“The greatest memory I have of my father is that he was always humming. When I was a child, I observed it and always wondered what he was saying. Only years later did I understand that he was praising the Prophet (saw). He was in a constant state of thikr and salawaat.”
These poignant words by Prof. Abdus Salaam Karaan personifies the late Maulana Yusuf Karaan, a man many regard as one of South Africa’s most influential Islamic scholars. Emotions were palpable during an in-depth tribute programme broadcasted on VOC on Thursday evening, in which high-ranking ulema paid homage to the Strand-based scholar, who passed away on Sunday after succumbing to cancer.
Two of his three sons spoke glowingly about their late father, his successes and his dedication to the local Muslim community.
Prof. Abdus Salaam, the dean of the Agricultural Sciences Faculty at Stellenbosch University said his father was one who would not have appreciated any form of praise and tribute to him as a person. Nonetheless, he said the icon would be remembered by his family as a great raconteur of Islamic history, and surpisingly, a fun and humorous individual.
“I remember when he was given the news that he was terminally ill; he decided to take us all as a family on umrah. I recall him sitting in his room with all his grandchildren and the laughter would emanate from the room as he would be telling them stories of his own childhood and about the Prophet (saw),” he recalled, speaking from his father’s bedroom.
Despite inspiring others with his stories, Prof Abdus Salaam said the late imam would have first and foremost been the example of the very message he was trying to get across. The first such evidence of this was that his life was one of extreme modesty. Maulana often wore second hand clothing and bought the cheapest of products.
“In Makkah, people were buying the most expensive Kurtas that would cost SR100, and he would instead buy the ones costing SR5 or SR10 on the roadside, which were often second hand. I remember the first part of his inspiration was to live modestly,” he noted.
Another anecdote from the professor detailed allegations levelled against Maulana Karaan, who was accused of uniting the respective Muslim groups within Strand for the sole purpose of receiving payment for his contribution, both as an Imam as well as a member of this new council. In response, the scholar chose to completely forsake his salary as an imam for several years, until those opinions could be rectified. He stressed that when it came to the late imam, it was never about money or material gain.
Such sentiments were echoed by Maulana Karaan’s other remaining son, Maulana Taha Karaan. He described his father as one who was desirous of studying, focused on acquiring as much knowledge on the deen as he possibly could. But as opposed to furthering his Islamic Studies in the Middle East as has become the norm for those seeking to study abroad, in an unprecedented manner the scholar found himself journeying to India instead.
“It is not an easy task (studying in India). Living in the middle of India where you have got no family, you can’t speak the language and you have no background. But within 4 or 5 years, he completed the course with distinction… that is an achievement,” he said.
Well into his 70s already, Maulana Taha said his father had still been conducting the majority of work within the Muslim Judicial Council’s (MJC) Fatwa department.
Many MJC members have revealed how Maulana Karaan, until just a few months before his death, still travelled daily from Strand to the MJC offices in Athlone.
“What it was all about was a love of ilm, and a desire that people should be living according to the Shariah of Allah,” he added.
As an imam, scholar, teacher and father, Maulana Karaan had instilled in his children the love of reading. Many ulema also recall that the honourable scholar was never seen sitting idly, but always with a book in hand.
“He encouraged us to read all the time so we could broaden our minds. He urged us to constantly seek knowledge. Reading is lacking in our children today. It’s a great lesson he left behind,” Maulana Taha concluded.
Tributes have poured in since Karaan passed away on Sunday, with many acknowledging the deep void his loss would likely leave on the Muslim community in Cape Town. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)