Dr Sulaiman Nordien, a person known for his brilliant mind and expertise in various fields of knowledge, passed away today (Saturday September 5) after a long battle with cancer. MUHAMMED HARON, a professor at University of Botswana, compiled this tribute from messages posted on Nasiha Forum:
Many have fond memories of Sulaiman Nordien who made his mark as a gifted individual; someone who was remarkably skilled.
At school, Sulaiman – who hails from the ‘Bosbennikies family of Dry Docks’ according Shaikh Ridwan Rylands – was an advanced learner who had a ferocious appetite for learning.
When he attended Trafalgar High School, which was the first high school in South Africa for learners of ‘colour’, he was a student of, among others, Mr Goosain Emeran, the former principal of Trafalgar. Mr Emeran remembers him as ‘one of the most gifted academic students that Trafalgar ever produced’.
He added that ‘he was an all-rounder’ who was able to ‘quote from the voluminous works of Shakespeare at will’.
Mr Rashaard Jedaar, the former principal of Muhammadeyah Primary in Wynberg, commented: ‘We were colleagues in our Arabic class at University of South Africa (UNISA)’.
During this period of their studies, Mr Jedaar observed, that ‘he (Sulaiman) had a vibrant sense of humour’. On one of Sulaiman’s visits to Mr Jedaar’s humble home, Sulaiman recited ‘sacred verses’ so melodiously and Mr Jedaar immediately enquired the reference of those verses from the Quran.
‘He replied, with a mischievous smile, “Book of Genesis – the Old Testament!” This underscored that Sulaiman was at home with the Arabic version of the Bible as he was with the Qur’an.’
Ms Ruwaida Hendicks, who was at Livingstone High School and a Hewat Teacher’s Training College graduate, remarked that Sulaiman had ‘an amazing gift’, and Farid Sayed, the Muslim Views editor who joined Muslim News in 1975, echoed her thoughts saying that he had ‘a brilliant mind’ and he was ‘a (noted) polymath’ (someone who possessed knowledge of so many things such as the use of the English language to the intricacies of carpet weaving).
Farid reinforced these views when he said: ‘His book reviews that he did for Muslim News were brilliant’, and he (Farid) always ‘looked up to him (Sulaiman) as a mentor’.
While at the University of Cape Town (UCT), where he did his medical studies, Sulaiman excelled in all his courses and in the end graduated as a gold medallist.
Besides being a qualified medical doctor, he also dabbled in other areas of interest.
He was an avid Arabist and dedicated calligrapher. As an Arabist, he delved into tafsir studies and he was taken in by the famous Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon. Apparently Sulaiman spent years on revising this voluminous work and one would love to see what Sulaiman managed to accomplish with this project.
Having acquired the knowledge of the Arabic language and Islamic sciences, he too studied and served Dr Shaykh Abdul Kariem Toffar’s Cape Town-based Institute of Shari’ah Studies, which was established in 1972.
Several individuals, who got involved in Arabic calligraphy recollect Sulaiman’s inputs to the field.
Shaikh Ridwan Rylands mentioned that Sulaiman was a former student of the late Shaikh Abbas Jassiem who was respected for his calligraphic talents. Shaikh Jassiem was trained in calligraphy while at Al-Azhar in Cairo.
Faheem Rhoda Jackson, who is a founder member of Arabic Calligraphers South Africa (www.acsa.org.za), shared the following on his online FRJ Islamic Art site (https://googleweblight.com/i?u=https://frjislamicart.weebly.com/about.html&hl=en-BW):
“My father … suggested I sit with a friend of his, Dr Sulaiman Nordien, whose passion and love for the art of calligraphy and poetry was infectious. Dr Sulaiman was a surgeon and his handling and pen manipulation techniques were impressive due to many years of practice, initially being self-taught, and eventually taught by master calligraphers from Egypt, Turkey and Iran”.
Faheem adds: ‘At the time (somewhere in 2009), he worked close by and offered to teach at my home. We agreed on a time each week but due to his work commitments, we could not continue for very long.’
He pointed out that Sulaiman introduced him to Qasida Al-Khamriyya that was written by Ibn Al-Farid. That work, Faheem continues, became part of his daily practice.
Apart from having influenced Faheem, Ruwaida Hendricks summed up when she said: ‘He made an indelible impact on many of us.’
During the time Sulaiman was at UCT, Ganief Hedricks, the present Al-Jama’at Party political leader, was at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Together with others – amongst them Yousuf Dadoo, Suleman Dangor and Zeinoul Abedin Cajee, who were then at the University of Durban-Westville – they worked towards the formation of the Muslim Students Association of South Africa (MSA) during the mid-1970s. By then Sulaiman and Ganief, along with Wasfie Jassiem* and Toyer Philander*, had been leading members of the Cape Muslim Students Association (CMSA), a student organization that was established at the Cape in 1969. Being the appointed MSA leaders in 1974, they organized national conferences in various cities. And as Ruwaida Hendricks points out, Sulaiman played a pivotal role in the formation of the MSA and in setting up branches at schools in the Cape and elsewhere.
Perhaps it is necessary to add Dr Jalaluddin Dhansay’s voice too. He described Sulaiman, who had by then qualified with an MBChB at UCT, as ‘a brilliant student’.
He pointed out that he came to know Sulaiman when he travelled abroad with Mogamat Rushdie Hendricks*** to attend an international MSA Congress in the USA.
Dr Dhansay asserted that Sulaiman was one of three founding members of the Cape Town branch of the Islamic Medical Association (IMA). The other two were Dr Hoosain M Kotwal, who established the Muslim Assembly in 1967, and Dr. Dhansay.
Sulaiman also assisted Dr Dhansay in his medical practice during 1980. He praised Sulaiman for having been a ‘passionate and a dedicated (general) practitioner’.
Zeinoul Cajee, Awqaf South Africa National Chairperson, also expressed that he had fond memories of all those who were organising the national MSA conference that was held at the Nana Memorial Centre in Johannesburg in 1975. At that gathering, Sulaiman was editorially involved in the mouthpiece of the MSA, Inqilaab. This was indeed the MSA’s flagship publication for several years.
Achmat Chotia, a former Glendale High School principal, said that he had attended the MSA conference that was held in Port Elizabeth during 1976 and he had observed that Sulaiman, who was his general practitioner during the 1980s, was indeed ‘the most gifted and humble person’.
From the descriptions and accolades above, one should underline that Sulaiman ‘was wise, humorous, discreet; always passionate about the Deen… a doctor, surgeon, (and) a friend”.
And in ending this obituary regarding a knowledgeable and noble soul, Farid Sayed appropriately implored to our Almighty: ‘May his scholarly legacy continue to inspire and be a source of reward for our brother Sulaiman’.
This article has been updated to reflect the following changes:
* Wasfie Jassiem and Toyer Philander were among the founder members of the Cape Muslim Students Association.
** It was Mogamat Rushdie Hendricks, and not Ganief Hendricks, who travelled with Dr Nordien and Dr Dhansay to attend an international MSA Congress in the USA.