By Dr Shuaib Manjra
Shamima Shaikh, one of the foremost Muslim women activists in South Africa, was recalled by her Lord in the early hours of the morning of the 9th day of Ramadaan. In writing this obituary, one cannot but remember Soraya Bosch, whose obituary I wrote just about two months ago. Soraya and Shamima were close friends and sisters in a common struggle, both of whose names will feature prominently in the history of the struggle for gender equity within the Islamic tradition.
In remembering Shamima two enduring qualities stand out: tremendous courage and a singular commitment to a cause. The courage with which she coped with her cancer, was the same quality which made her a fearless campaigner for women’s rights, a democratic and free South Africa and the cause of the Muslim Youth Movement (MYM). Her commitment to these ideals was unflinching. Operating in a parochial “Transvaal” environment dominated by the conservative clergy and their compradore, and being a women, made these essential qualities. Shamima epitomised them. Her small frame and small voice belied her underlying strength.
Shamima was a founder member of the Muslim Youth Movement’s gender desk. She served as the past editor of Al-Qalam and more recently as chairperson of the Muslim Community Broadcasting Trust, which runs As Saut/The Voice, a radio station in Gauteng. That is where I last saw her just six weeks ago conducting her controversial and often contentious talk show. She also served on the national executive of the MYM. In a very sick state Shamima travelled to the Natal South Coast to attend the Islamic Training Programme and presented her paper from a wheel chair barely ten days ago. Her paper on women’s rights is a testament she leaves us all.
Shamima challenged everything. This is how I remember her at university and she remained so till her departure from us. In fact this legacy continues even after. Her Janazah salaah at home was performed by her dear friend Farhana Ismail, which was Shamima’s last wish. The salah at a Johannesburg mosque was performed by her husband, Na’eem Jeenah. Women graced this salah as well as her Janazah salaah and burial at the cemetery in her home-town Pietersburg. In life as in death she challenged orthodoxy.
Shamima leaves behind two young sons, Minhaj (9) and Shir’a (7), whose names reveal the intellectual and activist vision of Shamima and Na’eem. Minhaj means an open way and Shir’a, a moral code. Her marriage to Na’eem was one of the “struggle marriages” that endured and endeared. They constantly challenged each other, inspired and motivated each other, and probably competed as well - they were truly garments unto each other.
We thank Allah for this gift which he loaned to us for a fixed period. We celebrate her life, give gratitude for His gift, and pray for Sabr in thinking of a future without her. Our hearts and thoughts go to her family, husband and two young children. We pray that Allah grants them patience and perseverance to bear this loss. May Allah grant her Jannatul Firdous, insha-Allah.