You are here:
ASSOCIATES & DISCIPLES OF MAHATMA GANDHI > TRIBUTES BY MAHATMA GANDHI> Bawazeer, Imam Abdul Kadir
Bawazeer, Imam Abdul Kadir
His real name was Abdul Kadir Bawazeer, but, as he served as Imam in South Africa, most people knew him as Imam Saheb. I always addressed him by that name.
The Imam Saheb's father was the Muezzin of the famous Jumma Masjid in Bombay and served in that capacity right till his death. He died only a few years ago, after the Imam Saheb's return to India. He fell dead just as he was washing and getting ready for the azan. Such a death comes only to the blessed. The Imam Saheb's forefathers were Arabs and had come to India and settled in the Konkan years ago. Hence he knew the Konkani language too. His mother tongue was Gujarati, but he had little schooling. He knew Arabic well enough to be able to read from the Koran Sharif with a pleasing intonation, though not so well as to be able to understand everything in the Koran. He had picked up, through contacts in practical life, English, Dutch and Creole French. Urdu, of course, he knew. He had also a working knowledge of Zulu. His intellect was so sharp that, if he had regularly studied in a school, he would have earned reputation as a great scholar. Though he was not a lawyer, he had come to understand subtleties of law through practical experience.
The Imam Saheb had gone to South Africa for trade and had earned much. When he gave up business, he kept coaches which he supplied on hire and had a fairly good income from that calling. Being a man of independent temper, he never tried his fortune in big business. He had a sweet voice, and, since his father was a Muezzin, he occasionally officiated as Imam in the mosque in Johannesburg. But he accepted no honorarium for his services.
The Imam Saheb had married twice. Both the wives were Malays. His first marriage was not successful, and so he married the lady whom we knew as his wife. This marriage had given him much happiness. He and the Haji Saheba served each other with great devotion. He was a sincere friend. So far as I know, the Imam Saheb's views about marriage had undergone a complete change and he had come to believe in monogamy...
My first meeting with Imam Saheb may be said to have taken place in 1903 in South Africa after my return to that country. He used to tell me that we had met once before that but I have no recollection of that meeting. When I set up practice as a lawyer in Johannesburg, he used to accompany clients to my office. He was an altogether different man then in appearance and manners. He used to dress himself in English style, and wore a Turkish cap. I immediately recognized his intelligence, but otherwise he did not produce a good impression on me at first. I thought him rather obstinate, but, as I came to know him better, I liked him more and more.
I saw, as I had more and more experience of dealing with him, that what I had thought to be obstinacy was only his eagerness to understand fully the implications of every point. If he held an opinion on any matter, he would not give it up till his reason was convinced of his error. He would not take a lawyer's word as gospel truth in legal matters merely because he himself was not a lawyer, but would argue against him even in such matters. Though he had had no education, he had complete confidence in his judgment. Moreover, he had a proud sense of self-respect. I, therefore, saw very soon that he had sufficient strength of mind to cling to his own view without being overawed by anybody.
In the beginning, Imam Saheb used to come to me on behalf of clients and explain their cases to me. But he took interest in current affairs and would draw me into discussion about them. He evinced keen interest in discussing the hardships of our countrymen in South Africa and took part in the meetings, etc. On most issues, he supported me, but he never hesitated to oppose me even in public whenever he did not approve of my stand. Gradually, however, he was drawn towards me and, when the satyagraha commenced, proved himself as steadfast as a rock. Some fell and some weakened, and some opposed me bitterly, but I don't remember Imam Saheb to have wavered at any time. When he was imprisoned for the first time, nobody expected that he would remain strong till the end. On the contrary, many persons told me, including some who held him in high respect, that he would not go to jail again, that he had a delicate constitution, was pleasure-loving and had many wants. This was on the whole true. However, Imam Saheb never weakened, whereas I saw many who were known to be simple in their habits withdrawing from the struggle. Imam Saheb's capacity for self-sacrifice was very great, and, though he would think long before taking a decision, he showed wonderful strength in clinging to a decision once taken.
When Imam Saheb plunged into the struggle, he had no thought at all that he would have to break up his home and embrace a life of complete renunciation. As soon, however, as he saw that if he wished to remain staunch in the satyagraha movement he would have to give up the attachment to his home, he did so almost in an instant. This was no small sacrifice on his part.
We should remember that Imam Saheb had set up his home in English style. Haji Saheba had lived in that style from her very birth. Fatima and Amina also were brought up like English children. For one who had lived in this manner, it was extremely difficult to curtail his heavy expenditure and adopt an utterly simple mode of life. For Imam Saheb, however, once he had made up his mind to do a particular thing, it was quite easy to carry out his resolve. And, therefore, when I decided to leave Johannesburg and to settle in Phoenix, he himself proposed that he, too, would live there. Though I knew his firmness of mind, I was completely at a loss what to say in reply to his proposal. I described to him the hardships of life in Phoenix. A man who had never put his body to the slightest trouble and had always lived surrounded by comforts and luxuries, I wondered how such a person would be able to start forthwith living like a labourer. Even if he himself could bear the hardships of life in Phoenix, what about Haji Saheba, and Fatima and Amina, I asked. Imam Saheb's reply was brief. He said: "I have put my trust in God. And you do not know Haji Saheba. She will always be ready to live where I live, and as I live. If, therefore, you have no other difficulty in the matter, I have decided to come and live in Phoenix. No one knows when the struggle will end. I don`t think I shall be able to carry on my old business of supplying coaches on hire, or take up any other occupation. Like you, I too have realized that a Satyagrahi should give up love of wealth and possessions." Imam Saheb`s proposal pleased me very much. I wrote to my co-workers in Phoenix. They also welcomed the proposal. And so Imam Saheb and his family came over.
Many inmates of Ashram probably do not know that Imam Saheb joined the residents of Phoenix in all their activities. Everybody fetched water for his or her own use from a spring below. It flowed at some depth below the level of the Phoenix Settlement. The Phoenix buildings were on a hill and one had to climb about fifty feet to reach the place. Imam Saheb had a delicate constitution even at that time, but every morning one saw him walking down to the spring with a kavad on his shoulders and climbing up slowly with the buckets filled with water. The place now occupied by the spinning-wheel in the Ashram was held in Phoenix by the printing press. All the inmates, boys and girls, old men and women, educated and uneducated, had to work in some department of the press. There were all kinds of big or small tasks, composing, folding the printed copies of the paper, making wrappers, pasting stamps, moving the wheel with the hand whenever the machine stopped, etc., etc. Everybody was required to give some time and help in these tasks, especially on the day on which the journal was to be published. Imam Saheb, Haji Saheba, Fatima and Amina, all four of them joined in this work. Imam Saheb had learned composing. For a man of his temper and habits and of his age, this was indeed wonderful. In this way, Imam Saheb identified himself completely with the life at Phoenix. He and the other members of his family were non-vegetarian, but I don't remember any time when they cooked such food at Phoenix.
This, however, does not mean that Imam Saheb was in any way a less devout Muslim. He never missed namaz, nor did he or his family ever fail to observe the roza. By adopting the manner of life of the other inmates and making a sacrifice for their sake, he really demonstrated the nobility of Islamic culture.
Imam Saheb`s capacity for self-sacrifice was to be put to a still more severe test. He went to jail again several times, and proved himself a model prisoner. When, however, in the year 1914 it was decided that most of the inmates of the Ashram should return to India, leaving only a few of them in Phoenix, Imam Saheb was put to a real test. South Africa had practically become his home. Haji Saheba, Fatima and Amina were complete strangers to India and did not know any Indian language - a little English and Dutch was all the language that they knew. But Imam Saheb took no time to come to a decision. He had made up his mind that he and his family would live wherever I did. That was his self- sacrifice for the cause of satyagraha and his contribution towards Hindu-Muslim unity...
(From Gujarati)