2 Dhul Qa’dah 1438 AH • 26 July 2017

Honouring our Local Heroes

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In his jumu’ah khutbah today, Imam Rashied Omar pays tribute to local rugby legend, Salie Fredericks, who recently passed away. He encourages communities to continually strive for ways to celebrate the rich history and achievements of local heroes so as to ensure that their great legacies are passed to future generations. 

كُلُّ نَفْسٍ ذَائِقَةُ الْمَوْتِ
وَإِنَّمَا تُوَفَّوْنَ أُجُورَكُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ
فَمَنْ زُحْزِحَ عَنِ النَّارِ وَأُدْخِلَ الْجَنَّةَ فَقَدْ فَازَ
وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ
Every soul will taste death, and you will only be only be given your [full]recognition and rewards (of your life’s striving) on the Day of Resurrection. So s/he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has attained a great success. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion.
(Qur’an, Surah `Ali `Imran 3:185)

On Friday 7th July 2017, I was fortunate to join hundreds of fellow Muslims as well as a number of non-Muslims in paying our last respects by performing salah al-janazah for local rugby legend, al-Marhum Moegamat Salie Fredericks. Boeta Salie passed away on Thursday 6th July 2017 after a longstanding battle against diabetes, during which time both his legs were amputated.

Salie Fredericks was born in 1943 in the heart of District Six, became one of the greatest rugby talents of the sixties and seventies, and was regarded as one of the finest rugby players ever to come out of South Africa.He captained the non-racial Western Province Rugby Union team based at the Green Point Track, and under his leadership, Western Province won the Van Riebeeck Trophy in 1967, the Rhodes Trophy in 1969 and the newly established South African Cup for three consecutive years between 1971-1973.

The talented Salie Fredericks played more than 200 games for Western Province and nine games for the South African Rugby Union (SARU) national team from 1963 until his retirement in 1978.

Sadly, as a direct result of the oppressive system of apartheid, Salie Fredericks wasn’t afforded the accolades and glory that he so rightly deserved during his rugby playing days, and not even during his battle with ill health. In addition to being a legendary rugby lock forward, he was a man who led a noble struggle for non-racial sport and broke his back to rally support for community development programmes, even after he had retired.

In my khutbah today, I would like to encourage our community to continually strive for ways to celebrate the rich history and the achievements of local heroes like al-Marhum Salie Fredericks so as to make known and pass on their great legacies to future generations, and instead of doing so only after they have passed on, to do so while they are still alive.

For example, the Chairperson of our masjid Board, Haji Yusuf (Jowa) Abrahams, is a rugby legend from the same era as al-Marhum Salie Fredericks, and played under his captaincy in 1968 in the non-racial South African Rugby Union team that toured the Eastern Cape. He is currently a Life President of the Primrose Rugby Club and a life member at the Western Province Rugby Football Union, after having served as an Executive and Board member for more than ten years. We paid tribute to him on the occasion of his 70th birthday at this masjid in 2012, and it was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate his life and rugby legacy.

Paying Tribute to People is Part of the Sunnah

At this point it might be expedient to reflect on a few prophetic traditions (ahadith) that underscores and highlights the need for us to acknowledge and appreciate the roles and talents of people in our midst.

It was narrated by the companion Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) that a man was with the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) when another man passed by and said:
وعن أنس – رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنهُ – أن رجلا كان عند النبي – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم – فمر رجل فقال: يا رَسُول اللَّهِ: إني لأحب هذا. فقال له النبي – صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم -: (( أأعلمته؟ )) قال: لا. قال: (( أعلمه )) فلحقه فقال: إني أحبك في اللَّه. فقال: أحبك الذي أحببتني له. رواه أبو داود بإسناد صحيح.

O Messenger of Allah, I love this man. The Prophet (pbuh) asked him: “Have you told him?” He said: no. The Prophet (pbuh) then advised him as follows: “Go and tell him, for it will strengthen the love between you.” So he caught up with his friend and said: “I love you for the sake of Allah”. His friend replied by saying: “May the One for whose sake you love me also love you.”
(This hadith can be found in the compendium of Abu Dawud).

In another hadith narrated by the companion Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him), the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is reported to have advised as follows:
“No one has displayed true gratitude to Allah, until s/he has has not thanked people for the good things they do.”
(This hadith can be found in the compendium of Abu Dawud).

Last but not least, in a hadith related by the companion, Abdullah ibn `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) the Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have exhorted us as follows:
“Celebrate the good actions of your dead by informing people about them, and overlook their frailties by not speaking ill of them.”
(This hadith can be found in the compendium of Imam Bukhari).

From the above prophetic traditions (ahadith) we may conclude that it is a highly praiseworthy and recommended practice (mandub) to acknowledge, give thanks and celebrate the contributions and talents of people both during their lives as well as after they have passed on to the life hereafter. In light of these prophetic teachings it is my considered view that as a community we should do much more to institutionalize a tradition of acknowledging, showing gratitude for and celebrating the lives of people who touch our lives. At the Claremont Main Road Masjid (CMRM) we have made a modest effort in this regard through our tribute pages in our quarterly newsletter Al-Mizan. We have paid tribute to people who are still alive as well as those who have passed on and all of these tributes celebrate the character, rich history and legacies of these people.

There are many uncelebrated heroes in our society who need to be acknowledged, for example, our parents (especially our mothers), our teachers, our local sports heroes and our civil society leaders who tirelessly work for justice and the eradication of poverty. Moreover, there is an urgent need for us to teach our children that a real hero is someone who not only has great talents and skills but also displays good character. A true hero is someone who is compassionate, caring and most of all someone who gives of themselves in service to others.

In particular, as many of us love sport, we should constantly remind ourselves and our children that sport in itself has no enduring worth unless it is attached to a set of higher values such as courage to overcome fear and confront challenges, virtuosity to judiciously cease opportunities, discipline and determination to believe in their ability, selflessness and sacrifice to cast off personal comforts for the welfare of others, wisdom and leadership to exert positive influence, fairness and integrity to make ethical decisions and avoid corruption, and resilience and poise to be both humble and confident.

Thankfully, there are many sport achievers whom we can celebrate as heroes, not only for their achievements in sport, but also for the values they uphold and the good character they display both inside and outside of the sports arena. Yet, these aspects of their persona are seldom given full recognition. I would like to use the life of al-Marhum Salie Fredericks as an example to illustrate my point.

Salie Fredericks: More than a Rugby Legend
Scores of inspirational stories abound about the legendary rugby skills and athletic prowess of al-Marhum Salie Fredericks. I did not know Boeta Salie the rugby icon and legend, as well as many others, and only had an opportunity to watch him play once, and interact with him on a few occasions after his retirement. I would like to recall a particularly poignant story about our rare encounters. Boeta Salie once stumped me with a challenging question. He proudly told me that his religious mentor and teacher, the late Shaykh

Shakier Gamieldien of the Al-Azhar masjid in District Six used to kiss his hand. He was both honoured but also humbled by this practice and wanted to know from me whether I knew why his Shaykh had done this. Initially I thought that it was a rhetorical question and Boeta Salie was trying to test my Islamic knowledge but very soon discovered that he was genuinely seeking an answer.

I had to think on my feet and began inquiring about his relationship with his Shaykh. He then informed me that when his Shaykh was forced to move out of District Six under the apartheid Group Areas Act to relocate to Surrey Estate, he had chosen Salie Fredericks from among many skilled artisans and builders in his congregation, to build his new house. Boeta Salie built the Shaykh’s house, handed over the keys and since then whenever they met, the Shaykh kissed his hand.

This information helped me contextualize the question. I remembered a hadith in which it described that once when the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) took the hand of a man, whose hands were very coarse, he inquired from him as to why this was the case. After the man informed the Prophet (pbuh) that his hands were coarse and full of blisters because he worked in the fields, the Prophet (pbuh) kissed his hand. To my mind, this beautiful gesture by the Prophet (pbuh) symbolizes respect for hard work.

The story made me realize that Boeta Salie Fredericks was not only a great rugby player but also a hard working and skilled builder and artisan. As an artisan, he was widely respected in places like Rustenburg, Pretoria, Lenasia, Brits, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage. Moreover, unlike modern rugby players who have lucrative contracts and the luxury of dedicating their entire week to practicing and preparing for the next game, Salie Fredericks’ generation of rugby players had to work hard, many of them in the building trade, practice after work, attend club meetings, pay their subscriptions and play rugby – all for the love of the game.

Boeta Salie was profoundly moved by my response to his question and I was of course deeply moved by his story. We subsequently developed a special relationship.

I last met Boeta Salie at the pre-Ramadan exposition at the Castle of Good Hope on Saturday 20 May 2017, where he was being honoured for his rugby achievements. His son, Luqman was lovingly pushing his father in a wheelchair and we briefly passed each other. I kissed his hand and encouraged his son to continue to care for his elderly father, as this would procure him salvation in the hereafter. It was at Luqman’s home in Panorama that Boeta Salie passed on to the life hereafter.

I was privileged to give a brief tribute to Salie Fredericks after the Stormers match against the Sunwolves at Newlands on Saturday 8 July 2017. A few rugby legends who had played under the captaincy of Salie Fredericks, also testified to his unsurpassed skills. It dawned on me afterwards that these were the testimonies of non-Muslims.

Given the sometimes intense Muslim-Christian rivalry that bedeviled the matches, especially featuring Western Province and Cities, and Western Province and Tygerberg, this was all the more remarkable. In fact, breaking down this religious bigotry and prejudice was one of the great missions of al-Shahid Imam Abdullah Haron. My sense is that once Boeta Salie became captain of SARU and was leading an interreligious team of non-racial rugby players, he was afforded a great opportunity to moderate his received religio-cultural prejudices and embraced cosmopolitanism. Moreover, during his retirement years and while traveling throughout the country, prompting non-racial sport, he grew his cosmopolitan perspective even more.

It is therefore no small wonder that I was informed by a close friend about Boeta Salie’s enormous respect for two very special black sports personalities and human icons, namely, the late Reverend Arnold Stofile, former premier of the Eastern Cape, and Dan Qeqe, a former administrator of the non-racial Kwazekele Rugby Union (KWARU). I am told that Boeta Salie once stayed over in Uncle Dan Qeqe’s house in the Eastern Cape during the height of the apartheid era.

There are hundreds of untold inspirational stories not only about the life of Salie Fredericks but also the lives of many other unsung heroes and we should honour the great legacy and the heritage of al-Marhum Salie Fredericks and all of our non-racial sporting fraternity for what they have achieved in spite of hardship, discrimination and exclusion under the cruel apartheid system.

In this regard I would like to propose that the Claremont Main Road Masjid congregation considers convening a special dhikr in honour of the close to half a dozen local rugby legends, including Yusuf “Joe” Allie, Achmat “Big Head” Isaacs and Salie “Kapoewa” Dollie, who have passed on to the hereafter during the past month. At such a solemn event we could also invite close friends and relatives to remind us of their great legacies and inspire future generations to emulate their dedication and service to the community.
Elevating our Local Janazah Traditions

Finally, I would like also to propose that the local Muslim community become more creative in our funeral (janazah) traditions. In our endeavours to conform to the Sunnah manner of paying our last respects to our deceased, there should be nothing wrong if we also use the opportunity to speak about and celebrate the life of the deceased person.

In this way we could ensure that we pass on their great legacies to future generations, and also remind the funeral attendees of their own mortality and to live good and productive lives. In my opinion, the janazah ceremony is supposed to give comfort and solace to the family and friends of the deceased and help them find closure. Therefore, giving friends, colleagues, or anyone close to the deceased an opportunity to speak about their wonderful lives and achievements, could serve as a balm for healing the hearts of those who have lost their loved ones. A few of our local `ulama have already started such a practice but this should become institutionalized.

On the 9th of June 2016, the global Muslim community was given a wonderful example of such a janazah service of boxing legend, Muhammad Ali, arguably the greatest sportsman who ever lived. It was interesting to note that Muhammad Ali’s family in consultation with some Muslim scholars had planned his funeral for a long time because they wanted to make sure that it would honour his Muslim faith in the face of a growing Islamophobia in America and the world at large.

As you can imagine, Muhammad Ali’s janazah was met with skepticism and criticism in conservative circles, but it is my considered view that his janazah was a fitting and excellent example of a beautiful send off to a great hero and legend.

Muslim communities have a long way to go in order to make the rigid idea of the janazah more amiable to the needs of our ever-changing and intricately woven communities in order to offer families the comfort, guidance and closure they need to get through difficult times.

May Allah help us to better honour our local heroes and hold them in our prayers and gratitude. May our heroes rest in peace in the knowledge that we will never forget them and the sacrifices they made. May He pardon Boeta Salie and all our local sporting heroes for their human frailty, shower them with His compassionate love and grant them salvation and a high station in paradise. Amin.

اَللّٰهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَرْحَمْهُمْ وَسَكِّنْهُمْ فَي الْجَنَّةِ

O Allah pardon our deceased, have mercy on their souls
and grant them the abode of paradise.

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