Role of Muslims in building an inclusive South African society

This is the first of a series of articles by MYM stalwart, Fuad Hendricks, focusing on the institutional builing capacity of the Muslims of South Africa, and a glimpse of the shakers and movers whose role has given these institutions wings. We have much to celebrate in terms of our achievements as a community and citizens of our country but so much more needs to be done to maintain the momentum of the growth and development, especially by a new generation who were born for their own time. This is not a time for complacency.

By Fuad Hendricks

The Cape Town based Sheikh Nazeem Mohamed was hopeful that the youth, despite their impatience with their elders would make their leadership contribution at various levels of our communityand country.

On many occasions he would listen with great restraint and forbearance to the criticism from the youth lamenting against the ineffectivecommunity leadership, which was particularly directed at the Muslim Judicial Council of which he was a part. His response was that we; as part of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa (MYMSA), Muslim Students Association (MSA), and other formations should rise to the occasion to complement the leadership role of their elders.

In one of thefuneral processions of an anti-apartheid activist enroute to the Johnston Road Muslim Cemetery in Belgravia, Sheikh Nazeem would calmly but resolutely walk past the military vehicles of the apartheid regime gesturing to the militant youth to be cool, calm, and collected to avoid a confrontation between militarised personnel and unarmed activists. Sheikh Nazeem wasan astute political activist and community leader. He was more than just a theologian.

Sheikh Nazim’s vision of a resourceful and sustainable South African Muslim community emerging in the future was also echoed by the Egyptian scholar Dr Fathi Osman who visited South Africa as a guest of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa.

Dr Fathi’s viewpoint that Muslims in a minority situation like South Africa are mainly unfettered and unburdened by the accumulated negative socio-political and cultural baggage of Muslim majority societies. They are constantly challenged by the context in which they live to come up with solutions occasioned and informed by the living text of their faith.

Muslims have practiced their faith in South Africa for more than three hundred years. They have survived as a distinct faith-based community despite living for decades with the fetters of colonialism and apartheid. There was a period in South African Muslim history when Islam was not allowed to be practiced publicly but only secretly and clandestinely. But Muslims as a community survived this oppressive phase.

Its survival as a distinct community has much to do with the grit of its leaders and leadership throughout its history in the South African context. Plausibly their faith was informed by their belief in the Qu’ranic injunction: “Do not ascribe to any but Me the power to determine your fate” (Qur’an,17:2).

The long-term growth and development of a South African Muslim community would depend largely on the extent to which South Africans of African origin embraced Islam as their faith. Dr Khurram Murad puts forward the thesis that the extent to which Africans as the majority population adopt Islam as their chosen faith would give Muslims the strength of numbers and broaden its indigenous character. He used the metaphor that “one cannot make biryani without rice.”

The early years of the MYM

Since the 70s the formation of the Muslim Youth Movement and Muslim Students Association have revitalised and rejuvenated the Muslim community driving its growth and developmental impetus. This period in particular saw the emergence of formations like the Islamic Medical Association, South African National Zakah Fund, Muslim private schools like Al Falaah College, Islamia College and several other institutions and organisations.

The growth and development of the Muslim community throughout South Africa continue to be driven by individual reform and institutional building.

A key strength of several of the leaders and associates who founded these institutions is their multiplier mindset to recruit people with the requisite skillsets to capacitate these structures with the much-needed human resources.

Several academics also emerged from the ranks of the MYM -peoplelike Dr Abdul Kader Tayob, Dr Mohammad Haroon, Dr Aslam Fataar, Dr SulaimanDangor,Dr Tahir Sitoto, Dr Simphiwe Sesanti, Dr Imraan Buccus, Dr Ebrahim Moosa, Dr Rashid Omar, Dr Farid Essack,and others. Several of them later assumedtheir respective roles to provide an enabling environment for students to deepen their Islamic civilisational thought and multidisciplinary academic reflections at institutions like the University of Cape Town, University of the Western Cape, and University of Durban Westville.

The impact of the Muslim Youth Movement and Muslim Students Association could be mainly attributed to the abundance of so many gifted and dedicated people who were part of the same organisation or institution during the same historical period and country.

Amongst the early founders of the Muslim Youth Movement, were stalwarts like Ebrahim Jadwat, Hafiz Abubakr Mohamed, Haroon Kalla, Ismail Kalla, Abdullah Osman, ShowkatThokan, and many others – too many to mention individually by name. These early founders of the MYM were formidable motivators and recruiters of human capital to capacitate the organisation.

The number of resourceful people who these founders of the Muslim Youth Movement were able to recruit would remain an instructive lesson in how to influence people and enlist them for a collective cause greater than their individualism. The list of recruits who later evolved and assumed their roles in the Muslim Youth Movement, other institutions and formations is quite impressive.

I would have loved to list them all but the embarrassment of leaving anyone out would be humiliating to me as well as to any of these luminaries and their families. Several of these activists were leaders but many were also part of the back-office workforce. Many were not necessarily the public face of these institutions and organisations but often itsbehind-the-scenesindispensable workforce.

Their names would forever be carved and edged in our memories as the organisational and institutional women and men who formed successful partnerships making the collective sustainably functional.

Crucially, the back-office workers held these organisations and institutions together particularly when the rivalry at the top of these structures threatened its unity and sustainability.

The significance of the MYM’s evolution was its internal capacity to transform itself from within without breaking apart in the form of widespread ideological division or organisational collapse. For example, the transformation championed by Imam Rashid Omar, Imam Hassan Solomons and others to change the orientation and function of the Muslim Youth Movement from a socio-cultural organisation to socio-political outreach was a major transformative shift at a time when the struggle for liberation from the shackles of colonialism and apartheid were gaining momentum.

The youthful leadership of the 70s which propelled the institutional growth and development of the Muslim community has considerably aged.There’s a need for the emergence of another wave of young and youthful leaders. They would have to drive the next waves of growth and development to meet the contextual challenges of ourcountry and community.

Role of the business community

However, sight must not be lost of the role of the entrepreneurs and businesspersons, without whose financial support and generosity institutional building would have been unsustainable.

For every Muslim institution that takes off and develops, there are always the entrepreneurs. Their good heartedness to dip their hands deep into their pockets to be the helping hands in the making of a better future were huge determinants in the success of these institutions.

It is not only the crucial role of the scholars, warriors, politicians, but more importantly the entrepreneurs and businesspersons who empower the community. The contemporary and modern struggle to achieve growth and development is being waged at the level of the economy.

The Egyptian economist Dr Mahmood Al-Saud, who visited South Africa in the 80s as a guest of the Muslim Youth Movement said: “The economic Jihaad for empowerment is at the heart of the community’s struggle to make a life and a living.”

Jihaad is being used in a nonviolent context implying the exerting of oneself to the utmost to achieve the best or optimum outcomes. Weaponizing the concept of Jihaad is misleading because the meaning that it conveys is primarily one of swords, weapons, and violence instead of the connotation of social enhancement and economic engagement to build a cohesive, developed, and inclusive society and country.

The catalyst role of Muslim businesses and its leadership to build and strengthen Muslim institutions is indispensable without whose support few, if any, institutions would have remained sustainable or viable. Entrepreneurial leadership and its critical intervention build sustainable institutions and viable communities to be the helping hands in the national interest of the country.

These businesspersons were the frontline change agents contributing to the institutional building of the Muslim community, society, and country.

The Palestinian scholar Dr Ismail Faruqisummed up the resourcefulness of the entrepreneurs and businesspersons as follows: “One needs material resources to achieve spiritual, social and societal goals.”

Ghettoization of the community

If one were to do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) assessment of the South African Muslim community, the most threatening challenge would be the growing inward looking and narrow self-interest or ghettoization of the community.

The illustrious African scholar Prof Ali Mazrui talked about ‘simultaneity’ in his conversations with us during the South African Islamic Youth Conference (SAIYC) held in Zambia in 1986. Simultaneity as an outlook and approach to align the interests of the community with the interests of the country. “What is good for the country is good for the community.”

Simultaneity means that the community should make its optimal contribution to develop its country and champion its developmental agenda.

Therefore, whether it is individual reform or institutional capacity building by the community its efforts should have multiplier effects in the national interests of the country and contribute to its developmental trajectory.What this implies is that being a good Muslim translates into being a good citizen and an asset to the national interests of the country.

Similarly, institutional building – from the Islamic Medical Association to the Muslim Students Association -they operate on a basis whereits humanitarian outreach and sense of service always transcend the confines of the community to the broader society.

These institutions were established by personalities who were motivated by a strong sense of community and purpose. For instance, the founders of the Islamic Medical Association like Dr Goolam Hoosen, Dr Muhammad Khan and several others have a strong inclination to serve their community and country.

Also, educational institutions like Al-Falaah College founded by CassimJadwat and the Al-Falaah team are resourceful business leaders who strongly believe that the best investment a community could make is to give its youth the best schooling. This means empowering them by enabling theirleadership abilities to reach its fullest potential and preparing them for a greater role in developing the country’s economy.

AWQAF South Africa, founded by ZeinoulAbedienCajee and the AWQAF team, is another proudly South African formation which is making a difference in the economic empowerment of South Africans. Zeinoul and his wife Amina constitute a great partnership in their role to make a difference contributing to the growth of their community, society, and county.

The South African National Zakah Fund was another powerful institution which was established by the late Dr ShowkatThokan and team SANZAF. Like several of the other institutions, if SANZAF was not founded, its establishment would have been necessitated by sheer community and societal need.

Dr Showkat and team SANZAF right from the outset prioritised SANZAF’s agenda and delivery programme to strengthen the receiving hands of recipients to eventually become helping hands and areempowered as givers.

Strengthening the beneficiaries’ family members so that they could ultimately fend for themselves is the cornerstone of a programme which produces results and good outcomes. SANZAF has, over the years, put in place a good succession plan to ensure that the organisation have the human resources to ensure its sustainability.

Significantly, the establishment of the Gift of the Givers Foundation (WaqfulWaqifin Foundation) is a good example of a successful institution founded on the ethos of Islam but with a strong national outreach programme contributing to South Africa’s developmental agenda and its empowerment. Its founder, Dr Imtiaz Suleman, was an activist in the Muslim Students Association during his youth. His mother was his mentor and the driving force behind his rise to social activism.

When I was the director of the Muslim Youth Movement Dr Imtiaz’s mother would phone me up to enquire andendorsedher son’s activism as a part of the collective. It was a mother’s love, concern, care,and her societal perspective she shared with her son which motivated Imtiaz.

Women who mould our society

Speaking of mothers and female leadership roles in moulding our society, community, and country it is hard to fathom how a future Muslim community could meaningfully make its contribution without the full participation of women.

The South African Muslim community is blessed with an abundance of professional Muslim women. They have risen to the top of their professions. Their contribution to the growth and development of our country, society and community stands out as huge accomplishments. They are most definitely the better part or half of our families, societies, communities, and country.

If given more unhindered space to play their role in the establishment and development of our institutions, our community would be more empowered and its resources more leveraged with greater multipliers and outcomes.

Not much of aprosperous future could be forged without the full participation of Muslim women in the making and building of a contemporary Islamic civilisation. Without the role of the women our community institutions lack the female touch of leadership which is more caring and persuasive; rather than aggressive or combative. Their role is the differentiator between building excellent institutions and organisations instead of mediocre ones.

The late Dr Debra Majeed’s (Mubashir) reading of the Qur’anic text that the primacy and priority of faith and practice, rather than the dominance of gender through patriarchy, is all that matters in our accountability to the Creator, the Most Merciful.

During her visit to South Africa in April 2001 we talked extensively about femininity and masculinity and how insignificant it is to Allah (God) as to whether you are manly or womanly in the assertion of your faith and practice.

Building plurality and solidarity

South Africa would have a great future ahead if the politicians don’trepeatedly blunder and mess up the country. We all have a huge responsibility to build a country based on political plurality, social solidarity, diversity, and widespread enabling opportunities for the many rather than the few.

South Africa must avoid the low road scenario pursued by several countries, including some with majority Muslim populations. In these oppressive political systems despotic rulers have created conducive conditions for internecine strife, civil war situations, sectarianism, underdevelopment,and stifled political plurality leaving many citizens to flee their countries in search of safer havens. Seeking refuge in countries where they could raise their families in conducive national environments favouring their optimum growth and development.

These country specific conflict situations have produced countless refugees; depleting and draining the much-needed resources intended and earmarked for education, human capital, and economic development but desperately redirected and diverted to shelter, clothe, and feed refugees with no country to call their own.

In countries where the political elite are squandering the country’s resources and where corruption has become endemic, conditions for the emergence of a failed state becomes predictable and inevitable.

Countries with oppressive political systems governed by dictators and despots have become ‘places’ and political ‘homes’like a spider’s web, which the Qur’an describes as…” for, behold, the frailest of all houses is the spider’s house,” (Qur’an 29:41).

The pioneers who have established the institutions empowering the community, society, and our country have laid a good foundation on which much more needs to be built by a succeeding younger generation who are born for its own time and context.

Over time, whilst some institutions have faltered since its establishment and need revitalisation or spiritual rebirth others have become much stronger and innovative to meet rapidly changing contexts and challenges.

Looking to the future

One thing is for sure that the future will be different. Making it better and with the best outcomes requires multiplier organisational leadership where the leadership creates an enabling environment for others to grow and become the best they can be.

His Friday Khutbah (sermon) message delivered by the Egyptian scholar Shaikh Muhammad Al-Ghazali at the Jumu’ah Musjid in Khartoum, Sudan, activated hope and optimism. “The preacher, teacher, scholar, political leader, and whoever holds a leadership position, must leave their audience with a message of hope that shaping a better future is within our grasp through the Grace of the Almighty Allah. Never despair of the Mercy of Allah.”

His Khutbah message that day was areassuringly one of hope, giving hope to those seeking to make a better future for themselves, their families, society, community, and country, as the guest speaker of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Khartoum, Sudan.

The Sudanese scholar Dr Jaffar Idris who was a guest speaker of the Muslim Youth Movement in the 80s highlighted “the need to school the youth and leadership to be driven and actuated by Islamic values and the moral law to ensure that our integrity remain sustainably an integral part of the fabric of our institutions.”

Also, the Ugandan scholar Dr Omar Kasule, who visited South Africa several times as a guestof the Muslim Youth Movement, viewed the potential and readiness of an organised Muslim community to serve their country motivated by their faith tradition as a great resource both actual and potential in the making of a better future. He and many other international scholars and activists motivated the community to stay the course- to make their contribution unceasingly and sustainablyin the building of aninclusive successful community, society, and country.

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