People in the Black townships in South Africa who have recently embraced Islam are confused. The imams, alims, and Islamic scholars who come to them from outside cannot agree on any one path. In Kliptown and Soweto, there are the Tablighi Jama’at, the Sunnis, Sufis, Morabitouns, and so on. What Muslims in the townships, however, see is that each group is continuously condemning the other. Muslims believe that focusing on unity and brotherhood will make it easier for them to exercise their power.
In South Africa, apartheid is officially dead but it is alive and well in the practice of Muslims. For instance, if Muslims from the Black townships greet fellow Muslim brothers and sisters who are from other townships, or who are non-African, it is immediately interpreted to mean that people from the townships want hand-outs. People from the Black townships do not know whether to greet other Muslims or not. Others will then ask, ‘why are they hiding?’
Living in the Black townships, Muslims are so scattered that they only meet other township Muslims at functions like conferences. Neighbours, friends and the community in general in the Black townships insult Muslims and do not want to associate with them. They mock Muslims by saying that they left African culture to follow Indian culture. They call Muslims ‘Indians.’
Family members disown people in the Black townships who accept Islam. They engage in all sorts of spiteful behaviour, like, for example, insisting on non-Muslim burial when a Muslim dies. Muslim women are forced to go to non-Muslim welfare organizations for assistance. While some of them are assisted, the pain and humiliation they go through is beyond mention. Muslims sometimes ask themselves, ‘is this what Allah intended for us?’
In the townships, there are no halal food outlets. Muslims do not even have proper toilets and washing facilities, especially in the numerous squatter camps. A Muslim organization - Help Us To Feed You Movement - has launched a project to construct bathrooms in squatter camp areas, insha’Allah. But for these and other endeavours, they are in great need of assistance.
Regarding those Muslims who are wealthy, they should remember that money and other material possessions are not their own; they are a blessing from Allah. Therefore, for not performing one’s salah or giving zakah to the needy, every Muslim is accountable to Allah. Finally, it is not a choice of whether or not to assist the weak or poor; it is a commandment from Allah. And it takes two hands to clap. The poor are needed to purify the wealth of the rich.
Allah will give strength to all brothers and sisters to become stronger Muslims. No doubt, the world will continue to insult Muslims. Sadly, some Muslim brothers and sisters will not even accept other Muslim brothers and sisters as equal. But the commitment to Allah in the Black South African townships will grow stronger by the day, insha’Allah, because Muslims living there have accepted Islam with their mind, body, and soul.
(Sr. Safia Mokhethi is a representative of the Help Us To Feed You Movement in Kliptown, Soweto, South Africa. This article is based on a talk she gave at the Crescent International Conference in Pretoria in August. She can be reached at 3110 Rockville, Mohapi Street, P.O. Dlamin or P.O. Chiawelo, 1818, Soweto, South Africa)
Muslimedia: December 1-15, 1998