“South Africa has lost an intellectual jewel”. This was how family, friends, colleagues and students have described the demise of erudite scholar of Islam, Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, whose soul departed on Wednesday. Shaykh Seraj died aged 63 following a long battle against the coronavirus and spending weeks in hospital in critical care. He was laid to rest on Friday morning before Jumuah prayers.
The death of the trailblazing scholar and imam of Azzawia Institute has shaken the Muslim community of Cape Town, will be felt across the world, given Shaykh Seraj’s global impact as an outstanding intellectual.
Shaykh Seraj is an internationally recognized leading scholar of traditional Islam, steeped in the rich legacy of the classical heritage. He is a leading spiritual figure within the Muslim community of Cape Town, having made a remarkable contribution to the study of Tasawwuf. He served as the first dean of Madina Institute in Cape Town and was the hakim of the Crescent Observers’ Society.
In a series of tributes air, long time friend and student Shafiq Morton reflected on their close and unique bond and the ‘gems of wisdom’ the teacher had left behind.
“He was absolutely passionate about diversity as he believed that diversity was a blessing. If we can acknowledge each other’s diversity and embrace this rahma, then we have a way forward as a Muslim community. That is one of the most abiding intellectual memories I will have of the Shaykh,” said Morton.
“He always gave a holistic picture of whatever he was discussing. He understood the different viewpoints of the various Matha-ib and understood Islam in its true, classic context.”
“No conversation about Shaykh Seraj is complete without talking about his innate spirituality. He was unapologetic about his love of Tassawuf. He comes from a rich tradition of classical Islam,” said Morton.
Islamic scholar Shaykh Allie Khalfe was at a loss for words when speaking about his friend and ustaadh. Khalfe described his teacher as “a colossus of knowledge, wisdom and adaab”.
“We have expressed a tremendous loss. I feel a sense of brokenness. One can feel the loss when Allah takes his auliya away,” he lamented.
“This man taught us what good character is. I cannot imagine a time sitting before him when he urged us as a community to show respect to God’s creation and picking up the cross when it fell down.”
Many of his students believe Shaykh Seraj lived what he had taught by embodying the six principals of preservation of Maqasid Shariah: the right to the preservation of life; the right to the protection of family; the right to the protection of education; the right to the protection of religion; the right to the protection of property and the right to human dignity.
“He was beyond his time in understanding the religion. We need to recognise the scholarship and legacy left behind by Shaykh Seraj Hassan Hendricks,” added Shaykh Khalfe.
As a source of infinite knowledge and wisdom, Shaykh Seraj is considered one of the highest authorities of Islamic scholarship on the African continent.
“Besides being a close friend and trusted confidant, he was the primary person I would consult of matters of Islamic law and spirituality,” said prominent scholar Shaykh Sadullah Khan.
“I found his humility evident in the way he patiently listened to different views, without being offensive in his response.”
Shaykh Seraj is also a globally recognised contributor to Islamic education. Having graduated in Makkah under the tutorship of many renowned scholars and extending that beneficial knowledge to many learned Mashaaikh, he had been a natural choice as the first dean of the Madina Institute, when it launched in Cape Town in 2013.
“His legacy is not of just seeking knowledge but imparting it to others in a selfless way and in a way that brings about empowerment and not indoctrination. His knowledge was of such depth that not many could understand. You had to tune into his frequency to understand the greatness of Shaykh,” said trustee Hafiz Mahmood Khatib.
“His linkages with the Mashaaikh of Makkah make him a gem to this community. Words cannot justify the loss. We will never get anyone that can replace the vacuum he leaves behind.”
He had left an indelible mark on Madina students, who are of various nationalities and who have excelled in different fields of work across the world.
“Adaab is above knowledge”. Morton said as students, these words were entrenched into them as Shaykh Seraj lived by this philosophy.
“As a Sufi, he was all about love. A love for creation, love for our fellow man and love for knowledge. That is my biggest takeaway from his life,” said Morton.
Those who met him can attest to his warm, endearing and open demeanour. One of his purest forms of sadaqah was his smile – a trait many describe as illuminating.
“Just by his smile alone, he would make you smile,” said Khatieb.
“He has a sharp wit and playful sense of humour. Often accompanied by a mischievous smile that was polite,” added Shaykh Sadullah Khan.
Shaykh Ebrahim Gabriels and MJC president Shaykh Irfaan Abrahams had spent much time together with Shaykh Seraj and his brother Shaykh Ahmed while they had studied in Makkah in the 1980’s.
“Whenever we went to Makkah for umrah or hajj, we had the privilege to stay with them, as they had stayed opposite the haram of Makkah. He had the most soft, beautiful character, Subhanallah,” recalled Shaykh Gabriels.
Shaykh Gabriels, who had served as the MJC president in the early 2000’s said Shaykh Seraj had played an instrumental role in the organisation. The late Shaykh Nazeem Mohamed, the lifelong president of the MJC, had appointed Shaykh Seraj as the head of the fatwa committee, where he carried some ground-breaking research on contentious matters in Islam.
Another influential position held by Shaykh Seraj was as the hakeem of the Crescent Observers Society, a dedicated group of observers who spent their time sighting the new moon to determine the new Islamic month. In Cape Town, it had become a tradition for Shaykh Seraj to make the announcement of the sighting each month and especially around Ramadan and Eid.
Society chairperson Imam Yusuf Pandy related that they had spent 30 years working together on the moon sightings.
“We had huge respect for Shaykh Seraj. Even though I was much older than him, we were like brothers. We are going to miss him,” he related.
“Shaykh Seraj was one of the most beautiful scholars I’ve ever met. He was always welcoming, loving and caring. Despite the fact that my mother’s family were mureeds of the Azzawiya, I regret only developing a relationship with the Shaykh as late as 2012. Nonetheless, as the poet says: “A little of you suffices me, however A little of you is not considered little’,” said Shaykh Abdurragmaan Khan, the founder and rector for Dar al-Turath al-Islami (DTI).
Former student Ahmad Deeb, now an imam in Greater Toledo in Ohio wrote a beautiful eulogy, describing his ustaad’s innate spirituality.
“If there was someone whom I knew for certain was always ready to meet God, it was Shaykh Seraj. This is a heartbreaking day for everyone except him. Because he loved God so deeply, and never showed any signs of fear as he glided through life with such joy, humor, and endless compassion. And God loves to meet those who have longed for that meeting through their every living moment. This was the lantern of Cape Town. May his light continue to illuminate for generations to come.”
May Allah SWT grant the honourable Shaykh Seraj Hendricks a peaceful and beautiful abode and place sabr and contentment in the hearts of his wife, aunty Rhoda and three children, Nuha, Alia, and Rashid. VOC