The RH was composed and written by a Yemeni Sufi Imam Abdullah al-Haddaad while he was on hajj in 1669. Imam Abdullah was born into a very pious family who lived in the rugged but highly spiritual environment of the Hadramawt Valley in the town of Tarim. At 3 years old he became blind as a result of a smallpox infection. At a young age he spent his time in devotion being scrupulous in everything he undertook. In his teens he slept little and performed all the fard prayers in the mosque. After practising tasawwuf most of his life, he became accepted as the Mujaddid of his age and the Qutb of Sufi Orders.
The Raatibul Haddaad (RH)
The Raatibul Haddaad is one of a number of litanies and poems that he composed and is a form of thikr. The RH came to the Imam by inspiration, during a period when he was at the pinnacle of his intellectual and spiritual capability. The RH was inaugurated whilst the Imam was on hajj and it soon reached the shores of many countries. The Imam said that reciting the RH was good for protection of a town or city and where people have a special request for their Creator.
Although there is no tangible evidence at this stage to conclusively prove the origin of the RH in the Cape, a number of historians hold the view that it was introduced by Sheikh Yusuf of Macassar. Sheikh Yusuf, an Indonesian of noble descent, was exiled to the Cape in 1693 and is generally known to have established Islam at the Cape. Sheikh Yusuf had departed for Makka in 1644 and had remained there for a number of years studying under the guidance of many learned scholars. It is believed by some that Sheikh Yusuf met Imam al-Haddaad while the latter was on hajj in 1669 and learnt the RH directly from him. Others hold the view that they met in Imam Abdullah’s home town of Tarim while Sheikh Yusuf was on his travels.
Sheikh Yusuf’s exile to the Cape was as a result of the military resistance he led against the Dutch colonisers of his country, and their attempt to isolate him by establishing him at the farm Zandvliet did not succeed as the Sheikh’s residence turned out to be the rallying point for slaves and other exiles. Thus it was here that the first cohesive Muslim community in South Africa was established. However there was a Dutch law (placaaten) in place which prohibited the practising of any religion other than that of the Dutch Reformed Church. The penalties for propagating Islam were severe, like stretching on the rack, cutting off on or more of the limbs or being hanged. However, Sheikh Yusuf was treated with dignity due to his royal origin and was thus able to conduct lessons in Islam to fugitive slaves and free Blacks in secret. He added a tune (laagu) to the recital of the RH , as singing was common amongst the slaves, thus duping the Dutch authorities and soldiers into thinking they were merely singing. Thus was born the unique RH laagu of the Cape.
Other historians are of the view that it was Sayed Alawi that introduced the RH to the Cape. Sayed Alawi hailed from Mocca in Yemen, belonged to the same tariqa as Imam al-Haddaad, namely the Ba’alawiyya, and arrived at the Cape in 1774, after similarly being exiled for his resistance to Dutch colonialism. After spending 11 years in chains on Robben Island, he went to Cape Town upon his release and engaged in active da’wah work amongst the slaves at the Slave Lodge.
Either way, most of the early Muslim pioneers were affiliated to a Sufi tariqa where it is common to recite thikr with a laagu. The RH can be recited individually or in a group, with or without laagu. This practice of reciting the RH continued through the colonial and Apartheid eras until democracy arrived, a period of over 300 years.
From the early 1800s this practice became known as a gadat usually recited on the 7th, 40th and 100th days after the occurrence of a death, and was a communal occasion accompanied by special food. In later years the gadat was performed on Thursday and Sunday evenings, but has dwindled to mainly the former. There was a variety of dishes served at the gadats, including boeber, gadatmelk and melktert. A barakat ( take home cake) was given to the team performing the gadat and often to those attending as well. Sadly, a number of reasons, including television, social media, breaking up of families during Apartheid era and growth of materialism and wealth among the Muslim population, have contributed to gadats not being conducted as frequently as before.