community who is present here, coming from different backgrounds, and members of our own congregation, and especially our visiting scholar and guest, Hujjatul Islam wal Muslimeen, Shaikh Zaid Alsalami, who will be with us for the remaining 2 weeks of Ramadaan, Insha Allah.
WHY INTRA/INTER FAITH COHESION?
We do this particular intra/inter faith function for more than 20 years now where, Alhamdu Lillah, we started this tradition on a very small scale at one of our centres in Gugulethu.
Over the years, we have experienced growth in our community, and similarly with this function, and various great religious leaders participated and contributed in this function, from the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, to the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum, and beyond. It is always an enriching experience.
As you know, I am originally from Pakistan, coming from a different background, where we have hardly any interaction with any other faith traditions. Even within the house of Islam, we have very limited interaction with other schools of thought in Islam.
However, since migrating to South Africa around 28-29 years ago and settled here and taking care of and started serving this community and started interacting, my concept about the other was completely different.
FATHERS JOHN OLIVER & CHRISTOPHER CLOHESSY: PIONEERS OF INTERFAITH DIALOGUE
When a person uses the word “other”, it always comes with fear because you see it as very strange, very dangerous, and therefore very fearful. Now, I would like to mention here, the name of one particular person and credit goes to him, namely, the late Father John Oliver.
He is the one who really introduced me to the broader faith communities and interaction started. The late Father John Oliver himself started to come to this community on a regular basis, beyond this function every year and became friends with members of our community.
Then of course from the Catholic Church, Father Christopher Clohessy, who is no longer here as he has moved to Rome. Father Christopher Clohessy completed his research and thesis on Islam, and particularly Shia Islam, and particularly Imam Hussain (a.s) and Lady Fatima (s.a). These are 2 very, very important personalities of Islam, especially in the Shia school of thought.
Now, these interactions opened a completely different world for me, and this fear of “other” disappeared. Instead, I found amazing peace, commonality and comfort with leaders as well as followers of other faith traditions and religions.
This is the experience I wanted to share and this program and similarly other programs were in this line, with my own experience and the experience of our community.
SOCIAL JUSTICE IS THE PRIME OBJECTIVE OF INTERFAITH COHESION
Of course, as my very, very respected guest, friend, senior and elder, Judge Siraj Desai, who is always so kind to us, has brought this angle, that this interfaith unity is crucial for social justice as well. It is not just simply to smile with each other and depart afterwards.
ECCOC showed that this interfaith solidarity, religious leadership and civil society’s working together can play such a crucial role in our country. Reverend Lionel Lowe and under the leadership of Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop Breslin and others, we could manage to defuse a very dangerous situation and were able to guide them and help out.
So, this is not simply about being nice to each other. This unity and solidarity can serve our community, our country, and especially the downtrodden and the oppressed. The enemies of the oppressed always use differences to defeat us and occupy our minds, leaving us sidelined.
Therefore, the unity of the Muslim community as a whole is crucial – Sunni/Shia. Similarly, unity amongst followers of different faith traditions is equally crucial for the common good and for our society, and to serve our most vulnerable and most oppressed part of our society who continue to suffer.
So, I look at this interfaith initiative as a catalyst for serving the poor and for seeking social justice in our society.
IMAM ALI (A.S) ON RELATIONS WITH HUMANITY
Indeed, I would like to once again remind about this great personality which Judge Siraj Desai mentioned, namely Imam Ali (a.s). The quotation which he mentioned from Imam Ali (a.s) was from the letter he wrote to his governor of Egypt, Maliki Ashtar.
Egypt had a diverse population of Muslims and non-Muslims. That letter is one of the most beautiful in explaining principles of governance, and I will try to forward a copy of that letter to all of you religious leaders.
In this letter, Imam Ali (a.s) explains to Maliki Ashtar, that people are of 2 types. They are either your brethren in faith or fellows in humanity. There is no third type!
The whole letter is itself very beautiful, and I was just saying to Reverend Courtney Sampson, that this is the slogan of this complex! You will see this saying of Imam Ali (a.s) as the headline logo and slogan right at the entrance to this complex.
HALLMARK OF IMAM HASAN (A.S) WAS GENEROSITY AND PEACE-MAKING
This was the spirit of this great family of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). Imam Ali (a.s) was the son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), and Imam Hasan (a.s), whose birthday we are celebrating, was the first grandson of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
Imam Hasan (a.s) has 2 very striking qualities:
- Generosity – it is reported that he never ate his meals alone. He loved to share and most notably with the poorest of the poor!
- Peace-making – he made a historical peace treaty with one of his worst enemies to save bloodshed and protect the society. He thereby looked upon the greater interest of the whole community instead of his own leadership position and power.
From these 2 very, very important qualities we remember from Imam Hasan (a.s), we share this program in this spirit every year.
APPRECIATION TO OUR SPECIAL GUESTS AND ALL WHO JOINED THIS INTERFAITH IFTAR
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank each and everyone who participated tonight and especially for the experience we’ve had for the past few months with our colleagues in ECCOC and IEC.
Reverend Lionel Lowe really played a very key role. He took charge this year for the first time, as the Archbishop was very occupied, and took this Electoral Observer Commission to a different level. Thank you for the great job! I enjoyed your company and your care.
Reverend Courtney Sampson is a very special person, no doubt! I am really not saying this simply because I am standing in front of him and because he is here.
I always waited for his briefing in every meeting because his analysis of the political situation of our country and especially our province was amazing. Indeed, a really sober, mature, far-reaching visionary personality whom I appreciate for his leadership and visionary guidance and service you provided to our country and society.
I heard he mentioned in the last briefing that this was his last election. Well, I certainly hope not! We wish him all the best.
Similarly, all other colleagues and religious leaders who are here, and some of them who have left, we really once again thank you and appreciate your presence, and look forward to interacting and working together to serve the poor and oppressed in our community locally as well as on the international level, wherever there is a need to raise the voice of support for the oppressed and people who are subjected to different types of exploitation and injustice across the world.
This is the call of God (SWT) and our inner consciousness as followers of any religion or faith tradition.
Shukran and thank you!
Wassalaamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakaatu.