A Long Umar in the Path of Sacred Knowledge by Allie Khalfe (1)
Al-Sayyid Imam ‘Abdullah bin ‘Alawi al-Haddād was once asked,
“O Shaykh, who is a Sūfī?”
The Imam pointed to his student, Ahmad bin Zayn al-Hibshī (2) and replied,
“‘He is a Sūfī.”
An ‘ālim, scholar, student and role model, brother Umar Kemp has been a student and murid of the Zawia in Walmer Estate for over 95 years. Umar entered the Zawia at the tender age of 6 years old and grew up in front of the founder, Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks, may Allah’s mercy be upon him. Shaykh Muhammad Salih was born in Swellendam and was recruited by the great grandfather of the late Sayyid Muhammad bin Alawi al-Maliki, Sayyid ‘Abdul Aziz al-Maliki, to study in Makkah at the age of 12 years and remained there for some 18 years. On completion of his studies in Makkah, he left for Zanzibar where he was appointed assistant Judge (Qādī) before departing to the Cape in July 1903. In 1920 he successfully established the “Zawia” in Walmer estate.
Umar’s experience with the Grand Shaykh of the Zawia is a story of wonders. According to an interview I was privileged to conduct, Umar says he spent up to 20 years with the Shaykh. His love and reverence for the people of knowledge, especially his mentor and first Shaykh, is awe-inspiring. He tells us of how he would aim to carry the Shaykh’s shoes and place them on his feet after completion of a lecture. Umar was blessed at a young age to be introduced to the works of Imam al-Shāfi’ī, Imam al-Ghazālī, Imam al-Haddād and a host of traditional texts. As a student who spent nearly half of my life at the Zawia, I marvelled at this man, this true seeker of knowledge, who came to class every Monday, Thursday and Friday with his notebook in hand, dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge.
After nearly a century of studies, the humility many of us witness in Umar Kemp is unbelievable and a lesson for all of us. I often hear his words echo, “I am not a Shaykh, I know nothing, I am merely a student of the Shaykhs”.
With the passing of the old Shaykh, Muhammad Salih, Umar found himself with the next generation or scholars, namely, the late Shaykh Mahdi Hendricks, Shaykh Mujahid Hendricks and Shaykh Ebrahim Hendricks (all sons of Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks).
It is worth noting that Shaykh Muhammad Salih studied with the foremost of scholars of his time including Sayyid Ahmad Dahlān, Sayyid ‘Abbās al-Māliki, Sayyid Bakri Shattā al-Makki and Sayyid Abdurahmān al-Hibshī, while his sons spent years with luminaries including Shaykh Bakr Bāb Sayl, Shaykh Umar Bā Junayd, Sayyid ‘Abbās al-Māliki and Shaykh Amīn Kutbī.
These mentioned scholars are inheritors of the Prophetic etiquette (adab) and the inheritor in Cape Town is none other than our beloved teacher, Umar Kemp. Today, at over 100 years of age, he sits with humility in the most dignified manner under the grandsons of the late Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks, namely, Shaykh Seraj and Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, who are the current Shaykhs at the Zawia.
The legacy continues as the current Shaykhs, besides being top graduates from the Umm al-Qura University in Makkah, spent almost a decade with the late Sayyid Muhammad bin Alawi al-Māliki at the Sayyid’s Zawia in Makkah.
Umar’s love for the ‘ulama and the beloved of Allah, peace be upon him, is brought into practice every year as he has, for over three decades, opened the annual Mawlūd ceremony at the Zawia.
Today, our beloved Umar Kemp is held in high esteem by his Shaykhs, colleagues and fellow students. A gentleman, a role model, a true seeker of knowledge, Umar lives the prophetic etiquette of mercy and kindness and has earned the respect of his community. He is truly a reminder to all of us of what a true seeker of knowledge is all about.
Our teacher and brother, Umar Kemp, recently celebrated his 100th birthday in the blessed city of Makkah al-Mukarrama and we pray that God Almighty grants him many more years with us.
– Shaykh, IslamicText Institute, Surrey Estate,
– Student, Zawia, Walmer Estate,
– Ambassador, Dār al-Iftā, Egypt.