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The Role of Muslims in the New South Africa


Islam is in a uniquely strong position to actively and dynamically contribute to the development of a new South Africa if Muslims adhere to the Quranic principles set out below.


   (a)"Oh believers: uphold justice both continuously ad steadfastly ..." (Quran: S 4: V 135)

   (b)"God commands you to enforce justice..." (Quran : S 16 : V 90)

   (c)"Be just, for that is closer to piety..." (Quran : S 5 : V 8)

The concept of justice as enunciated by the Holy Quran is all-embracing and absolute: it covers all the possible situations of life without limitation or exception. Whatever the situation, the Muslim is obliged to enforce justice as a cardinal principle of his faith and as a means of achieving proximity to his Creator.

That has a special significance within the South African context. In all our dealings with our fellow Africans, we must display a sense of justice and equity. Our economic dealings, in particular, should be characterised by fairness and honesty. There should be a fundamental change of attitude based on a sense of understanding and concern for the underprivileged.

In the delicate field of labour relations, we must ensure that we comply with fair labour practices. There must be no exploitation in any form whatsoever and the employer/employee relationship should be based on fairness.

Justice will contribute to the upliftment of the deprived; it will help redress the injustices of the past; it will build permanent and lasting relationships with our fellow Africans; and most importantly, it will show that we sincerely care for others.

On the other hand, the failure to be just in our dealings at all levels will result in disastrous consequences. We will be viewed as a selfish, materialistic community, devoid of a sense of humanity and fair play. We will be perceived as exploiters wielding economic power unjustly, to the prejudice of the majority. That could bring about a reaction in the form of counter-measures which could threaten our very survival.

The necessity for being just in all our dealings with others may be illustrated by the following authentic traditions:

  1.  A Non-Muslim came to the Holy Prophet (SAW) and strongly demanded settlement of what was due to him. The creditor was harsh in making the demand. The companions of the Holy Prophet (SAW) sought to retaliate. The Holy Prophet (SAW) answered: "Leave him, for the person entitled is free to have his say." (Bukhari), The debt was repaid and what was given in settlement, was better in quality than what was originally received.
  2. The Holy Prophet (SAW) said: "Whoever oppresses a non-Muslim or burdens him beyond his capacity, then I shall advocate his cause (on the Day of Judgement)". (Kitab ul Kharaj)
  3. The second Caliph, Umar ibn Kattab (RA), came across some Non-Muslims being punished for failing to pay their Jizyah tax. He immediately stopped the punishment and ordered their release. (Kitab ul Kharaj)
  4. Umar (RA) found an old Jewish man begging because he was in need. He instructed the treasurer of the baitul maal to assist him and others like him, saying: "We taxed them in their youth, and now we humiliate them in their old age." (Kitab ul Kharaj)
  5. Asma (RA) asked the Holy Prophet (SAW) whether she should do good to her non-Muslim mother. The Holy Prophet (SAW) replied: "Do good to her." (Kitab ul Kharaj)


   (a)"They prefer others over themselves although poverty is their own lot." (Quran : S 59 : V 9)

   (b)"In their property, there is a fixed right for the needy and the deprived"

   (c)"God does not forbid you with regard to those who do not fight you for (your) faith, nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing generously and justly with them. For God loves those who are just." (Quran : S 60 : V 8)

   (d)"Obligations, other than Zakaat, are imposed on property."

The crucial issue facing any new government is how to redress the gross inequalities and imbalances created by apartheid - which the International Community declared to be a crime against humanity. According to an ANC report, over 7 million South Africans live in shacks or have no home at all. Four million do not have clean drinking water and 23 million lack electricity. During the apartheid years millions of blacks were forcibly removed from their homes and farms through no fault of theirs but as part of a deliberate policy of suppression. The policy of apartheid caused massive deprivation of non-Whites but at the same time conferred immense privileges and benefits upon whites. Whites were economically empowered by deliberate government policy at the expense of Blacks and other communities.

Equality and freedom is meaningless unless the deprivedcommunities are provided with the basic amenities of life, and resources are used effectively for social reconstruction and development.

The interim Bill of Rights enshrined in Chapter 3 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 1993 recognizes the principle of affirmative action in the following words:

"This section shall not preclude measures designed to achieve the adequate protection and advancement of persons or groups or categories of persons disadvantaged by unfair discrimination, in order to enable their full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms."

"Every person or community dispossessed of rights in land...shall be entitled to claim restitution of such rights subject to and in accordance with sections 121, 122 and 123."

See Section 8 of Chapter 3 : Fundamental Rights

Against this background, Muslims can play a pivotal role. Muslims are enjoined at all times to assist the deprived and destitute, to feed-the-hungry and otherwise to show- a deep sense of humanitarian concern for others. Values such as sharing, giving and preferring others constitute the essence of practice. In short, service to humanity in every form is the central message of the Holy Quran and Sunnah.

Muslims therefore must use their resources, individually and collectively, in a manner that will benefit the deprived communities of South Africa. In doing so, for the sake of Allah only, they will be performing a great act of Ibaadah. Whilst the whole Sunnah covering all the possible situations of life is important and blessed, those aspects of the Prophetic model relating to social upliftment must be given special priority within the special context of SouthAfrican society. Khadijah RA, the noble wife of the Holy Prophet (SAW) described his qualities at the time of the first Revelation as follows:

"Certainly, you maintain ties with your relatives and do good to them, you bear the burdens of others; you provide for the needy and destitute; you provide for and honour the guest; and you assist others in carrying out their lawful duties and responsibilities." (Bukhari : Hadith 3)

Every Muslim must do whatever he or she can to the best of his or her ability for social upliftment and improving the quality of life in South Africa. Established business enterprises have a special role to play in the area of social upliftment. They must give immediate consideration to using their resources for social upliftment. A trust fund, for example, could be set up by an established business. A percentage of profits each year could be channeled to that fund and the income of the fund used effectively for social reconstruction and development. Initially, the work could start on a small scale but over a period of time, the social benefits would become evident.

The needs are many and the resources are limited. But if a concerted effort is made by Muslims, individually and collectively, towards improving the quality of life and social upliftment, they will emerge as a powerful and dynamic community in the new South Africa, influence future generations and make a lasting impact on, if not help to shape, the course of a future. South Africa.

Despite the injustices and the oppression of the past, Muslims in South Africa were not deterred: they worked incessantly to preserve their distinct Muslim personality and character, they built religious and educational institutions, they contributed to social development and upliftment, and, as is well known, they contributed significantly to the struggle for freedom and justice. The future for them is full of challenges: they have the capacity and the, will, and they cannot stop now, to surge ahead in a way that will give meaning and substance to the new liberties and freedoms upon which the new South Africa will be founded.


The new South Africa promises great opportunities for Muslims to do dawah - to convey the universal message of Islam to the Non-Muslim majority.

The primary duty of Muslims is to convey the message of Islam to Non-Muslims as appears from the Holy Quran and Sunnah. The Holy Prophet (SAW), instructed the well known companion Ali (RA), before entering the battle of Kayber, to invite the non-Muslims to Islam. The Holy Prophet (SAW) told him:

"By Allah, if one non-Muslim is guided through your efforts, that is better for you than red camels (signing property most valued by Arabs." (Bukhari, Hadith 2783 Kitab ul Jihad)

Dawah must take place at two levels: First, the practice of Muslims in their dealings with others must accord with the principles embodied in the Holy Quran and Sunnah. A practice which is premised on Quranic values - honesty, selflessness, humanitarian concern etc. - will automatically influence others and draw people closer to Islam. Islam has always spread through the practice of pious people and honest merchants. The practice that is required of Muslims is one which is complete and all-embracing and that covers the whole field and scope of their activities, a practice which negates the division between the spiritual and material but integrates both into a harmonious whole. Muslim behaviour must be seen to be consistent and not contradictory. In short, Muslim practice must embody two Quranic principles: no harm or injury in any form must be caused to another; and there must be a sincere attempt to help and assist fellow human beings inevery possible manner. Islam will attract others to its fold by the noble practice of its followers; by their outstanding character and by their sincere devotion to serve their fellow human beings. Muslims, will have to cast aside the shackles of materialism and reflect in their practice the innate beauty of Islam as an all-embracing code of life which is the only guarantee to true happiness.

Second, all means and methods permitted by shariah must be employed to carry the message of Islam to the non-Muslim majority. The work of Dawah which has already begun must be consolidated, intensified and extended so that the message of Islam reaches all corners of South Africa, and Islam is presented as the only viable solution to the problems of the day. In the new South Africa, there will be no barriers, legal or otherwise, as in the past. The playing field will be levelled, and the atmosphere will be conducive, to intensify the work of Dawah and to convey the glorious message of Islam to the non-Muslim majority - who will eagerly embrace that message because it harmonises with their legitimate aspirations, because it liberates man from human bondage and exploitation, from despair and despondency and establishes a true connection with Almighty God.

In conclusion, Muslims cannot sit back and remain on the sidelines. They must enter the mainstream of the new South Africa, participate fully at all levels and make a qualitative contribution. It is for the Muslims to take up the cudgels, face the challenges and-march progressively forward. Future generations will judge them by their conduct.

Dated at Durban this 7 March 1994

Mahomed Shoaib Omar

Our Testimonials

I personally know the honourable Shaykh Mahomed Shoaib Omar for over thirty years. I found him to be an ardent seeker of knowledge, quick of mind &  constantly devoted to the study of the books of fiqh &  has written himself a number of papers. He has been amongst the foremost participants in drafting the Muslim Personal Law for S.Africa, so that it may be enforced there; and the majority of local Ulama have endorsed this.

~ Mufti Taqi Uthmani

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