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Zakat Foundation of America

Yesterday We Lost a Good Friend and a Great Man, but His Memory Lives On

Dear friends,

Assalamu Alaykum, Peace and blessings be upon you.

Our hearts are heavy as we mourn the loss of anti-Apartheid hero, Ahmed Kathrada. Without a doubt, Mr. Kathrada was an exceptional leader, hero and moral compass. Yesterday humanity lost a great man, a man of honor, dignity and principle. He will be remembered for eternity.

In 2009, when we invited Mr. Kathrada, or “Kathy” as he was known, we did not know that so many celebrities and important people – from Denzel Washington and Oprah Winfrey to former President Barack Obama – were his friends! So many people knew him, respected him and admired him. But his own community, the Muslim community, did not know anything about him or his struggle. He was also very surprised to see how well-organized the Muslim community is in America. One of the first questions I asked him was his thoughts about his struggle after being freed. “Well,” he said, “I will do it all over again if the same circumstances occur. We stand for justice, human dignity, equality and against racism. I will do it again!”

In my life, I have met many great leaders. I must say Ahmed Kathrada was one of the most exceptional individuals.

I had the honor of calling him uncle! Normally, he would not allow people to call him “uncle” in South Africa. Since I used to call him “uncle”, a good friend of mine – who was closer to Mr. Kathrada and was a second generation leader of the African National Congress – shared with me that he asked Kathy, “Why would you allow Halil Demir to call you ‘uncle’ and not South Africans?” He smiled and replied, “If anyone treats me like Halil did in Chicago, then they’ll be allowed to call me uncle!”

I am honored to call him uncle.

I, indeed, loved and respected him. I ask Allah (SWT) to shower him with mercy and accept him into His paradise.

Yesterday was a sad day for South Africans, having lost one of their great leaders: after Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and now Ahmed Kathrada. Today we continue to mourn. South African Muslims have lost one of their giants. He was a great teacher for them. He taught them what it means to sacrifice, what it means to give without asking anything in return!

He was arrested with the Rivonia Six, including Nelson Mandela, and later sentenced to death/life imprisonment. In court, he stood defying and condemning the Apartheid regime. He was offered freedom if he would denounce fighting for justice. He refused. He accepted prison with honor.

“Cold, cold, cold,” he told me it was on Robben Island, where they were jailed, “everything is cold! Weather, nights, wards, walls. After living so long on that island, I can never take a shower with warm water even after 15 years!”

Yes, he lived in a cold world, but he, and his struggle, will live in warm hearts of millions…forever!


Halil Demir
Executive Director

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