Abdul Hamid Faruki on the life and activism of Ahmed Kathrada, “anti-apatheid giant” of South Africa

“In death, you once more challenge people from every strata, religion, and position to think about how their own actions do and can change the world for better or worse.” – Ahmed Kathrada

A few days ago, South Africa lost one of its anti-apartheid giants; #AhmedKathrada. A political activist from the age of 12, he spent almost his entire life fighting for human rights and against apartheid. A Muslim of Indian origin, he represented his people. The Blacks of South Africa received the worse oppression under the Dutch, but every other ethnic minority had their fair share. They realised that if they were to gain freedom, then unity was key.

Ahmed Kathrada was sentenced to life imprisonment, spending 26 years in jail. He served 18 of those on the infamous Robben Island alongside with his close friend Nelson Mandela. While in jail, Kathrada still completed Bachelor’s degrees in History/Criminology as well as three other degrees. Prison still didn’t take away his zeal for education, and fighting for the opportunity to be educated. South Africa is very close to me, and always will be. I lived there (Cape Town) for 2 years as a teenager and became a different person. My first insight into racism and discrimination was there, not at me personally, but to the black community and other minorities. I had the slight “privilege” of being a British. My first acts of activism at the age of 16 was in SA, it was nothing major, but it was a start. I visited Robben Island and saw the prison cell of Nelson Mandela. The island is a beautiful place, but it shouldn’t deter anyone from the horrors that took place there. One may compare it to Alcatraz or today’s Guantanamo.

Robben Island has imprisoned many political prisoners over the last couple of centuries. It also has some Islamic history to it. Many scholars and Muslim political prisoners have spent time there, including Sayed Abdurrahman Moturu. He was one of Cape Town’s first Imams and was exiled to the island. He died on the island in 1754 and is buried there, and I had the honour to visit his grave. It is said that during the time of apartheid, many prisoners including Mandela would seek inspiration and strength from Sayed Abdurrahman Moturu.

Ahmed Kathrada has left a legacy behind which hopefully South Africans can continue. Living there as a young Muslim coming from a privileged background, I learned some great things about Muslims in South Africa. My relatives used to tell me stories about life under apartheid. The activism, the marches and protests, clashes with the police, imprisonment, and racism. The way they overcame it, was through unity. A bond which is so powerful and one which today we still can’t seem to work out. Muslims living in the West could do with taking lessons from those in South Africa. The country has produced great Muslim scholars, academics and activists under oppressive circumstances. During their fight, the Muslims in SA didn’t worry about a person being from a certain school of thought, or ideology. The Dutch didn’t care when they came to take away their rights and dignity. Simply testifying to the declaration of your faith was enough for them.

People of colour around the world can seek inspiration from South Africans and Africans in general. The inhabitants have forever shown resilience, courage and strength in the face of adversity. Fail or succeed, wasn’t what it was all about necessarily, but it was important to resist and stand firm against oppression. Living in South Africa opened my eyes to many things. As a Muslim it was great too, after all Islam has been there for almost 350 years. The one thing I noticed there, was the softness in the Muslims, but the strength when needed. Spiritual and kind hearted, but when the time came, they didn’t hesitate to show another side. I suppose this is why the likes of Ahmed Kathrada were so successful in achieving what they did, or at the very least have a positive impact on others.

Putting Islam and activism together, for what it’s worth, if there ever was some advice I would give to Muslims in the UK and around the world, it’s this; Islam does not need reformation nor a revolution, it needs a revival. Islam itself was revolutionary. It did something to its followers in the early days. It created people of justice, strength, humility and ethics. The Islamic world has created great giants, and today we are losing many of them one by one, and Ahmed Kathrada was one of them. It sometimes worries me about those that have replaced these legends. In a world full of darkness, Muslims need to show more softness, spirituality, sympathy, empathy and respect. Not just for others, but for our own too. The reality is, we need to turn to our Lord, before we return back to our Lord.

May Allah have mercy on the soul of Ahmed Kathrada, grant him Jannat ul-Firdaus, and honour his efforts by us continuing his legacy, Ameen.

Abdul Hamid Faruki


Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad.  She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.

About Carol Anne Grayson

Blogging for Humanity.... Campaigner/researcher global health/human rights/drones/WOT/insurgency http://www.esrc.ac.uk/ESRCInfoCentre/PO/experts/Health_and_Wellbeing.aspx Exec Producer of Oscar nominated documentary Incident in New Baghdad, currently filming on drones.
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