Centre for love and tolerance

2009-05-07 00:00

THE Soofie Mosque in Masukwana (East) Street turned 100 last month. It was built by the Sufi saint Soofie Saheb and its full name, Habibia Soofi Aastana, indicates it is the Pietermaritzburg home of the Chishti Habibi Sufi Order which traces its origins via a lineage of saints back to Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and sonin-law of the Prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islam.

Sufism is regarded as the mystical tradition of Islam and a practitioner of this tradition is generally known as a Sufi. “It is the science of spirituality,” says Irshad Soofie, who serves the Soofie Mosque. “Truth must be transferred from heart to heart not book to book. As a Sufi you must find inner peace to radiate peace.”

The Chishti order emphasises love and tolerance. “There is no discrimination on the basis of colour, caste, creed or political affiliation,” says Soofie. “Anyone can find solace here.”

In each centre, the yellow-and-red flag of the Chishti Nizami Habibi is hoisted. The sandy yellow colour on the flag symbolises humility, while the red colour symbolises ishqe haqiqi (true love) and indicates that an ordained Spiritual Master (Khalifa) of the order is present at the centre and can be consulted. Soofie and his uncle are both ordained Spiritual Masters of the Sufi Order.

Sufism came to southern Africa 300 years ago when Shaykh Yusuf, a Sufi adherent, was brought to the Cape as a political prisoner. He was born in Macassar, now Malaysia, where he became involved in the struggle with the Dutch and English.

“He would have been regarded as a terrorist teaching opposition against foreign rule,” says Soofie.

Yusuf was captured by the Dutch and in 1694 sent to the Cape. He died in 1899 and his tomb is a place of pilgrimage.

In KwaZulu-Natal the first Muslims arrived aboard the SS Truro in 1860, which brought indentured labourers to work in the sugar-cane fields. A later group, who paid for their passage, formed a merchant class.

There was a small percentage of Muslims among both groups.Among that first Muslim community there was a Sufi saint, Badsha Pir. “He was an enraptured mystic,” says Soofie. “He warned the Muslim community that they were getting too materialistic and needed to get back to the Lord. He told them, ‘You think I’m mad, but someone is going to come’. So it is said that he predicted the coming of Soofie Saheb.”

Soofie Saheb was the popular name bestowed on Shah Ghulam Muhammad Siddiqui who was instructed by his spiritual master in India to come to Durban where he set about a programme of spiritual reform among the Muslim community.

“He preached that people should become more God-conscious and less materially conscious,” says Soofie.

Soofie Saheb embodied the Sufi belief that you must serve creation before you can serve the creator. To that end he created an orphanage for children whose parents had died on the ships bringing them from India, kitchens to provide food for the poor and organised proper Muslim burials. He established the Soofie mosque at Riverside in Durban in 1895.

Mahatma Gandhi, then a lawyer in Durban, drew up the trust deed. Between 1895 and his death in 1910, Soofi Saheb established 12 similar centres in Natal, the Cape and Lesotho. One of these was the Soofi Mosque in Pietermaritzburg. Built in 1909, it was administered by Soofie Saheb’s third son, Hajee Shah Abdul Qaadir Soofie, known as Hajee Saheb. “He was my grandfather,” says Soofie. Although it has been added to over

the years, the mosque was initially designed along Turkish lines as the influence of the Ottoman Empire was still strong at the time. It is recorded as number 92 among Pietermaritzburg’s listed buildings. This is an

especially fortuitous number because, according to the abjad numerical system in which numbers can be used to represent letters and words, 92 represents the name Mohammed.

When Hajee Saheb died in 1940 his young widow, Sayyida Khatoon Bibi Soofie, took over the running of the Chishti Habibia Sufi Order in Pietermaritzburg.

“For 45 years my grandmother controlled the ceremonies,” says Soofie. “Even though it is not the norm in Muslim society for women to take control, she assumed the leadership role. She was known affectionately

as Bhabi Saheba.”

However, she couldn’t interact with men in running the affairs of the mosque and, as her sons were too young, the mosque was run by Muslims unaffiliated to the Chishti order. In 1985 when Soofie’s uncle Ghulam Muhammad, the son of Abd al-Qaadir, attained spiritual maturity, legal action was taken and the mosque returned to the hands of descendants of Soofi Saheb.

Today the complex consists of the mosque, a madrasah (school), library and a community hall.

The centre also offers social welfare services, spiritual healing, counselling and spiritual guidance and is once again a thriving centre of the Chishti Nizami Habibi order. “If one ponders how much has been achieved, one will have to acknowledge that the spiritual guidance of Hazrath Soofie Saheb is prevalent,” says Soofie.

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