EMERITUS PROFESSOR SULEMAN DANGOR reports on some of the issues raised at the second SABMC held recently.
The second South African Black Muslim Conference was held from June 17 to 19, 2022, at the Palm Continental Hotel, in Crown Mines, Johannesburg. Delegates from most regions of the country attended the conference.
The focus of this year’s conference was on economic development. The gist of the objectives of the conference was captured by Aslam Tawana, the conference spokesperson, in the following words: ‘The main thing about economic development is how black Muslims can come together and start basic things like forming corporates, transforming business, having business development models, being able to go out and look for funding. To have business finances by tapping into various resources through organisations that we work with or other Muslim organisations as well as state-owned entities. It’s about how we can access those opportunities that are given out. That will be the crux of the conference.’
Shaikh Zaid Langa, ameer (leader) of the SABMC, argued that one of the primary challenges that South Africans, in particular Black people and Black Muslims, are facing is poverty. The conference was geared to finding ways and means to take Black people out of poverty. If a certain segment of the Muslim community remains steeped in poverty, ‘it derails the whole progress of Islam in the country’.
However, he warned that the concept of economic development is not something that can be approached ‘casually’. What is needed is a group of people who will explore the modalities that need to be implemented in order for the Black communities to achieve economic development. This is a huge task, requiring people dedicated to the cause, who possess the skills and know-how, and who understand the community well. They will have to study the available modalities and give direction to those working on the ground for successful implementation.
Shaikh Zaid asked how Islam could be made relevant in South Africa. He provided examples of the cultural diversity one finds across several Muslim countries, yet Muslims in South Africa are expected to conform to specific cultural norms, including dressing.
Several speakers spoke of the significance of unity. According to Shaikh Zaid the unity of Muslims is paramount. They have no choice but to cooperate with each other based on the principles of birr and taqwa.
The secretary-general of Jamiatul-Ulama SA (JUSA), Moulana Ebrahim Bham, also emphasised the importance of unity. Muslims constitute a single brotherhood and have common aspirations. He lamented the rise of hatred and disunity within the Muslim community which was holding it back from progress. In the past, whenever Muslims settled anywhere, they made a good impression on the indigenous people. Unfortunately, Muslims in South Africa have failed to make a positive impression on the indigenous communities.
UUCSA was represented by Moulana Abdul Khaliq Ali who declared how pleased he was to attend a gathering that was held in the interest of the future of Islam in South Africa.
The international guest, Dr Abbas Panakkal, the director of the International Interfaith Harmony Initiative, suggested that (cultural, ethnic) identity is very important because it is empowering, but once identity has been established the focus should shift to integration between the diverse groups. He gave examples of integration in India and Africa.
Delegates will deliberate on how best Muslims can contribute as a collective to the well-being of their community and society at large as well as to propagate the beauty of Islam to the masses in the country.
There were a number of interesting comments from the floor. One delegate asked why the conference was held at an Indian Muslim-owned venue and not in a township, where lodges are available. The Black community – whether Muslim or not – could have benefitted. The conference organisers could have purchased baking from Black Muslim women, even if they cost a little more. This would be in keeping with the theme of Black empowerment. Another delegate proposed that Indian and Black Muslims should stop blaming each other but rather speak of ‘correcting’ each other. There are contentious issues even among Black Muslims.
While many attendees expressed overall satisfaction with the conference, there were criticisms. A young woman declared that she was disappointed by the absence of youth involvement in the conference, lack of feedback relating to youth from the previous conference and not being informed about the current status of the leadership of youth.
The first day of the conference was dedicated to the role and responsibilities of Black ulama. Topics included: the role and responsibility of ulama in building communities; ulama development modalities; creating partnerships to facilitate development amongst the ulama fraternity.
This session was followed by group discussions on the topics: ulama and mediation: role and responsibilities; development of aleemat; roles and responsibilities of an imam.
The second day of the conference was devoted to deliberations on issues related to economic empowerment by break-away groups, followed by report-backs by representatives of the various commissions. The programme included the topics: models for economic empowerment and how to leverage it in South Africa; agriculture as a tool of development; women empowerment in the context of Islam in South Africa; social corporate responsibilities of Black Muslim businesses; entrepreneurship as a means of economic development; creating partnerships to achieve economic development; the impact of energy in South Africa on economic development.
The conference resolved to appoint a task team to research a sustainable economic development programme. Aslam Tawana, when asked whether any of the previous conference resolutions had been implemented, explained that several committees had been formed. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to coordinate empowerment efforts was signed between SABMC and Awqaf SA represented by Zeinoul Cajee, CEO of the NGO, who stated that he was amazed at the level of commitment and expertise in the emerging (Black) Muslim community.
Shaikh Zaid Langa explained that the first conference could be considered a case study and that the second was a great improvement on the former. He envisaged that future conferences will attract international speakers.
In conclusion, he was pleased with the outcome of the conference, stating, ‘Under very difficult circumstances, economically and otherwise, all the partners have managed to pull a very good and successful conference.’
- Emeritus Professor Suleman Dangor is a columnist for Muslim Views.