Thousands are reeling from the recent passing of community icon Murhoom Suleman Lockhat who embodied the character of a true Muslim. Stricken with liver cancer, he once delivered a stirring speech advising all to get closer to the Creator while “you still have time on your side.”
It is said that heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. They are not those who are necessarily lauded by society; but rather those who, in their quiet, unassuming and unacknowledged way serve society. They do so not in any dramatic fashion but in their daily interactions, below the radar. Service becomes a habit in a life lived with purpose.
Oftentimes one wonders where such individuals derive their strength, energy and time to engage in so much, for so many, for so little in return. Such was Suleman Lockhat of Durban (03 March 1953 – 06 August 2016) who returned to his Lord earlier this month, after a courageous battle with cancer at the age of 63. A lawyer by vocation, a Muslim in commitment and an activist by passion Suleman combined these attributes to greatly benefit individuals and organisations too numerous to mention.
His formative years were spent in the Muslim Youth Movement (MYM), a movement that he identified with for most of his life, recruiting many into its ranks. However his commitment to ‘the Movement’ did not make him doctrinaire and deter him from drinking from other fountains: he was a regular attendee at the khaanqah of the late Moulana Yunus Patel and other ulama. He was a consistent presence at all MYM meetings and programmes making his contribution as a beacon of calm and rationality even during the most serious crises. He was the calming influence when there were warring factions – between radical youth and traditional grandees and from ideological battles to personality conflicts always respecting the confidence entrusted to him. For the MYM he handled all their legal matter pro deo and was key in the purchase, establishment and registration of key properties including the Islamic Centre Trust and the “Camp Site” in Verulam. He served as trustee on both.
Arising out of his commitment to the ‘Movement Project’ to establish organisations for various professionals, and tracking the idea of the Islamic Medical Association, he was instrumental in founding the Association of Muslim Accountants and Lawyers (AMAL). The idea was first mooted at the MYM Islamic Training Programme (ITP) in Lenasia with MYM President Ahmed Saeed Moolla and Zein-ul-Abedin Kajee. He served AMAL as chairpersonfrom its inception in 1984 to 2011 and continuing to play a key role until his death, seeing it through challenges but also growth and making a significant contribution to tackling critical issues such as Muslim Personal Law.
As part of the MYM, Suleman was active in many outreach programmes (Da’wah) into various communities, including Kwa-Mashu and Phoenix. He was instrumental in institutionalising these programmes. He played a key role in building the first mosque in Kwa-Mashu, one of the first in a South African ‘township’ and organised taraweeh, iftaar and talks there. With Abdul Wahab Khan he established the Islamic Society of Rydevale in Phoenix. In both these institutions,he not only served as trustee but provided the legal instruments for their establishment. He also served as trustee of the South African Da’wah Network (SADN) which runs many such institutions.
After the period of his active involvement in the MYM, when older members regrouped in other organisations such Islamic Forum and Vision 2020, Suleman played a key role in their formation and continued his involvement in these and built relationships with fraternal organisations such as Minara Chamber of Commerce and SAMNET.Suleman played a key role in many of these think-tanks in influencing the thinking of young professionals, academics and businessmen and women.
He was committed to a non-racial South Africa and building a new society. In this he saw a key role for the Muslim community. On many occasions he provided legal assistance to activists facing the onslaught of security police during the anti-apartheid struggle.He also played a key supporting role in getting Fowzia Peer elected as an ANC Councillor for Westville and its surrounds by transporting voters and supporting her until the counting was done.
Not widely known is that as an attorney and member of the Immigration Board, Suleman Lockhat rendered yeoman service beyond the call of duty and often well into the night in dealing with the challenges faced by immigrants and refugees, especially from the other parts of the African continent.
In this very busy life, both professional and as an activist, Suleman’s commitment to his aged parents was unstinting. He found time to see to their needs and sometimes was late for meetings because he had care for the needs of his parents. He lived a modest life, a regular at the Reservoir Hills mosque and a friend to all. He also saw to the needs of his siblings and his own five children. Suleman will be missed by all – from his family to professionals to refugees who depended upon him for guidance and assistance. He was a friend to most, a confidant to many and an inspiration to all.
A year before his passing he was asked to share some ‘wisdom of the elders’ with those present at the annual Islamic Forum gathering. His words ring true and will remain an inspiration to all. The following is what he said during his address.
“A few months ago I fell seriously ill. I have suffered a tumor in my liver and it has been a very challenging time. Challenging with a lot of reflection, reflections on what I have done with my journey thus far, where I am going, how I am going to meet my Lord and have I succeeded in that journey thus far? Of course when you look at it you have many regrets, regrets about why you didn’t do this earlier and why didn’t you do that but nevertheless it is a time to get closer to Allah and the Prophet (saw). When we hear about the examples of the Prophet’s reactions to people, the faith he displayed, the forgiveness he gave, the sincerity with which he received people, that he didn’t just reject them; these are morals that we cherish and how good would it be if we could practice these examples?
“To everyone here I am saying that you are very fortunate. You are fortunate that you’ve got time on your side, you’ve got energy on your side, you’ve got opportunities on your side and many of you have got youth on your side and you cannot be on a better journey than the one you are on now. Make the best of it. Educate yourselves, inspire yourselves and practice what you can. All of us, we have this opportunity now to get closer to Allah and the Prophet (saw) as much as we can so that when our time comes we will be able to say: Ya Allah, I am ready. If I serve no purpose in this world anymore I am ready to go. And many of us, myself included, haven’t reached that stage yet and I’m asking Allah to give me time so that I can reach that stage.
This experience has taught me a lot and I must thank Allah for a very supportive family, very supportive brothers from the movement who care and keep in contact and give us the support that we need at this time because it’s not easy but you make me capable of living through it. Praise be to God, ‘We surely belong to God and to Him we shall return’ and Allah knows best. And I am hoping that when we return, the angels will be able to declare: “To the righteous it will be said: ‘O reassured soul, come back to your Lord, well-pleased yourself and well-pleasing unto Him. Enter you, then, among My honoured slaves, And enter My paradise.” (Quran 89:27-30)
We pray that the Almighty embrace Marhoom Suleman Lockhat in his mercy, envelope him with his love and grant him the highest abode in Jannah. May his legacy continue to accumulate blessings (Thawab-i-Jaariya). Someone wisely said: ‘Heroes are made by the paths they choose, not the powers they are graced with.” We all have that choice.
*This tribute was written by Shuaib Manjra – assisted by Ahmed Manjra and Ahmed Saeed Moola.