With the close of the month of the Ramadan, Muslim South Africans this week bid farewell to one of the countries most celebrated Qurra, Qari Yusuf Noorbhai. Noorbhai passed away in a Cape Town hospital on Monday evening after battling with poor health. The renowned qari leaves behind his wife, eight children, and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Formally from Isipingo in KwaZulu-Natal, the Al-Azhar trained reciter, who presided as the Imam of Nurul Islam Masjid in Lenasia for many years, received much admiration both for his melodious tilaawat and for his overall love and respect for the Qur’an.
Speaking to VOC, Shaykh Abdur Rahman Laily, said Qari Noorbhai was one of the senior most South African graduates of the Jāmiʻat al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.
He says that the Qari changed the manner in which the Qur’an was recited in the month of Ramadan throughout the country.
“At the time, people were concerned about what time taraweeh would end. This was someone who was firm in his stance that Qur’an should be recited in manner in which Allah has mentioned; in a slow manner, in which people can grasp every detail of the Qur’an,” Laily said.
At the time of Noorbhai’s tenure as imam of Nurul-Islam Masjid, musallees from across the Transvaal region ventured to the masjid to enjoy his melodious recital, despite Taraweeh prayers ending at least 30 minutes after other masaajid.
From amongst his most notable students are Shaykh Sadullah Khan and the national director of the Africa Muslim Agency, hafith Imraan Choonara.
Laily further noted that Qari Noorbhai took particular care in his dress attire, describing him as being always smartly dressed in a colour coordinated suit.
“You would never find him in a manner in which his colour coordination was out; from his hat to his sun-glasses. [And] he had a love for attar, similar to the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him).”
In addition to the Qari’s upholding the proper recitation of the Qur’an, Laily describes Noorbhai as being a strong man who stood up against social norms and fought for the respect of the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him).
“At a time when in a country and in a setting where race was a challenge, he from the early 1960’s was someone who highlighted race and class issues, and he championed the causes of the underprivileged,” Laily continued.
Despite being a renowned Qur’anic scholar, the Qari was known for continuing to improve his knowledge and tilaawat of the Qur’an, and regularly returned to the Azhar to sit at the feet of his teachers.
The character of the Qari, Laily asserts is echoed in the life of his off-spring, who he says are continuing the good work of their patriarch.
Qari Noorbhai’s granddaughter Islamic scholar Safiyyah Surtee described the Qari as a “man of the Qur’an” who upheld both the recitation and the understanding of the Qur’an.
She says that while the Qari was a family man, he often had to sacrifice time with his family for his work within the community – unvetted assistance that many have come to respect.
Aside from his work within the community, as her grandfather, Surtee says that he will be remembered for his great sense of humour and jovial character.
In light of thousands of messages of support from those who knew her grandfather and his students, Surtee says that Noorbhai has granted her and her family the opportunity to meet many individuals who later became luminaries within South Africa.
“We got to know many of his students and the house was very vibrant with people coming and going.”
As a man who upheld strong family values, she added that the Qari always officiated at the name-giving’s of his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
“My children were the first great grandchildren and it was a great excitement to him. I always remember that day when he came to the hospital to recite the athan and perform the rituals that he took very seriously,” Surtee added.
Meanwhile, on social media tributes have been streaming in from all quarters. Former member of the Call of Islam, Dr. Yusuf Saloogee wrote a beautiful eulogy for the qari.
“We, as the Call of Islam, salute Hafith Noorbhai. In the darkest days of Apartheid, when oppression was at its peak, when fear prevailed, when the jackboot of detention without trial and torture prevailed, you oh Hafith Saheb, you stood with us! You, together with Dr Momoniat, availed yourselves and the institute of Nurul Islam in Lenasia, at our disposal. We, as the former members of Call of Islam, dip our flag. May The Almighty bless you and grant you Jannatul Firdose, Ameen.”
Prominent scholar Mufti Ismail Menk wrote to his millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook:
“I am saddened by the passing today of one of the senior reciters and tutors of the Noble Qur’an in South Africa. Al Qari Yusuf Noorbhai who was a student of Shaykh Mahmud Khalil Al Husari May Allah Almighty grant them forgiveness and Paradise, ameen.”
Executive member of the Media Review Network, Iqbal Jassat praised Noorbhai’s good character.
“Friend of the poor and marginalised, Qari Yusuf Noorbhai will be sorely missed. Resolute and unshakable in his convictions rooted in the message of the Quran, he epitomised qualities and values which seem far-fetched today. Unafraid to speak truth to power, Qari Yusuf Noorbhai’s oratory shook people out of their slumber as indeed his masterly Qiraah inspired love and devotion to Qur’an. May Allah reward him and grant him the company of His beloved servants in the Akhira. He was truly a humble soul,” he said.
“Graduate of Jāmiʻat al-Azhar University, Cairo (the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam). Imam and principal of the Nurul Islam Institute, learner, lecturer, activist, preacher, reader, reciter, rhetorician, leader, writer, orator, teacher and teacher of teachers. Inna Lillahi wa Inna’ilayhi’raji’oon. May your grave be filled with the light that you brought to many and may your eternal abode be with the best of creation and the most High,” wrote political analyst Ebrahim Fakir.
Surtee thanked the Muslim community for their well-wishes and support during this trying period.
“Thanks to everyone in Cape Town, a city that my grandfather loved. It is befitting that he spent his last days in Cape Town.”