Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar
On Wednesday 17 July 2019 Tasneem Simons, a 22 years old pregnant woman was killed after being in the head by a stray bullet while hanging her washing up. Tasneem’s murder was the 20th murder as a result of gang violence in one township, Manenberg, alone this year.
In the first six months of 2019, 900 people were murdered in gang violence on the Cape Flats, bringing the total number of murders in the City of Cape Town in the first half of 2019 to 1,600.
The current spike in murders has prompted the government to deploy the South African Defense Force in ten townships on the Cape Flats. As bad as the current crisis is, we need to note that this is not a new problem but one that has been around for at least 50 years particularly since the establishment of townships or apartheid ghettoes or slums in the late sixties and early seventies. There has been a low intensity war on the Cape Flats for at least 50 years now and the root causes lie deeply in our apartheid past.
Towards a Religious Response to Gang Violence
The safeguarding of human life is one of the supreme objectives of Islam (maqasid al-shari`ah). The Glorious Qur’an is replete with references concerning the sacredness of human life (Q6:151; Q17:33; Q25:68). The most striking of these Qur’anic proclamations that underscores the supreme sacredness of human life is verse 32 of surah al-Ma’idah, chapter 5, in which God, the Giver and Taker of Life (al-Muhyi al-Mumit), equates the unjust and wanton killing of one human being to that of the killing of all humankind:
If anyone kills a single human being without just cause
it shall be as though he had killed all of humankind;
Whereas if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he
had saved the lives of all humankind (Q5:32).
A conscientious Muslim is someone who is constantly moved by faith to sanctify, revere, and respect human life. Therefore, as conscientious Muslims and responsible citizens we cannot remain silent in the face of wanton loss of human life on the Cape Flats or anywhere else in the world. The sanctity of human life is a supreme value in Islam and nothing is worth the cost of a human life.
I would like to share five (5) modest strategies and practical interventions that religious leaders could adopt to mitigate against the gang violence and crime.
Firstly, we need to make our voices heard loudly and clearly that there is a war happening in our midst and that our government both local and national has failed to curb gang violence on the Cape Flats. We should dedicate at a minimum one joint khutbahs a year to be delivered at all masajid to conscientize the Muslim community to remain vigilant with regard to their critical roles and contributions to the fight against gang violence and crime. Politicians of all stripes have forsaken their legal duty and moral responsibility to protect the children of the Cape Flats by cynical political jostling.
Second, I have for some time now argued that we need to rid ourselves of our ill-founded obsession with seeking real and lasting solutions to our social problems through the prism of the state. Real change will come from civil society organizations, not from the state.
We therefore need to work hard to strengthen the vibrant civil society organizations on the Cape Flats. We need to encourage these organizations to collaborate more effectively and to synergize their efforts in pursuit of the common goal of creating safer communities.
Third it is the responsibility of people of faith to keep the lamp of hope alive. We need to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. In this regard we need to celebrate the resilience of the people of the Cape Flats who are working hard every new day to claim back their community for peace and justice.
Fourth, we need to support religious leaders who live and serve communities living in gang and violence affected areas. Their lives are frequently at risk and the psychological well-being of their families are often negatively impacted by the horror they witness on a daily basis. We should be supporting them especially when they frequently have to perform the janazahs of victims of gang violence.
Last but not least, we need to remember the victims and communities living ion the Cape Flats in our daily du’a, supplications and prayers. In this regard I would like to encourage dhikr jamats to go to make regular dhikrs in our township masajid to provide spiritual support and solace to affected communities and their youth. I conclude with a du’a that Allah assists us to find credible solutions to the challenge of gang violence and crime in our communities.