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Profile of Shaykh Taha Karaan
Shaykh Taha Karaan is a Shafi’i scholar born in Cape Town, South Africa to a family renowned in both its maternal and paternal lineage for Islamic scholarship. His father, Shaykh Yusuf Karaan, was one of the oldest and most distinguished Islamic scholars in the Cape. Shaykh Yusuf – famous for his translation of many of Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya al-Kandhlawi’s seminal works – sat as the chief Magistrate for Islamic Civil Matters in the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC).
Shaykh Taha completed his Qur’anic memorization in one year at the Waterfall Islamic Institute( Mia’s Farm), the oldest Islamic seminary in South Africa. During his stay, he assisted in the editing of the Qur’anic prints that the Institute has become famous for the world over. After finishing four years of the ‘alim course in two years, he journeyed to the Indian sub-continent and Dar al-Ulum Deoband, graduating from there in 1991 with the highest of distinctions – as did his father – in a class of over 700 students. He then traveled to the Middle East and completed a two-year graduate diploma at the Higher Institute for Islamic Studies in Cairo, Egypt.
Shaykh Taha is the recipient of numerous chains of transmission (ijazaat) – from well-respected scholars in India, Pakistan, South Africa, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, among others – in numerous fields of Islamic study.
Currently, Shaykh Taha is a member of the Ifta’ Department of the MJC, and sat as an executive member of the Muslim Personal Law Board and on the Islamic Advisory Board of ABSA, one of South Africa’s national banks. He is a sought-after speaker at Islamic symposia and conferences but attends them sparingly, preferring to spend most of his time at the Islamic seminary, Dar al-Uloom al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah, that he founded in 1996. The educational thrust of the seminary reflects Shaykh Taha’s own pioneering vision and commitment to squarely interface with the challenges of the modern age through the twin objectives of preservation and progress. In his own words:
“The study of Islam is not simply an area of academic investigation. It is the continuation of a legacy—a legacy that was initiated with the revelation of Iqra’, whose foundations were laid over the 23 years of Prophethood, and whose edifice was raised by successive generations of keenly devoted scholars for well over a thousand years. The type of individualism that places the investigator in the centre and ignores the legacy of the discipline is foreign to Islam. Knowledge is handed down through a legacy of scholarship. The student, as the recipient of knowledge, becomes heir to that legacy. By inheriting the legacy he becomes part of it, and it is then through him that the legacy is perpetuated.
The legacy itself transcends time. But every subsequent age brings with it unprecedented challenges. It is only when the challenges of an age have been met that the claim of preserving a tradition becomes tenable. The dynamism inherent within the legacy of knowledge in Islam makes it possible for it to meet all challenges. Every instance of interaction between challenges and the legacy adds to the wealth of the legacy itself. Thus does the legacy progress and develop. And in this way do preservation and progress go hand in hand.”
In his teaching, writing and legal verdicts (fatawa), Shaykh Taha regularly addressed contemporary issues such as the challenges of post-modernity, feminism, Islamic economics and finance, the old and new Orientalisms, and fiqh issues affecting diaspora Muslim communities.
His students (and authors of this biography) describe him as divinely-gifted with encyclopedic knowledge; possessed of a near photographic memory; an insatiable bibliophile within the Islamic sciences and without; a teacher that never ceases to inspire; endowed with an elegant calligraphic hand and a penchant for poetry; thoroughly unassuming, pleasant, brilliant and tender-hearted.