This tribute is a brief outline on the life of the late Imam Abdurahman Bassier. In 1923, Imam Abdul Bassier and his Alawiyah Tariqah Jamaah traveled to recite all over the country. His pregnant wife, Gadija, went along. On 19 th January she gave birth to a son, Abdurahman, in Port Elizabeth. At that time Imam Abdul Bassier was Imam at the Boorhaanol Mosque in Longmarket Street, having been appointed in 1911. Gadija was an equally busy woman. Apart from being a mother of 3 children as well as an extended family at 77 Wale Street, she combined her role as ‘motjie Imam’ with a full-time employment as a laundry lady.
In 1930 the whole Bassier family went on pilgrimage to Makka. Abdurahman, aged 7, contracted the deadly smallpox illness in Makka. He spent more than a month blindfolded and totally isolated fighting for his life. Miraculously he survived, although the disease left its marks on his life. Upon his return from Haj with his parents in 1931, he entered Sub A at Schotsche Kloof Primary School in Bo-Kaap. By 1933 he had progressed to Standard 3 and moved to Prestwich Street Primary where he completed Standard 6. Unfortunately due to the perceived unIslamic environment prevailing at high schools at the time, his father did not allow him to further his formal secular education.
Instead, at the age of 14 he became a tailoring apprentice and a few years later he started his own tailoring business and earned a living as a tailor. However, the yearning for knowledge still burnt brightly within him and soon after leaving school he commenced Islamic studies under the late Sheikh Ismail Edwards, an Al-Azhar graduate and one of the leading Alims at the Cape. It was under Sheikh Ismail that the youthful Abdurahman cut his religious teeth and by 1958 when Sheikh was tragically killed in a car accident, his student had outgrown his milk teeth and was destined for other stages.
Abdurahman’s youthful days were full and varied. It always started with Fajr at the mosque, often preceded by a cold shower. After Fajr he went on long walks into the mountains and to Kirstenbosch , during summer lasting up to 3 hours. Apart from the exercise, these walks were used for memorization and basking in the solitute of nature. Back at the tailoring shop, a respected trade in those days, the conversations were often heated and drawn out over technical issues of the Deen.
After work in the afternoons it was onto the rugby playing fields for practices in the winter and the swimming beaches in the summer. Initially he played for Roslyns Rugby Club in the company of the legendary Freeman, but was later instrumental in the establishment of the Buffaloes Rugby Club, for which he played until 1949. In fact he represented Western Province Rugby Union as a wing in 1948. Weekends used to be spent mountain hiking or camping, while he also loved Western movies and listening to live performances of the Philharmonic Orchestra.
In 1949 he undertook his second pilgrimage at the age of 26. This journey made a deep impact upon his outlook on life, especially in his interaction with different people on the trip. Especially the poverty and the piety that he witnessed shaped his vision of society. On the 19 th September 1953 he married Mareldia, eldest daughter of Hadji Noor and Hadji Mymoena Ederies of District Six. It was to prove a match made in heaven, for she bore him 5 children, including a pair of twins, while she was to prove his primary source of support, encouragement and solace. Initially they settled with his parents in Bree Street, but in 1960 they all moved to Sachs Street, where he spent the remainder of his years.
In August 1962 Imam Abdul Bassier passed away at the age of 82 years. His youngest son, Abdurahman, was elected the following month in an open election to succeed him. He was 39 years old. At his first meeting with the mosque committee, he requested that the contributions from the congregation be utilized to start a bursary fund for needy students, and later to fund the Recreational Movement.
A few months later while visiting a sick mureed at the Brooklyn Chest Hospital, he was approached to minister to the Muslim TB patients. Thus for the next 15 years he would conscientiously visit that hospital on Sunday mornings to provide spiritual comfort and hot koeksisters to the patients.
In 1964 his yearning for a platform to serve the broader community was realized when, with the assistance of a recently graduated social worker, Achmat Davids, they established the Boorhaanol Recreational Movement. The Movement aimed to improve the quality of life of the community through adult education and training, recreational activities for the youth, and bursaries to scholars and students. The Movement energized the mosque committee, for the wide variety of activities taking place required hard work and sound planning. At night the Bo-Kaap mosques and halls were abuzz with activities that uplifted, educated, empowered and relaxed people from all walks of life. Imam was at the heart of all of this, ensuring the proper integration of the spiritual with the temporal, while at the same time fulfilling his duties as a tailor, Imam and father.
In 1966 they published the first Boorhaanol Newsletter, or quarterly magazine with the dual purpose of educating its readership as well as updating those who had been displaced to the townships. In 1970 they established one of the first Muslim preschools in the Cape, but not before a long struggle. The reason was that the proposed venue, the old Schotsche Kloof Hall, had been condemned as an unsafe building. It required much fundraising in the form of open-air mini-fetes to repair the hall to the satisfaction of the authorities.
As leader of the Boorhaanol mosque, Imam was obligated to represent his congregation at the Muslim Judicial Council. He served that body with distinction for 40 years in various capacities, being elected as Chairman from 1979 to 1981, and vice-chairman until 1984. During that period he was involved in the establishment of the first mosque in Mitchells Plain, facilitated the resolution of conflicts at the mosques in Bishop Lavis and Factreton, as well as negotiating the re-opening of the Darul-Ilm in Salt River. Later he also served on the Imaarah, the highest decision-making organ of the MJC.
In 1978 he started doing prison missionary work at Robben Island and Pollsmoor prisons. Given the tense political situation as well as the prevailing antipathy towards prisoners, progress was slow. By 1980 with the assistance of Achmat Davids, he established the Muslim Board for Prison Welfare and State Institutions, under the auspices of the MJC, Hospital Welfare Society, Muslim Assembly and Paarl Jamaah. He served as its chairman from 1982 until he fell ill in 2002. He soon realized that Muslims need to have a unified body in its negotiations with State authorities, so he began the long road of setting up a national body. In 1988 the National Muslim Prison Board was established with Imam serving as its co-ordinator until 2002. One of the Board’s main achievements has been the appointment of a Muslim Chaplain in 1998.
In 1982 his attention was drawn to the desecration of the graves of the pioneers of Islam at the Tana Baru cemetery. His response was to approach several Muslim neighbours of the Tana Baru and with the assistance of Achmat Davids they established the Committee for the Preservation of the Tana Baru. Once again progress was slow and for fundraising he urged Boeta Achmat to research and publish the book Save the Tana Baru – an invaluable historical account of our legacy. Imam served as the Chairman of the committee until 1998 when the Tana Baru Trust was established, entrenching the prohibition of any commercial development of the cemetery. He served as Chairman of the Trust until he fell ill in 2002.
Imam suffered a stroke in February 2002 at the age of 79 years. Thereafter his activities were severely curtailed. On Saturday morning of the 24 th July 2004 he passed away peacefully in the company of his lifetime partner and wife Mareldia. He was buried the following day in the grave of his father, Abdul, at the Mowbray cemetery.