Although there was an abundance of Muslims in key positions – not just in the Western Cape but in the wider South African context – they were not talking to each other and the failure to do that is costing the Muslim community not only in terms of lost skills and lost opportunities, but also hampers their ability to deal with some of the biggest challenges confront Muslims in this era.
This was the belief that led to the establishment on Monday of a new Muslim think tank, the Friends of the Discover Islam Centre, which targets mainly professionals, entrepreneurs and the business community. The thinktank had three goals in mind – providing a support structure for Muslim professionals, creating a forum that would help Muslims to seize opportunities that come along by making skills available and enhancing the da’wah activities of the Discover Islam Centre.
Mushfiq Hopkins is one of the professional who attended Monday’s launch. He explained the challenge faced by today’s professionals as such: “As we climb the corporate ladder, we are presented with new experiences and Muslims are often afraid to challenge things. This is one of the key issues that came out of Monday’s meeting with 60 professionals invited to the launch. What is needed is a way to make people understand that it is okay to be a Muslim even in the corporate world.”
He added that Muslim professionals in the main were looking for a support structure. “Islam is a way of life which does not stop when you go to work and resume after work. But often people fear if they speak up as Muslims they may be victimized. What is needed is support to help individuals to do the small things like wearing a scarf to work, thereby exposing their colleagues to something new without causing offence to anyone.”
Fellow professional Walied Orrie said much of the feedback received on Monday related to issues Muslim professionals were confronted with every day. “Many of them were concerned about things like performing salah at work or consuming halaal and what to do when attending corporate functions. People don’t always talk about it and therefore a vital opportunity is missed to find solutions. At the same time, an opportunity is missed to do da’wah in the workplace.”
Orrie said the more we modernize, the more people find it difficult to say what they were about as Muslims. “We are hoping that this forum will provide that support which will allow people to share experiences. In my own experience in the call centre industry, I have found that Muslims often don’t speak up. They would rather compromise by missing Eid or only going to Jumuah every three weeks for instance, whereas outside of work they would not do so. What is needed is a process of education that would allow others to respect our right to practice our faith in work.”
Former ANC MP turned entrepreneur, Achmat Brinkhuis, explained this was one of the main reasons why the thinktank was called into being. “Often when you are confronted with a challenge you think you are alone in it. Yet when you finally speak about it, the mere sharing of it already helps. It has a positive spin off too in that once shared your experience you find that there are others who not only have a similar experience, but may even have answers for you.”
According to Dr Abdul Hakim Quick of the Discover Islam Centre, the need expressed by professionals on Monday was in line with a new global reawakening among Muslims. “It is a response to globalization. With increasing technology, comes a new culture and the corporate sector is in the front line in dealing with it. They are the ones speaking to people in power and are confronted with lots of pressure. But in that space there is a vacuum. Everyone needs spirituality in their lives, but the corporate world does not provide space for it.”
This has led to what he called a “professional phenomenon”, including professional athletes and students who were looking for answers to modern challenges. This international trend was also seen by the Discover Islam Centre who now needed to provide more classes for a growing number of students who were born Muslims and work in the corporate field. The size of these classes were now outstripping the number of Muslim reverts who came to the centre.
“This is a very healthy step. We are also fortunate that our country and the corporate world seem to embrace the right of every individual to express their ethnicity and faith. For too long Muslims were wrapped in a cocoon. It is time for the butterfly to emerge. Today we are seeing more Muslim professionals around the globe stepping forward at high levels of society, but far from the Muslim community. When it comes to things like salah or attending corporate functions the answers may appear to be simple, but people need wisdom on how to apply such knowledge. For instance, if you don’t have a wudu-ghana at work, what do you do? This is bringing all the subtleties to the fore. Young people are realizing that Islam is broader than the rituals we know and that there are more options outside of tradition, but which is still permissible.”
With regards to using the Friends of Discover Islam as a da’wah tool, Quick said: “This is an excellent notion. We are trying to get across the idea that da’wah is no longer getting on a pedestal to preach to people, or to get involved in a debate where you tell each other that ‘my way is better than yours’. It is about reaching out where there are problems and offering solutions. This is something everyone can do.”
He said the present challenges such as xenophobia and economic hardship were tools used by the Almighty to force Muslims back to the true teachings and therefore served as a mercy. “We are taught by the example of our Prophet (SAW) that even in the darkest days, we need to keep moving forward. In today’s context, it means finding new ways to rediscover Islam before someone else – who regards Muslims as public enemy number one – does it for us.”
According to Brinkhuis, the third element of the thinktank’s work would be to help the Muslim community access and make optimal use of opportunities that are increasingly becoming available. “I worked for the City for 10 years as a politician and it became very clear that there were an abundance of opportunities open to us. Our people just did not know about it and if they knew, they were not always skilled enough to make the best of it. For instance, 60 – 70% of the tourists who come to the Cape are Muslims, yet there is not one halaal restaurant or lodge on the tourism route. This forces these tourists to make use of whatever else there is. Not only does this cost us economically, it is also a lost da’wah opportunity.”
Brinkhuis said the problem was in the failure of Muslims to speak to each other. “There are Muslims in key positions who know about these opportunities, but it goes no further. We have to learn to be proactive and we need to pool our skills. Recently 30 pieces of land was made available in Delft to religious bodies. Two Muslim organizations applied. But when they were told that they needed to provide their banking details, they failed to come forward and the opportunity was lost. Those same communities now need land for a jamaatkhana. The chance was there but was never taken. We are hoping that this forum will be able to help communities like these to guide them through what is required of them so that we don’t lose out.”
Meanwhile, with the launch now over, the real work starts. First on the agenda is a workshop in the next two weeks. “An idea launched this thinktank. Since then many more ideas came to the fore and this must all be fleshed out as we decide on the way forward. This will happen in a workshop in the next two weeks,” Brinkhuis said. Plans also included the setting up of a website and expanding the network into other areas, starting with the Boland. Steps are already being taken to promote the idea in Gauteng and KZN.
At the same time, the network will start using the skills of its members to enhance the existing activities of the Discover Islam Centre. “Da’wah and outreach is there for everyone. We are hoping that our efforts could complement the centre. Many of us work and have no time to join organizations or even to do outreach work. We hope to circulate the centre’s monthly planner to our forum so that we can structure our lives around their activities. In this way, busy professionals will be able to spend that one free hour per week in an outreach event of the centre, which is far easier to organise on your diary before hand.”
Asked what he was expecting to happen next with his brainchild, Brinkhuis said: “I don’t quite know what is next. My niyyah was only to see that Muslims in South Africa find a way of talking to each other, sharing experiences in order to make life easier for us all. In that way we would use the many privileges we have now – thanks to the sacrifices made by those who went before us – to the fullest,” Brinkhuis said.
In the interim, an email address has already been set up for anyone interested in finding out more. They can send an email to email@example.com. They can also contact Mushfiq Hopkins on 083 378 2834 of Achmat Brinkhuis on 083 765 1137.
Source: Voice of the Cape
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