One of South Africa’s leading Islamic scholars, Shaykh Seraj Hendricks of Cape Town has succumbed to the dreaded virus. Imam Dr.A. Rashied Omar pays tribute to a revered leader.
On Thursday 9 July 2020, Shaykh Seraj Hassan Hendricks, the resident Shaykh of the Azzawia Institute in Walmer Estate, Cape Town, succumbed to a month-long battle with Covid-19 at the age of 65. With his passing South Africa lost one of its foremost religious leaders.
Shaykh Seraj hails from an illustrious family of `ulama in Cape Town, and was the former head of the Muslim Judicial Council’s Fatwa Committee. At the time of his passing, he served as Hakim (Chief Arbitrator) of the Crescent Observers’ Society and a member of the Stanlib Shari’ah Advisory Board. He was also associated with a number of tertiary institutions, including serving as Dean of the Student Body at the Madina Institute in South Africa, holder of the Maqasid Chair at the International Peace University of South Africa (IPSA), and adjunct lecturer in the Study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
Shaykh Seraj was also an internationally recognized scholar of Islam, and has been ranked as one of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims for over a decade since 2009 to 2020 by the Jordanian Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre.
Along with his younger brother Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, he was the khalifa (representative) of the Ba’ Alawi Tariqa in South Africa, handed down to them by the renowned Makkan Shaykh, Sayyid Muhammad ibn Alawi al-Maliki (d.2004). The spiritual genealogy and practices of this Sufi order is described in a 2019 publication titled “A Sublime Path: The Sufi Path of the Sages of Makkah” published by Fons Vitae and jointly authored by Shaykh Seraj Hendricks, Dr Hisham A. Hellyer, and Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks.
Shaykh Seraj spent over a decade from 1983 studying at Umm al-Qura University in Makkah and completed his BA (Hons) in Islamic Law in 1992. After his return to Cape Town he received an MA (Cum Laude) for his dissertation: Tasawwuf (Sufism) – Its Role and Impact on the Culture of Cape Islam from the University of South Africa (UNISA).
He has a number of publications including a book on the hajj entitled “A Concise Companion to the Hajj” and an annotated translation of Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s Ayyuh al-Walad (Oh My Young Man). He also featured in a video series summarizing parts of Imam al-Ghazālī, magnum opus, the Revival of the Religious Sciences (Iḥyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn), titled the Travelling Light series produced by Shaykh ʿAbd al-Hakīm Murad of Cambridge, UK.
Shaykh Seraj was one of the few Muslim religious leaders who supported the anti-apartheid struggle. He participated in the famous anti-Apartheid Purple Rain March on September 2 1989 and was encouraged in this role by Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool and members of the Call of Islam. During his student years in Makkah, Shaykh Seraj also provided companionship and support to the exiled leader of the Call of Islam, the late Imam Gassan Solomons. In 2008, when the Call of Islam commemorated 25 years since its founding, the Claremont Main Road Masjid congregation had the rare privilege of listening to Shaykh Seraj reminisce about its celebrated role in the anti-apartheid struggle.
He was also a strong supporter of South Africa’s non-racial democratic dispensation and vocal in his opposition to the growing threat of Muslim extremism. In the last decade since 2009 we shared several platforms at the annual Wasatiyya Symposiums convened by IPSA. He was particularly concerned with the global trend among some Muslims to embrace a well-known Salafi doctrine known as ‘al-wala’ wal bara’, the doctrine of loyalty and disassociation. According to him “This is a doctrine that defines both its proponents and the “other” in rigidly exclusivist terms and – in an archaic Calvinist sense – as reprobates.” He incriminates this doctrine as the source of the “violent” othering” of both non-Muslims as well as Muslims who offer alternative interpretations of Islam.
One of the great regrets I, and am sure many others have, is not having spent more time in his company and being inspired and enriched by his deep knowledge and spirituality. I fondly remember attending his daughter’s nikah ceremony at the Azzawia and him telling me that we should meet more often since we are family. We take some solace from the fact that he has left a rich legacy of scholarship and great consolation from the knowledge that he is united with his Beloved Lord and Sustainer.
Shaykh Seraj Hendricks leaves behind his beloved wife, Rhoda, three children, Nuha, Alia, and Rashid, his brother Shaykh Achmat, his lifelong friend and confidante, Shafiq Morton, and thousands of students, both at the Azawiyya and beyond. May Allah grant them lots of sabr and patience at this time of great sorrow and grief. May Shaykh Seraj be granted a high station in paradise and may he be welcomed among the ranks of the shuhada (martyrs), the salahin (pious believers) and the nabiyyyin (prophets). Allahumma Amin.