Speaker, hon Deputy President, hon Ministers and Deputy Ministers, hon members, the esteemed family and friends of Imam Gassan Solomon in the gallery, comrades and friends, ladies and gentlemen, it's a very special honour and a privilege for me to rise here today on behalf of the ANC in unequivocal support of this motion, which pays tribute to a very unique comrade and friend, Imam Gassan Solomon.
On Wednesday 28 October 2009, Imam Solomon, 68 years of age and a highly respected member of this House during the first, second and third democratic Parliaments succumbed to prostate cancer, which had spread to his bones. During his battle with cancer he displayed enormous courage and fortitude that had been a hallmark of his rich, meaningful and self- sacrificing life of service and dedication to the Muslim and broader South African community, particularly in the Western Cape.
Although he lived his life as a veteran and icon of the struggle for liberation in this country, and particularly in the Cape, he always remained a humble, gracious and caring man, dedicating his life to the eradication of poverty, inequality and ignorance in our society. A dedicated gardener and pigeon man, who always had time for a warm greeting, a smile and a word of encouragement, he often stopped to smell the roses as he went about his hectic life's mission.
Since his passing, in an outpouring of emotion and love, many have paid gracious tributes and bestowed abundant accolades upon Imam Gassan Solomon. These tributes include Archbishop Tutu's, where he said that Imam Gassan Solomon was a highly principled and inspirational human being and one of the jewels of the Western Cape; and Gamiet Gabier, who said that Imam Gassan Solomon was a leader, a hero of South Africa who will go down as one of the greats. Others said that he played a pivotal role in the political development of the SA Muslim community; he was a respected Muslim leader and anti-apartheid activist and he inspired and reassured the youth. There were also many other tributes.
I also want to take the opportunity on behalf of the ANC and the family to also thank the opposition parties for the kind words they have expressed on this occasion. All these accolades and tributes should not come as a surprise if one were to trace the lineage and the gene pool from which Imam Solomon was born; it would seem that it is a legacy and life's mission bestowed upon him by his illustrious ancestors.
When one has regard to the fascinating and painful history of the establishment and growth of Islam on this most southern tip of Africa, then the life and tribulations of the ancestors of Imam Solomon seem to be inextricably interwoven into this unique South African story. One such ancestor affectionately known as Tuan Guru, meaning, mister teacher, or also Imam Abdullah Kadi Abdus Salaam, by all accounts an extraordinary man, is a direct ancestor of Imam Solomon. His mother, Gasiena, is a great granddaughter of Tuan Guru.
Let me briefly explain this extraordinary family lineage. History records that more than 350 years ago the first seeds of Islam took root in South Africa and more particularly in the Cape of Good Hope. This planting of Islam in the Cape took place under conditions of subjugation, injustice and oppression, not unfamiliar to the experiences of the majority of black people in this country.
At the time, the Dutch colonisers, most by way of the Dutch East Indian Company, occupied and settled, inter alia, in today's Indonesia, Malaysia and the Cape of Good Hope. The Dutch brought the first Muslims as early as 1652 to the Cape either as captured freedom fighters struggling against Dutch colonialism in the islands of the Far East or as slaves to European masters or as indentured labourers.
The sociopolitical relations, at the time, of mainly Dutch domination ensured that Islam remained a subjugated and oppressed religion throughout the lands of Dutch occupation, especially in the Cape, enjoying neither freedom of religion nor equality of worship with other religions. These first Muslims, as slaves and political exiles, besides being denied the right to worship freely, were denied the basics of any religion, like the erection of places of worship and burial grounds.
During this period of Dutch colonialism no person had as pivotal and profound an influence on the history of and the development and culture and religion of the 19th century Cape Muslims, as Tuan Guru.
Tuan Guru and three others were captured by the Dutch in the islands of the Far East, allegedly involved in the conspiracy against the Dutch, and on 6 April 1780 were banished and brought as state prisoners or political prisoners to the Cape and incarcerated on Robben Island.
Tuan Guru was of noble birth, growing up as a prince in Tidore in the Trinate Islands, who traced his genealogy to the Sultan of Morocco. He came from a background steeped in the knowledge and tradition of Islam and was well-schooled in Islamic theology, having memorised the Quran in accordance with the best traditions of the teachings of the Prophet Mohamed, peace be upon him.
This freedom fighter against Dutch colonial tyranny, whilst incarcerated on Robben Island in 1871, from memory, completed a handwritten book on Islamic Jurisprudence in Arabic script. This book became the main source of reference of the 19th century Cape Muslim community and has had a most seminal influence on this community and its future direction and development. Later this book was augmented with a handwritten copy of the Quran, which Tuan Guru also compiled from memory. It remains preserved to this day at the Owwal Mosque.
With the release of Tuan Guru from Robben Island in 1793, he realised that for Islam to survive in the Cape, a base was needed from which it could sustain itself and from which it could further grow. For Muslims everywhere a mosque in the Islamic sense is a centre of learning and instruction, not merely in religious norms, but also of the functioning of an individual Muslim in his or her social milieu. In essence, it becomes the glue of communal and social life and, as such, is an important institution in the development of the community's culture.
So, Tuan Guru, upon release from prison, immediately started negotiating with the Dutch colonialists for religious freedom of Muslims in the Cape, for example, asking for a site on which to build a mosque and for a relaxation of the official prohibitive attitude towards Islam. This was, at first, strenuously rejected. But, Tuan Guru persisted until permission was granted. He then immediately converted a warehouse in Dorp Street into the Owwal Mosque. The Owwal Mosque in Dorp Street still stands today, established by Tuan Guru as the first mosque in South Africa.
In typical Islamic tradition he established a Muslim school attached to the mosque, which became extremely popular with the local slave and free black community as a source of inspiration, knowledge and empowerment in this Cape enclave of bigotry, colonialist exploitation and white privilege. From this first mosque and Muslim school many of the Cape Muslim traditions were born and developed.
What makes this achievement even greater is the fact that this first mosque was established in an era of colonial rule when the religious freedom of Muslim was severely repressed and frowned upon and only forms of worship emanating from the colonialists were allowed.
It was only in the beginning of the 19th century that the colonialists granted the Muslim community some aspects of limited religious freedom; the first being the granting of burial grounds, the Tanabaru in the Bokaap and the second was the aforementioned site to build the Owwal Mosque, but complete religious freedom in a legal and practical sense was only fully achieved with the adoption of our present Constitution in 1996.
Tuan Guru was by all means an extraordinary person, highly intelligent, a Muslim scholar, a dedicated leader, a freedom fighter and even regarded by some as saintly. He is regarded as a pioneer of the Cape ulema, the Muslim religious scholars, and was the first chief Imam of the Cape.
The legacy of Tuan Guru, the great-great-grandfather of Imam Solomon, and the many others who struggled against colonialism and to establish acceptance of and dignity for their religion and self-worth, forms an inseparable and integral part of the struggle for liberation in this country and should receive full recognition as part of the many various and multifaceted struggles all our people have waged throughout the centuries to liberate our country.
I've deliberately spent considerable time on going into this history because I felt that on occasions like this, when many of us do know this history, I for one did not know it at all until Imam passed away and I did some research, but I thought it was very important for us to put the record straight and fully and in detail set down the amazing history of the family of most of the people sitting up there in the gallery.
Imam Solomon, however, not only descended from freedom fighters that fought the tyranny and oppression of colonialists and fought for the recognition of their religion, but, as we know, he emulated his ancestors and became a freedom fighter in the liberation struggle of this country.
Imam Solomon's political activism was violently kick-started into action in his student days when his family and relatives were forcibly removed from their homes and sizeable property holdings off Spaanschemat Road in Constantia in terms of the Group Areas Act. The Solomon and Sadien ancestral land consisting of three farms were bought by these families in 1902 and they retain the original title deeds to this day. The land stretched for almost five kilometres from the Constantia Valley development through to and including the cemetery. The family still awaits the final restitution of their original land.
Imam Solomon in the decades to come played a pivotal role as a community leader in the liberation struggle in the Western Cape, first as an Imam of the Claremont Mosque since 1979 and later under the banner of the Muslim Judicial Council, MJC, the Call of Islam, the UDF and the ANC. For his endeavours he received and experienced the undivided attention of the repressive apartheid security establishment, which, for a period of his life, forced him into exile. The contribution, role and legacy of Imam Solomon, during this period, is enormous and obviously too numerous to mention. But, one giant contribution stands out and requires special mention.
After the murder of Imam Haroon in detention in 1969, Imam Solomon became one of a handful of Western Cape community leaders, with deep roots in the Muslim community, like our own Ebrahim Rasool, Dr Fariek Essack and others, whose political activism contributed to the Muslim community's increasing involvement in the 80s and 90s in the anti-apartheid movement and liberation struggle in the Western Cape.
Imam Solomon and these activists learnt as political activists from the struggles of the Muslim community since the 60s that the political struggles of the Cape Muslim community could not be divorced from those of the rest of the oppressed of this country. This was a slow process with many landmark events.
Through the efforts of these leaders, the Muslim Judicial Council declared in 1983 that:
It believes that it cannot divorce itself from the rest of the oppressed and those with the same ideals in the formation of a United Democratic Front, to oppose a system of apartheid in South Africa.
Later when the MJC stepped down as a UDF affiliate, Imam Solomon and these activists became founder members of the Call of Islam, which became a UDF affiliate.
This feat is all the more laudable and impressive if viewed against the resistance within parts of the Muslim community to these inclusive and progressive ideas of the time. This rising political consciousness amongst Muslims unfolded against the backdrop of a deeply divided Muslim community, in which some elements were totally opposed to the idea that Muslims had a duty as Muslims to be part of the liberation struggle, alongside communists and people of other faiths.
Professor Aslam Fataar best describes the enormity and significance of the feat of these activists as follows:
Here was a man who provided an example of a seamless marriage between his Islamic commitments and his commitment to nonracialism. His example showed us that we can establish connections between our social transformation commitments and the search for a contextually relevant Islamic idiom. His abiding legacy for me lies in opening the door for a socially relevant Islam, responsive to the plight of the poor in this country.
This great son of the African soil, as his life's story so abundantly shows, achieved the rare distinction of being, firstly, a Muslim leader who transcended religious boundaries; secondly, a community leader who crossed racial, gender, religious and geographic divisions and borders; and, thirdly, a loyal and dedicated political leader from the congress movement tradition, more particularly the UDF and the ANC, who transcended narrow, parochial and self-serving endeavours and the cult of mediocrity and conformity and served the movement with distinction.
In conclusion, Imam Gassan Solomon lived a life of sacrifice, and balanced and dedicated service to his family, to his community of faith, to all the communities of Cape Town, to his Claremont Mosque, to the Zakhaat Fund, to the Voice of the Cape Radio, to the MJC, to the Call of Islam, to the UDF, to the ANC, to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development, to Parliament itself, the electorate and to the youth who were his special passion.
We hail you, Imam Gassan Solomon, as a true revolutionary, a champion of reconciliation, a unifier, a principled leader and a man of practical and unflinching faith, with the spirit of service to the people forming the core of your existence and the driving force in your life. A great soldier of the liberation struggle has fallen, but the rest of us must now pick up your spear and take forward your life's work and considerable legacy.
May the loving outpouring of support from comrades, friends and family and the spirit of Gassan Solomon himself, envelope and sustain his wife, Amina, his two sons and two daughters and his family and friends during this time of grief.
In paying tribute to Imam Gassan Solomon I have liberally used the comments and views of others. Due to time and space constraints, I could not specifically mention them all, but wish to acknowledge and thank you all.
Hamba kahle Imam Gassan Solomon. [Long live the spirit and legacy of Imam Gassan Solomon.] Mayibuye i Afrika! Thank you. [Applause.]
Agreed to, members standing.