Profile of Shamima Shaikh

(14 September 1960 - 8 January 1998)

On the 14th September 1960, Shamima Salahuddin Shaikh was born in Louis Trichardt - in what is today South Africa's Limpopo Province - just North of the Tropic of Capricorn. She was the second of six children born to Salahuddin and Mariam Shaikh.

Her first school years were in Louis Trichardt, until the family moved to Pietersburg, just over 100 km South.

After completing her matric in 1978, Shamima went to the University of Durban-Westville. She spent one year at the University and returned home for the next four years.

In 1984 she returned to UD-W to complete her Bachelor of Arts Degree, majoring in Arabic and Psychology. These were politically-charged years at university, and Shamima got involved in the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) for the next two years.

In 1985 she was elected to the executive committee of the Islamic Society of UD-W.

On the 4 September 1985 Shamima was arrested for distributing pamphlets that called for a consumer boycott of White-owned businesses. She spent the next few hours locked up at Durban's CR Swart Police Station with her partner-in-crime, Na’eem Jeenah. This was her first meeting with Na’eem, who was National President of the Muslim Students Association. (Two years later, Na’eem was to become Shamima’s husband!)

At the end of 1985 Shamima completed her BA degree and performed ‘umrah.

In 1986 and 1987 she taught at the Taxila Primary and Secondary school in Pietersburg.

On the 20 December 1987 Shamima and Na’eem were married and lived in Johannesburg.

Shamima gave birth to Minhaj in September 1988.

In January 1989 the family moved to Durban.

In 1989 Shamima became involved with al-Qalam which was being edited by Na’eem. al-Qalam was a Muslim community newspaper that belonged to the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa, an organisation she began to get increasingly involved in.

1989 and 1990 saw Shamima also get involved in heightened political activity with campaigns against the racist Tricameral Parliament elections; the Mass Democratic Movement; marches; demonstrations; mass rallies; solidarity campaigns; etc.

Shir’a was born to Shamima and Na’eem on the 8 October 1990.

In 1991 Shamima and her family moved back to Johannesburg.

At the end of 1991 Shamima again became involved with al-Qalam, writing and sub-editing.

In 1993 Shamima was elected the Transvaal Regional Chairperson of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa, and was thus a member of its National Executive, only the second woman to hold such a position.

1993 also saw Shamima leading women to attend the taraweeh prayers at the 23rd Street Mosque in Fietas in Johannesburg. This led to clashes between her and some of the members of the mosque committee and thrust Shamima into the public eye.

Shamima was featured in various newspaper articles, on radio and TV programmes for her forthright positions on women’s rights in Islam and other issues.

In December 1993 she became the first National Co-ordinator of the Muslim Youth Movement Gender Desk, a position that again put her on the MYM’s National Executive. She held the position until the middle of 1996, when - as a result of a proposal she made - the position was moved off the National Executive.

In her position as Gender Desk Co-ordinator, Shamima organised various workshops, seminars and campaigns. She spearheaded the MYM’s "Campaign for a Just Muslim Personal Law", the "Access to Mosques" campaign and various others.

Shamima was very involved in the Muslim Forum on Elections – a coalition of Muslim organisations that was calling on the community to vote in South Africa’s first democratic elections in April 1994, and to vote for those parties "that had formerly been part of the liberation movement" – in particular, the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

In 1994 also, Shamima helped found and became the first chairperson of the Muslim Community Broadcasting Trust which applied for a community radio licence for Johannesburg. She remained chairperson of the MCBT till her death.

Shamima was also involved from 1994 with the founding and establishment of the Muslim Personal Law Board of South Africa. She was a member of the Board till it was unilaterally shut down by the United Ulama Council of South Africa.

In the year of the elections, Shamima was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy done and received radiation treatment.

A year later it was discovered that cancer secondaries had affected her entire skeleton. For this she was treated with high dose chemotherapy. After the cancer had thus disappeared, Shamima had decided not to receive chemotherapy again if the cancer recurred. She said she preferred to die with dignity and continue doing till the end whatever she loved rather than being sick in hospital. In 1996 she had a relapse.

That same year she was appointed Managing Editor of al-Qalam. Under her editorship al-Qalam was the flagship of a progressive expression of Islam in South Africa.

In April 1997 Shamima performed the hajj for the first time. After her return she and Na'eem began working on a manuscript about their hajj experiences. The result is Journey of Discovery: A South African Hajjpublished in 2000.

In August 1997 the Muslim community radio station, The Voice, was launched - with Shamima at its head.

On the 22 December 1997, Shamima completed her final public engagement. She delivered a paper, "Women & Islam – The Gender Struggle in South Africa: The Ideological Struggle" at the 21st Islamic Tarbiyyah Programme of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa, at the As Salaam Educational Institute on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast.

Seventeen days later, on the 8 January 1998 / 9 Ramadan 1418, Shamima returned to her Lord.

In death, as in life, Shamima challenged orthodoxy and traditionalism: one of the four janazah salawat (funeral prayers) performed for her was led by a woman friend – as per Shamima’s request. Also, many women attended her janazah salah at a Johannesburg Mosque and at the Claremont Main Road Mosque in Cape Town. And in Pietersburg, dozens of women were present at her burial.

Shamima Shaikh - May Allah be pleased with her, and she with Him...

Journey of Discovery:
A South African Hajj

by Shamima Shaikh and
Na'eem Jeenah


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