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Islam in South Africa

16 January 2014, 17:32

"I am beginning to resent the confusion that's being imposed on us ... between religious belief, blasphemy, ethnicity, profanity and what we might call multicultural etiquette. It is quite common now for people to use the expression "anti-Islamic racism"; as if an attack on a religion was an attack on an ethnic group. The word "Islamophobe" in fact is beginning to acquire the opprobrium that was once reserved for racial prejudice. This is a subtle and very nasty insinuation" 

“... bearing that awful trinity of self-hatred; self-pity and self-righteousness” - Christopher Hitchens on Islam

Being a man who is “agnostic”as to whether the glass is half full or half empty, you will have to decide for yourself whether it is cynical to say that the steady growing cloudy undercurrent of Islamic extremism on the African Continent made it’s world stage debut in the most spectacularly horrific way on 23 September 2013 at Westgate Mall, Nairobi.

Although Islam has always glorified death, I was still left reeling at the thought of asking a woman to recite the Qu'ran or die at gunpoint in front of her children, or indeed those of others. Such infinite cruelty.

Historically speaking, three loosely grouped waves of Islam migrants are the roots of the melting pot of Islam we see in South Africa today. Originally on the backs of the African and Asian Slaves of the VOC, later from indentured labourers from India as well as a post-apartheid wave of African Muslims looking for a better tomorrow.

While the commitment to the Qu'ran from those early migrants and political exiles of the Dutch was summed up in a single act on Robben Island in the 1760’s by a one Prince Abdullah Kadi Abu Salaam from Indonesia who wrote the entire Qu'ran from memory while incarcerated.

It is regrettable that, as mainstream monotheisms grow they seem to exhibit a directly proportional growth with those who listen to their ‘spiritual’ elders while never bothering to read their fundamental texts and draw their own conclusions. This, I understand, is all the more made difficult when one adds the hatred that is a death promise for apostasy.


The apathetic attitude surrounding Islamic extremism in South Africa is as tangible as Jacob Zuma’s apparent lack of effort to read the Mission Statement on his namesake Foundation and make a conclusive interpretation thereof. Even more worrisome, our ruling party looks far more inclined to make the same mistakes as countless other Governments when being introduced to such unmitigated violence through racial profiling and poor military decision making; incapable of finding an innovative solution.

Our ‘bubble’ of safety does not take into account the growing numbers of Islamic people on local soil, including growing numbers of South African nationals disillusioned to hear the bible of the God of Abraham was used to rationalise racism and the marginalization of people of colour during apartheid. Alas, they by and large do not realise that large parts of the Qu’ran are simple plagiarisms of that bible without the decency to change out the adjective’s.

Shamelessly purchasing into a system that would seek to perpetuate superstition in a culture already riddled with bigotry not only from the pulpit but from the president himself who doesn't even have the social skill to pretend to endorse LGBT rights for the sake of constitutional alignment (Heritage Day 2006). Not the first time nor I daresay the last that the good book will be used to such effect.


Though it would be unfair to say that Islam has not had it’s contributors to our country or indeed the city where it all began for South Africa; begging the question; if the Qu’ran(or the bible for that matter) had any basis in solid truth, then why have it’s followers not attained some sort of consensus by now? Is it just possible that these fundamentalists who moderates deny being ‘Islamic’ may just be sticking to the true fundamentals of the Quran better than the moderates can? Forgive the speculation however I am sure the bikers of Boko Haram or the martyrs of Westgate Mall and Al-Shabaab would answer yes to the last point.

In 2010, the Jumaital Ulama, urgently and with a rather drab predictably attempted to interdict satirical cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro) for doing a piece depicting Prophet Mohammed in a therapy session with the speech bubble: “All the other prophets have a God with a sense of humour” during the “Draw Prophet Mohammed” Day, a day held every year since 2010 in solidarity with satirical cartoonists who argue, quite rightly, that none should be free from satire in a country or ideally globe where free speech is practiced. Free speech is too often met with the label “Islamophobe” that falls sloppily and without intellect from the mouths of the religious and apologists who rather than deal with issues surrounding Islam and the Qu’rans contribution to violent extremism, scream rhetorically “leave Islam alone” with less thought attribution than most viral video.

The screaming never stopped in 2011 when the South African Government looked to introduce the Muslim Marriages Bill designed to protect women in Muslim marriage as previously Islamic marriage had not been recognised by state and women were treated as the chattel the Quran would have you believe they are. One of the key proponents of the bill; Waheeda Amien; noted that “since Muslim marriages do not have legal recognition, aggrieved parties such as vulnerable women cannot seek redress in the secular courts.”

Muslim organisations reacted with headlines such as “MMB is anti-Shariah”, as if their stagnant morality on pressing issues such as women’s rights had any sway over legislative power, once again exhibiting that untameable self-righteousness exhibited all over the world of Islam. Missing the point that couples could in fact opt-out of MMB legislative co-operation should they wish to. For shame.

Christopher Hitchens asserted with enough confidence to silence many a man “The end of poverty has a name in fact, it’s called the empowerment of women.” Wise words and ones which I would urge us all to heed particularly in an African context where our democracy and constitution are marveled the world over as a story of hope. Bear in mind the traditional polygamous marriages we have taken to entertain may immediately put us at a predisposition to women rights abuse.

I am afraid of the label “sensationalist” should I not mention that in population as a whole Islam is rather small in South Africa, some estimates ranging as low as 1,5%. However lets bear in mind: “the only thing more dangerous than telling you an idea once, is telling it to you twice.”  and I would however warn any government that taking an apathetic approach to something as incredibly dangerous and seemingly contagious as violent religious fundamentalism would be to turn your back on a deadly foe who perhaps one day might value taking your life over preserving his own.


Guarantee to the religious community their freedom of expression and in turn the governments right to hear it. Put a “little black box” in every mic stand of every pulpit of every house that makes the claim that their God and theirs alone is the one which will grant you the key to the age old infantile idea of eternal youth, and independently police the entire religious institution. Only through reconciliation can we truly utilize the skills in human resources and the potential South Africa possesses. Marginalization and human rights violations should be kept in the past at all cost and given religions outstanding contribution to both of the above presently and historically, it surely can be warranted.

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