Khutbah: Friday 26 July 2019: The War on the Cape Flats:  How Do We Respond? by Imam Dr Rashied Omar at Masjidul Muqarram – Factreton

In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
 The War on the Cape Flats:  How Do We Respond?
23rd Dhu al-Qa`ida 1440


On Wednesday 17 July 2019 Tasneem Simons, a 22-year-old pregnant woman, was killed after she was caught in crossfire while hanging her washing. Tasneem’s murder was the 20th death as a result of gang violence in the township of Manenberg this year.

Working class communities on the Cape Flats are engulfed in a violent and deadly civil conflict. Gang turf wars, drug peddling, violent crime, murders, sexual assaults, killing of children and the incessant breakdown of the social fabric of family and community life are the day-to-day realities of citizens in working class areas across the Cape Flats.


In the first six months of 2019, 900 people were murdered in gang violence on the Cape Flats, bringing the total number of murders in the City of Cape Town in the first half of 2019 to 1,600. These figures are based on mortuary statistics between January and June 2019 and has made 2019 the worst year for violent deaths in history. The current death toll at the end of July is closer to 2000 and in the midst of these killings, we have a population of traumatised survivors, witnesses and families.


The upsurge in violent deaths on the Cape Flats where bodies are punctured with bullets, means that it takes pathologists four times longer to complete an autopsy, which is the reason for the space constraint crisis at morgues.


The current spike in murders has prompted the government to deploy the South African National Defense Force in ten townships on the Cape Flats. Sending in the army may be a necessary short-term strategy to quell the current spate of violence, but we know this will not address the root causes of violence nor bring about social and systemic change in these communities. As one activist put it, the Cape Flats need armies of social workers, trauma counsellors, psychologists, remedial education practitioners, skills development practitioners, drug rehabilitation support groups, sports coaches, town planners, architects and builders. These are the armies that can lead to systemic change.

This is not the first time that the army has been deployed to townships. We know it would be foolhardy to believe that when the army withdraws in three months’ time, the problem of gang and sexual violence, drugs and crime would suddenly disappear. People in townships will still be poor, unemployed, living in overcrowded spaces with poor state services and desperate for a better life. Deploying the army to townships is nothing more than sticking a band aid on a much deeper, festering wound of persistent poverty and hopeless realities.

There are people living outside of these war zones who may feel safe and sufficiently removed to be unaffected by this conflict. But theirs is a false sense of security. 
We are all in this City together and constitute a living ecosystem. While some may not experience the day-to-day violence that others do, the social breakdown and conflict will not be confined by the railway line or highway separating us. 


It will spread and intensify, unless we commit to finding ways of building resistance, resilience, solidarity and courage to bring about systemic change in our working-class townships to reverse the social breakdown and end this civil war and the war on humanity. 


In my khutbah (sermon) today I would like to share my perspective on this crisis affecting our communities, provide a Muslim theological response, and conclude with some concrete suggestions as to how we as conscientious citizens could strategically play a role in addressing the root causes of violence, crime and the breakdown of the social fabric of family and community life in our townships.

A Muslim Response to the Violence on the Cape Flats

 The safeguarding of human life is one of the supreme objectives of Islam (maqasid al-shari`ah). The Glorious Qur’an is replete with references concerning the sacredness of human life (Q6:151; Q17:33; Q25:68). The most striking of these Qur’anic proclamations that underscores the supreme sacredness of human life is verse 32 of surah al-Ma’idah, chapter 5, in which God, the Giver and Taker of Life (al-Muhyi al-Mumit), equates the unjust and wanton killing of one human being to that of the killing of all humankind:


مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ

 فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا

وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا


If anyone kills a single human being without just cause it shall be as though he had killed all of humankind; Whereas if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all humankind. (Q5:32)

It should therefore be crystal clear that a conscientious Muslim is someone who is constantly moved by faith to sanctify, revere, and respect human life. As conscientious Muslims and conscientious citizens we cannot remain silent in the face of the inexorable loss of human life on the Cape Flats or anywhere else in the world.  The sanctity of human life is a supreme value in Islam and nothing is worth the cost of a human life.

This emphatic position is on the sanctity of human life is further affirmed by the following instructive hadith tradition from the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).  The companion `Abd Allah ibn `Amr relates that he saw the Prophet (pbuh) circumambulating the Ka`bah and saying:


مَا أَطْيَبَكِ وَأَطْيَبَ رِيحَكِ مَا أَعْظَمَكِ وَأَعْظَمَ حُرْمَتَكِ


 وَالَّذِي نَفْسُ مُحَمَّدٍ بِيَدِهِ لَحُرْمَةُ الْمُؤْمِنِ أَعْظَمُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ حُرْمَةً


 مِنْكِ مَالِهِ وَدَمِهِ وَأَنْ نَظُنَّ بِهِ إِلاَّ خَيْرًا


“How good you are and how good your fragrance; how great you are and how great your sanctity. By the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, the sanctity of the believer is greater before Allah than your sanctity, his blood and his wealth, and to think anything but good of him.”

(Sunan al-Nasa’i and Ibn Majah)

In the above hadith Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) advises us to value the sanctity and sacredness of human life as even more than that of the holy Ka’bah itself. How then do we as conscientious believers and responsible citizens to respond to the wanton loss of human life on the Cape Flats?

The Role of Conscientious Citizens

I would like to share five (5) modest strategies that we could adopt to support and show solidarity with the Cape Flats communities who are under siege by gang violence and crime.

First, we need to make our voices heard loudly and clearly that there is a war happening in our midst and that our government, both local and national, has failed to curb gang violence on the Cape Flats and need to do more to address some of the root causes that have allowed this violence to foment in our communities. We must call for more concerted strategies to tackle and bring down drug cartels and arms dealers that sustain the businesses of gangs. We must call for more social services and recreational facilities that can provide alternative outlets for youth to engage in. We need to call for more skills development centres and job creation strategies so that we can reduce the rate of unemployment in our townships. We need to amplify calls for more low-cost social housing to reduce overcrowding and provide opportunities for people to live closer to their places of work. These are just some measures that we must pressurize local and national government to deliver on, so that we can have some hope for systemic change in our township communities.


Second, we need to support and strengthen the many vibrant civil society organizations on the Cape Flats. We need to encourage these organizations to collaborate more effectively and to synergize their efforts in pursuit of the common goal of creating safer and more wholesome communities. Many community-based organisations, whether they are youth groups, church groups, choirs, marching bands, masjid congregations, women’s groups, running or walking clubs, neighbourhood watches, provide people with safe spaces of belonging, of caring for each other, of doing things together and of building community. It is in these social spaces that wholesome communities can flourish through mutual respect for each other and through working together in pursuit of common goals.


In this regard I would like to encourage you to join local community-based organizations. A good starting point is to become a member of this masjid congregation, which means in addition to regular masjid attendance for congregational salah (prayers), to make a monthly charitable contribution to the masjid, to attend general meetings, and support the masjid’s social welfare programmes.


I would also like to encourage you to support the community policing forum and other community-based organizations. In July 2017 and again in September 2018 I participated in two protest marches against gang violence and crime right here in Factreton. Unfortunately, the attendance was poor. Unless we liberate ourselves from narcissistic individualism or what I like to refer to as the “ME, MYSELF and I” culture and do not join our community organizations working collaboratively to improve the socio-economic conditions of our communities, then we are part of the problem and not the solution.


Third, it is the responsibility of people of faith to keep the lamp of hope alive.  We need to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. In this regard we need to celebrate the resilience of the people of the Cape Flats who are working hard every new day to claim back their community for peace and justice. The people of the Cape Flats have wonderful positive stories to share and these stories need to be celebrated.


One such story is that of professional football striker and Bafana Bafana player, Shaun Bartlett. Bartlett was raised by his grandmother right here in Factreton, attended Factreton Primary School and started playing soccer for his church team. After an amazing football career, he now spends his time giving back to the community by keeping children off the streets and providing them with opportunities to develop their football careers through the Shaun Bartlett Football Academy.


I am sure there are numerous positive and inspiring stories coming from the Factreton community.


Fourth, we need to support teachers, social workers, medical doctors and religious leaders who work in and serve affected communities. Their lives are frequently at risk and the psychological well-being of their families are often negatively impacted by the horror they witness on a daily basis. We should be supporting them especially when they frequently have to counsel families and perform the janazahs of the victims of violence. 


Last but not least, we need to remember the victims and communities living on the Cape Flats in our daily du’a, supplications and prayers. In this regard I would like to encourage dhikr jama`ats to make regular dhikrs in our township masajid. This is a wonderful means of providing spiritual support and solace to affected communities. I conclude with a du’a and supplication that Allah, the Lord of all-Humankind, assists us to find tangible solutions to the challenge of gangsterism, violence and crime in our communities.


Please join me in making a special prayer for an End to Gang Violence on the Cape Flats:


Ya Rabba al-Salam – O God of Peace,


There are some children, women and men who do not experience Your peace and tranquility and who live with the daily threat of gang violence in their schools and neighbourhoods.


Ya Rabb al-Rahma, O Lord of Mercy and Compassion,


We beseech You to protect our children, women and men from all forms of violence.


Ya Rabb al-Qist – O Lord of Justice,


We beseech You to assist all of us in stemming the epidemic of gang violence within our communities.


We pray for all who dedicate their lives working to break the cycle of violence in our society.


Allahumma anta al-Salam – O God Thou art peace

Wa minka al-Salam – and Peace emanates from Thee,

Fa hayyina Rabbana bi al-Salam – Allow us to live and subsist in peace

Allahumma Amin



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