MJC/Zuma meeting no endorsement: MJC

The “historic” meeting last week between the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and the president of the African National Congress (ANC), Jacob Zuma was purely political protocol that had nothing to do with endorsing him as a candidate for the South African presidency. This was the emphatic confirmation given by the president of the MJC, Maulana Igsaan Hendricks, on Thursday to VOC. The statement came after last week’s meeting led to much public debate as illustrated in a VOC online poll where just on 40% disapproved of the meeting while 60% accepted it as a form of pragmatic politics.

“This was not a meeting to ingratiate ourselves with Zuma. It was a meeting where we could tell him about certain things that concern us. The MJC is in a process of engaging the political leadership of South Africa. There is a political landscape that is changing in this country that will compel the MJC to strategically engage political leaders. This holds interest for the Muslim community and is meant to ensure that the dignity, human rights and values of the South African community does not get lost in the future. What is wrong with that process?” Hendricks asked.

He said that this meeting was no different to previous engagements with the leadership, although it goes considerably further than in the apartheid era. “In the past, individual members of the ulema differed on how government should be approached, but the history shows that the majority of the ulema were not opposed to engaging in political processes of the time. There certainly was no official policy not to engage in politics.”

By contrast, Hendricks said that the majority of today’s ulema were strongly in favour of engaging with the leadership of the country, which paved the way for the meeting with Zuma last Tuesday. “Our meeting with Mr Zuma was not just on behalf of the MJC, but in fact on behalf of the wider SA Muslim community. We wanted him to know that historically Muslims have contributed to this country’s struggle for liberation and we continue to contribute to our country today. We are not an isolated community. We see ourselves as being part of the South African society, but we also made it clear that we did not wish to be taken for granted.”

Positioning

He said that the ulema shared with Zuma – who was accompanied by Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool – that Muslims wished to be part of the democracy in SA. “We do not believe democracy to be a holy cow, but we believe that we have to position ourselves within it where we can fully integrate while preserving our unique Muslim identity. Thankfully, the Bill of Rights and our Constitution secure us the right to do so.”

According to Hendricks, Muslims had a responsibility to do more to explore their role within a modern democracy where they were a minority. “It is an ever changing landscape and we need to consider if we wish to be recognized only as a community of anger and a community of emotion. Our Islamic teachings tell us that we are a community of hope and it is the responsibility of the ulema to take the lead as a central authority for Muslims, so that we live up to those teachings.”

Explaining the meeting as a matter of protocol, Hendricks said that the MJC had a history of meeting with South African leaders. This applied to former president Nelson Mandela, current president Thabo Mbeki as well as to Jacob Zuma who is widely expected to replace Mbeki next year. “We cannot deny the role Mr Zuma plays within his party. As a matter of simple protocol, the MJC sent a letter of congratulations to the ANC after the Polokwane conference where Mr Zuma was elected as president. This paved the way for us to meet with the most senior person in the ruling party,” the MJC president said.

Beyond Endorsement

But the biggest concern raised by the Muslim public after the meeting was that it created the perception that the MJC had endorsed Zuma, a man who according to VOC polls in the last year was not a favourite among Muslims. “The ANC followed their democratic processes at the Polokwane conference and chose Jacob Zuma as the president of their party. The MJC does not have any right to say that it was the right or wrong choice. We agree that there is a cloud hanging over Mr Zuma, but we did not meet with him to discuss that. Our meeting went well beyond the scope of an endorsement. It was based on his being the president of the ANC and as such, the MJC as a lobby group for Muslims had issues of concern to discuss with him.”

This included issues such as poverty alleviation, the battle against drugs and crime in the Western Cape, even concerns about Zimbabwe and the recent remarks made by the ANC Youth League. Hendricks believed that the MJC had succeeded in its goal to raise these issues of concern. “On poverty alleviation, we made sure he understood that we had taken the call by government for the religious community to become involved in this area seriously. Muslims have a tradition of being very generous and we believe that our role in poverty alleviation is imperative.”

Zuma raised concern over the high levels of drugs and crime in the Western Cape, which the MJC said had a detrimental effect on a large percentage of the Muslim population. The two parties agreed that finding solutions to this scourge was a national imperative which everyone had to take a hand in. “We also raised the matter of the injury caused to Muslims by the lack of recognition given to Muslim marriages over generations. With Muslim Personal Law still not a reality, this is a wound that has still not healed. We accept that part of the delays in the implementation of MPL could be laid at the door of the ulema, but we are hoping that under a new dispensation it could finally be enacted.”

On the issue of Zimbabwe, the ulema expressed concern at the perceived lack of action by the South African government. Zuma responded that if SA was to take action, there needed to be clarity on what type of action was needed. He said government wanted to avoid the kind of unilateral action which led to the destruction of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.

“One of our senior members, Imam Ali Gierdien also used the opportunity to express grave concern about the language that was used, saying that the consequences of such irresponsible remarks could be detrimental for the country,” Hendricks said. He was referring to comments made by ANC Youth League president Julius Malema that they were prepared to kills for Zuma. On Thursday, the Human Rights Commission of South Africa said Malema had given the assurance that he would never again use the word “kill” in public statements. The utterance was made at a youth rally in the Free State on June 16. The commission was satisfied with his response and would not follow further legal procedures.

Public Debate

In an online poll conducted on Thursday, 87% of respondents felt that the ulema had a role to play in politics while only 12.3% felt that they should abstain from politics completely. 24.6% said the ulema should encourage participation in democracy. 18.4% believed they should lobby government on Muslim issues and 10.7% felt that they should not align themselves with any political party. However, 33.8% felt the ulema needed to do all three – lobby on Muslim issues, encourage Muslims to participate in democracy, but refrain from aligning themselves to any political party.

Meanwhile, Hendricks said the public debate that erupted after the meeting was a good intellectual exercise which showed how people differ. He also applauded the results of the poll. “This is exactly what we believe the role of the ulema is. It is the MJC policy to encourage Muslims – as citizens of this country – to participate in the processes of democracy. But it is not our duty to tell you who to vote fore. You have the right to make that decision on your own.”

According to Hendricks, the MJC presented Zuma with two gifts at the end of the meeting. “The first was a copy of the holy Quran. Interestingly enough, this meeting took place a day before the 53rd anniversary of the Freedom Charter and Mr Zuma wondered if it would not be possible for a copy of the Charter to be pasted into the Quran. At this point, one of our members pointed out to him that the principles of the Freedom Charter was already entrenched in the Quran. To this Mr Zuma wondered if the Quran had not in fact inspired the Freedom Charter.”

The second gift that was given to Zuma was a copy of the map of Palestine with an appeal to continue with the legacy of former president Mandela who said that South Africa will not be fully free until Palestine was free.

*Source: Voice of the Cape

MRN

Author: MRN Network

The aspiration of the Media Review Network is to dispel the myths and stereotypes about Islam and Muslims and to foster bridges of understanding among the diverse people of our country. The Media Review Network believes that Muslim perspectives on issues impacting on South Africans are a prerequisite to a better appreciation of Islam.