10 January 2024 Passing away of Shamela Shamis

On a windswept cold January afternoon, over 200 friends and relatives of Shamela Shamis gathered at the Green Lawns Cemetery, Warlingham in South London, to pay their last respects. The janaza prayers were offered on-site, and after the internment her family led the prayers for the deceased’s ease in the passage to eternal life ahead.

Shamela was studying for her ‘O’ levels in London in 1969 when she received news of the death of her father, Imam Abdullah Haron, in the custody of the South African apartheid regime’s police. It was alleged to be due to a heart attack. After years of campaigning by conscientious members of the South African judiciary, human rights organisations and family, an inquest at the Western Cape High Court in October 2023 confirmed what had long been known – that ‘he did not fall down the stairs’ but was tortured and killed. Shamela, together with her husband, the Islamic scholar-activist Ashur Shamis, was present when the judgement was passed.

Shamela possessed composure from an early age. In an interview with The Muslim, given in the company of her late mother Gadija Esau*, published in November 1969, she shared moving memories of her late father,

The Police were after him all the time. They would watch what he was doing and where he was going. They knew his every move. He went for ‘Umrah last year [1968] then he came here [London] for business and went home. He said he would settle everything and come over here. So he wrote to me from South Africa, telling me not to worry about anything. But of course I knew he was in difficulty with the police, and he was in Cape Town from February [1969] onwards, and was arrested in May.

[. . .] Personally I do not remember what day they used to come to the house, but I remember them coming to take him to headquarters. And that was the way they took him on the day of the Prophet’s Birthday. [. . .] My brother once went – he is only thirteen – and we thought they would let him go. From what we heard he was in solitary confinement; no one could come near him [. . .]

In many ways what I cherish most about him was what he taught me and how he brought me up, and my brother and sister. How loving he was. [. . .] he was mostly away from home, but when in, he would give us some confidence. It is strange, but I have been thinking of him all the time. I did think of my brother, mother and sister, but I had that feeling that I wanted to see him again. I just thought that everything I did was for my father. I asked myself whether he would agree to what I was doing. I could not write to him because they would open our letters, they still do. He said to me I must not write everything in my letters. So I could only think of him coming here, speaking to him, being with him again, asking him about everything. But alhamdu lillah, this is the way Allah wants it, so we have to accept it.

She testified before the court in 2023 as well, reading out a letter her father had sent written at the back of a biscuit wrapper box. After the court verdict was announced, she did not forget others who had suffered – noting the decision will now give hope to other families of anti-apartheid activists waiting for closure,

Shamela too possessed a nobility and dignity that would have done Imam Abdullah Haron proud, as a loving daughter, caring wife, and devoted mother of Abdullah, Jehad, Khalid and Zainab Intisar. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun.

JS/Jan 2024

*correction, 11 January 2024.