In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
Witnessing Against Corruption: A Muslim Perspective
Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar Click here for Video
ألله أكبر، الله أكبر، الله أكبر، الله أكبر ولله الحمد
God is Greater than: All Praise, Thanks & Gratitude belongs to God Alone
`Id-al-Fitr is not only a time to bid farewell to Ramadan, but it is also an occasion to celebrate our spiritual accomplishments and moral lessons learnt during the past month of fasting. Whenever Muslims have cause to celebrate, we do so with humility, and we are therefore
mindful of and give thanks for the many blessings and good things in our lives. For God, the One who bountifully rewards all acts of goodness, has counselled us to celebrate `Id-al-Fitr in this dignified manner. In the Glorious Qur’an, in surah al-Baqarah, chapter 2, verse 185, Allah, the Sublime, proclaims:
وَ لِتُكْمِلُوا الْعِدَّةَ وَ لِتُكَبِّرُوا اللّٰهَ عَلٰى مَا هَدٰ كُمْ وَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُوْنَ
God desires that you complete the prescribed number of fasting days and that you extol and glorify Him for having guided you and that you render thanks and gratitude unto Him.(Q2:185)
`Id-al-Fitr is thus first and foremost a day of thanksgiving for the many blessings that we enjoy in our lives. On this joyous day of `Id we also give thanks and acknowledge our loved ones, our family and friends, the many people who make our lives meaningful and gratifying.
But ‘Id al-Fitr is also a day of self-reflection and renewal.
By the Grace of God, our spiritual and moral resources have been replenished by the great blessings of the month of Ramadan, and we are now better equipped to meet the life-challenges which lie ahead of us in the year to come. In this `Id khutbah, I would like to identify one of the most important challenges that confronts our society at this critical juncture in our history. I want to focus on the scourge of corruption since there is a growing national consensus that corruption is threatening and undermining our hard-earned democratic rights and freedoms.
My purpose in this khutbah is to do three things:
First, to elaborate on the context and consequences of corruption in South Africa.
Second, to provide a theological reflection on the causes and effects of corruption and draw on the ethical teachings of Islam to guide us mitigate against it.
Third, I hope to inspire us all to become vocal and active participants in local and national efforts and campaigns to stem and reverse the tide of corruption.
The Context and Consequences of Corruption
Corruption is not a new phenomenon in South Africa. During the apartheid years, corruption was entrenched into a system that vested political and economic power in the hands of a wealthy white elite and robbed the black majority of their human, social and economic rights. With the onset of a non-racial and democratic South Africa, conditions became more favourable to expose apartheid-era corruption and to foster a more socially just society.
However, almost two decades since democracy, the corrupt pursuit of money and power is visible at all levels of our society and it is once again robbing the poor of their basic needs and opportunities.
The 2011 Transparency Corruptions Perceptions index reveals that South Africa registered its lowest score to date and had dropped from 54th place in 2010 to 64th place in 2011 on the world rankings of the most corrupt country in the world. In October 2011, the head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), Willie Hofmeyr, told the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development that corruption involving government procurement was costing South Africa as much as R30 billion each year.
With half the population living in poverty and millions still without jobs, housing, electricity, adequate sanitation, and medical care, the human cost of corruption is widely felt. Corruption fuels the frustrations of many poor communities through shameful levels of service delivery due to incompetence, a lack of concern or compassion for others and misuse of public resources.
Corruption also undermines our democratic rights through mismanagement and incompetence in critical areas that prevents government from building a more just and equal society. We see this in the recent scandalous textbook debacles in the Limpopo and Eastern Cape provinces. In these and many cases of blatant corruption, perpetrators are not held accountable. Consequently a culture of impunity has taken root, particularly in government, where people are not punished for their misuse of power but rather are often seen to be ‘rewarded’ with other posts. Sound moral and ethical standards found in our Constitution are compromised and abused through these endemic acts of corruption.
The Qur’anic verse 41 of chapter 30, surah al-Rum gives an apt description of what the current malaise of corruption in South Africa is like:
ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُمْ بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ
Corruption is flourishing in the land and in the sea as a consequence of the people’s deeds; God makes them taste some of the consequences of their own actions so that they may turn back from corruption (Q30:41).
From the above verse of the Qur’an we learn that corruption is not merely a material challenge affecting the political economy of South Africa, but it is also a spiritual, moral, and social concern. A number of public intellectuals, social activists and religious leaders have already spoken out against the growing problem of corruption in public and private life. The Muslim community has, however, largely remained muted to this important conversation. This `Id khutbah is an attempt to articulate a Muslim perspective on the causes of corruption and ways of combating it.
It might be expedient to begin by defining corruption from the point of view of the teachings of Islam. The primary source of Islamic guidance, the Glorious Qur’an, uses the Arabic word fasad as an equivalent for corruption. Fasad and its derivatives are used fifty times in various places of the Qur’an. For example the Qur’an in Q2:205; Q5:64 & Q28:77 proclaims:
وَاللَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْفَسَادَ
God loves not the purveyors of corruption (Q2:205)
Fasad is a rich and multi-vocal term which means corruption as that ‘which arises from disturbing the balance of justice (mizan) by greed, self-interest and deception.’ Fasad can occur in different spheres of human life including the personal, social, economic and political.
On the basis of the Qur’anic exposition of fasad, and for the purposes of this khutbah, I would like to define corruption as ‘an abuse of trust and power that manifests itself horizontally across public and private sectors and vertically from the state and corporate elite down to everyday citizens.’ Corruption cuts across cultural and religious divides and is not limited to the rich nor to non-Muslims. Poor people and Muslims can be as culpable in corrupt activities as anyone else. Corruption includes bribery, patronage, nepotism, embezzlement and the abuse of public property. An instructive prophetic tradition (hadith), teaches us that corruption is not limited to solitary perpetrators, but often involves complicit parties. On the authority of Thawban, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is reported to have ‘cursed the one who offers the bribe, the one who receives it,
and the one who arranges it’:
لعنَ رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم الراشيَ والمرتشيَ والرائشَ
(Recorded in Ahmad & Tabarani)
In the above prophetic tradition (hadith) the last mentioned individual i.e. Ar-Ra’ish is that person who becomes a link or go-between among those who take and give a bribe for making wrong and dishonest decisions. Such an individual according to this hadith is to be regarded as equally guilty of corruption.
Witnessing Against Corruption
According to Islam corruption is an inescapable part of the human condition but not insurmountable. This Islamic view of human frailty teaches us that it is unrealistic to expect a human society without corruption, but what is feasible is fashioning a society in which the human tendency to spread corruption is held in check and the human being rises to his/her Divine potential. Such a perspective is usefully depicted in the following foundational narrative in surah al-Baqarah, chapter 2 verses 30-33:
وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً قَالُوا أَتَجْعَلُ فِيهَا مَنْ يُفْسِدُ فِيهَا وَيَسْفِكُ الدِّمَاءَ
وَنَحْنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِكَ وَنُقَدِّسُ لَكَ قَالَ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
When your Lord informed the angels; “I am going to place a steward on the earth.” They remonstrated by saying; “Are you going to put a being there (on earth) who is going to perpetrate corruption and shed blood, while we exclusively magnify Your praises and extol Your Holiness.” (God answered them), saying, “I know that which you do not know.” (Q2:30-33)
According to the above verses of the Qur’an, in the first instance it was the angels who recognized the susceptibility of humans to succumb to corruption and bloodshed. But God responds enigmatically by saying “I know that which you do not know.” But what is it that God knew about the potential of his vicegerent on earth (the human being) that the angels did not know? God knew that he had endowed the human being with the potential and capacity to transcend his or her weaknesses by embellishing his or her character with that of Divine attributes. According to the famous early mystic, Hasan al-Basri (d.728) the best morals in human beings are those which are in conformity with the great attributes of God. Some of these divine qualities include; justice (`adl), truth (haqq), accountability (hisb), trustworthiness (amn), vigilance (raqb), compassion (rahma), magnanimity (jawad), and gratitude (shukr). By embodying these values the human being has the potential to resist and combat the seductive temptations of corruption.
This perspective of a world full of temptations as well as possibilities for transformation is further elaborated in surah Ali –`Imran, chapter 3 verses 75-76 in which God proclaims:
وَمِنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ مَنْ إِنْ تَأْمَنْهُ بِقِنْطَارٍ يُؤَدِّهِ إِلَيْكَ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ إِنْ تَأْمَنْهُ بِدِينَارٍ لَا يُؤَدِّهِ إِلَيْكَ إِلَّا مَا دُمْتَ عَلَيْهِ قَائِمًا ذَلِكَ بِأَنَّهُمْ قَالُوا لَيْسَ عَلَيْنَا فِي الْأُمِّيِّينَ سَبِيلٌ وَيَقُولُونَ عَلَى اللَّهِ الْكَذِبَ وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ
There are People of Scripture (who are honest people) who, if you entrust them with a great amount of wealth (a qintar), they will readily pay it back; but there are others who, if you entrust them with a single silver coin (dinar), they will not repay it unless you constantly stand over them (hold them accountable), because they say: "We are not obligated to fulfil our trusts to lesser people.” But they tell a lie against God while they know it. (Q3:75-76)
From the above verses from the Qur’an we can conclude that in all societies there are people who will be prone to corruption (mufsidun), but there are also those who are social reformers who are just and trustworthy (muslihun). In this regard it is worth noting that South Africa’s post-apartheid capitalist economic policies and consumeristic environment have spawned a culture of greed and entitlement that is more prone to nurturing mufsidun (perveyors of corruption) rather than muslihun (social justice activists). The challenge before us is to fashion a society and create an enabling environment in which human beings are nurtured and inspired to live up to their full potential as trustworthy social justice activists (muslihun). It behooves such activists to be vigilant and to hold those guilty of corruption accountable for their actions. What then are some practical ways in which we can turn the tide on the scourge of corruption threatening our young democracy?
Turning the Tide on the Scourge of Corruption
We need to stop whining about the problem of corruption but truly believe that the power to turn the tide against corruption lies in our collective hands. We need to channel our justifiable frustrations with the decadent trends in our society in constructive ways that will reverse the prevalence of corruption and bring about the positive changes that are desired.
One of the first things we need to do is to ensure that our own institutions are free of corruption and its insidious effects. In humility we need to confess that corruption is not limited to government or the corporate sector; but that our own Muslim institutions can and do experience corruption. By raising the alarm about the growing trend of corruption in our society we are not pontificating against others but rather giving voice to a moral problem over which there is national consensus. Unless, we as Muslims also accept joint responsibility for the malaise of our society we will have little or no credibility to speak out against corruption with integrity. Allah, the Lord of Justice, reminds us about the gap between what we say and what we do in surah al-Saff, chapter 61 verses 2 & 3:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا لِمَ تَقُولُونَ مَا لَا تَفْعَلُونَ
كَبُرَ مَقْتًا عِنْدَ اللَّهِ أَنْ تَقُولُوا مَا لَا تَفْعَلُونَ
Believers! Why do you say one thing and do another? Most loathsome is it in the sight of God that you say what you do not do (Q61:2-3)
Such duplicitous behaviour can often also be self-deluding and make us believe that we are representing the cause of social reform when in fact the opposite is true and we are purveyors of corruption. God warns us about such charlatans in surah al-Baqarah, chapter 2, verse 11:
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لَا تُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ قَالُوا إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ
أَلَا إِنَّهُمْ هُمُ الْمُفْسِدُونَ وَلَكِنْ لَا يَشْعُرُونَ
When they are told; ‘Do not spread corruption in the land’, they respond by saying; ‘We are true social reformers’. But in reality they are purveyors of corruption though they do not realize it (Q2:11)
We can no longer afford to remain mute in the face of endemic corruption. Our silence and indifference renders us accomplices in the crime of corruption. We need to muster the courage to speak out unequivocally and in unison against the growing corruption trend in South Africa. In order to do so effectively we need to form interfaith networks and alliances with civil society groups who share our commitment to combat the scourge of corruption.
Second, we need to educate our people to become informed and responsible citizens so that those in power can be held accountable for their political and moral mandates. From an Islamic perspective, democracy should not merely mean casting one’s vote for this or that party every five years. The Islamic concept of shura or mutual consultation as presented in the Glorious Qur’an (Q42: 38) and exemplified in the practice of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is closer to the modern notion of participatory democracy. Shura or participatory democracy holds 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 holding politicians and parties accountable for their actions. Shura thus demands the building of consultative and transparent social institutions that will root out endemic corruption and address the needs of the poor. We can however only do so effectively if we remain vigilant and are organized. The only real guarantee for a healthy democracy, where corruption is effectively and actively combatted, is that of strong civil society consisting of principled individuals that can hold those in power accountable for their moral and political mandate.
Third, we need to be robust in our support for the rights of ‘whistle blowers’ who seek to uncover dishonesty and corruption wherever it exists. Moreover, while we need to commend the establishment of government’s Anti-Corruption Task Team, we also need to urge them to muster the necessary political will to bring to justice high profile political and public figures accused of corruption.
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, we need to work hard to expose and mitigate against the devastating consequences of the neo-liberal and capitalist economic policies being pursued by our post-Apartheid government. Only if we view and work to combat corruption at the systemic level will we be able to deal with the roots of corruption effectively. The capitalist environment in which post-Apartheid South Africa subsists has bred attitudes of entitlement and greed in all strata of our society, rich and poor alike. Unless the moral values and behavioural patterns that define our society are transformed from a culture of greed to that of a culture of altruism and caring, our country’s progressive Constitution and Bill of Rights will remain an unrealized dream. Muslims and other Religious institutions can play a critical role in assisting with this challenging task of systemic transformation and moral regeneration.
In this regard, I am delighted to announce that the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum (WCRLF), of which I am the Chairperson, will be convening a press conference to “Call for an End to Corruption” on Wednesday 22 August 2012 in Khayelitsha. Guided by our faith traditions and our common longing for a compassionate community, the WCRLF has produced a statement and programme of action through which the City of Cape Town’s religious leaders seek to make a modest contribution to easing the tightening grip of corruption on our society. I call on the Claremont Main Road Masjid congregation, Muslims everywhere and all our fellow citizens to support and join us in this critical campaign.
At this critical juncture in the history of our young democracy we need to also keep the spirit of hope alive in our communities. We need to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. We need to celebrate small victories such as the firing of two corrupt police commissioners and the eventual establishment of a commission of inquiry into the arms deal. These and many other political firings and criminal proceedings are clear signs that things can change if we remain resolute in our fight against corruption.
Let us take forward the great levels of self-discipline and moral rejuvenation (tazkiyya al-nafs) and solidarity (ukhuwwa) that we have fostered during the past month of fasting in Ramadan, and work to sustain and nourish these virtues through the coming year. Let us use this great day of `Id as the starting point of a renewed appreciation of our role as conscientious Muslims and responsible South African citizens in stemming the tide of corruption in our society. Let us today and every day celebrate all people who spend their lives helping to make the world a better place for all.
As Muslims we have a responsibility to reflect on the problems of our broader society and to contribute to the creation of a more just, caring and compassionate world. We ask God to help us to live balanced lives and not to succumb to the plague of rampant consumerism that is produced by the economic culture of greed. We pray that wisdom will guide those in our country and the world’s leadership to fashion a more compassionate and just world, free of greed and corruption.
We give thanks to the congregants of the Claremont Main Road Masjid for their commitment to a socially responsive vision of Islam and for their love, compassion, and affection for each other. We pray that the wonderful spirit of solidarity that has been nurtured through this past Ramadan will continue to gather momentum during the rest of the year, Insha-Allah.
Finally, ‘Id-al-Fitr is also a day on which we remember and honour the memories of our family and friends who are no longer with us and have passed on to the hereafter. Today they are no longer physically with us, but their memories live with us forever. We can remember our deceased loved ones by visiting their graves and saying a prayer (du’a) on their departed souls. We can honour their memory by visiting and paying respects to some of their closest relatives and dearest friends.
اَللّٰهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَرْحَمْهُمْ وَسَكِّنْهُمْ فَي الْجَنَّةِ
O Allah pardon our deceased, have mercy on their souls and grant them the abode of paradise.
I greet you all:
‘Id Sa’id Wa Mubarak
May You Enjoy a Happy and Blessed `Id
Kullu ‘Am Wa Antum Bikhayr Ma’as-Salamah Was-Sihhah
May your entire year be filled with Goodness, Peace and Health
Baie Slamat vir Labarang