Every year on the 24 of September South Africans celebrate Heritage Day. But what importance does it carry, if any?
In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, former President Nelson Mandela stated: “When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation”.
South Africa is a vastly diverse nation with so many different cultural groups, including the various traditional african cultures, the indian cultures with its own diversity, and the ‘coloured’ community with its own traditions, to name a few. These cultural groups are intertwined with the larger religious dominations like Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam that bind the smaller groups together, each bringing its own cultural traditions.
The dictionary tells us that heritage means, “something that is handed down from the past, as a tradition: a national heritage of honor, pride, and courage. Something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth; an inherited lot or portion.” When I read this, I was reminded of the elderly uncles and aunts who were always so strict about following cultural traditions and who always spoke so highly of their background and the history of their culture, because it shaped their identity. But when I think about my generation and those after me, I see and feel so little of that cultural honour… Have we lost that identity or has culture changed?
In my humble opinion, I believe it’s a bit of both, but I’m two-minded about whether or it’s a good thing or not. On the one hand, having a clearly-defined identity, shaped by deep rooted cultural traditions, gives a firm, grounded view of who we are both as individuals and as a community. We made you in peoples and tribes so that you may know one another, says the Quran.
What about the new cultural age that we find ourselves in? Where the internet gives instant access to information and exposure to the diversity of the world right at our fingertips. Where cultures mix into one pot of soup and cultural trends can change in a matter of days. One can say that this new age allows us to choose what we feel fits best for us and discard what doesn’t make sense, or it allows us to question and mold our own identity. There are benefits in this flexibility, but it can also be said that it removes a sense of pride or honour in where one comes from. It makes answering the question, who am I, that much more difficult to answer.
Cultural heritage does not define who we are, but it helps shape our understanding of how we came to be and provides a sense of belonging to something much greater than just the self. It tells me that I am connected to people, and when we see ourselves through that light, we feel a sense of duty to our community; to care for ‘us’ as a whole, and not just ‘me’ as an individual; and to hold onto family bonds as a unit. At the very same time it allows us to get to know others by their cultural identity and respect and love them for it.
But I leave the decision up to you. How much do you know about where you come from? How do you define who you are? What is your heritage..?
The History and Heritage of the Sultan Bahu Centre
The word heritage denotes the history, traditions and qualities that a country or society has had for many years and is considered an important part of its character; as citizens of a country we look back to where we come from and who we belong to. In a multifaceted and multi-cultural country like South Africa, each of one us, irrespective of race, colour or creed, all belong to that heritage, The ethos and the ground on which it functions is love and to be able to do good. As it is a divine command, those who believe and do good; their reward is with their Lord. Good is everything from a smile to a handshake; from a word of love to helping those that need to be uplifted; anything good that brings a positive difference to someone’s life. The real ethos is to be able to heal the hearts of others, because God lives in the broken heart. At Sultan Bahu our driving force is the motto to ‘Heal a Heart’. The Sultan Bahu Centre began its life of service many years ago, with a vision of love; a vision to serve. What started out as an aim to feed the needy by serving marginalized communities in our surrounding areas, such as Poortjie, Ennerdale, Noordgesig and Eldorado Park, has since grown into a large NGO with its headquarters based in Johannesburg while operating many branches countrywide.
The heritage of our country is built on resilience, courage, giving, helping and on an ethos of love: to be able to love, to give and to serve. The fundamental function of the Sultan Bahu Centre is to heal the heart; to heal the heart of those who are in need, whether spiritual or material. It is to be able to help those who are in difficulty, to give love to those who seek love, to give joy to those who seek joy, to give happiness to those who seek happiness. For healing the heart of a human being is to gain divine pleasure and to gain presence to the Divine itself. To this effect, the Sultan Bahu Centre has for many years implemented and continues to be responsible for many groundbreaking initiatives, in order to exemplify this motto of healing a heart; from establishing feeding schemes to madressahs in lower socio-economic areas. By the Grace of Allah, our first madressah which was established almost 25 years ago in Ennerdale, still exists today, fulfilling the role it was meant to carry out. At its initial stages of execution, many challenges were faced, but once you trust in the Divine and you give your all to Him, then He makes it easy and opens up all the doors for you. The founding of the Ennerdale Madressah eventually led to the establishment of madressahs in other areas. Today SBC has madressahs in Mayfair, and an Islamic school in Cape Town, where we are responsible for over 1000 children. This is where the joy and pleasure lies; knowing and being responsible for making a difference in somebody else’s life. This was what the Prophet (SAW) did whenever he had an opportunity; to make a difference in somebody else’s life, to give, to uplift and to help. This is the ethos and teaching we have to follow of the beloved Rasullullah Alayka Wa Salaam. This is the heritage we have inherited from him, where to save one life is to save the whole of humanity and to take one life is to destroy the whole of humanity. His path and his sunnah is the heritage of the Sultan Bahu Centre.
The many projects the Sultan Bahu Centre has embarked upon both in the past and present was to establish principles and values of honesty, integrity, professional ethics, social justice and equality, and a commitment to the education of children by starting the bursary programme. From the many projects we have established, the first was the Sabera’s Children’s Home, which was a vision of my late wife. Another project which has grown fruitfully is the Sultan Bahu Drug Rehabilitation Centres, where our mission is to provide comprehensive drug abuse treatment, preserve family values, improve communities and to rebuild lives: the lives of those living in darkness. We then opened the doors of our dialysis clinic, with the intention of assisting those who need dialysis treatment.
We also have a food hamper distribution program that runs across the country; distributing necessities to households of the elderly, the needy and those in difficulty. The Sultan Bahu Centre is like a running horse: wherever it stops, a new project develops. At one of these stops, in celebration of the birth of the Prophet of light(SAW), it was decided to help give light to those who need light; those suffering with cataracts. In the year of the inception of the cataract project, we completed 63 cataract operations in honour of each year of the life of the Prophet (SAW). Today it is a well-established project with hundreds of people in our communities in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg who have had cataracts removed.
In addition, there was the construction of the Sultan Bahu Masjid which was previously an unused church. After being purchased by the centre, the church was converted into a mosque over a period of 5 years, made possible through donations from the general public, revenues received by hosting events and lectures throughout the year. It became a centre of community life. An extension to the masjid is the hifz school which houses roughly 20 students who are all memorizing the Quran. Recently we started a learning centre to equip struggling women with the skills to become dressmakers; however, this was unfortunately brought to a halt by the lockdown, but will reopen soon. In the pipelines is a computer centre which is a vision for the future.
All these projects serves one need: to heal a heart and to be able to do something good in somebody else’s life, to make a difference so that we are able to give love, to give joy, able to cover an individual with the light of love, with a light of care and a light of laughter. May Allah Subhanallahu Ta’alla in His Care and His Love, Cover all of us in His light; all of those who are part of this programme at the Sultan Bahu Centre. Allah bless them and bless their families, bless their homes with light and may this work of healing a heart be a vision for those who work here and their families and their children for many years to come. And may we be able to restore and give happiness to those who are in need, to give joy to those in need, to give love to those in need. In the end we pray a prayer of love; of the Prophet of love (SAW) when he prayed: Oh Allah I seek from Thee Thy love and the love of those who love Thee, and adorn us with deeds which lead us to thy love. And seeing that we are celebrating the teaching (and heritage) of the Prophet of light, who taught us to believe and do good, we end this with a prayer of light of the Prophet of light (SAW), who prayed. Oh Allah let there be light above us, let there be light below us, let there be light in front of us, let there be light behind us. Ya Allah let there be light on the right of us, let there be light on the left of us, let there be light in our seeing, let there be light in our hearing, let there be light in our speech, let there be light in our holding, let there be light in our walking, let there be light outwardly, let there be light inwardly, Oh Allah make us a light..