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“He Was Real to Us” – A South African Muslim’s Hesitant Tribute to Mandela

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By Na’ima B. Robert

When I heard about Nelson Mandela’s death in the early hours of the morning of December 5, via a message on Viber, the only way I could describe the way I felt was numb. I didn’t feel a crushing sense of grief or loss. I didn’t cry. Although I had been aware of his ill health and knew that he was in his nineties, I had never once considered his passing and what it would mean to me. Over the years, a distance, both geographical and emotional, had grown between myself and the politics of my parents’ birth. There were still so many debates about whether reconciliation had been the right move so soon after apartheid; there remained so many social inequalities. I had been irritated by his portrayal in the film ‘Invictus’ and of course, there was the faith issue.

I told my children, almost out of a sense of duty; they should know this. This is a moment of history in their lifetime. But it was political, theoretical, and not personal. It was far removed from our lived reality, from our own experience. It was just that: history.

That is until a couple of days later, I was browsing the magazine racks in an express supermarket, and I saw his face – Madiba’s face – on the cover of a special edition of Time Magazine. I picked it up out of curiosity, my eyes flicking over the people they had chosen to eulogise him – Morgan Freeman, Francois Pienaar, Bono – and my heart remained as still as a stone, silent and unmoved. This was the man they wanted to sell us: the hero of white South Africa, friend of actors and pop stars.

That was not the Mandela I had grown to know and love, as the daughter of South African exiles growing up in Zimbabwe. My father was a white South African, private school-educated, and my mother a Zulu woman, working as a nurse in Soweto. Under the laws of apartheid, their relationship was a crime and so they fled to the cold embrace of 1970s Leeds, England, where I was born. We moved back to Southern Africa when I was six, settling in a now independent Zimbabwe. And although we were now growing up free, in the post-colonial wonderland that was Zimbabwe in the 1980s, we were still very much tied to The Struggle. To us whose lives had been forever marked by the scourge of apartheid but had managed to escape its clutches, Nelson Mandela embodied the spirit of no surrender. He was the rallying cry, the man whose name we sang, childish voices raised in freedom songs: ‘Mandela says fight for freedom, freedom is in your hands.’

As I said to my children later, Mandela was real for us. His struggle against apartheid was a symbol of our parents’ struggles, the love-hate relationship they had with the country of their birth, their yearning for belonging and to one day, go home.

I was reminded of that struggle when the Time Magazine pages turned from celebrity tributes to photos of Madiba in his young days. That was when I cracked. As a young girl, I had seen those photos so many times; I knew his life story off by heart. I had witnessed his release, the euphoria, the elation, the hope. I had even met him on his first trip to Zimbabwe, when we performed for him and Winnie and I gave him the portrait I had painted. Tears stung my eyes and I wept freely in the supermarket aisle, tears soaking my veil, a wave of emotions and memories surging through me. For me, like so many others, Nelson Mandela was part of my personal history. But more significantly, he is inextricably woven into the fabric of South Africa’s history. His passing signifies an era drawing to a close: the ones who knew and experienced the horrors of apartheid fading and giving way to a new generation of South Africans who never knew it and are trying their best to forget it ever was.

And that is why I resolved to teach my children who Nelson Mandela was. So that we don’t forget. The world has lost an amazing human being. This is a man who was prepared to fight, to sacrifice for his principles. A man who endured 27 years of imprisonment and who came out, still able to love, to laugh, to forgive. Some say he forgave too much. That is not for me to say. But what I take from his life, and the lessons I would like to pass on to my children is this: the truth is worth fighting for, justice is worth fighting for. You should never give up, no matter how tough it gets for you just may get a second chance to live free, to love, to work towards the fulfillment of your dreams.

And if our children as the Muslims of the future, were to learn these lessons from Mandela’s life, and the lives of other great and fearless human beings, can you imagine how powerful that would be? Just imagine.

May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) bless us all with the ability to be inspired by those who fight for justice, who live fearlessly and are determined to be the change they want to see in the world.
Aluta continua. The struggle continues.

 

Na’ima B. Robert is editor of SISTERS Magazine. She is the author of the popular Muslimah memoir, From My Sisters’ Lips, and the award-winning historical novel, Far From Home, a story about colonial and post-colonial Zimbabwe, as well as other novels for Muslim teens. For more information, visit www.naimabrobert.co.uk

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. WAJiD

    WAJiD

    December 20, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    Asalaam Alaikum,

    Thank you for this article. It is all the more interesting because it is personal to you and your homeland.

    WAJiD

  2. Avatar

    Riz Khan

    December 21, 2013 at 10:09 AM

    Well written!
    I liked the way the author imbued her emotions in this article.
    Nelson Mandela is a hero. I put him in the same caliber as Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. These are the people who confirm that humanity is not lost yet. As long as there are people like these humanity would remain alive.

  3. Avatar

    Nadia

    December 21, 2013 at 10:57 AM

    Love this article! Love you, sis!

  4. Avatar

    hafsa

    December 22, 2013 at 9:03 AM

    Maasha’Allah ukhti fillah! this was wonderful to read and very inspiring. Jazaakallahu kheir

  5. Avatar

    umm

    December 24, 2013 at 4:36 AM

    We are of the generation that experienced apartheid, transformation and now diversity. We still have a long way to go in achieving true diversity and equality, but as muslims we have to acknowledge the role he played in fighting for our rights, and the freedoms he afforded us in practising our faith. There are very few places in the world where muslims are such a minority but are afforded the freedoms we have. This is certainly because of Madiba, and the muslim comrades who stood by his side.

    This is an article I wrote about Madiba in July 2013. It speaks of how so many of the ideals that Madiba stood for are indeed ideals that Islam preaches too, and how I will teach my kids about him too.

    http://raisingyoungbelievers.wordpress.com/?s=madiba&submit=Search

    He will be missed, and we can only hope his ideals are adopted by cureent and future goverments!

    • Avatar

      Lamees

      January 26, 2014 at 12:50 AM

      Well-said, but remember to thank the musabbib (Allah) before the asbab (humans such as this great man).

      Wa ‘alaikum asallamu wa rahmatulLahi wa barakatuh.

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#Society

Ya Qawmi: Strengthen Civic Roots In Society To Be A Force For Good

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari

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For believers the traditions and teachings of the Prophets (blessings on them), particularly Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), are paramount. Each Prophet of God belonged to a community which is termed as their Qawm in the Qur’an. Prophet Lut (Lot) was born in Iraq, but settled in Trans-Jordan and then became part of the people, Qawm of Lut, in his new-found home. All the Prophets addressed those around them as ‘Ya Qawmi’ (O, my people) while inviting them to the religion of submission, Islam. Those who accepted the Prophets’ message became part of their Ummah. So, individuals from any ethnicity or community could become part of the Ummah – such as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad.

Believers thus have dual obligations: a) towards their own Qawm (country), and b) towards their Ummah (religious companions). As God’s grateful servants, Muslims should strive to give their best to both their Qawm and Ummah with their ability, time and skillset. It is imperative for practising and active Muslims to carry out Islah (improvement of character, etc) of people in their Ummah and be a witness of Islam to non-Muslims in their Qawm and beyond. This in effect is their service to humanity and to please their Creator. With this basic understanding of the concept, every Muslim should prioritise his or her activities and try their utmost to serve human beings with honesty, integrity and competence. Finding excuses or adopting escapism can bring harm in this world and a penalty in the Hereafter.

Like many other parts of the world, Britain is going through a phase lacking in ethical and competent leadership. People are confused, frustrated and worried; some are angry. Nativist (White) nationalism in many western countries, with a dislike or even hatred of minority immigrant people (particularly Muslims and Jews), is on the rise. This is exacerbated through lowering religious literacy, widespread mistrust and an increase in hateful rhetoric being spread on social media. As people’s patience and tolerance levels continue to erode, this can bring unknown adverse consequences.

The positive side is that civil society groups with a sense of justice are still robust in most developed countries. While there seem to be many Muslims who love to remain in the comfort zone of their bubbles, a growing number of Muslims, particularly the youth, are also effectively contributing towards the common good of all.

As social divisions are widening, a battle for common sense and sanity continues. The choice of Muslims (particularly those that are socially active), as to whether they would proactively engage in grass-roots civic works or social justice issues along with others, has never been more acute. Genuine steps should be taken to understand the dynamics of mainstream society and improve their social engagement skills.

From history, we learn that during better times, Muslims proactively endeavoured to be a force for good wherever they went. Their urge for interaction with their neighbours and exemplary personal characters sowed the seeds of bridge building between people of all backgrounds. No material barrier could divert their urge for service to their Qawm and their Ummah. This must be replicated and amplified.

Although Muslims are some way away from these ideals, focusing on two key areas can and should strengthen their activities in the towns and cities they have chosen as their home. This is vital to promote a tolerant society and establish civic roots. Indifference and frustration are not a solution.

Muslim individuals and families

  1. Muslims must develop a reading and thinking habit in order to prioritise their tasks in life, including the focus of their activism. They should, according to their ability and available opportunities, endeavour to contribute to the Qawm and Ummah. This should start in their neighbourhoods and workplaces. There are many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on one’s obligations to their neighbour; one that stands out – Gabriel kept advising me to be good to my neighbour so much that I thought he would ask that he (neighbour) should inherit me) – Sahih Al-Bukhari.
  2. They must invest in their new generation and build a future leadership based on ethics and professionalism to confidently interact and engage with the mainstream society, whilst holding firm to Islamic roots and core practices.
  3. Their Islah and dawah should be professionalised, effective and amplified; their outreach should be beyond their tribal/ethnic/sectarian boundaries.
  4. They should jettison any doubts, avoid escapism and focus where and how they can contribute. If they think they can best serve the Ummah’s cause abroad, they should do this by all means. But if they focus on contributing to Britain:
    • They must develop their mindset and learn how to work with the mainstream society to normalise the Muslim presence in an often hostile environment.
    • They should work with indigenous/European Muslims or those who have already gained valuable experience here.
    • They should be better equipped with knowledge and skills, especially in political and media literacy, to address the mainstream media where needed.

Muslim bodies and institutions

  • Muslim bodies and institutions such as mosques have unique responsibilities to bring communities together, provide a positive environment for young Muslims to flourish and help the community to link, liaise and interact with the wider society.
  • By trying to replicate the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, they should try to make mosques real hubs of social and spiritual life and not just beautiful buildings. They should invest more in young people, particularly those with professional backgrounds. They should not forget what happened to many places where the Muslim presence was thought to be deep-rooted such as Spain.
  • It is appreciated that the first generation Muslims had to establish organisations with people of their own ethnic/geographical backgrounds. While there may still be a need for this for some sections of the community, in a post-7/7 Britain Muslim institutions must open up for others qualitatively and their workers should be able to work with all. History tells that living in your own comfort zone will lead to isolation.
  • Muslim bodies, in their current situation, must have a practical 5-10 year plan, This will bring new blood and change organisational dynamics. Younger, talented, dedicated and confident leadership with deep-rooted Islamic ideals is now desperately needed.
  • Muslim bodies must also have a 5-10 year plan to encourage young Muslims within their spheres to choose careers that can take the community to the next level. Our community needs nationally recognised leaders from practising Muslims in areas such as university academia, policy making, politics, print and electronic journalism, etc.

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#Current Affairs

#UnitedForOmar – Imam Omar Suleiman Smeared by Right-Wing News After Opening Prayer at US House of Representatives

Zeba Khan

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Sh. Omar Suleiman delivered the opening prayer in the US House of Representatives yesterday, May, 9th, 2019  at the invitation of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) of Dallas.

Immediately since, right wing media platforms have begun spreading negative coverage of the Imam Omar Suleiman – calling him anti-semitic, a common tactic used to discredit both Muslim activists as well as criticism of Israel policies.

News outlets citing the criticism have pointed to a post from The Investigative Project on Terrorism or ITP, as the source. The  ITP was founded by and directed by noted Islamophobe Steven Emerson. Emerson’s history of hate speech has been documented for over two decades.

Since then, the story has been carried forward by multiple press outlets.

The immediate consequence of this has been the direction of online hate towards what has been Imam Omar Suleiman’s long history of preaching unity in the US socio-political sphere.

“Since my invocation I’ve been inundated with hate articles, threats, and other tactics of intimidation to silence me over a prayer for unity,” Imam Omar Suleiman says. “These attacks are in bad faith and meant to again send a message to the Muslim community that we are not welcome to assert ourselves in any meaningful space or way.”

MuslimMatters is proud to stand by Imam Omar Suleiman, and we invite our readers to share the evidence that counters the accusations against him of anti-semitism, bigotry, and hate. We would also encourage you to reach out, support, and amplify voices of support like Representative E.B.Johnson, and Representative Colin Allred.

You can help counter the false narrative, simply by sharing evidence of Imam Omar Suleiman’s work. It speaks for itself, and you can share it at the hashtag #UnitedForOmar

JazakAllahuKheiran


A Priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam Walk Into a Church in Dallas

At an interfaith panel discussion, three North Texas religious leaders promoted understanding and dialogue among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Amid a vexed political and social climate, three religious leaders in North Texas—a priest, an imam, and a rabbi—proved it’s possible to come together in times of division. Source: DMagazine.com


Muslim congregation writes letters of support to Dallas Jewish Community

The congregation, led by Imam Omar Suleiman, penned more than 150 cards and letters. source: WFAA News


Historic action: Muslims and Jews for Dreamers

“We must recognize that the white supremacy that threatens the black and Latino communities, is the same white supremacy that spurs Islamophobia and antisemitism,” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Bend The Arc


Through Dialogue, Interfaith Leaders Hope North Texans Will Better Understand Each Other

“When any community is targeted, they need to see a united faith voice — that all communities come together and express complete rejection of anything that would pit our society against one another more than it already is.” -Imam Omar Suleiman

Source: Kera News

 


Conversations at The Carter Center: Harmonizing Religion and Human Rights 

Source: The Carter Center


Imam: After devastating New Zealand attack, we will not be deterred

My wife and I decided to take our kids to a synagogue in Dallas the night after the massacre at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh to grieve and show solidarity with the Jewish community. My 5-year-old played with kids his age while we mourned inside, resisting hate even unknowingly with his innocence…” Source: CNN

 

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#Current Affairs

From Sri Lanka – The Niqab Ban and The Politics of Distraction

Shaahima Fahim

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This article was originally published on Groundviews

 

As of last Monday, Sri Lanka is taking a seat at the table next to a list of 13 other countries from across the world who have passed legislation banning the niqab or face veil.

Amidst incensed murmurs from certain parliamentarians, and following a discussion with the country’s main Islamic theological body, the All Ceylon Jammiatul Ulema (ACJU), the President’s office has announced that ‘any garment or item which obstructs the identification of a person’s face would be barred.’ Sri Lanka has been under emergency regulations following the Easter Sunday attacks which killed over 250 people. The ban will hold until emergency regulations are lifted.

Ever since the identification of the all-male terrorists behind the massacre as members of militant group ISIS, Muslim women -for some inexplicable reason- were to bear the hardest brunt. Instances of headscarved Muslim women being refused entry at various supermarkets and prominent establishments, was followed by the usual scaremongering via alarmist infographics doing the rounds yet again ‘educating’ the public of the differences between the burqa, hijab, and chador.

A victory indeed for both anti-Muslim voices, as well as to many within the Muslim community seeking to audibly amputate themselves from a supposedly dated form of Islam – one that they claim has no bearing to inherent Sri Lankan Muslim identity.  A view that discards the notion that any religious or ethnic identity is fluid, in flux, and subject to constant evolution.

The grand slam however is primarily for the current political establishment, members of whom are probably high-fiving each other as a result of this kneejerk symbol-politics manoeuvre on having supposedly successfully placated the public of their fears of homegrown terrorism. A move that bleeds hypocrisy for it comes at the cost of subliminally ‘othering’ an already marginalized segment of a minority community, while at the same time PSA’ing for peace and coexistence in this time of crisis.

What is most insulting to the intelligence of our society however, is that amidst all this brouhaha, only few have questioned the actual relevance of this new ban to the current state of our security affairs.

No eye witness report nor CCTV footage showed that any of the suicide bombers from any of the coordinated attacks across the country were on that day wearing the niqab/burqa/chador at the time of inflicting their terror. The men were in fact dressed in men’s attire, with faces completely exposed. It might serve to add here also that they weren’t dressed in traditional Muslim man garb either.

How then did the face veiling Muslim woman get pushed under the bus as the most identifiable sign of radicalism?

It is obvious that the government was cornered into passing this legislation, as was the ACJU too in having to support this move. While all communities have only their praises to sing for the exceptional work of the security forces in tracking down the attackers within only just hours, the country’s elected leadership was in dire need of respite following what many experts claim was a massive intelligence failure, a blunder involving the wrongful identification of a terror suspect, and incompetence in the handling of events overall. A distraction was desperately required. Something needed to give, and it just so happened that the niqab-donning Muslim woman was the easiest scapegoat.

To an outsider unfamiliar with Muslim religious symbolism, the face-veil can come across as alien, even unnerving. And while our first instinct is to otherize in an attempt to help deal with the discomfort of dealing with any unknown, a woman out in the street in a niqab is -for as long as anyone can remember- most certainly not an oddity that has compelled anyone to stop and recite their final rites.

The misguided belief that the face veil is a marker of extremism isn’t and hasn’t ever been based on any empirical research. If studies were to be carried out, results would show that Muslim women in general -let alone those with a face cover- have a little role to play, if any, for acts of terror committed in all the countries that have banned them.

Contrarily, there is a clear proven relationship between terrorist attacks and increases in recorded Islamophobic incidents against Muslims, with women being disproportionately targeted. One can then dare infer that being visibly Muslim carries a greater risk to oneself, than to the people around them.

The niqab ban has been put in place as a security measure they say – a flexing of muscles towards any semblance of radicalization that will deter any future acts of terror in the country. Naturally, the perpetuating of this ideological hegemony is doing Muslim women no favors. If anything, the ban is a wholly counterproductive one, in that it ostracizes an already marginalized segment of a minority community – a sliver of a percentage out of the 10% that is the country’s Muslim population.

If -as commonly believed- veiled Muslim women are being hopelessly persecuted, the ban will serve only to increasingly confine these women to their homes, under the control of the men accused of governing their lives, and further disconnected from being able to assimilate with society. Even more dangerous, there are studies which prove that having to live in an environment that is aggressively policed on the basis of belief is more likely to harbour radicalization.

Absurdity of the non-connection of the attacks with the niqab ban aside, this in itself should be a war cry for secular feminists advocating for everyone’s basic right to the civil freedoms of a liberal society. Where now are the proponents and ambassadors so wholly soaked in the ‘Muslim woman saviour complex?’ A segment of Muslim women has been forbidden from wearing what they feel best represents their Sri Lankan Muslim identity. They were not consulted before this legislation was passed, nor were they given the chance to show their willingness to cooperate on instances where identification was required.

Ludicrously, discourses surrounding veiled Muslim women are paradoxically lobbed back and forth according to the convenience of the times. In times of world peace, they are oppressed and subservient to patriarchal whims and fancies, while in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack there are hostile and threatening, capable of devising all kinds of evil. They are either victims of violence or the perpetrators of it.

This age-old preoccupation with Muslim women’s attire is in actuality a gross conflation of conservatism with extremism. In claiming that a strip of cloth holds the answer to combatting a severe global threat is trivialising the greater issues at hand. If there was a direct correlation between the attacks and veiled individuals, legislation forbidding the covering of the face in public would be wholly justified. But there is none.

Muslim women shouldn’t be faulted for the cracks in the state’s china. In not being able to answer the hard questions of accountability, lapses in acting on available intelligence, and general good governance, those at the top should leave well alone and consider hiding their faces instead.

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