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South African Muslims, Let’s Cherish the South African Rainbow

 

Bint Assalaam | Opinion – 28 February 2014/27 Rabi ul Akhir 1435- CII

I remember a group of friends gauging the “fairness” of each other’s skin not too long ago. Growing up in South Africa it was pretty easy to be aware of the colour of your skin. Less melanin still seems to be considered a favourable physical feature – even when you subtract apartheid from the equation.

Back then, one knew the colour of your skin either allowed or denied you entry into rooms with many big windows. My “brownness” meant I was only allowed to enter smaller, dingier rooms. They were rooms with only one window, which wasn’t for appreciating the scenery, just to allow enough air to enter. A window one could contort through to get to a better space.

I say brown because, unlike before when things were pretty much divided into black and white, nowadays it’s become about brown, yellow, African, and yes, Muslim. Now, apparently brown and yellow people are just capitalising on the “black” label because it comes with “benefits”.

Regardless of the fact that they were considered black during apartheid and suffered oppression, this group is now ironically not black enough. Despite the constitution being clear on who makes up the black and white contingents of South Africa. This group has always been stuck in the middle.

It’s fair to say that in South Africa there are racial stereotypes that everyone judges each other by. Specific viruses such as self importance, resentment and blame drive each race group’s prejudice and hate, ignorance fuels it. We could say white hate is driven by a superiority complex, black a resent and blame one. Brown people – again are stuck in the middle, their prejudice can be driven by either, depending on which group they identify themselves with.

This stereoptypical breakdown helps me understand why some, from each race group, have allowed themselves to be manipulated into another well crafted model of discrimination. Islamophobic incidents in South Africa have become a cause of anxiety for some Muslims and anger for others. Even though they have not occurred to the scale and on the same platform as they do in Europe.

Two years ago Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination said, “Muslim women are being denied jobs and girls prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the headscarf. Men can be dismissed for wearing beards associated with Islam… Rather than countering these prejudices, political parties and public officials are all too often pandering to them in their quest for votes.”

Discrimination against Muslims can be attributed to Islamophobic attitudes, largely influenced by mainstream media and racist and xenophobic resentments. Given its history, the deeply rooted attitudes, the current global political environment and media brainwashing, is the tide of Islamophobia changing in South Africa?

Muslim women can freely walk around in a headscarf and niqab without the threat of someone yanking at it, openly calling them ugly names, or legislating against it. While we are sometimes met with blunt stares, for the most part we are received with curious glances and sometimes an attempt at our greeting of peace.

Men with beards are more often stopped and even admired rather than caught and interrogated for keeping one. Hopefully awareness and understanding instead of hate has come from the violent incidents that have taken place against men with beards.

Although there are cases where communities have rallied against the building of a masjid, Muslims are allowed to build Islamic places of worship and education freely, hassles arising mostly in complying with municipality design requirements – unlike in other parts of the world.

There is much worse that Muslims in other parts of the world are suffering. Muslims with names like Saajida, Abdullah, Tahir, and Sumayyah are trapped in areas without running water, electricity, proper roads, and not a drop of comfort. The Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar require permits to leave their squalid camps to pass armed guards. Hungry for growth and an education they are not allowed to attend universities.

Unlike the Uyghur Muslims in China’s East Turkistan Xinjiang province who face a “crackdown” by the Chinese government during the month of Ramadaan, Ramadaan in South Africa is welcomed by everyone. Stores put up signs wishing Muslims well during the blessed month, media personalities make special announcements and some non-Muslims even attempt to fast with their friends. Uyghur Muslim citizens are banned from holding private religious discussions, from traveling to masjids outside their residential areas, from fasting and are banned from any display of Islamic religious activity during Ramadaan.

Muslims are targeted in the Central African Republic and are in danger of their entire community being wiped out because they are Muslim. Millions of Muslims have been displaced and countless killed in Syria. And there are many more regions in the world where Muslims are undergoing oppression because of their faith.

What does exist is a concealed fear of Islam more than direct discrimination against Muslims. Reverts to Islam often express their family members dislike of their newly adopted faith because they regard it as the religion of terrorists.

The fact that Muslims can live in South Africa with much religious freedom is a blessing from Allah. Every blessing from Allah must be met with gratitude just as every trial must be met with patience. Gratitude means knowing that whatever we have is from Allah and helps to increase our Allah consciousness.

Being thankful reminds us that everything does not happen out of its own accord and that we shouldn’t take things for granted. It is important to constantly remind ourselves of Allah’s bounties by expressing our gratitude to Him as much as we can.

Gratitude helps in warding off punishment from Allah and in increasing one’s blessings. Not recognizing Allah’s blessings can prevent us from gaining His pleasure.

While we should be concerned with the pessimistic global language our mainstream media has adopted to portray Muslims, and the incidents of Islamophobia, we should strive to portray the positive example of Islam in spite of it.

Although there are clear negatives that we should not be blind to there are many positives that we can collectively try to keep a hold of. Crying Islamophobia for double parking outside a masjid and evading arrest for interfering with a police officer’s duty seems petty in the face of the suffering our Muslim families are enduring.

South Africa is the rainbow nation. That isn’t just an advertising slogan. The most spectacular rainbow displays happen when half the sky is still dark with raining clouds and the onlooker is at a spot with clear sky in the direction of the sun. The result is a shimmering rainbow that contrasts with the darkened background. A description of our history.

We have to deal with the dark splotch of apartheid in our background. We can choose to stand in a position that sees only dark skies and have the rainbow disappear. Or in a spot where the colours of the rainbow, the brilliant spectrum of light, can be appreciated.

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