Imam Abdullah Haron was a prominent anti-apartheid activist and religious leader in South Africa.
Before he was killed in detention, he had been incarcerated for 123 days at the notorious Caledon Square police station of the apartheid regime in downtown Cape Town.
Throughout his life, he bravely fought to spread and preserve Islam during the era of unforgiving, racist apartheid.
He was raised by his aunt after his mother died when he was five years old and his father did not have the means to raise him.
Despite lacking formal training beyond elementary school, Abdullah Haron could recite the Quran by heart by the age of 14.
Dedicating his selfless life to the education of the youth and community, Haron organized young people in his area to form the Claremont Muslim Youth Association in Cape Town.
Unlike many other Muslim preachers of his era, Imam Haron was critical of rote learning in Islam and unquestioning devotion to imams.
He perceived Islam as more than a set of rituals, but a holistic way of life, always underlining that Islamic preachers needed to respond to contemporary issues in the country.
Among the progressive innovations Imam Haron introduced to the Al-Jaamia Mosque in Cape Town was the formation of discussion groups and adult education classes that were inclusive toward women.
As the only imam in Cape Town to refuse payment for his services, Haron was outspoken against the apartheid regime’s atrocities and never shied away from confronting the difficulties of this struggle.
His cause was revolutionary in a reticent and apolitical Muslim society, once saying that despite having a “revolutionary” prophet, Muslims are “still asleep”.
In what was the first organized move by Cape Town’s Muslims in opposition against racial oppression and tyranny, in 1961 he established the “Call of Islam” — a political publication protesting the status quo with an Islamic impetus.
In 1966 and 1968, he made pilgrimages to Mecca and used these opportunities to inform influential Muslim organizations and leaders on the dire situation in South Africa.
He established ties with the black African communities near Cape Town’s Langa and Gugulethu towns at a time when Muslim engagement with these communities was unheard of.
Haron opened minds, warmed hearts and left an unwavering legacy of struggle against the oppressor regardless of how powerful or merciless.
He taught the young generation of Muslims to stand up for social justice and speak out with courage against the brutality of apartheid.
Today, thousands of young Muslims carry the torch of Imam Haron’s legacy.
According to Ursula Gunther’s comprehensive study published in the Journal for the Study of Religion, “The Memory of Imam Haron in Consolidating Muslim Resistance in the Apartheid Struggle”, Imam Haron became a “symbol and icon for the Muslim struggle against apartheid in the late 1970s, though his sacrifice had nearly fallen into oblivion.”
As said by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “the tyrant dies and his rule is over, the martyr dies and his rule begins.”
The majority of Muslims in 1950s and 1960s would make the argument that if one was not happy with the government which ruled over them, they should migrate to another country by way of “Hijra” – Islamic pilgrimage to another country.
This could not be further from Imam Haron’s approach who remained and fought to his last breath.
After his death while under police custody in Cape Town, an autopsy revealed that he had been afflicted by internal bleeding, bearing 28 bruises on his body — mostly on his legs — with his stomach empty and a rib broken.
He lived for the cause of Allah and died in the service of His servants.
Just like a candle burns itself out to shed light for others, Imam Haron’s martyrdom continues to enlighten our path.