“Aunty Latifa” was the mother of Dr Imam Rashid Omar of the Claremont Road Mosque in Cape Town. Her vision was to see the emergence of a strong Muslim community in SA. Fuad Hendricks pays tribute.
“Smiling is charity”, perhaps, because the face is the window of the soul, is the advice of Allah’s Final Messenger.
Aunty Latifa, as I and many others lovingly called her, lived this tradition of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh).
Latifa Omar, mother of Dr Imam Rashid Omar, was buried at the Mowbray Cemetery on Thursday 18 February.
Her sense of humour and friendly outlook was her personality signature. She could transform a troubled mindset from gloom to cheerfulness. On the many occasions that I’ve met her she made me look at the brighter side of life instead of its drawbacks.
She was a strong woman in her own right before she became a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She had strong opinions of her own and could not be unravelled by communal theological discord. Theological rambling over this or the other issue she would downplay as “deermakaar praat.” (muddled talk)
Even her son, Rashid, the Imam of the Claremont Road Mosque in Cape Town, admired his mother’s strong independent perspectives on issues.
I could still fondly remember during one of her visits to Durban she asked the late Dr Showkat Thokan as head of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa to provide an enabling environment for the youth, including her son, Rashid, to nurture and develop his potential as an emerging youth leader.
She was not only a concerned mother but committed to the vision to see the emergence of a strong Muslim community as part of the larger South African society. She believed strongly that the youth represents the promising potential of building a successful contemporary Islamic civilisation in submission to Allah.
Whilst those who saw the youth as ‘rebellious’ she perceived them as the agents of change adapting to a rapidly changing social, economic, scientific and technological context. In the defence of the youth she would say, “Laat hulle wees. Hulle weet wat hulle doen” (Let them be. They know what they are doing).
But it was at the Claremont Road Mosque where Aunty Latifa and other ladies played their most crucial role. Without their humanising role to give the mosque the social demeanour and character, the mosque would be mere architecture, brick and mortar. The mosque is like a house; it is the warmth of the people that transforms it from a place to a collective home of worship in the fullest sense of the word. They give the mosque its character of family, of motherliness – its welcoming ethos of sisterhood and brotherhood.
The mosque as a home with a sense of community, where God is at the centre of its consciousness and activism becomes more so with an Aunty Latifa and others beaming the spiritually welcoming attitude make you feel at home whether you a stranger or a regular congregant.
Although the Imam is at the centre of the mosque’s activities, its fervent congregants are the heartbeat which gives the mosque its true purpose and role in the life of the community.
The Claremont Road Mosque has become a home for the many voices and perspectives which are being shared every Friday from its pulpit beaming the diversity of our country and society. It is a forum for education, resurgence, and the building of an inclusive, contemporary Islamic civilisation in the service of humanity.
Aunty Latifa leaves behind children, grandchildren, greater-grandchildren, extended family, and friends in whose lives she would leave a vacuum.
Her son Rashid delivered a spiritually elevating farewell ritual at her gravesite bidding farewell to his mother, a friend, and a believer whose faith was at the centre of her being whilst on this earth. She returned to her Creator, the Most High, and Most Merciful.
She leaves a vacuum at the Claremont Road Mosque but others would compensate for her absence as they continue to welcome others to be at home in the ‘House of Allah’.