A message to South African Muslims

With every minority community within a city or country, there will be in-fighting, politics, power struggles and the like. These incidents are bound to take place, as no human being is perfect in their behaviour or in their faith. Yet, the people within that same group will stick together like bubblegum through the stormiest of weathers when there are outsiders posing any type of threat to them as a collective. That’s simply because they can identify with another. They are passionate about their beliefs and culture, and understand the need to have them protected, yet understood.

It seems natural for South African Muslims to campaign for the rights of Palestinians, even though not all Palestinians are Muslim. Palestine plays a very important role in Islam. In short, Muslims believe Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem to be the third holiest site, where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) led all the other prophets in prayer during the night journey. It is the place from which he ascended to the heavens, once again meeting all the other prophets on his way to the Lote Tree.

It is probably for this reason that in South Africa the plight of Palestinians is mistakenly being thought of as a “Muslim issue” when it really is just about human rights, too. Palestinian people are experiencing the worst form of apartheid, possibly even worse than what South Africa had undergone. They are being denied access to food and medicine in the most creative ways by the Israelis and each night someone – often a child – is being ripped from their home and whisked away to an Israeli prison for no justifiable reason. The list of human rights abuses there is endless and brutal.

When the time comes for the world to show their solidarity for Palestinians, South African Muslims are first in line. This was once again demonstrated on Friday, 30 March in Cape Town, when close to 1,000 Muslims marched as part of the first ever Global March to Jerusalem which intended to highlight the plight and suffering of Palestinians, and call for the right of refugees to return to their homelands. It was amazing to see the passion exuding from the crowd. It was clear that this is a cause they felt very strongly about. Why else would they be there with their banners, placards and children, chanting “free free Palestine” and “forward we shall march to a free Palestine”?

They were putting all their energy into defending the rights of Palestinians – which is totally fine. But I looked around and wished that this very same massive crowd could put in just as much effort into defending the rights of our own fellow South Africans who are faced with the harshest social issues, causing them immeasurable suffering.

In Mitchells Plain there are Muslim girls being raped. In Blikkiesdorp there are Muslim families falling fatally ill because they were dumped in non-insulated housing structures. In Hanover Park Muslim families are being destroyed by drugs and gangs. In Khayelitsha there are Muslims still making use of the unhygienic and inhumane bucket system. In Manenberg Muslim youth are resorting to crime because they cannot find jobs. Everywhere there are young Muslim women resorting to prostitution because they feel it’s the only way for them to survive. The list continues.

Are these not reasons enough for the rest of the South African Muslim community to protest en masse for a better future for our people and a change in social circumstances? Since we tend to protect and identify with “our own kind”, why can’t my fellow South African Muslims stand up for all these people on their doorsteps – often literally when there’s a knock for food – who are struggling in their conditions?

If we can’t show those who are kith and kin our support first, we can’t expect to be taken seriously when we overlook them and their needs and divert our freedom-seeking tendencies further abroad. As we take to the streets and demand the freedom of Palestinians, so we should also march for the suffering of South Africans in our impoverished communities to come to an end with equal passion and vigour.

It is often easier to become outraged by injustice half a world away than by oppression and discrimination half a block at home. ~Carl T. Rowan

This article originally appeared here.

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