BOORHAANOL Islam Movement pays tribute to one of Bo-Kaap’s icons who went on to serve the Cape community, and who also made an immense contribution nationally and internationally.
PROFESSOR Ebrahim Arnold led a life of balance, an imperative our Creator strongly urges humankind to follow.
EA, as he was affectionately known, was equally at ease on the mimbar as donning the gowns of academia; likewise, participating in protests through the streets of Bo-Kaap as he was behind the microphone at the Voice of the Cape, imparting naseehah to listeners.
Whether residing in his beloved Bo-Kaap or striding the corridors of power at colleges in Jeddah, EA stayed true to his philosophy of humility in knowledge and activism in society.
The Boorhaanol Islam Movement had close links on many fronts with EA, and in 2016 asked him to pen his thoughts on the life and times of Ebrahim Arnold in the annual Kayfee magazine. Below are some excerpts from that thought-provoking piece.
For the Cape Muslim community and our country, a deep well of knowledge, expertise and experience has dried up, and the challenge ahead for us is to take up those batons of beneficial knowledge and social activism into the future.
Professor Arnold passed away on Saturday, February 20, 2021, aged 71. We pray that Almighty Allah, the Merciful, grant him Jannatul Firdous, Insha Allah.
There are no coincidences in life. Either we bring incidences onto ourselves through our own actions or Allah SWT grants us a ni’mah (bounty/ favour/ grace) or an affliction aimed at facilitating our personal growth and piety – the main quality needed for success.
We do not achieve success and honour in life because we consider ourselves ‘wonderful’ or ‘great’ but success and honour is the domain of Allah SWT alone because He is Great, Magnanimous, Merciful, All-Knowing and Exalted.
Education tainted by apartheid
I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to learn more about Islam. How this unfolded on the roller coaster of life was beyond my wildest imagination.
I registered at UWC for a B.Comm degree with the aim of doing a postgraduate teacher’s diploma.
However, the academic environment was tainted by apartheid. I left before graduating and furthered my studies through UNISA.
Not knowing much about the accounting profession, I landed up serving what was then called the ‘Articles of Clerkship’ with a small firm of chartered accountants. This would eventually lead me to become a chartered accountant (SA) in 1981.
As a qualified professional, I worked for other CAs in external auditing and accounting and also practised as a sole practitioner, which included doing forensic auditing (investigating corruption).
More importantly, I held various positions in commerce and industry that engendered a substantive insight into the business world on a multi-national and national scale. These included senior accounting posts at UCT, Mobil Oil, Johnson & Johnson, JCI, Lewis Stores and LA Clothing.
All these experiences were to play a major role in my advancement in the academic world later.
Shaikh Saliegh Abadie
I was thinking about becoming a sole practitioner in mid-1983 when I was called upon by the esteemed Shaikh Saliegh Abadie to learn the essentials of imamah under his supervision.
I spent the next two-and-a-half years learning to recite the Quran with tajweed, learning various kitaabs of Shaikh Ismail Haneef on Tauhid, Ahadith, Fiqh and Tajweed rules.
Just being in the presence of Shaikh Saliegh Abadie motivates one to recite the Quran. He lived the Quran. He was uncompromising when it came to the recitation of the Quran with tarteel in his presence because it is a command of Allah SWT.
I love the Bo-Kaap during Ramadaan, when the noor (light) of Islam shines brightly. My community involvement and experiences proved invaluable in navigating the treacherous seas of social interaction. I was the first external auditor of the Muslim Judicial Council and Muslim Judicial Council Halaal Trust in the early 1980s. I served as a professional member of the First Islamic Tribunal appointed by the Supreme Court in 1984 to resolve the South African National Zakah Fund case, alongside Attorney (later Judge) Essa Moosa and several esteemed ulama. I led the anti-drug march in Bo-Kaap during Ramadaan, when the scourge was still rife. I was involved at the early stages of the registration of the Voice of the Cape (VOC) Radio Station. I later served as a member of their management board, while also presenting some radio programmes. I also initiated the Ahlan wa Sahlan Yaa Ramadaan Programme, a poverty relief community outreach programme of VOC, 16 years ago.
I started as a lecturer in 1999, at Peninsula Technikon (now CPUT) and I later joined UWC as a senior lecturer in 2001. I became the departmental chairperson of the accounting department at UWC in 2002 until 2008.
I also completed a Master’s degree in Higher Education studies, specialising in policy-analysis, leadership and management in Higher Accounting. I was appointed an associate professor while serving as the departmental chairperson of the accounting department.
Excursion to Turkey
During my stay at UWC, Prof Yasien Mohamed of the Department of Foreign Languages (Arabic) approached me to join a group of academics on an excursion to Turkey at the invitation of the Fathullah Gulen group.
This experience allowed me to reflect on the connection between Bo-Kaap (Cape Town) and Turkey through Shaikh Abu Bakr Effendi, an alim, who was sent by the Ottoman government in 1863 to teach and preach Islam and assist in settling some religious matters.
Vice dean of college in Saudi Arabia
Without actively pursuing an opportunity in Saudi Arabia, I was at UWC when Mu’aath Gabier walked into my office and said, ‘Uncle Ebrahim, would you consider working in Jeddah?’
After a short time, I was made an offer to join the Prince Sultan College for Tourism and Business, in Jeddah, which is a college of Al-Faisal University.
Within two weeks, I was appointed the head of the Department of Management and six months later, I became the vice dean (academic) of the college.
Inside the Kaabah
My stay in Jeddah was crowned with a Hajj in 2010 and numerous umrahs and visits to Masjidun-Nabawiy, in Madinah.
But the event that was really surreal was the opportunity to enter the Kaabah.
This was facilitated by the governor of Makkah (who was the chairperson of the Al-Faisal University) on the application by the dean of the college. I got the confirmation of the invitation on my birthday. I was overwhelmed! I was to discover later that this honour comes with much introspection as one confronts the jihad-ul-akbar (jihad of the self).
The challenges of the college were immense: students copying during exams, weak standards and poor quality of academic effort. Fortunately, I had the full support of the dean and it became possible for me to re-organise the academic affairs and institute strict discipline at the college.
I am still amused by my picture appearing on Facebook that had the caption ‘Please save the college from this man’. Alhamdulillah, by the time I decided to return to Cape Town after four years in Jeddah, the dean, the academics and the students tried their utmost to get me to stay. However, it was time to go. I was happy to have made some positive contribution with the Qudrah of Allah SWT.
Rekindle the spirit of Islam
The early Muslims were the epitome of liberation through community welfare, assistance and general goodness.
I believe that we must rediscover that history and share it amongst ourselves, our children and then strive in an effective Islam that guarantees the allegiance to Islam for many centuries to come.
Our role as Muslims in the new South Africa ought to be focused on redressing the inequalities of the past through public-private partnerships that operate beyond sloganism, political point-scoring, parochialism and self-righteousness.
Muslim professionals, academics, social scientists and every activist who longed for the liberation of South Africa should combine their efforts to chart a road towards a just and equitable society. I am confident that we are able to do it, Insha Allah.
For the full article by Prof Ebrahim Arnold go to boorhaanol.org.za or click on the following link : https://boorhaanol.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/KAYFEE-2-Prof-Ebrahim-Arnold-2016b.pdf
- This article first appeared in the March 2021 print edition of Muslim Views.