On Wednesday 8th of May 2019, South Africans will be participating in our country’s sixth non-racial general elections. These national elections take place during the 25th anniversary of our freedom from Apartheid bondage. In this khutbah I would like to provide some guidelines as to how we as Muslims should be responding to our forthcoming national democratic elections.
First and foremost, as we reflect on our country’s 25 years of democracy we have to acknowledge the many things we can celebrate and be grateful for. Today, we enjoy freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of association, all of which were violently denied to us during Apartheid. We were denied some of the most basic human and democratic rights, including the right to live where we wanted to, to marry whom we wanted to, to have a fair trial and most pertinently, we were denied the right to vote. Let us not forget that we enjoy these freedoms today because of the unwavering commitment of thousands of anti-apartheid activists, many of whom sacrificed their lives during the struggle for social justice and to make South Africa a democratic land for all who live in it. Considering this, not exercising our hard-fought right to vote in democratic elections, is tantamount to a betrayal of the memory of the many freedom fighters who died in the struggle against apartheid.
Moreover, with the demise of apartheid on 27th April 1994, Muslims were recognized as equal citizens and partners in shaping the destiny of our nation. Our unique experience of religious empowerment is the fruits and results of countless anti-apartheid Muslim activists who did not see their role in narrow sectarian terms, but rather as contributing towards the development and empowerment of all the people of their land, Muslim as well as those who did not share our faith in Islam. They saw their struggle for religious freedom as integral to their struggle for social justice and their witness to Islam. This egalitarian ethos has ensured that Muslims assumed a role in post-apartheid South Africa that far outweighs what would be expected from our minority demographic status in this country. The question of apathy therefore cannot be entertained – voting is not just a civic duty, but a serious moral responsibility, and how we vote affects the welfare of all our fellow citizens.
50th Commemoration of Al-Shahid Imam Haron’s Death in Apartheid Detention
Furthermore, in this our twenty-fifth year of democracy, we welcome the Haron family’s call to re-open the inquest into al-Shahid Imam Abdullah Haron’s death in detention on 27 September 1969. In this 50th commemorative year of Imam Haron’s death, we support the call for a re-inquest in the hope that it will finally bring justice and closure to his family and the many comrades and friends who loved and supported him. We also welcome the establishment of the Imam Haron Foundation (IHF) launched on the 8 February 2019, coinciding with Imam Haron’s birthday. Imam Haron would have been 95 years old. We support the commendable aim of the IHF to commemorate and memorialize the Imam’s martyrdom by remembering his brutal torture and killing, after 123 days in detention, at the hands of apartheid’s Security Branch on the 27th of September 1969, as well as the six other detainees (Nicodemus Kgoathe, Solomon Modipane, James Lenkoe, Caleb Mayekiso, Michael Shivute, and Jacob Manakgotla) who were murdered while in custody during the same year, 1969.
Imam Haron and many other countless South Africans died for the liberation of all the oppressed and disenfranchised people of South Africa. Their struggle for social justice included the demand for us to become equal citizens of this country and exercise our right to vote for whom we want. To honour their memory it is therefore incumbent on all of us to vote on the 8th of May 2019.
Who You Vote for is Your Choice
The second guideline I wish to share is that as we exercise our democratic right to vote in the upcoming elections, we should be clear that there is no explicit textual evidence (nass) either from the Qur’an nor Sunna (prophetic traditions) that can be used to substantiate the view that Muslims should only vote for so-called Muslim parties or any other party for that matter. We must remain vigilant and repudiate unscrupulous politicians who would abuse Islamic sources to coax Muslims into voting for their party. In this regard it is important to note that if one votes for a particular party, it does not necessarily mean that one agrees completely with all of their ideology or policies. Rather, the choice should be that the candidate (or party) represents the best alternative among the various options. To assess what this ‘best alternative’ is, we should look critically at party manifestos and consider who would best serve all the citizens of this country, especially those who remain socially and economically marginalised. Muslim jurists (fuqaha) have always advocated the principle of realism represented in the juristic concept of akhaff al-dararayn – lesser of the two evils. In other words, if the major part of the manifesto of a political party is deemed non-objectionable in terms of Islamic ethics, then it is acceptable for Muslims to vote for such a party.
So as we exercise our democratic right to vote in the upcoming elections we need to be discerning in casting that vote. We should reflect on the histories of each party, the status and integrity of their candidates, their past and present policies and the promises they make in their electoral manifestos. The party which in our estimate best resonates with the Islamic value system and more especially advances the cause of the poor and the marginalized should be supported.
Shura and Participatory Democracy
Third, it is important for us to appreciate and understand that from an Islamic perspective, democracy should not merely mean casting one’s vote for this or that party every five years. The Islamic concept of shura as presented in the Glorious Qur’an and exemplified in the practice of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) is closer to the modern notion of participatory democracy. Contemporary Muslim scholar, Abdulaziz Sachedina in his book The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism (2001), has pointed out that both the Islamic concept of shura and democracy arise from the central consideration that collective deliberation is more likely to lead to a fair and sound result for the social good than individual preference and I would add hereditary leadership.
The Arabic word shura which literally means mutual consultation appears three times in the Glorious Qur’an (2:233, 3:159; 42:38). In fact, the concept is so significant that chapter 42 of the Qur’an is titled surah al-Shura. In this chapter, God, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, describes shura as being one of the sublime characteristics alongside prayers and alms which should adorn the lives of conscientious believers.
وَالَّذِينَ اسْتَجَابُوا لِرَبِّهِمْ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ
وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنْفِقُونَ
[The Conscientious Believers are] those who hearken to their Lord, establish regular Prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by Mutual Consultation; and who happily give Alms out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance (Q42:38)
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) embodied this Qur’anic virtue of shura. It is no small wonder that his companion Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him), described Prophet Muhammad’s disposition and governance as follows:
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ قَالَ مَا رَأَيْتُ أَحَدًا قَطُّ كَانَ أَكْثَرَ مَشُورَةً لِأَصْحَابِهِ
مِنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ
“I never saw anyone consult his companions more than the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him.”
(Musnad of Ahmad and al-Bayhaqi)
It should thus be crystal clear that Islam is fulsomely compatible with democracy. Furthermore, participatory democracy holds that the critical motor of social change does not lie in the support for this or that political party, but rather in holding politicians and parties accountable for their actions. Shura thus demands that we become active citizens who contribute to the building of consultative and transparent social institutions. By embracing participatory democracy we strengthen our capacity to root out corruption, to stem the tide of violence and crime and to better address the needs of the poor. We can only do that if in addition to casting our votes wisely on 8 May 2019, we also re-commit ourselves to working even harder to strengthen our civil society organizations.
Strengthen Civil Society Organizations
This leads me to my fourth and final guideline. While I have been making a strong case as to why it is important for us to vote on the 8th of May, the critical challenge facing all South Africans will be in the post-election period. I believe that the conditions are ripe for turning the tide against the crass corruption that has beset our country and the time is truly upon all of us, as people of conscience, to mobilize ourselves, not only to hold government to account, but to become active agents of social change. It is our collective responsibility to rediscover and revitalize the vibrant social activism that characterized the struggle against Apartheid. Faith communities played a critical role in mobilizing this social activism in the 80s. Our struggle against Apartheid was a struggle for social justice, and that struggle is clearly far from over. We are confident that a healthier and more robust democracy can be achieved if we mobilize people within our various constituencies to join and support civil society organizations that are committed to the struggle for socio-economic justice and dignity for all in our country. A vibrant and vocal civil society movement will ensure that the voices of the marginalized are heard, and that social justice becomes the impetus for all actions and policies. The only real guarantee for healthy democracy is that of strong civil society that can hold those in power accountable for their moral and political mandate. The candidates that we elect into government must be held accountable and the only way to do that is with strong civil associations – community-based organizations, trade unions, masjid and school committees, and sports clubs.
In conclusion, it is the challenging task of civil society to wrest control of our own destiny, and reclaim the struggle for systemic transformation and moral regeneration by supporting progressive forces that have called for a reassessment of our country’s economic policies and that places social justice at the top of the agenda for social transformation.
Let us therefore commit ourselves, in addition to casting our votes in national elections on the 8th of May, to join and strengthen our local civil associations and organizations. In particular, I call on you to become formal members of this or other masjid congregations and civic associations so as us to make a modest yet meaningful contribution towards shaping the future of our country.
We pray and make du’a that Allah, the Sublime, will bless South Africa with peaceful, free and fair elections, and with elected leaders that will not merely serve their own personal interests but rather that of all citizens and particularly socio-economic justice for the poor and marginalized in our country.
wa ilayka yarji`us-salam,
fa hayyina rabbana bis-salam,
wa adkhilna daras-salam,
tabarakta rabbana wa-ta’alayta,
ya dhal jalali wal ikram