Film portrays life of imam slain by apartheid police

Time of article published Jun 13, 2011

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Shanti Aboobaker

MURDERED in security police detention on September 27, 1969, Imam Abdullah Haron’s killing was not met with widespread outrage among the Muslim clergy of Cape Town.

“My grandfather was sidelined by the Muslim Judicial Council,” film-maker Khalid Shamis said.

“They saw it was dangerous to be involved with politics, but he (Haron) wanted to go deeper into Islamic principles – which were opposition to oppression.”

About 40 000 mourners attended Haron’s funeral, but while he was alive he was not supported, Shamis said.

Now, in a film about Haron’s life, Imam and I, Shamis hopes to remind a new generation of Haron’s contribution to the struggle for freedom.

“It’s a personal film. Part of it has been a personal journey … it’s been tough at times,” Shamis said.

At 31, Haron was one of the youngest imams in Cape Town. He was imam of the al Jamia Mosque in Stegman Road, Claremont, which he used to oppose the apartheid regime: “He was young and full of ideas to empower women and the youth. He shook things up, but he was respected and loved.”

Shamis said Haron had inspired a generation of activists, including Ebrahim Rasool and Achmat Cassiem.

“He left a strong legacy both for Muslims and all South Africans. But he hasn’t been properly acknowledged.

“I grew up with this idea of him as a hero, but I wanted to make a film about him as a grandfather,” Shamis said.

The film looks at the imam as a family figure.

The film has been six years in the making – Shamis relocated from Britain to South Africa in 2005 – and was mostly funded by him.

Shamis struggled to get funding and suggested that perhaps that was why the film took so long to make.

The film-maker said that, despite growing up in London, he and his siblings always had a connection with Cape Town. Despite this, as a Muslim South African-Libyan who was also English, Shamis struggled to find an identity.

Through the film, he said, he had also found himself.

“Film was the medium I understood and I wanted to tell a story,” he said, but “(it’s also) a medium that can travel further and quicker.

“It’s important in South Africa to remind ourselves of the people who died in the struggle (and) for the story to stay in the national psyche.”

l When the film premieres at the Encounters film festival on Saturday, Shamis will host a Q&A.

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