Few Muslim communities in a minority situation have given more support to fellow Muslims around the world than the small but dynamic Muslim community in South Africa. Whether it is victims of the tsunami or the endless wars to which Muslims are subjected in different parts of the world, the South African Muslims stand out for their compassion and generosity. Perhaps it was their own suffering under apartheid that heightened their sensitivity to the plight of other people — Muslims and non-Muslims alike — in other parts of the world.
The extent to which the Muslims suffered under apartheid, and the sacrifices they made as part of the struggle against apartheid, are not widely known. A higher proportion of Muslims died or were incarcerated under apartheid that any other group. At the same time, some sectors of the Muslim community did well in business, and that community solidarity benefited from the fact that apartheid forced them to live together. However, while some Muslims enjoy considerable prosperity, they have not tucked this wealth under their beds; it is used to help others, both in South Africa and elsewhere.
The close links between the apartheid regime and the zionist State of Israel, mediated by the South African Jewish community, are not as well known as they should be. Under apartheid, Jews prospered greatly, and in the process transferred billions of dollars made on the near-slave labour of South African blacks to the zionist State. Today, they continue to wield massive economic power; much of the best real estate in the country is still owned by the South African Jews, as are many of the biggest corporations. Naturally, these were not acquired after apartheid ended.
The Johannesburg-based magazine Jewish Affairs applauded close Israeli-South African relations as early as November 1970, and called for strategic “complementarity” between the two. During a highly-publicized visit to Israel in April 1976, John Vorster, South Africa’s prime minister, compared the zionists’ “pioneering spirit” to that of his fellow Afrikaans in South Africa. Not a single zionist leader challenged such a comparison; on the contrary, it was widely applauded, despite the fact that racist South Africans had supported the Nazis during the Second World War, with Vorster himself holding the rank of general in a pro-Nazi organization, the Ossewabrandwag. During Vorster’s visit to Israel, the two countries signed mutual cooperation accords in a number of areas, including the military and nuclear. Since apartheid ended in 1994, subsequent governments in South Africa have struggled to find ways to end the military agreements signed during those dark days.
It is true, of course, that not all Jews supported apartheid. People like Ronnie Kasrils, currently South Africa’s Minister for Forests and Water Resources, stand out as long-time anti-apartheid activists, but they were exceptions. As anti-zionist Jews, they have been supported by Muslims, while being vilified as “traitors” by rabbis and other Jewish leaders to this day. It is now difficult to find anyone in South Africa barring the Afrikaaners Nationalist Party, who will admit to having supported apartheid. Perhaps a day will come, hopefully in our own lifetime, when there would be few people left in the world willing to admit that they once supported zionism.
Let us return, however, to the Muslim community in South Africa. In most cities and towns, they have built beautiful mosques. There are also a number of Islamic schools gamely trying to ensure that children are brought up in an Islamic environment and provided with a good basic Islamic knowledge. As with communities elsewhere, there are also the perennial problems of adolescents causing parents much heartache. Despite such problems, Muslims in South Africa have shown a degree of maturity and awareness that should be the envy of most Muslims elsewhere. Muslims from other parts of the world are given a patient hearing. At times, they even tolerate people whose views merely cause greater confusion, but such is their generosity that the South African Muslims put up even with such inconveniences with a smile.
Crescent International has had a commanding presence in South Africa since the early eighties. It has a large number of readers and admirers there. Since its inception, the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) has also made its mark. The vision articulated by Crescent and the ICIT is now widely shared by a large part of the Muslim community. It is such understanding and awareness that needs to be cultivated and expanded to bring about necessary changes in the Muslim world. South African Muslims have, alhumdulillah, the vision and community strength to make a tremendous contribution to this effort in South Africa, in the rest of Africa, and around the world.
The Qur’an and the Seerah of the Noble Messenger of Allah (saw) give us a lesson in hope. We have to win hearts and minds, one person at a time, to bring about the desired results. For the moment, we must thank our friends and supporters for their kindness, understanding and generosity.