“Al Aqsa in Danger!” has been the impassioned call to action by Maulana Ihsaan Hendricks for the past two decades – a phrase that he made famous on VOC during his many talks on Palestine. Maulana Ihsaan Hendricks was a pioneer in bringing the conversation on the Palestinian struggle out of academic spaces and into the homes of ordinary South Africans.
This was the view of South African Palestine solidarity activists and Palestinians themselves, in paying tribute to the legacy of Maulana Ihsaan, who died on Friday. The influential scholar passed away after suffering from a long term illness, which saw him stepping away from the public eye over the past two years. There has been an outpouring of grief within the South African Muslim community and within Palestine, in the wake of his death.
Maulana Ihsaan has been the driving force behind some of the largest pro-Palestinian demonstrations in South Africa and was key to mobilizing Capetonians to take to the streets. But on a deeper level, it was his popular programme on VOC over the past 10 years called Palestine in Focus that helped to inform the masses on the historical perspective of the Palestinian occupation and demystify the biased political narratives around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Maulana Ihsaan, a giant in the international Islamic scholarly community, was a friend to the Palestinian people, an activist in the Palestine solidarity movement and a supporter of the BDS boycott of Israel campaign. Maulana Ihsaan served two terms as the MJC president, while also juggling his activism work as the director of the Al Quds Foundation in South Africa.
Within Palestine, Maulana Ihsaan had formed close ties with the assassinated co-founder of the Hamas Movement, Abdel Aziz Al-Rantisi, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas spiritual leader Shaykh Ahmed Yassin and Shaykh Raed Salah, leader of the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in occupied Palestine 1948.The head of the political bureau of the Islamic resistance movement Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, extended his condolences to the President of the MJC and its members on the death of Maulana Ihsan. Haniyeh praised the efforts of Maulana Ihsaan in support of the Palestinian cause and Jerusalem, and his participation in several aid convoys aimed at breaking the siege on Gaza. Maulana Ihsaan was instrumental in facilitating Hamas historic visit to South Africa in 2015.
“Maulana Ihsaan was crucial in getting South African Muslims to see that while they should be inspired by their religious values of justice and equality to fight for the liberation of Palestine that that struggle was not one essentially about Muslims but one of justice for all Palestinians regardless of faith or none. He was an ally of Muslims, Christians and Jews; whoever was oppressed. He was a supporter of justice across the board,” said BDS chairperson Prof Farid Esack.
Originally from Worcester in the Western Cape, Maulana Ihsaan studied at Nadwatul Ulama Seminary in Lucknow, India and played a major role in Muslim community matters in South Africa as president of the Muslim Judicial Council. Internationally, he was a leading member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, led by Egyptian scholar Shaykh Yusuf Al Qarawadi.
As the founder of the Al Quds Foundation in South Africa, Maulana Ihsaan focused on both moral and material support for the Palestinian people. He also played a leadership role in the National Coalition 4 Palestine (NC4P) and was an active promoter of the BDS campaign. Amongst his local initiatives for Palestine were the weekly Thursday night Palestinian awareness programmes at Masjidul Rawbie in Portlands, the Miles for Smiles convoy in 2008, the Africa 1 Aid convoy to Gaza in 2011 as well the Barbers for Palestine project. His most recent project was his contribution to the soon-to-be opened Palestine Museum in Cape Town, which he served as a founding patron.
On an international front, Maulana Ihsaan opened the first Al Quds Foundation office in South Africa, an independent civil organization whose purpose is to work for safeguarding the City of Al-Quds (Jerusalem) by preserving its Arab identity and sanctified Islamic and Christian Places.
“Maulana understood and underscored the value of progressive internationalism that required religious people to act in solidarity with all the oppressed people throughout the world. Mawlana Hendricks understood, more than most, that his faith demanded a disease with oppression. He did not flinch to speak truth to power. Supporters of Israel, the Israeli lobby (including the SA Jewish Board of Deputies) opposed him but our ruling party, our government and civil society embraced him,” said Prof Esack.
The impassioned activist began championing the cause of al-Quds and Palestine in South Africa and abroad at a time when awareness was sorely lacking and activism for Palestine was hardly in the vogue. He was highly respected internationally as well as in Palestine for his selfless activism. He was awarded the ‘Defender of Masjid al-Aqsa’ award in Palestine in 2008.
“He groomed a new generation of activists and served as a catalyst for much meaningful action for Palestine. He also emphasised the importance of principled activism and informed responses. His leadership will be sorely missed at a time when the Occupation has crossed all bounds and al-Quds and al-Aqsa faces its darkest hour,” said the Palestine Information Network (PIN).
Unafraid to tackle challenges and speak truth to power, Maulana Ihsaan deservedly earned the respect of South Africans from all walks of life, said prominent South African Palestinian activist Iqbal Jassat.
“His enormous contribution to the Palestinian freedom struggle, won him accolades from leaders of the Resistance against Zionist Apartheid Israel. Of course his high profile and powerful voice which echoed the demands of Palestinians, earned him the wrath of the settler colonial regime and its band of right-wing supporters in South Africa. Having worked closely with him, I can testify that Sheikh Ihsaan’s unique insight coupled with his ability to marshal his “troops”, will forever be valued and profoundly appreciated as a distinct quality of a brilliant leader.”
Maulana Ihsaan had also left an indelible mark on young Palestinians whom he had mentored. Palestinian student Muhammad Sami said the fact that Moulana brought young Palestinians to South Africa to complete their degrees proved his commitment to his philosophy that “education is key to liberation”.
“In Maulana, I saw intellect, vision and unwavering support for Palestine. He had immense humility and modesty and he brought himself to the same level as the person he was speaking to. Above all, his extraordinary motivation and leadership made me want to be like him,” he told VOC.
In a moving tribute, Palestinian student Basel Agbaria, reflected on the impact that the scholar had in his life as student studying on the shores of the Cape. Agbaria is a pharmacy graduate who completed his degree at the University of the Western Cape, while being cared for by the Al Quds Foundation. His relationship soon transformed into close family bonds with those in the local Palestinian activist community.
“You taught me the poem ‘ الناس صنفان موتى في حياتهم .. وأخرون ببطن اﻷرض أحياء People are two kinds: Ones [who are] dead while they living and others [who are] under the ground alive.’ You will live with us and the journey of the Palestinian people until the liberation.”