FOR nearly 160 years the spirit of Islam has been coursing through the veins of Port Elizabeth's Jappie family, and now Abdul- Gasiep Jappie is following the calling.
Abdul-Gasiep, 24, the son of Imam Behardien Jappie, has been appointed assistant imam at Grace Street Mosque – or Majied-Ul-Akbar – in Central, together with his childhood friend, Hafiz Ebrahim Tiry.
Behardien, 66, is the 12th imam heading the Grace Street Mosque. Ten of the previous imams at the mosque were his relatives, including his great-great grandfather, great grandfather, grandfather, uncle and father.
Now he is grooming a younger generation of imams to step in whenever they are needed at the Grace Street Mosque, which was built in 1855.
But Abdul-Gasiep is not Behardien's only son following in his footsteps. His older son Faizal is the imam at Goolhurst Mosque in Grassy Park, Cape Town, and his grandson, Luqmaan, has completed his Hifz course (to become a Hafiz, or someone who knows the Koran by heart).
A former Grey High School pupil, Abdul-Gasiep is a final year BCom finance and business student at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU). He also studied a three-year Imamet (Islamic theology) and Hifz course under the late Sheikh Yusuf Booley at the Jam Eyyatul Qurra school in Cape Town.
"I have always heard stories about my ancestors and wanted to follow in their footsteps. My father has always been my main source of knowledge and experience," Abdul-Gasiep said.
He was very proud of his family and his heritage.
"This is a big responsibility, but also a great honour," he said.
His friend, Ebrahim, 30, who is a manager at his family's butchery, also follows in the footsteps of his family.
Ebrahim's late grandfather was Sheikh Allie Tiry of Uitenhage and his uncle is Imam Goolam Tiry, now retired from the Rudolph Street Mosque.
Ebrahim completed his Hifz course at Darul Uloom Zakariyya in Johannesburg. It is his duty to lead regular day-to-day prayers and the Radhaman Taraweeh (prayers offered during the fasting period).
Behardien explained that at Grace Street, the imams decide who is next in line for the position.
"I am proud of [Abdul-Gasiep]. I am still the active imam of the Majied and they assist when I am not available. I am blessed to have him and Hafiz Ebrahim as assisting imams."
So far their role has been assisting with marriages by signing as witnesses.
They also deliver sermons (Khutbah) in the mosque.
"Their main role is to learn as much as they can," Behardien said.
Behardien took over a the mosque from his father, Imam Fuad.
"I was thrown in the deep end when my dad became very ill, but I knew I had to fulfil my duties," he said.
He served as acting imam for seven years before being appointed as head of the mosque – a role which he has been in for the past 31 years.
The role of imam at the Grace Street Mosque has been in the family for 160 years.
The one exception was when Hajji Abdurahmaan Johaardien temporarily held the position about 50 years ago until a Jappie family member, Imam Dawood Davids, was ready to be appointed as imam.