Challenges Facing Muslims in Post-Apartheid
Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar
In April 2009 South Africans successfully staged and participated in only their fourth democratic national elections. This historic milestone marked fifteen years since the advent of non-racial democratic rule in
Fifteen years later South African Muslims are basking in the freedoms of post-apartheid South African democracy. Muslims are recognised as equal citizens and partners in the shaping of the destiny of our new nation. Islam has been given recognition and respect like never before in the history of our country.
In this sense the Muslim minority in
This unique experience is the fruits and results of many courageous people within our midst. These were Muslim activists who understood the message of Islam correctly and did not see their role in narrow sectarian terms, but rather as contributing towards the development and empowerment of all the people of our land, Muslim as well as non-Muslim. It was this progressive Islamic ethos that helped to propel an influential section of the Muslim community to the forefront of the anti-apartheid struggle. Today, Muslims have assumed a role in post-apartheid
Frankly speaking however, South African Muslims have not used their strategic leverage to effectively influence the moral ethos, public policy and legislation in democratic
The key challenge facing Muslims in post-apartheid
It is my view that the Muslim community’s engagement with the democratic process in
During the 1994, 1999, 2004 and 2009 national elections, Muslims not only voted in large numbers, but a number of Muslim candidates were elected as members of the South African Parliament, representing all of the major political parties. The apex of Muslim presence on the political stage was the appointment in 2005 of the Call of Islam leader, Ebrahim Rasool, as premier of the
Judging from the enthusiastic manner in which the Muslim community participated in
Notwithstanding this positive engagement of the democratic process in
Even more instructive is the fact that post election analysis of the 2009 general elections indicated that even though the Muslim Judicial Council as well as other national ‘ulama bodies, tried to persuade Muslim voters to cast their vote for the ruling party, the African National Congress, the Muslim masses particularly in the Western Cape chose something different. In the
This is an alarming statistic. It may indicate that the Muslim leadership might be out of touch and not adequately reflecting Muslim public opinion. In light of this perceived dissonance between the Muslim leadership and its support base it is vital that the IPSA research findings be verified. The IPSA research findings need to be tested on a larger scale both provincially as well as nationally.
However, besides voting, Muslims as a grouping have not fully utilized the many opportunities that the new democratic dispensation affords them in strategically accessing the various institutions for the advancement of matters peculiar to them.
To fully participate in our democracy, beyond mere voting, I would like to make two proposals. The first is to endorse the existing proposal for the establishment of a Muslim Parliamentary Liaison Office (MPLO). And the second, is to reiterate a proposal that I have been articulating for close to a decade now, what I have called a paradigm shift; a shift in thinking and action from our obsession with seeking solutions exclusively through the apparatus of the state, to that of leveraging the power for social change resulting from a vibrant civil society and vigorous social movements.
Beyond the Politics of Patronage
It is my considered view that the role of the Muslim community and in particular its leadership should not be focused exclusively on seeking patronage with political power. Rather, it should seek to become an integral and vibrant part of the broader civil society and non-governmental organizations. The Muslim leadership needs to resist temptations of merely being apologists for the political authorities, of simply getting co-opted by government or powerful political parties in serving their expedient agendas.
The role of the Muslim community should be that of a moral conscience of our nation alongside other organizations in civil society. Muslims have a duty to exhort and challenge government whenever we perceive them to be failing in their political mandate. They are elected by us and we have a political right and obligation to censure and criticize them. At the same time we also have a responsibility to support and collaborate with government in areas of mutual concern and benefit.
Endorsing the proposal for the establishment of a MPLO
I believe that the establishment of a MPLO, independent of any political party, will allow Muslims to contribute to the legislative framework in a structured and coordinated manner. The main aim of the MPLO should be to serve as a conduit of communication and dialogue between Muslims in
Through information sharing, Muslims, as part of the broader civil society, will be able to enrich debates on issues of public policy and the common good as well as in areas of education, political, economic, religious, cultural and social concern. In this way Muslims have the potential to play a positive role in shaping policy and legislation. This is not to suggest that Muslims retreat into a laager mentality and serve only their self-interests, but rather that Muslims become active citizens concerned with the rights and empowerment of all the marginalized and underprivileged in society.
Genuine support and critical distance should not be opposed positions in our relationship with the state. Such a position is complex and demanding but it is free of the expediencies and political opportunism of opposition politics.
This approach to our public interest is derived from none other than divine guidance itself. In Surah Al-Ma’idah, Chapter 5, verse 2, Allah the Sublime declares:
And help one another in the promotion of goodness and piety, and do not assist one another in sin and rancour.
However, I want to propose that we go even further than this, and embrace a paradigm shift in our thinking and action.
A Paradigm Shift: Beyond the Idolatry of the State
The pervasive power of the modern state has disempowered the masses and led to their political marginalization. Real people become a faceless electorate and mere statistics devoid of the ability to act in the modern state. The modern state has bred in individuals and groups, low social and political ambitions and inertia.
I am encouraged by what appears to be the re-emergence of a strong civil society. The launching of Social Justice Networks by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), the ongoing challenging of alleged paybacks in the arms deal and the current backroom amnesty provisions, is a positive development that needs to be supported by the Muslim community.
All of these campaigns provide opportunities for Muslims to become part of civil society initiatives that are concerned with social justice issues for all. It is about Muslims embracing their rights and social responsibilities as citizens, and ‘bearing witness’ to the values of Islam. It is about a commitment by Muslims to strengthen our democracy and not to act only out of narrow self –interests. It is ordinary citizens of the country who must seize this new opportunity and hold those in office accountable for their promises of hope, change and transformation. The lesson is that the critical motor of social change does not lie in the support for this or that political party, or this or that politician, but rather in the commitment of civil society and social movements for such change. The challenge facing us at this critical juncture in the history of our beloved country is how do we build on and sustain the revitalized civil society in our city and across our country.
I would like to urge each and everyone one of us to join and support our non-government organizations, community institutions and social movements that are striving for a better world and the upliftment of the downtrodden.
Beyond the Politics of Patronage - Heeding the Advice of Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali
I conclude with the nasiha/advice by perhaps one of the greatest Islamic scholars that ever lived, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d.1111). Imam Ghazali was concerned about the lack of intellectual independence, integrity and critical distance from the state that the Muslim scholars of his time had established. He laments this in his book, Ayyuhal Walad, in which he advises his young disciples to get neither too close to the princes and sultans, nor to praise and commend them excessively. But even more than that, Ghazali warns his young followers not to accept generous gifts and presents from them, even though it may be permissible. “Coveting things from the rulers and those in power will spoil and corrupt your din/religion, since there is born from it flattery and “kowtowing” to those in power and unwise approval of their policies.”
Dr. Ebrahim Moosa, in his widely acclaimed book on Al-Ghazali, has eloquently summarized Ghazali’s strong critique of Muslim scholars and the political posturing of his time in the following manner: “Most scholars are sycophants, groveling at the feet of political leaders, displaying egotistical behaviour, driven by insatiable materialism”. Ghazali is particularly well-placed to dispense this advice since he himself was a victim of state co-option when he briefly served in the educational service of the Saljuk sultan in Nisapur. Ghazali’s vexing experience and his critical advice should be heeded by us in today’s post-Apartheid South African political context.