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Dr Ya’qub Jaffer – a Tribute

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Dr Jaffer (left). Photo 'Adil Bradlow.

WE all knew him as “Doctor” but he was a Shaikh of the Qadiriyyah Sufi Order in a written chain (which I have in my possession) extending from Madinah to India.

I first met “Doctor” Ya’qub Jaffer of Claremont in the turbulent 1980’s when I embraced Islam at the hands of Imam Sepp, the imam of Al-Jamia’ in Stegmann Road.

I was introduced to him by journalist colleague, ‘Adil Bradlow. Doctor Jaffer took us “wild kids” under his wings, and welcomed us into the fold of his family. In an era of great turmoil he became a spiritual beacon, especially when the security police tried to detain me in 1985.

A soft-spoken man of great serenity, I can still remember having to lean over to listen to Doctor Jaffer whenever he talked. In the 27 years I knew him I never heard him raise his voice.

He was the living epitome of a Sufi. Absolutely humble and self-demeaning, he actively reflected tasawwuf’s values of peace, devotion and adherence to Shari’ah. He was always praying, reading Qur’an, fasting or making dhikr. Even in company he would slip away to his prayer room.

He taught me through example just how important things such as good conduct, or adab, were. He worked, with great patience and gentle humour, at my abundant and obvious weaknesses. He taught us how to make dhikr (chant the names of Allah), and when family tragedy struck, showed us what sabr (forbearance) was.

There are so many things I remember about him. He used to love telling us the story of Nabi Musa (AS) and Al-Khidr from Surat al-Kahf. I can recall him telling me about his experiences of making tawaf around the Ka’bah in the rain – regarded as a great blessing.

Doctor Jaffer was a master of understatement, and with a simple gesture could say a lot of things. I remember his son, Goolam, telling me that one day he was driving his father, who was passing the time by reading Qur’an.

The radio came on and I was narrating an episode of the series, Notebooks from Makkah and Madinah. The reading ended with the verses from Surat ul-Waqi’ah. Doctor Jaffer’s response was to catch Goolam’s eye and to point at his Qur’an – and to communicate without saying a single word that he’d been reading the exact same verses!

Perhaps the most profound thing I learnt from Doctor Jaffer was that even in dire straits, Islam was about life, and about hope. One day he quoted: “inna ma’l yusran, (verily with very difficulty there is relief…”

“A Muslim can never lose,” he explained.

Oppressors could crush as many people as they wanted, but they wouldn’t ever be able to crush the soul. Those who killed, tortured and maimed Muslims would have their souls crushed in the grave, whilst those persecuted would enjoy eternal bliss.

As a teacher of the Deen, the Doctor – behind his gentleness – was strict. Every word had to be in place. I will never forget his imaginative advice about the shadda – the double consonant – in the word “Muhammad”.

“Say the double m in the Rasullulah’s name (SAW) as if it’s a kiss,” he said, “in that way you’ll always remember to love the Prophet (SAW).”

In my life I’ve been privileged to sit under the feet of numerous scholars, but I will always remember – and honour – Doctor Jaffer as my first master. I can hear his fatherly words as if it was yesterday, and I pray for him to be granted the heavenly mansion that he so rightly deserves.

Dr Ya’qub Jaffer passed away earlier this year.

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