One of the greatest responsibilities for the South African Muslim today
Ebrahim Moosa – Radio Islam – Opinion | 23 November 2016
Of all of South Africa’s claims to fame, one of the most notorious is oft-repeated statistic that ‘South Africa is one of the most unequal, if not the most unequal society in the world’.
Regrettably, unlike many other widely considered notions of our country, this is one tag that is impossible to puff off as just another wispy concoction.
Depending on the variable used to measure inequality, the time period, and the dataset, South Africa’s Gini coefficient ranges from about 0.660 to 0.696. The Gini coefficient is the measure of income inequality, ranging from 0 to 1. 0 is a perfectly equal society, whilst a value of 1 represents a perfectly unequal society.
Says Professor Haroon Bhorat of the Development Policy Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, this characterisation unassailably renders South Africa one of the most consistently unequal countries in the world.
Postulates are many on the meaning and eventual repercussions of this untenable status quo for our fragile nation.
Author and commentator, Moeletsi Mbeki, in 2011, famously predicted that South Africa’s “Tunisia Day” was soon coming.
“South Africa is a bomb waiting to explode, all it needs is a little match to spark it and it will go up in flames,” Mbeki subsequently warned.
“South Africa is a country with huge amounts of tension in terms of the underperformance of its economy.
“We have a 40 per cent unemployment rate among Africans and 30 per cent unemployment rate amongst coloured [people] which are the two largest populations in this country.”
With those levels of unemployment, the outspoken brother of South Africa’s former president said, the country was bound to have tensions, political and social instability including locals venting their anger and frustrations on foreigners.
The Muslim and Poverty
“Poverty,” said the Messenger of Allah, Sayyidina Muhammad SAW, “almost leads to disbelief.”
It should not be mistaken from this that the poverty-stricken are to be chastised or considered the authors of their own tragedies. However, what is implicit from this Hadith is that poverty-alleviation should be the conscious undertaking of Muslims in order to safeguard society from the inherent dangers of the poverty menace, which has been likened to Kufr.
Sayyiduna Abu Sa’id Al-Khudry (radiyallahu’anhu) reports that Rasulullah (sallallahu’alayhi wasallam) once made the following du’a:
‘O Allah I seek refuge in You from disbelief and poverty.’
Someone enquired: ‘Are these two equal?’
Nabi (sallallahu’alayhi wasallam) replied: ‘Yes.’
(Sahih Ibn Hibban, Hadith: 1026 – Al-Ihsan)
In understanding this ‘equivalence’, we have to appreciate that poverty creates a fertile environment for the spread of fatal diseases, bad morals and common devastation. This is no ideal terrain for the call of Islam to thrive.
It was the practice of the Prophet SAW to further repeat a supplication in which he would beseech Allah for independence. He SAW would say, “O Allah! I ask You for guidance, piety, chastity and self-sufficiency.”
As a Muslim community stationed in South Africa in the midst of a sea of poverty, a grasp of the noxiousness of inequality and the sullen view of it within our faith should be sufficient cause to propel us to ward off its perils from fellow patriots, and in doing so, unlocking dormant frontiers for the progression of Islam.
“It is a recipe for disaster to have conspicuous displays of opulence in our communities, only to have abject poverty the lot of the locality next door,” cautioned Shaykh Ihsaan Taliep of the International Peace University of South Africa in a Khutbah recently.
It was untenable to perpetuate the status quo of ‘parallel and unequal development’, he said, calling for a process of twinning established Muslim communities with their underprivileged neighbouring townships with a view to fudge the inequality gaps.
“Let us not chide the church for winning the hearts through food parcels. Rather, let poverty alleviation – cemented by our own principles – become our mission. Strive to meet the needs of the indigent – but without compromising their dignity,” Shaykh Taliep said.
“Poverty alleviation is [one of] the greatest means of Dawah in South Africa at the current moment,” he declared.
Some may argue that such social commitments distract Muslims from the direct propagation of Islam and the efforts to help people understand it, which are key responsibilities for the Muslim.
Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi suggests these efforts should rather be seen in this way:
“Social involvement,” he writes, “is itself a practical form of da’wah which reaches people in their own environment. Or one might say: It is a call to Islam accompanied by action. After all, calling people isn’t just talk; rather, it is participation in others’ affairs and seeking solutions to their problems.”
“I advise the young,” Sheikh Qaradawi says, “to abandon their daydreams and their unrealistic idealism. They must come down to earth and identify with the masses, those who live from hand to mouth in the downtrodden parts of the big cities and in the impoverished and totally forgotten villages.
“In such places once can find the uncorrupted sources of virtue, simplicity and purity in the midst of life’s harsh realities. There one can find the potential for social change, the opportunities for effort, struggle, movement, help, and reconstruction; there one can mix with the masses and show kindness and compassion towards the needy, the orphaned, the broken-hearted, the weary, and the oppressed.
“The realisation of such objectives, which is in itself a form of worship, requires collective effort, the formation of committees dedicated to eradicating illiteracy, disease, unemployment, lack of initiative, and harmful habits such as addiction to smoking, alcohol and drugs; and to exposing and combating corruption, deviation, oppression, bribery and other practices.
“The struggle to relieve the suffering of the poor and to provide them with proper guidance is indeed an acceptable form of worship, the significance of which many Muslims fail to realise, even though Islamic teachings not only encourage charitable deeds but commend them as individual and collective duties.”
“A Muslim,” he adds, “lives his life as an overflowing spring of goodness, mercy and blessing. And by doing good and enjoining others to do the same, he guards against the infiltration of evil”.
In the context of South Africa, there are very few societal ills today more deadly than the deep-seated evils of poverty and inequality.
Tackling them comprehensively, no doubt, requires ample resolve and fortitude. But for the Muslim, the endeavour is both imperative and rewarding.
As the Prophet SAW exhorted: “Blessed is he whom Allah has made a key that opens the storehouses of goodness and a lock that shuts out evil”.
The missing ingredient in the quest for black-Indian Muslim unity
Muslims in South Africa are at a crossroads. After years of ploughing ahead with Islamic work in ‘business as usual’ mode, of late, Muslim community structures have increasingly been forced to grapple with all the nagging questions – reflective of the uneasiness of the wider nation – from its economic chasm, to the depth of inequality, the dearth of human resources, the toxic state of race relations and the slow pace of transformation.
The Muslim interest in these questions should not merely be seen as an academic exercise in enumerating solutions to a national debate, but rather should be considered a religious imperative that must also reflect a keenness to assess the state of these very dynamics within our own structures.
During a recent Khutbah, Muslim Judicial Council second deputy president Sheikh Ihsaan Taliep considered the reasons why, after a lengthy existence spanning more than 3 centuries, Muslims in South Africa have not been able to expand their presence with much significance beyond the historically Muslim cultural enclaves.
Whilst cautioning against trivialising the efforts of our forebears, the Sheikh questioned whether many of our historical Da’wah and humanitarian efforts had perhaps fallen short in the department of affirming human dignity.
Black Muslims in South Africa today, he said, were bemoaning the approach of Muslims from other racial groups who had embarked on Da’wah projects within their areas – however, without the desired level of respect and acknowledgement for the local Muslim leadership and prevailing circumstances in these areas.
As one leader of a local black Muslim community commented previously: “The thing that has been a problem, that creates challenges and tension, is when people come from outside(an area), without understanding the dynamics, and want to dictate. We are very clear we want to work with anyone who wants to work with us in partnership – anyone who wants to dictate how things are going to be done in the township, they may keep their money, May Allah SWT increase them in that..”
In many cases, these deeply rooted sentiments from townships have led to a sense of disenfranchisement and have rendered the ground ripe for tussles between a newly emerging local leadership and other more established Muslim community structures.
Forging ahead with ‘Project Islam’ in this climate then, is clearly an exercise that demands much maturity and sensitivity from all sides.
Now, whilst handling much of this critical ‘unification’ portfolio would inevitably be vested in the Muslim community leadership, there is a no less significant role every other Muslim can play in mitigating against such potentially devastating divisions, and fostering a sense of a broad Muslim social cohesiveness.
At the heart of this role lies the affirmation of human dignity. And its enabler is dignified human interaction.
With the freedom and diversity that our democracy has kindled, it is evident that many of our communities and Masaajid are now mosaics of South Africa’s variant races, as well as the globe’s many nationalities.
One may have considered this the ideal terrain for building bridges and exploring cultural diversity, with all players anchored in a commonality of faith.
Regretfully, little of this envisaged inter-Muslim cross racial and cultural pollination has materialised.
Instead, our shared sacred spaces have tended to become staging posts for a groupism that is further eroding our sense of Ummah.
It is doubtlessly a natural tendency for persons of a common culture, language and heritage to incline towards, and build networks among each other. However, in the interests of Ummah and community building it sometimes becomes imperative to break out of this mould, as can be evidenced from the Muwakhaat bond of brotherhood established by the Messenger Muhammad SAW between the Muhajireen and the Ansaar.
“This was a wisdom of the Prophet SAW to modify that natural tendency,” says Sheikh Khalid Yasin in his lecture The Enemy Within.
“We too have to be very careful of this ethnic grouping, as ethnic grouping leads to prejudice and bigotry,” he adds.
“If you don’t sit with others in the Masjid, if you don’t walk with others, if you don’t invite others, if you don’t answer the invitation of others, you will not see them as your brothers. You will see them as outsiders. And once you see them as outsiders – other than yourselves, you will prefer yourselves over them. And Shaytaan will come between you and them – you are sitting on this side and they are sitting on that side, and sometimes they begin to think why you are [seemingly] looking at them in a certain way, and you will think the same.
“At times your culture will clash. And some behaviour will occur. And one will call the other one: ‘You black so-and-so’ or ‘You stupid Paki’ or you this or you that (La Hawla wa la Quwata illa billah). These are all the calls of Jahilliyah.
“We have to kill this issue before it rises up, because, it is seemingly tolerated and passed on from one generation to the next, even though it is one of the most destructive elements among the Muslims”.
It appears that much of the discourse among local Muslim structures nowadays revolves around projects aimed at poverty alleviation and empowerment of the marginalised. These causes are no doubt critical. But their impact would be severely limited if these are not coupled with a deep appreciation for human dignity and the fostering of genuine person to person bonds.
“I think…our donations and our charities without the requisite benevolence and feelings of empathy and brotherhood has only served to satisfy the stomachs of the people – not to incline their hearts towards us,” says Moulana Khalid Dhorat.
“So we have helped the locals and they have benefited from it materially, but on the spiritual side, we have not seen the type of mileage that we actually wanted to see. So, we are doing something wrong with our charity here,” he pointed out.
“When giving charity, hug the recipient, make them feel special – ‘I am not doing you a favour by giving you. You are doing me a favour by accepting my charity.’ Don’t only give the charity – Go and visit the man in his shack, go and eat his simple pap. Instead of throwing massive Iftaars in our Masajid in Ramadan, go to the home of a poor brother and make Iftaar with him in his home, speak to their children, take a gift.
“The barrier of giver and recipient must come to an end. We must all live like brothers,” he said.
Echoing Moulana Dhorat, Shk Bandah says the need of the hour is for an outpouring of ‘unusual kindnesses’.
“To our Indian Muslim brothers, I say, visit your Muslim brothers and sisters in Umlazi; show your solidarity and that you care about them. This is one aspect that needs to be emphasized vis-a-vis emerging Muslim communities: As much as we need resources, we also need that unusual kindness, where someone just goes to sit with an orphan for 10 minutes. Tell the orphan that ‘you are not alone’. That is the type of support we need.”