Islamaphobia: be proactive
Whilst the country still reels from the senseless killing of Mohammad Fayaz Kazi in the holy of Ramadan, for Muslims his death is an important lesson on how to deal with Islamophobia. That was the view of media analyst and alim, Maulana Sulaiman Ravat, in the aftermath of the killing, considered the first Islamophobia related murder in South Africa. Kazi was allegedly assaulted by two Afrikaaner men in Magaliesberg in the North West, because of his religious identity. The young man was mocked for wearing a beard and labeled as a ‘terrorist’, a common stereotype for Muslims who follow the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
But while there has been so much reaction to the killing, Ravat believes Muslims have failed to critically look at how to interact with Islamophobes. Although the public sentiment was somewhat muted in the Western Cape due to the distance of the case, in Johannesburg there has been an overwhelming outpouring of anger. This fury was evident during a call-in show on Radio Islam in the week of the murder, which according to Ravat was understandable given the nature of the crime.
But worryingly, some listeners took a tit-for-tat approach, with some people vigorously declaring they would go to the small Afrikaaner town of Ventersdorp (where the accused are from) to protest. Ravat said the radio station called for calm and had to go to great lengths to explain the situation in its context. In his view, Muslims needed to be “fair” and understand that Islamophobia was not as widespread as it was in Europe and the US and South Africa was merely dealing with isolated cases of discrimination. A balanced approach to tackling the matter was therefore required.
“When the Prophet (pbuh) saw how the body of his uncle Hamza (ra) was mutilated, momentarily his human instincts took precedence took over and he became emotional. But Quranic guidance came down and reminded him that we should never allow our judgment to be clouded,” he advised. “We must therefore be careful of how we react. Islamophobia is a negative thing, but it also has its positive elements. One of the positives is that it allows us to reassess how we should act as Muslims. We have to remind Muslims to look at the seerah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). A Muslim under no circumstances is allowed to be overcome by his emotion…”
Research by the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) indicates that there is not a huge degree of Islamophobia in the country. This particular case was a combination of racial and religious discrimination. By and large, South Africans mostly grapple with issues of racial prejudice, especially in white dominated areas. “Here is where we need to branch off into two different approaches. As a community, we need to be loud, firm and clear that we do not condone Islamophobia,” Ravat stated.
“But the media also needs to be careful on how they report on Muslims, as it sometimes perpetuates these perceptions,” Ravat asserted. “When it happens to you on an individual level, perhaps you’re dressed in a kurta and you walk into a store and get labeled Osama, how do you react? Do we rather then get physical and say ‘let’s teach them a lesson?’ No, but maybe it’s a chance for engagement and dialogue…because anger is a waste of emotion.”
Scholars from Europe, where Islamophobia is a daily reality, agree that Muslims must start utilizing this is an opportunity to demystify the religion and counter accusations. “In the long run, this will be more beneficial for everyone because its entrenched in the Seerah. The Prophet (pbuh) was stereotyped and there was propaganda against Islam, but he used the opportunity to ensure that something positive came out of it. It took a number of years, but positive results came through eventually.”
Meanwhile, Islamic theologians in the northern parts of the country have been proactive by distributing booklets that aims to dispel the myths surrounding Islam and Muslims. According to the Jamiatul Ulama body, mutual understanding is a prerequisite of a successful dialogue. Tolerance and harmonious co-existence comes from this mutual understanding of other people’s belief systems.
“Indeed there has been contact between Muslims and non-Muslims, but only within the diplomatic framework. A more public appeal of the common values and shared interests is an imperative,” said the council. “It is common knowledge that Islamophobia is a counter-productive phenomenon and one of the objectives of this booklet is to put an end to it. More important than this aim, is to start a confidence building exercise to push mutual recognition to new boundaries.”
The past few years has seen an increase in dialogue between Islam and the West. The Jamiat believes that there is a willingness on both sides to recognize the importance of mutual understanding. We are confident that this booklet will be helpful in making informed decisions which in turn can only engender better relations.” VOC (Tasneem Adams)