By Al Qalam Reporter
The announcement by Gauteng Muslim Shura Council to host a massive three-day South African Black Muslim Conference in Johannesburg in April has sparked robust debate on the necessity of such a forum, with some even labeling the move as “un-Islamic”.
The Conference will be held at the Soweto amphitheatre from April 19-21. The objective of the conference – with leading scholars taking part – is to establish a Black Muslim think-tank that will focus on the growth and development of Islam, especially amongst Black Muslims.
The idea sparked robust debate on social media.
One of the scholars billed to speak at the event is Thandile Kona, President of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa (MYM) who pointed out that the conference will also focus on how to tackle the numerous challenges that Black Muslims face in the country, including issues of racism and classism. He said the idea was to create a Black Muslim cultural and religious identity in the same way as the Malay and Indian communities had established their own culture and religious identity for themselves.
Responding to an Al Qalam request for clarification, Kona said: “Listening to the critics, I am convinced that many of them have not bothered to talk to the people whose idea it is to have this conference and they have also not even read the conference’s concept document. Instead, they have resorted to the best way they know how to deal with those they consider inferior, bully them into submission. Had they read the concept document, they would have seen that the conference is meant to provide a platform for black Muslims to introspect. They would have also seen that the conference has as its target audience”, “all the Muslims who have an interest in developing Islam amongst the black Muslims.”
In another interview Kona reportedly said he did not understand why there were misconceptions of the conference as they do not plan to slander or attack any community.
“The only intention we have is to try to build a community of Black Muslims in South Africa within Islam, of local flavor, and one that is indigenised which we can identify with,” Kona said.
Kona further explained that there is a silent denial of the African heritage in South Africa.
“Black Muslims are not new to South Africa but there needs to be this unveiling of silence that has been there.”
He said one of the problems indigenous Muslims faced was they were pressured to practice Islam according to the others’ culture – and that does not sit well with indigenous Muslims.
“When black people become Muslim, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place because your family distances themselves saying you have adopted an Indian religion. Then you go into the Muslim community and you’re not fully accepted there because there is this unsaid notion stating ‘you are part of us but not fully part of us. Therefore, we need to create a sense of belonging,” said Kona.
Responding to the idea of a Black Muslim Conference, Aslam Fataar, Professor of Sociology of Education at the Stellenbosch University, responded on Facebook. He wrote: “The devastation of ‘race’ and its legitimate counter to racism is at play in the call for a Black Muslim Conference.”
“My view is this: ‘Muslims who are socially constructed in this country as Black are often, without generalising, at the receiving end of stereotypic attitudes, paternalism and racism from those Muslims groupings with a longer history as Muslims. These groupings are what we know as Coloured or Malay (a construction if there ever was one) and Indian origin. The exercise of power flows from these groups to ‘newer’ black Muslims.
“Converting to Islam by the latter also contributes to the paternalism perpetrated against Black Muslims. Labour exploitation is also in the mix. The Conference by and for Black Muslims is an attempt to establish a line in the sand, to announce and assert the full and autonomous Muslimness of Black Muslims by Black Muslims, and to brook no truck with racism meted out by other groupings. It is, I believe, an assertion of an authentic and autonomous religious identity”, he added.