Islam in South Africa
by Abdul Latif
Up until 1994, Lomanyane in the suburbs of Mafikeng was a desolate and bleak township. Mafikeng ‘the place of stones’, the administrative capital of north west province, lies along the northern bank of Molopo river situated 298 km west of Johannesburg at the altitude of 1278 metres. During the war between the Boers (farmers of Dutch, German and French descent) and the British, siege of Mafikeng took place on October 14, 1899. Colonel Baden Powell with the help of a Jewish businessman Ben Weil successfully tried to defend the town from the invaders.
One of Baden Powll’s biggest responsibilities was keeping up the morale of the town-folk and garrison and to this end he organised baby shows, polo matches, concerts and the like. At a later stage, the same Baden Powell laid down the foundation of ‘Boy Scout’ movement. The main occupation of the scouts was to carry out duties, delivering military messages and civilian mail to outlying forts and to act as orderlies. Thus Mafikeng became famous for giving birth to this world renowned youth movement of Boy Scouts. This was, in fact, the beginning of systematic use of young and tender-aged people for war purposes.
Initially, Lomanyane was interested in unemployed and aimless urchins. Generally, the people in the village were down-trodden and dejected. Akin to areas of that ilk, the inhabitants were craving for material as well as spiritual comfort, peace and solace. A young Malawian scholar and preacher Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah Mehmood took upon himself to bring about a blissful change in the lives of the township dwellers. The onset of the apostolic undertaking was full of impediments and hardships. The Sheikh however proved to be more resilient and put down his feet with determination. He decided to live with the community. He learned their language and tried to understand their culture and tradition. Gradually and steadily, success was achieved and families were attracted towards his clarion call.
Today, the thriving Muslim community in the village comprising 46 families (150 people) have become a role-model for other inhabitants and creeds. The Sheikh routinely visits the Mafikeng central prison and conveys good news and hope to the inmates. So far he has managed to evolve a group of Muslims consisting of 53 members. Through the efforts of people like Prof. Akbar Botha, Mr. Adam Muhammad, Mr. Noorullah Shaikhnag. Dr. Haroon Gutta etc. and in fact, through the co-operation of many local Muslims a simple but elegant and impressive mosque has been constructed. A Study Centre is busy imparting basic Islamic knowledge to children as well as to the adults. In addition to this, there are recreational facilities for the neighbourhood.
Islam: The Only Divine Remedy
South Africa’s leading daily The Citizen’s correspondent Michelle Faul commenting on the rise and renaissance of Islam in Africa says: ‘Young Africans disillusioned by corruption, poverty and decadence they blame on the West, are flocking to ‘Fundamentalist’ Islamic movement. Islam is the fastest growing religion on the continent’.
‘Until we destroy the Western institutions and all their negative influences that plague our culture, we will continue to suffer their side-effects: corruption, social decadence, famine,’ said Muhammad Taufiq Ladan, who is the National Secretary of the Muslim Students Society in Nigeria. A general economic decline also is encouraging Islamic ‘fundamentalists’ elsewhere in Africa. Sheikh Abu Bakar Gumi of Kaduna (Nigeria) has a large following and his disciples in Ghana, Cameron and Benin are actively involved in propagating the message of Islam. The Sheikh and his adherents envision a world where tribalism, regionalism, corruption and crime would disappear. Hundreds and thousands have adopted this vision and millions cherish the ideal. More than 65 per cent of the 120 million people of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous and powerful nation, are Muslims.
Africa the Muslim Continent
Because of colonial oppression and suppression by the Christian Nations of Europe, Islam stagnated in West Africa, but statistics show that it has grown by about 50-60 percent in the recent years to 160 million adherents south of the Sahara. There are more Muslims in West Africa than Arabs in the world.
Former NGK (Dutch Reformed Africans Church) in Johannesburg’s western suburb Mayfair was bought by the Muslim community and after making minor changes to conform to Islamic rules was converted into a mosque. It is now serving the educational and spiritual needs of the community in Crosby, Brixton and Mayfair west. Their spokesman Mr. Akhtar Thokan says: ‘The mosque will also pay particular attention to the needs of the youths in surrounding areas as well as the Rand Africans University’. As the mosque is a focal point for the community its day-to-day affairs are conducted by inviting the stake-holders to make suggestions and participate in the activities.
Islam in Today’s South Africa
In South Africa, there are approximately 455 mosques, 408 educational institutes, colleges, Muslim private schools, religious instruction centres, and colleges of Islamic Sciences. There are universities that offer Arabic and Islamic Studies as part of their academic curriculum. The number of organisations involved in general welfare activities, e.g., social, cultural, business, religious, media, youth and gender are around 465. Some of the important private Islamic radio stations are: Al-Zaheer Radio Station, Fordsburg; Azaania Broadcasting, Durban; Institute for Islamic Services; Radio Pretoria; Islamic Broadcasting Services International, Mayfair; Radio 786, Cape Town; The Voice Radio Station, Mayfair and The Voice of the Cape Town.
There are branches in almost all the major towns and cities in South Africa of the Islamic Medical Association of South Africa. This organization publishes its own journal from Durban. Muslims as groups or as individuals publish a host of magazines, journals and periodicals mostly in the English language. Prominent among them are: The Muslim Digest, Al-Akhbar (Cape Town), Al-Rasheed (Frodsburg), Muslim Views (Cape Town), Palastine Times (Fordsbug), The Majlis (Port Elzabeth), The Message (Johannesburg) and Al-Balaagh (Johannesburg).
There are Islamic societies and associations formed by students at most of the important secondary and tertiary educational institutions. Muslim women are not far behind their male counterparts; they have formed their own associations and are rendering valuable services to the community with a true Islamic spirit. Noteworthy among them are: Islamic co-ordinating Council -- Ladies Council, Cape Town; Islamic Da`wah Movement, Women’s Wing, Durban; Islamic Women’s Association, Durban; Jama`at-un-Nissa, Kimberley; Muslim Women’s Federation, Cape Town; Senior Citizens Comfort Group and Women’s Cultural Group, Durban.
The Muslim youth are not far behind in this either; some of their important associations and societies are: Fordsburg Muslim Youth Organisation, Johannesburg; Laudium Islamic Youth Awareness Movement, Pretoria; Muslim Youth Unity, Cape Town; Nur-ul-Islam Yield Youth Association, Cape Town; the Kauther Youth Circle, Johannesburg and Saut-us-Shabaab, Cape Town. (Courtesy: The Radiance, New Dehli)