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Obituary: Mourning the loss of Mawlana Ihsan Hendricks

24th Aug 2018

My wonderful, caring and justice-loving friend Mawlana Ihsan Hendricks passed away in Cape Town, South Africa.

Mawlana Ihsan was born in Worcester and trained as a traditional alim, a scholar of Islam at Darul Uloom Newcastle in Kwazulu-Natal and at the Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow, India. He also spent some time at the International Islamic University in Malaysia.

He was a stoic fighter for justice for all dispossessed people whether they were in South Africa, Palestine or anywhere in the world. He was passionate about two things: justice and knowledge. And true to the meaning of his name, he oozed a unique beauty of character, generosity of spirit and grace.

Contrary to what many might think of most traditional scholars, Mawlana Ihsan was an extremely open-minded person. He listened to different points of view. He strongly believed that traditional Muslim scholars needed the best exposure to new knowledge and experiences.

Mawlana Ihsan had the unique distinction of serving on the International Union of Muslim Scholars under the leadership of Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi whom he admired and he also served as the representative of the World Alliance of Muslim Youth responsible for Central and West and Southern Africa.

Apart from his work as past President of the Muslim Judicial Council in Cape Town and as a founder of the Al-Quds Foundation, in recent years he set his sights on ulama-training. He established the Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali al-Nadwi Leadership Academy (SAANLA) in Cape Town.

On April 6-7, SAANLA hosted the University of Notre Dame-based Madrasa Discourses program in partnership with International Peace University of South Africa over two days. Mawlana Ihsan spent all two days with me and my colleague Dr Mahan Mirza. He spoke enthusiastically and fervently about the need for creative thinking in matters of theology and Islamic thought. He said our goal is to unlock the talent in religious thought by opening the minds with new approaches and questions.

Mawlana Ihsan was ailing for some time with a variety of kidney and cardiac-related ailments. Only a few days ago, on the day he was discharged from a long period of hospitalization, we spoke for almost 45 mins laying out plans to begin in earnest the work of Madrasa Discourses in sub-Saharan Africa. SAANLA also sponsored a small number of South African Ulama to participate in the annual Madrasa Discourses Summer Intensive in Nepal this past July.

Mawlana Ihsan had a wide network of influence in Africa and he made me promise that we would work together to further this initiative. Working with a group of young ulama from sub-Saharan Africa was the next step in Madrasa Discourses anyway and the proposed collaboration was the first step in that direction. Now it becomes my duty to honour the wish of my friend and begin this task in earnest, inshallah, God willing.

Abu Yusuf Saleh and I go back to our youth. His family in Worcester and my extended family in the same town in the Boland, went back decades. I frequently visited Worcester and his late father was extremely caring and gracious to me.

When I returned from my studies in India, Mawlana Ihsan and his late father came to visit me in the Strand to consult me on his studies abroad. Already in the eighties, he and I were of one mind that it was fruitless and destructive to engage in the demonisation of different

Muslim perspectives, especially the disastrous sectarian conflict and tensions between Sunni and Shia theological tendencies.
He would agree with me, I know, that the best response to sectarian outrage is to show self-restraint. In the words of the great classical era Arab poet, Abu Tammam (788-845)

“To show restraint at the insult of a low-life is to preserve one’s dignity. Restraint harms the low-life more than an insulting reply.”

When he returned to South Africa after his studies abroad, we continued our friendship. I joined him at events he hosted in Worcester and Paarl, then in Belhar, and at the various mosques at which Mawlana Ihsan served.

Later he also served at the Awwal Masjid in Cape Town. He was a selfless man who served the community, with qualities of humility and dedication. In the last couple of years, we met and communicated frequently since we were both of the opinion that much needed to be done at the level of ulama at a global level.

I will miss him, his laughter, sense of humour, brilliant mind, his humanity and the capacious knowledge he shared with all.I mourn his loss in the words of Abu Tammam “Far be it, that time will ever bring forth the likes of him Time is stingy in sharing the likes of him.”
From Allah, we come and unto Allah is our return. Go well my friend, hamba kahle, habibi Ihsan!

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