Indian Muslims, Malema and racism

In an open letter academic Quraysha Ismail Sooliman forces us to reflect on the recent Afro-Indian race debate

I need to state that I have been an EFF supporter from the inception, but there are reckless moments of harm manifesting that have forced me to reconsider. I now doubt that the EFF wants to unite a divided South Africa. If that was Malema’s intention, then his comments about Indians should have been addressed to an Indian audience and he should have directly told Indians that these are the issues we find problematic with you.

Instead he addressed a majority Black audience, where emotions were volatile and where the tone and language suggested other than an issue that needed to be resolved between (what he should have said is), “our Indian brothers.” Malema referred to “our Coloured brothers,” and did not afford the same term to Indians.

From this, it is my opinion that Malema’s comments were meant to be inflammatory and stir animosity. This is a mirror-image tactic of the colonial “divide and rule” – of pitting one group against the other. Malema’s message is real but the approach was way off target.

As for Mpofu’s claim that Indians do not vote for Black parties, as a Laudium resident; I recall that our councillor has always been ANC councillor . Lenasia has also supported the ANC. This has been the norm in most Gauteng Indian townships.

But the time for excuses and denial has long passed. Muslims must take note of the comments expressed by Malema and the response written by Mpofu. Although I disagree with the term “racist” as it detracts from the absolute harm of racism as a tool of subjugation and dehumanisation in a white supremacist global world order, the lived experiences of black people at the hands of Indians cannot be denied.

Faulty terminology and an incorrect approach to the problem does not mean that the problem does not exist. Muslims must not rush to belittle anyone because we do not like the message. Establishing justice is the first obligation of the Muslim, just as it was the reason for revelation.

The legacy of colonialism and apartheid has afflicted South African Indians and Islam and our perceptions of each other have been colonised. We are so shackled that often we are incapable of recognising our own faults. Through the tactic of divide and rule, we the “black” masses of South Africa function in a system where there is a hierarchy amongst us. This had to be manufactured because a united “native” population would threaten white supremacist power. This is the pecking order of blackness where each race group considers itself inferior to the Whites but superior to each other. There is an aspiring to be white and the standard by which we measure success is through an association with that which is “white.”

The preferential treatment given to Indians and Coloureds by the White rulers made us internalise a sense of superiority over the Black population. These are the consequences of our colonial/apartheid past. In this delusion of aspiring to whiteness, we treat each other very badly. Consider how we impose on each other in trading (whether buying or selling), despite the ethics of trade as is to be found in the Islamic tradition. We would never do the same to White counterparts.

Apartheid made living very difficult – a fight for survival, and many Indians have become apathetic to the suffering of others – especially Black South Africans. Indians generally, glorify Gandhi, a known misogynist, endorser of the caste system in India and one who considered Indians more “civilised” than Black people. Gandhi was and is a problematic figure. It is time to call a spade a spade.

Yes, Muslims give a lot of charity, but charity in Islam is more than money. It is a common courtesy, a smile, kindness, it is about speaking courteously to your workers, affording people dignity, ethical conduct and it is about embodying the good character of the Prophet Muhammad SAW.

In reflecting on our own weakness, exploitations and oppressive behaviours towards Blacks (and even other Indians), we as the Muslim community have to know that Allah SAW says in the Qur’an, Surah As-Shurah (42), Verse 30, “whatever afflicts you of a harm, it is because of what your own hands have earned.” It is foolish and ignorant to believe that there cannot be a consequence for oppressive and discriminatory behaviour. Let us acknowledge that much of what Malema has said is correct, the how and the where he said it is problematic.

The “what” is what matters. That he ignored the Indian contribution to a post-1994 South Africa (I won’t say ‘free’ South Africa) is not important either. What matters is what he did say and to then honestly ask “Is there any merit in those comments?” reflect and make a change now.

Let us return to the best standard we have, Allah SWT and His Messenger, Muhammad SAW. This means emulating the character of the prophet Muhammad SAW and in essence, being an embodiment of justice

Quraysha Ismail is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Pretoria.

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