It is not often that a community has to mourn not only one, but two great stalwarts in the space of a few days. It is like a forest losing two of its biggest trees.
Messages of tribute from far and wide have poured in for Abdool Carrim Gani (75) and Dr Shaukat Thokan (76), who both passed away last month, ironically within days of each other. As close friends, theirs was a special, lifelong relationship, seen in their unselfish vision and activism that spanned more than four decades.
From the front rooms of their houses in Rustenburg, grew the first shoots of the Muslim Youth Movement, which in turn saw the establishment of iconic institutions such as SANZAF, Awqaf, the Islamic Da’wah Movement, the Islamic Medical Association, the Islamic Research Institute, the Media Review Network and so many others.
Space precludes featuring all of the glowing tributes that have flowed in from friends, comrades and colleagues since their demise, but one common refrain has been that both Abdool Carrim Gani and Dr Shaukat Ali Thokan were hands-on activists to the end, but never in the sense that they would ever impose themselves.
Imthiaz Jhetam, Gauteng’s SANZAF chairperson, summed up their ethos by saying that they always motivated people. Their focus was in creating an empowering environment for growth. They were never interested in their own positions, or being gatekeepers.
“Dr Thokan, for example, would initiate something, create a core group and then step back,” he said, adding that he had had a hugely compassionate and enduring concern for the welfare of the ummah.
Ismail Kalla, one of the MYM’s early figures, said what separated Dr Thokan and Gani from others was that they did not serve for the sake of their egos.
“The ego is the biggest destroyer and disruptor of our organisations today, but these men were of such calibre they were never interested in their egos. For that reason, their ideas thrived through other people.”
Siddique Parker, Gani’s son-in-law, said his father-in-law was compassionate, humorous, outgoing and hardworking, even when suffering ill health. During SANZAF’s Ramadan programmes, he would be the first to arrive and the last to leave.
As the pioneering figure of SANZAF’s Malawi and Mozambique’s Qurbani programme, he was never at home for Eid ul-Adha for more than twenty years. He would see the sacrifice and long hours as a necessary service to those less fortunate than him.
Ahmad Saeed Moolla, yet another activist and SANZAF stalwart, said Gani saw Zakah as a sacred trust to be executed, not merely spoken about. He was always determined to carry it out, despite the massive challenges he encountered along the way.
Moolla points to the special relationship between Dr Thokan and Gani, whose strengths merged into a formidable social and organisational force.
Dr Thokan, he says, was the thoughtful one, the public intellect, the orator and the community face who could work the crowds, whilst Gani – an intellect himself – would be the engine behind the scenes, planning and paying attention to every detail.
Zeinoudien Cajee, Awqaf CEO, recalls that the pair initially encountered hostility from the ‘ulama corps when they first established SANZAF, but soldiered on, their eye never off the ball. Thokan, he says, was the key driver in the formation of SANZAF in the 1970’s, which was a project of the MYM.
SANZAF, says Cajee, stands as a “monument (to Thokan and Gani) and a symbol of passionate persistence, commitment, dedication, vision and a yearning to succeed”.
Iqbal Jassat of the Media Review Network notes that Thokan’s humble demeanour and selfless commitment were “outstanding qualities which endeared him to the youth”, a youth eager to confront societal challenges. He enabled the voice of the youth to have relevancy.
It is sweetly ironic that this journalist called Dr Thokan, a few days before his passing, to comment on his dear friend, Abdool Carrim Gani. Profusely thanking me for calling him, he described Gani as a lifelong friend, and a compassionate human being. He said he would remember him as an outgoing person, and who to him was a pillar of strength.
A measure of his humility was that not once in the interview did he refer to himself.
Dr Shawkat Allie Thokan and Abdool Carrim Gani have both played pivotal roles in the religious, educational and socio-economic progress of our community. Their critical, but hitherto unsung, contribution to creating vital community institutions has left a remarkable legacy.
Indeed, Ismail Kalla related in a broadcast that Dr Thokan had once told him: plant a seed and you get a flower, plant a tree and you get a forest, but plant an idea and you get a community…
Both men have indeed left us a rich legacy of kindness, dignity, generosity and inner strength. They both lived this life with purpose, serving others endlessly. They have left us huge shoes to fill by creating an extraordinary example in the light of a caring and compassionate Prophet, a Prophet [pbuh] who always wanted the best for his people.