While the focus of the new inquest into the death in detention of Imam Abdullah Haron was on the role of the apartheid state and its security police, CASSIEM KHAN asks about the culpability of those within the Muslim community.
FOR 123 days Imam Abdullah Haron was incarcerated, interrogated and tortured.
Testimony in the new inquest into the death in detention of Imam Haron points to the fact that the conduct of the security police was deliberate, and they were directly responsible for the dastardly act of the death in detention of the Imam. They were culpable.
But whose standard of conduct was also below that which would be reasonable in all the circumstances? What was the culpability of the broader Muslim community, his congregation, fellow religious leaders and Muslim organisations? Can this unreasonable behaviour be corrected, and can we learn from it?
Muslims in democratic South Africa do not miss an opportunity to state how they contributed to the demise of apartheid, and they did this with the blood of their martyrs, foremost amongst them was Imam Haron. How is it, then, that we are questioning the culpability of the Muslim community?
The security police did not act alone. Muslim informants supported them. These individuals were from the community Imam served. They attended his religious classes and sermons and even reported on his pilgrimage. His actions and movements were recorded and passed on to the security police. The security police confirmed that they had actively conducted surveillance of the Imam’s activities since 1961.
Anyone engaged in a struggle against a state knows that they must expect the state to monitor their activities. Imam knew this well, and he mentioned how cars would be parked on the road where he stayed or that he was followed. But it was this enemy within that was more effective. In a racialised South Africa it was easier to spot a white man in a car than a congregant who looked and prayed like you to be involved in surveilling you.
Who are these informants? Where are they? Is anyone still alive who will come forward and confess his support of and collaboration with the security police?
In the inquest into the death in detention of Dr Hoosen Haffejee, a jilted lover testified to the court that she made contact with the security police and informed them of the activities of Dr Haffejee. Her motivation was clear. She felt rejected by the martyred doctor.
But what was the motivation of the informants against Imam Haron? If an informant is alive and willing to come forward, they should speak to the family lawyer.
In practice, there is a big difference between an adversary and an enemy. But it requires a political consciousness and conscience to make that distinction.
Adversaries of Imam Haron and the Claremont Muslim Youth Association may have thought that the white man and his apartheid were good; that religion should be devoid of politics.
Some adversaries relied on a warped theological argument suggesting that Imam Haron should have migrated if he opposed the apartheid regime. Some were blatantly racist and disliked Imam’s association with black African compatriots.
The Imam was killed, and the arguments of the adversaries remain. But does this mean the adversaries actively collaborated with security police?
From his letters smuggled out of jail, he confirms that even his closest associates brought in for questioning could not add anything of value to the security police.
What could the adversaries or the apathetic masses add to make them culpable?
The adversaries (perhaps inadvertently) turned Imam Haron into their enemy when they lacked compassion for his family during his detention, especially after his killing. They behaved in a manner that confirmed their enmity by their utterances, such as disparagingly speaking of him in death and questioning his religious education and competence. Backhand insults confirm his great character but question his political involvement.
These irresponsible, scandalous and defamatory comments have resulted in adversaries being lumped with paid informants as being culpable for the death in detention of Imam Haron. Adversaries certainly provided cover (inadvertently) for ‘spies and agents’ within the community through their comments. This cover extended into the 1970s and, particularly, the 1980s.
Because culpability was not discussed openly, the genuine and compassionate efforts of some were ignored under a blanket of suspicion of involvement in the arrest and killing of the Imam. Everyone was guilty by association. Attempts to correct below-standard conduct are ignored.
All Muslim organisations, and particularly the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), should take this opportunity of the inquest to publicly state that the organisation’s conduct was below standard during the 123 days. The MJC should open up its records for May 28 to September 27, 1969 and share what they had done and said during that fateful 123 days when one of their members was tortured and beaten daily.
The security police at the time also questioned Shaikh Nazeem Mohamed, a former president of the MJC. He was threatened with arrest when he went to Caledon Square Police Station to demand the release of Imam Haron.
He always visited and enquired about the family of Imam Haron. Yet, his efforts are not recognised for his support of Imam Haron because his organisation did not do enough.
The current president, Shaikh Erefaan Abrahams, acknowledged this to the family of Imam Haron, and his presence at this inquest is noted. But the few with him and the efforts of Shaikh Nazeem will not be remembered if the organisation does not take a position.
The editorial board of Muslim News, at that time, preferred remaining silent during Imam Haron’s incarceration and chose to distance themselves from the Imam following his death in detention.
James Matthews and Abdul Quayum Sayed defied the Board and not only published in favour of the Imam after his death; they changed the newspaper’s approach from news of the Muslim community to directly challenging the apartheid state. For this they were harassed and detained and faced the wrath of the security police.
The corrective action of Matthews and Sayed must be acknowledged, recognised and emulated to address the culpability of sectors within the Muslim community in the death of Imam Haron.
- Cassiem Khan is the former director of the Imam Haron Foundation. He writes in his personal capacity. He also covered the inquest for Muslim Views from November 7 to 16, 2022. Visit https://muslimviews.co.za/category/imam-haron/ for Cassiem Khan’s daily report and commentary.
This article was first published in the November 18, 2022 print edition of Muslim Views.