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Soweto Muslims: Partner with us, and grow

Soweto mosque

S Suliman – Cii News | 14 February 2014/13 Rabi ul Akhir 1435

The story is an unbelievable one. It’s a beautiful one, really.

Dawood Mndebele grew up in Soweto when the township did not have a Masjid. Now, thirty odd years later, there are three masaajid, 13 prayer facilities, madressahs, young black Muslims who are imams and aalims, and Islam has planted its roots and is steadily blossoming in his home township.

“That’s clear development. Different organisations that have come to the township have contributed, those that have invited and educated people like myself, they are starting to see the fruits. It’s an unbelievable stride, we are moving in the right direction. The thing we need to do is not allow shaytaan to come between us so that we continue on this path of brotherhood.” 

Mndebele, who is from the Soweto Muslim Shurah, a fledgling organisation – spoke with Cii Radio about taking Deen forward in this historically significant township. A real need Mndebele expressed was for Muslims throughout Johannesburg – and in South Africa at large – to work together to see the fruits of this growth and to break the predominant misconception that Islam is an “Indian religion”.

“This thing of Deen being in isolation and in silos and this religion on colour lines has to end. We need much more partnership,” and this is what the development of the Shurah hopes to achieve.

The Shurah is meant to be the base for anyone wanting to contribute to Islam and Muslims in Soweto to go to. Their hope is to co-ordinate with outside bodies on various projects and break from the current unstructured method. A system of giving which can sometimes create tension between the non-Muslim and Muslim residents in the township once the bodies leave.

“The thing that’s been a problem and that sometimes creates challenges and tension is that when people come from outside without understanding the dynamics and want to dictate. We as a Shurah are very clear. We want to work with anyone who wants to work with us in partnership… We want people to come in and actually interact because they can learn a lot from us, we can learn a lot from them,” explained Mndebele.

Currently the Shurah are planning on having more programmes to bring the community together, setting up a janaazah committe and starting a bursary for students of Deen. A library and information centre is also on their list of goals. Meanwhile they are structuring one madressah programme at all centres to better serve reverts and the diverging groups of Muslims in the area.  Ultimately they hope to exploit working together to have a consistent message of Deen throughout.

 “Let’s start forging these bridges because we are facing a very real threat where enemies of Islam are coming in and planting seeds of black, Indian and all those sects on race lines. If we don’t start working together they will be very successful,” Mndebele said they were aware of outsiders targeting places townships where people are quite new to Islam to plant new ideologies. “If we want to strengthen Deen let’s stand together and let’s work to build a brotherhood Inshaallah.”

For the first time ever in the history of South Africa, Soweto will be hosting an important gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat movement. This is seen as a “crucial event” in bringing together South African Muslim communities. The mini Ijtima or Jhor is set to take place on the 22-23 February at the Emdeni Secondary school in the township. The event is aimed at helping to tear apart perceptions about Islam and strengthen the Muslim community.

“The reality of the situation is that the township does not have enough people with finances but it has people with brains. It has people with ambitions. It has people with focus, people that have clear direction about what they want out of their lives hence I emphasise on partnerships.”

While the Shurah encouraged Muslims within the community to take part in the different programmes and to be proactive in their own betterment, Mndebele said they also encouraged Indians and Muslims outside the community to visit and work with them. Saturday classes and other tutor programmes required assistance to give children a better education.

“The propaganda that gets spread that the groups in townships are anti Indian, I can assure you [is untrue].”

While the Shurah is a recently formed organisation, Mndebele sounded hopeful about its potential and about the growth of Islam in the township, despite being in a township that exposes South Africa’s economic and social disparities.

“Islam is one of the best solutions for this. We saw this with the Ansaar and the Muhajireen. If we can adopt similar approaches, where we become truly in partnerships and we start working… I think that’s a reason why Zakaat is given, because it is not sustainable that you have people who are dirt poor and others extremely rich and prosperous. In a matter of time those things come to head. Be it on a national or religious level.”

Structures between communities need to be put in place that will see someone who might have been a recipient of Zakaat at one stage become a contributor. “These dynamics in the country, we as Muslims have the solution in the life of Nabi SAW and the sahaaba, we can follow, it will be successful and it will go a long way in attracting people to Deen.”

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