A devoted Muslim, a respected figure in his field, and an activist at heart, this is how veteran journalist, Ghalib Jonker, will be remembered by those who knew him intimately. Raised in apartheid South Africa, Jonker defied the order of the day, and appealing to his conscious he refused to accept racist and oppressive policies. While Jonker’s career is well documented, very few have had a glimpse into his journey to Islam and his role as a devoted father.
Speaking to VOC this week, Jonker’s son, Mustafa, shared priceless anecdotes of the man he knew as ‘daddy’. The 38-year-old first born explains that Jonker and his children relocated to Saudi Arabia in 1986; staying two years in Makkah, after which the family moved to Jeddah, only to return home 13-years later.
Mustafa explains that during his childhood years, his father showered him and sisters with unconditional love, creating a warm environment within the home.
Jonker, a revert formerly known as Gerhard Francios Jonker was raised in a Christian Afrikaner home.
Having trained in the military, specializing in sharp-shooting, Jonker did not actively fight for the South African National Defence Force. He was, however, known for having rejected the oppressive racist policies of the apartheid regime.
In vivid recollection, his son shares a story of his father’s rejection of Apartheid’s racist policies.
“When I was five-years-old, we had an African domestic – my dad was not there – and the lady made me a sandwich and I said something to the effect that she must not touch the bread with her hands. When my dad came home, she told him what I had said and my dad gave me a hiding. So, there was no tolerance for bias or racism.”
After a number of years, Jonker found his way to Uitenhage and in the unlikely town, he found Islam.
“At some point, it took him to Uitenhage and his activism there brought him in touch with the Muslim community. He saw something within the Muslim community that he liked and over the years he learnt about Islam from them,” Mustafa added.
While he was encouraged by the Muslim community to take his time before reverting to Islam, Jonker refused their advice, instead saying “If I die tonight, I want to die as a Muslim” and moments later accepted the shahada.
A respected figure in his field
In 1988, after having moved to Jeddah, Jonker was employed at the Saudi Gazette, where he headed the religious section of the paper.
Given the disparity between Islam practiced in South Africa and that of Saudi Arabia, Mustafa says that while Jonker’s differences with his colleagues was mainly restricted to issues relating to fiqh, in general, “he was not as ‘anti-Saudi’ as many people in south Africa are.
“My father encouraged me to do my own research in books like those of Imam al-Ghazali. For myself, I have an appreciation for where the people in Saudi Arabia come from and I have an appreciation for our local people who have a tendency toward tassawuf.”
A devoted Muslim
Reflecting on his father’s uninterrupted devotion to the religion of Islam, Mustafa says that Jonker always maintained respect for his lifelong teachers, including the man at whose hands he accepted Islam, a local imam in Uitenhage and the father of a family friend, Aadil Jappie.
“I know my father had a lot of respect for Shaykh Nazeem Mohamed, shaykh Abduragiem Salie and Shaykh Ebrahim Gabriels [amongst others]. At the time it started, my father did play a role in the formation of Qibla, but as years went on, he went to Saudi, so that relationship ended.”
Jonker to his family will be remembered, firstly for his devotion to Islam, his love for his family, and finally for his love for the South African community as a whole, being critical of both the Apartheid regime, as well as the concerns of corruption within the current ruling party.
“The most important thing I can say about my father is that his main focus was on Islam; what we wanted to do in our careers was up to us – the only thing he cared about was that we follow Islam.”