The Coming of Age of the Black Muslims of South Africa: The way Forward

Nelson Mandela Statue - South African Embassy

Black Muslims from all corners of South Africa converged in Fordsburg at the Palm Continental Hotel in Johannesburg from the 19th-21st of April 2019, to attend what was deemed “South African Black Muslims Conference” with a theme “Shaping Mzansi Muslim Discourse”. The conference was organized in such a way that it dealt with different themes that were pertinent to issues that affect black Muslims in South Africa and how to deal with them. Presenters did not disappoint. The organizers assembled a very competent team from diverse professional backgrounds. From Lawyers, Engineers, Accountants, Ulama (Islamic Scholars), Politicians, Activists, Businessmen, Poets and Academics.

A lot had been said prior to the conference. Some had come expecting racial insults from all corners of the hall but that did not happen. Many black people gathered believed over the years, they have not been treated as equals by the Indian Muslims. Many of the black Muslim leaders who spoke at the conference emphasized the fact that the conference was not meant to outdo the Indian Muslims, but to build a black Muslim society in South Africa that can begin to do things on its own. Many emphasized that there should be no animosity towards any group of Muslims, we are all brothers and sisters in Islam.

Topics ranged from “Exploring a community building model for Black Muslims”, to “Developing Black Ulama to be Community Leaders” on the first day. The state of black ulama in the townships came under the spotlight and it was agreed that a lot more needs to be done to uplift these men and women who are serving Islam in the locations.

Regarding the issue of education, a long debate ensued on the meaning of the Arabic word “Ilm”. Muslims are divided on its possible meaning. Some confine it to mean “Islamic knowledge” like Hadith, Fiqh, and others, etc. Others argued that the word “Ilm” does not differentiate between the different branches of knowledge as all knowledge is one. They argued that it is as a result of this misunderstanding that has made the Islamic Ummah lagging behind our Western compatriots as many Islamic countries have not prioritized the other branches of knowledge such as the different strands of science as beneficial to the well-being of Muslims and dubbed it secular knowledge. It was agreed that, if the black Muslim community was to succeed, it will need to do away with this notion and encourage the importance of both religious and secular knowledge and instead promote the pursuit of knowledge in all disciplines.

Still, on the issue of education, the different speakers who spoke on the topic of “Black Muslims and Educational Challenges”, emphasized the need for Muslims to acknowledge the difference between education and knowledge. Education is formal in nature whereas knowledge is informal. Education brings us closer to Allah therefore, it is important to pursue it to the fullest. However, there are challenges along the road to education such as racism, quality of schools and lack of role players in education within our communities. There was a need to build new schools and madrassas in the townships to cater for the many Muslim and non-Muslim children who sometimes must walk a long distance to get to school.

The issue of nikah (marriage) among black Muslims versus black culture, payment of Lobola, and the high rate of divorce in black Muslim communities also came under scrutiny. It was agreed that there is a need to balance between what Islam requires and black culture.

The community was encouraged to maintain its identity as black Muslims and be proud of that.