DURBAN based South African Muslim Network (Samnet) recently launched an online survey to assess the participation of the South African Muslim community in politics and elections.
According to Samnet’s chairperson, Dr Faisal Suliman, they ‘wanted to gauge in more than just an anecdotal fashion, the attitude of Muslims and if it has changed over the past 24 years, regarding participation in political processes.
‘This includes joining and participating within political parties and the attitude to voting given what has transpired in the country and the growth of new parties, and the fall from grace of others.’
Generally, poor participation in politics by the Muslim community has been a concern for some time. Suliman explains, ‘By and large, Muslims have lagged behind other communities in terms of joining political parties, particularly since 1994 and attending branch level meetings of political parties.
‘Certainly, in terms of a subgroup, the proportion of Muslims involved is lower than most other population subgroups.
Some of this is due to the fact that some theological bodies had until recently adopted the attitude that it is not permissible for Muslims to take part in voting or political processes in a country that is secular or does not have a Muslim government.
‘That has now changed as most theological bodies say it is permissible for Muslims to participate in our political processes.’
Suliman also expressed his concern for the lack of youth participation in politics.
‘The “born free” generation, particularly from the Indian and Muslim population subgroups, have lagged behind in voting while the ‘fees must fall’ campaign did see some participation from Muslims in demonstrations.
‘By and large, Muslims have been conspicuous by our absence, and especially the youth. The youth now seem to be preoccupied more with materialistic interests and sport/ entertainment. Muslims are not a homogeneous community and therefore these are broad generalisations but, on the whole, correct,’ he said.
Comparing this to South Africa’s struggle years and the current lack of drive, Suliman says, ‘During the apartheid era, many Muslims were at the forefront of participating with the ANC and, to some extent, the PAC and the UDM.
‘Many were active in joining political parties against the apartheid regime. Since our democracy, we have seen a waning interest within the Muslim community although, of course, Muslims are not a homogeneous community.
‘We see an indication of this through the lack of success of Muslim political parties, such as the failure of the Africa Muslim Party to take off and the dismal performance of Al Jama’ah. It may also be the fact that, in the past, many theologians were saying it is not permissible to participate in politics.
‘There is no general or organised mobilisation of the Muslim community. Samnet, as part of our core function, has been doing educational programmes on social media and meetings where we have hosted politicians and, most recently, on the 9th of January, 2019, joined Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Mr Enver Surty, as part of an ongoing political educational process.
‘We have hosted President Cyril Ramaphosa, Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and various mayors of the eThekwini Municipality and encourage other organisations to do similar.
‘Our voter education programmes and videos are an ongoing educational effort. However, there is no other organisation really doing education or mobilisation within the Muslim community.’
Reflecting on the current status of participation, Suliman says, ‘The Muslim community has become more insular since 1994. I think the Muslim community has huge challenges within itself namely, socio-economic and political issues, and now with the taking of radical positions vis-a-vis the Middle East and countries that are supportive of either Syria, Libya or Iran.
‘We have seen a growing of takfirism within the Muslim community brought to the fore by the Shia-Sunni paradigm. We have seen a lot of race and financial based schisms within the Muslim community, especially the African Muslim population in the townships, who feel marginalised by their more affluent Muslim brethren. While Muslims have grown and continue to grow in social welfare and relief, in other areas of development within the Muslim community we have a lot of work to do.
‘This involves a joint effort by theologians, Muslim media, academics and thought leaders on a vast educational programme as well as the use of resources, such as Muslim media, the mosques and religious gatherings to talk more about day-to-day and socio-political issues within the Muslim community as it affects all South Africans.’
At the time of going to print, the survey was still running hence the omission of survey results.
You could participate in the survey by going to www.samnet.co.za/2018/11/16/political-survey/
This article was published in the February 2019 edition of Muslim Views.