Khutbah: ‘Id al-Fitr 2015: Celebrating the Social Justice Legacy of Mandela by  Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar

Khutbah: ‘Id al-Fitr 2015: Celebrating the Social Justice Legacy of Mandela by Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar

In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace

July 2015/Shawwal 1436


Allah is Greater than

Allah is Greater than

Allah is Greater than

All Praise, Thanks & Gratitude belongs to Allah Alone


 We have gathered at this `Id al-Fitr service to celebrate our spiritual achievements of the past month of Ramadan. To have experienced the great blessings of the fasting month of Ramadan is to have undergone a spiritual renewal that prepares each Muslim to face the challenges of another year with greater determination to live and act in accordance with the guidance of God, the Lord of Compassionate Justice.

`Id al-Fitr is truly a day of great joy and celebration, but it is also a day of reflection and introspection. It is fortuitous that this year our `Id al-Fitr celebrations coincides with the birthday celebration of the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. The 18 July was declared Nelson Mandela International Day, in recognition of Mandela’s birthday by a unanimous decision of the UN General Assembly in 2009. The adoption of this day was inspired by a call Nelson Mandela made in 2008, for the next generation to take on the burden of leadership in addressing the world’s social injustices. Mandela had identified poverty as one of the most important social justice challenges facing future leaders when he stated:

Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”

The Challenge of Mandela’s Legacy

On this celebratory occasion of `Id al-Fitr and Mandela International Day there will be many different ways in which Mandela’s legacy is appropriated and celebrated. Nelson Mandela was a man who embodied some extraordinary human qualities and some frailties. His most remarkable achievement was that of reconciliation but this also came at a great cost to our country. Here I am reminded that on the occasion of the first anniversary of Mandela’s death on the 5 December 2014, Pastor Xola Skosana, current chairperson of the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum (WCRLF), challenged us during a pre-khutbah lecture he delivered at this masjid to consider which Mandela we are celebrating? He posed the following question: “Are we celebrating the Mandela who went to prison in 1964 or the Mandela who was released from prison in 1990?” Posing the question in a different way, we may ask are we celebrating the Mandela who struggled tirelessly for social justice or the one who forged a political compromise for the sake of reconciliation? In this khutbah I would like to answer this question.

It is my considered view that given the enduring levels of social injustices in the form of structural violence, institutional racism, widespread economic inequality and chronic poverty in our country, we should indeed be reclaiming the legacy of the Mandela who went to prison in 1964. It is this Mandela that should inspire us to take forward the ongoing struggle for social justice.

In 1964, Mandela exemplified the uncompromising stance of all those who fought so courageously to end the injustices of a racist Apartheid system that not only denigrated the majority of its population to second class citizens, but also ensured that the Black majority remained economically impoverished and socially marginalized. The anti-apartheid struggle, epitomized by the Mandela of 1964, was a struggle for social justice aimed not only at restoring the dignity of all the oppressed people of South Africa, but also guaranteeing economic and social parity for all the citizens of this country.

It is lamentable therefore, that twenty-one years after the end of Apartheid, twenty-one years after democratic rule in which all South Africans enjoy equal rights as citizens of this country, there is still unforgivable levels of social and economic inequalities in our country. It is for this reason that we cannot allow the struggle for social justice to wane. And if we truly want to pay tribute to and celebrate the life achievements of Mandela, then we should redouble our efforts in the fight for social justice that guarantees economic and social parity for all the citizens of this country.

The key question then, that I wish to reflect on at this celebratory time of `Id al-Fitr and Mandela’s birthday, is how can we take forward this critical social justice dimension of Mandela’s rich legacy and indeed a key tenet of our din, al- Islam? For this is what it means to be a Muslim i.e. professing belief in God is witnessing to justice. (Q4:135;Q5:8). Struggling for justice is an obligation on all Muslims as confirmed by the Glorious Qur’an in surah al-Nisa, chapter 4, verse 135, where Allah, the Sublime proclaims:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آَمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّه

وَلَوْ عَلَى أَنْفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ إِنْ يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقِيرًا فَاللَّهُ أَوْلَى بِهِمَا

فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَى أَنْ تَعْدِلُوا

وَإِنْ تَلْوُوا أَوْ تُعْرِضُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا

 O Believers! Stand up firmly for justice, as witnesses to God,

even if it means testifying against yourselves, or your parents, or your near relatives,

and whether it is against the rich or the poor, for God is nearer to all of them in compassion.

Follow not the lusts of your heart’s desires, lest you distort or decline to do justice,

For surely God is all-aware of what you do

(Surah al-Nisa’, Q4:135)

 The Reality of Poverty

As a starting point for my reflections, I wish to highlight some of the reality of the chronic poverty that continues to plague our country at this celebratory time.  According to a February 2015 report released by Statistics South Africa 21.7% of South Africans live in extreme poverty, not being able to pay for basic nutritional requirements; 37% of people don’t have enough money to purchase both adequate food items and non-food items so they have to sacrifice food to pay for things like transport and airtime; 53.8% of people can afford enough food and non-food items but fall under the widest definition of poverty in SA, surviving on under R779 per month. Moreover, South Africa’s Gini coefficient measuring the levels of inequality still remains amongst the highest in the world.

Given these abysmal statistics we are compelled to ask: How is it that twenty-one years into our democracy, the reality of poverty can still be so stark? What has mitigated against reducing poverty and closing the gap between rich and poor?

Transforming Capitalist Economic Policies

It is my considered view that the imposition of the neo-liberal economic policy called Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR), two years into Mandela’s Presidency in 1996, is at the root of the current malaise of economic depravation that a vast majority of our population still find themselves in. Mandela was lauded the world over, not only because he was a freedom fighter who was incarcerated for 27 years, but also because he deferred to global economic pressures. The ideals of an egalitarian society was eroded from the national agenda, and South Africa’s greatly praised ‘peaceful transition’, meant insignificant land reforms, no demands for reparation and no nationalization of the mines.

GEAR bolstered the capitalist environment in which post-Apartheid South Africa subsists and caused the already huge gap between the rich and the poor to continue to widen. This has been a system in which achieving capital gains has outstripped social justice in the priority list for state action and policies. Furthermore, it is my contention that it is this capitalist system that has engendered a culture of greed and attitudes of entitlement in many sectors of society, which is also the most probable cause for the scourge of corruption that has become pervasive in our society. Professor Aslam Fataar has usefully captured the powerful influence this economic culture has on all our lives during a reflective piece he penned this Ramadan in the following quote:

“Our neoliberal politics does not just shape public policy. It literally changes us and the world around us in a very physical way. The narratives inherent in this doctrine shape the way we move and care and look and feel. The consequences of neoliberalism are now being written on the bodies of us ordinary people. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders and social isolation are all symptoms of a society crippled from the inside out by decreasing standards of living.”

In this context, the struggle for social justice entails a struggle against a system that encourages wealth accumulation, that protects the privileges of those who already have a stake in the economy and rewards the pursuit of individual success. It is a struggle against a system that ignores those that remain exploited in the work place and is indifferent to those that remain socially marginalized and economically excluded because of low income levels and low education levels amongst others.

We have to find ways in which we can mitigate against the destructive effects of these systemic and structural causes of injustice and dehumanization. One of the key Islamic ethico-moral principles that should guide our vision of an alternative economic system can be found in the Glorious Qur’an in surah al-Hashr, chapter 59 verse 7, in which Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, advises that:

كَيْ لَا يَكُونَ دُولَةً بَيْنَ الْأَغْنِيَاءِ مِنْكُمْ

It [wealth] should not circulate only among the rich in society (Q59:7)

According to the above verse wealth should be distributed fairly among all sectors of society so as to avoid huge disparities in wealth between rich and poor. The difficult task facing social justice activists is to formulate an alternative economic policy that will not only pay lip service to the eradication of poverty but will in its implementaion reduce the intolerable levels of wealth inequality in our society.

The challenge before all of us is to fashion a society and create an enabling environment in which the moral values and behavioural patterns that define our society are transformed from a culture of greed to that of a culture of altruism and caring. The struggle for social justice today thus encompasses a struggle for  systemic transformation and moral regeneration.

In the last section of this `Id khutbah, I would like to propose some modest steps that would enable us to rise to this challenge of our times.

Taking up the Struggle for Social Justice

First, we can all play a critical role by supporting and aligning ourselves with progressive forces that are confronting systemic injustices. The courageous actions of the Rhodes Must Fall student movement, which has called for the decolonisation of institutions of higher learning and society at large, is an example of a social movement that is striving towards systemic transformation and moral regeneration of our society.

In a post-tarawih talk during this past Ramadan, student leader, Leila Khan, eloquently explained what is understood by systemic transformation in the following way:

“We are told that people who burn tires in the street are violent, that mineworkers protesting for a living wage are violent. This is because, to the colonial world, to resist and disrupt colonial power is violence. We need to reject this definition. Rhodes Must Fall subverts this logic through showing that true violence is the underlying system and what it produces. It cannot be the mere reaction to the system – the reaction is self-defence. Therefore what is truly violent is poverty, starvation, limited opportunities based on your race, gender or class status.”

Second, while we should continue our commendable acts of charity and solidarity to poor and marginalised communities, this should not impede us from challenging and exposing the underlying systemic causes of such poverty. This was also the core message of Suraya Jawoodien, the guest speaker at our masjid’s AGM this past Ramadan. This is something that we have already begun to do in modest ways, through our partnership with the trade union, the Commercial Stevedoring, Agricultural, and Allied Workers Union (CASAAWU), in solidarity with the farmworkers of Leeuwenkuil. Such alliances between civil society and trade union movements have long been identified as a critical lever in the struggle of workers for socio-economic justice.

Last but not least, we must all intensify our personal efforts at individual transformation (i.e. jihad al-nafs). These efforts should be directed at making positive lifestyle choices. For example, we should not allow ourselves to be seduced into succumbing to the materialistic system that conditions us into coveting more and more things. We need to strive hard to live within our means and resist incurring unnecessary debts for the sake of extravagance. By starting with our immediate families and ourselves we can begin to model the change we would like to see in society.  For as the Qur’an so powerfully reminds us:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ

 Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change themselves (Q13: 11)

On this great day of `Id al-Fitr which coincides with Mandela’s birthday, we celebrate all those who purposefully live their lives in the cause of social justice and lovingly spend of their time and resources in helping to make the world a more just and humane place. We call to mind and pray for the liberation of all people who are oppressed and exploited wherever they may find themselves and from whatever creed, ethnicity or nationality they come from. We pray that Allah, the Lord of Wisdom, will guide those in our country and the world’s leadership to fashion a more compassionate, just and peaceful world.

May you all have a festive ‘Id and May you live well and in the Grace and Mercy of the Lord of Compassionate Justice.

Allahu Akbar! Allah is greater than…!

On behalf of the Board of Governors we wish you and your family a blessed and joyous ‘Id al-Fitr.

‘Id Sa’id Wa Mubarak’

Kullu ‘Am Wa Antum Bikhayr Ma’as-Salamah Was-Sihhah

May your entire year be filled with Goodness, Peace and Health

Baie Slamat for Labarang

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