Black Muslims will rise to claim their rightful place on the side of their brothers and sisters of all races, writes Tandile Kona, President of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa.
Describing the African American community’s relationship with America, actor and comedian, Chris Rock said, “America is like the uncle who paid your way through college, but molested you.” Chris Rock could have easily been describing the relations that black Muslims have with the rest of the Muslim community. Before I carry on, a disclaimer, for the purposes of this article, I will use ‘black’ in its most exclusivist meaning, even against my own belief of who is black.
The analogy by Chris Rock came to mind when I observed reactions to the mooted South African Black Muslims conference to be held in Johannesburg in a few months. In any kind of abuse, both the victim and the perpetrator emerge with scars. Often the physical scars can easily heal but it is the psychological and emotional ones that prove a tad bit difficult to get over. Those scars seem to have been brought to the fore by some of the responses to the idea of the conference.
In the South African context, black Muslims have been on the receiving end of exploitation, paternalism, toxic charity that breeds dependence, patronising attitudes and in some cases, outright racism. These have left deep seated psychological damage in the families and communities of black Muslims. There was also some measure of ambivalence and deference to the established Indian and Malay Muslim communities that coloured the relationships. This was with the hope that the rest of the community would assist the indigenous communities in the establishment of Islam across apartheid-created communal borders. This has proven not to be the case; instead we have seen our communities turned into battlegrounds for hegemony of one charity organisation over another or of some kind of vested interest over others. Admittedly, black Muslims also have to shoulder some of the blame, but that’s a topic for another article.
The talk of the need of for black Muslims to wean themselves of these toxic relationships has been ongoing for years and a few organisations, like the Muslim Youth Movement, have over the years sought and partly succeeded in fostering a sense of independence, especially of thought, amongst black Muslims. That success has also had its shortcomings, but the MYM played a pioneering role in that regard. The mooted conference, convened and hosted by the Gauteng Muslim Shura Council, is another step towards the journey of black Muslims owning Islam and how they practice and live it and ultimately taking control of the destiny of their communities.
The claim by the detractors of the conference that the conference is un-Islamic and anti Indian is laughable. That is especially so in the face of masaajid whose trust deeds stipulate that only Indians of certain ethnicity can be trustees and of many institutions that claim to be legitimate representatives of Muslims yet have not a single Black Muslim in their leadership structures.
The economic and social disparities have become a permanent feature of the Muslim community and some people have the audacity to label an initiative to deal with those disparities as ‘un-Islamic.’
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.”
The document makes no mention of the conference being an Indian-bashing fest nor does it mention the exclusion of anyone. However, what black Muslims will not apologise for is creating a space for them to talk amongst themselves and to place issues that are uniquely of concern to them at the front and centre of deliberations in the conference.
We have issues that urgently need our attention if we are to pull ourselves by our bootstraps and stop having an ‘entitlement’ mentality as we so often are reminded. Those who have closed off spaces for genuine inter communal dialogue on an equal footing have no business telling us that we cannot create alternative spaces for engagement.
As Allah so eloquently reminds us in Surah Ar Ra’d in the Glorious Qur’an that, “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what in themselves.”
As black Muslims, we have heeded Allah’s words in that respect and we will not be deterred in the path we have started. There are no illusions as to the difficult and long path ahead and for all we know, the conference may be a false, but it is a start nonetheless. With Allah’s will, black Muslims will rise to claim their rightful place on the side of their brothers and sisters of all races.