Khuthbah: Id ul Fitr : Friday 15 June 2018:  Celebrating and Embracing Youth Activism by Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar

Khuthbah: Id ul Fitr : Friday 15 June 2018:  Celebrating and Embracing Youth Activism by Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar

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

 ‘Id al-Fitr Khutbah

Claremont Main Road Masjid

15th June 2018/1st Shawwal 1439

 Celebrating and Embracing Youth Activism

Allah is Greater than

Allah is Greater than

Allah is Greater than

All Praise, Thanks and Gratitude belongs to Allah Alone

Introduction

We praise and thank Allah, the Lord of Compassion and Mercy, for giving us the ability to successfully complete the rite of fasting during the blessed month of Ramadan. We pray and make du`a that Allah, the Dispenser of Grace, accepts our fasting (siyam), our ritual prayers (salawat), acts of charity (zakat), and reward us abundantly for these devotions aimed at achieving His Pleasure and Mercy. As for those who have been exempted from fasting, due to infirmity or chronic illness, we pray that Allah, the source of all Healing, accept their expiations of feeding the poor daily (fidyah), and grant them an even greater reward for their contentment and perseverance (sabr).

We have gathered at this `Id al-Fitr service to celebrate our modest spiritual and moral 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 and a moral healing which prepares each Muslim to face the challenges of another year with greater determination to live and act in accordance with the guidance of Allah, 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, therefore, fortuitous that this year our `Id al-Fitr celebration takes place on the eve of National Youth Day celebrations and reflections. The 16th of June 1976 represents a watershed moment in the history of the struggle against the racist and unjust system of apartheid and left an indelible impact on the lives of those who experienced and lived through it. It was on that cold and overcast day that twelve-year-old Hector Pietersen was fatally wounded. His tragic death came to symbolise the uprising and the brutality of the apartheid regime.

The youth led Soweto uprising, which began on the 16th of June 1976 then spread to the volatile township of Alexandria, and all over the length and breadth of South Africa. This historic event revitalized the anti-apartheid movement and represented a turning point in the struggle for social justice in South Africa. In the ensuing struggle close to 500 hundred people were killed by the brutal apartheid police, many more were maimed and injured, and thousands of others who were disillusioned with the government crackdown, either fled the country or were detained and lost a year of their schooling. As a result of their courageous sacrifice the youth of our country breathed new life into the struggle for democracy and dignity for all South Africans irrespective of their skin pigmentation, gender or socio-economic class.

With the dawn of the democratic dispensation in South Africa it was only natural that June 16th became an extraordinary and special day, set apart for commemorating the heroic uprising of the students of our country in 1976. The 16th of June is therefore not only a day that we pay special tribute to a group of people within our midst that we call youth, but also a day that recognizes the critical importance of young people as agents of social change.

 

The 1976 Soweto Uprisings holds special significance for me personally. I was a matric student at Salt River High School at the time. As a result of my involvement in the protests, I was detained, put on trial, and suspended from school. This tumultuous period in my life as a young activist resulted in many of us losing a whole year of our high school education. I vividly recall that we had to literally drag our parents kicking and screaming into the anti-apartheid struggle. As a result of my personal experience as a young person, I have become particularly attentive to the potential role of young people in effecting radical social change.

 

 

In this `Id al-Fitr khutbah, I would like to challenge the often-repeated lament of elders, which is that most of our contemporary youth, who were reared in post-apartheid South Africa, lack the spirit of activism that animated and energized their parents and are therefore not as committed to social justice struggles as their parents were during the anti-apartheid struggle. My contention is that there are scores of talented, innovative and committed young social justice activists emerging in our country who provide us with great hope for a more humane, just and compassionate future.

 

It might be expedient to begin by briefly mining our Islamic sources for inspiration on the role of youth in engendering social change.

 

Islam, Youth and Social Change

 

I have proposed in some of my previous khutbahs and writing that student and youth led movements for social change is not alien, strange or incompatible with Islam but is in fact celebrated by the Glorious Qur’an (See: Al-Mizan, 2014, Volume 3 Number 4, newsletter of the Claremont Main Road Masjid). In Surah al-Kahf, Chapter 18, verses 13 and 14, Allah, the Sublime, edifies us by not only apprising us of the legendary story of the Companions of the Cave (Ashab al-Kahf), but more significantly revealing their identity, namely that they were youth.

نَحْنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيْكَ نَبَأَهُمْ بِالْحَقِّ

إِنَّهُمْ فِتْيَةٌ آَمَنُوا بِرَبِّهِمْ وَزِدْنَاهُمْ هُدًى

وَرَبَطْنَا عَلَى قُلُوبِهِمْ

إِذْ قَامُوا فَقَالُوا رَبُّنَا رَبُّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ

 لَنْ نَدْعُوَ مِنْ دُونِهِ إِلَهًا لَقَدْ قُلْنَا إِذًا شَطَطًا

 

We shall narrate to you their story:

Behold they were youth who believed in their Lord:

And so we deepened their consciousness of the Right Way.

And We strengthened their hearts so that they stood up and proclaimed:

“Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth.

We shall invoke no god beside Him,

for (if we do so) we shall have uttered a blasphemy. (Q18:13-14)

It is my considered view that through these verses the Qur’an is exhorting its readers to be attentive to the fact that young people are more likely to challenge the status quo and become the drivers and levers for social change as they live at the cutting-edge of the real and rapidly changing world. Surah al-Kahf’s unequivocal message acknowledges youth led social movements for change within our communities.

 

The life of the Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s everlasting peace and blessings be upon him) also offers great inspiration and guidance for recognizing youth. As a young man Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was widely known as ‘Al-Amin’ and ‘Al Siddiq’, (trustworthy and truthful). He was respected for his integrity and upright manner amongst all sectors of Makkan society. These qualities were amply demonstrated when he was called upon to mediate in the dispute of the placing of the Hajr al Aswad. The tribes had combined to rebuild the Ka’ba and could not decide on who should have the honor of placing the Black Stone. The young Muhammad’s view was sought, and his innovative solution was well received. He placed the Stone on a sheet and asked representatives of the tribes to carry it to the site whilst he (Muhammad) put it in its place (For a detailed discussion of this event See: Muhammad; Man and Prophet by Adil Salahi, The Islamic Foundation, UK, 2002, 46-49).

 

Moreover, this disposition for social justice activism was perfectly captured in the Prophet’s joining of the socio-economic organization, called the Hilf al-Fudul (The Pact of the Virtuous) in his early twenties. In response to the injustices some Makkans perpetrated against trading caravans who visited their city, a group of Makkans decided to band together to put an end to this blatant exploitation of foreign traders. Many years later when he took up the amana and mantel of prophethood, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) praised the virtues of this organization by proclaiming:

 

I was present at Abdullah ibn Jud`an’s house with the formation of Hilf al-Fudul. I would not exchange this experience for any material gain even if I was to be offered a herd of red-camels. And if now, as a prophet of God, I was to be asked to defend its just cause, I will most certainly do so (Ibn Hisham, al-Sira al-Nabawiyyah).

 

Hilf al-Fudul thus holds great significance in Islamic teachings. Not only does it underscore the Prophet Muhammad’s disposition for social justice activism as a youth but also because it makes the joining of organizations with noble causes a highly recommended Sunnah. (For a detailed exposition of this view See: “The Prophet Muhammad and Social Justice: The Case of Hilf-ul-Fudul”. Khutbah delivered by Dr. Shuaib Manjra at the CMRM on 19 February 2016). 

 

Furthermore, it is instructive to note that the condescending attitude towards younger people also afflicted the first generation of Muslims. When the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) appointed a young seventeen-year-old by the name of Usama ibn Zayd to lead a major expedition to Syria, which included some of the most illustrious companions, such as Abubakr and `Umar, many raised their objections due to Usama ibn Zayd’s age. The Prophet (pbuh) rebuked them and Usama’s mission was successful. Still not convinced by the prophetic foresight and wisdom of youth empowerment, and stubbornly persisting in their patronizing attitudes, immediately after the Prophet’s passing, some of the companions tried to persuade the newly appointed Caliph Abubakr to replace the young Usama ibn Zayd as leader of the army with `Umar ibn al-Khattab. Abubakr, however, did not relent to their pressure, since he understood the Prophet’s foresight, wisdom, and confidence in the promise of youth leadership (see Sayyid Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur’an, commentary on Surah `Abasa, chapter 80, verses 1-16).

 

The Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) example in appointing a young seventeen-year-old, Usama ibn Zayd as a leader over the elders such as Abubakr and `Umar is yet another eminent source of inspiration from our Islamic tradition. If all of these encouraging messages remain unheeded then we squander our greatest potential for social progress. Ultimately, the verses from Surah al-Kahf of the Glorious Qur’an as well as the Prophet’s (pbuh) example is advising us that our hope for social progress and our future lies in the youth.

 

Youth and Social Change: Challenging “The Lost Generation” Narrative

 

The sentiment that the so-called “Born Free Generation,” those young people who were born after 1994, when South Africa became a non-racial democracy, are purposeless is aptly encapsulated in the popular phrase, “The “Lost Generation”. This destructive and damaging retort to youth is not unique to South Africa, but it is a common response throughout history and within all contexts. A useful example is the recent emergence of an articulate and unrelenting High School student protest movement against gun violence in the United States of America since the February 2018 Florida high school massacre. These brave high school students are forging creative alliances with the #BlackLivesMatter and other social justice campaigns struggling to free American society from violence, institutional racism, and economic greed. (For an insight into this movement see my khutbah; “Student Movements and the Potential for Social Change in the USA”, 4 May 2018).

 

A popular critique levelled at this student movement is that these high school protestors are too immature and inexperienced to be taken seriously. Even liberal admirers of the student movement doubt whether they will be able to lead a national movement for radical social change in America. However, these youth are willing to take up the mantel for social change by actively challenging gun violence in their communities. Their courageous actions have re-awakened the lethargic attitude of Americans by drawing attention to the connections between capitalist greed, racism, and gun violence within American society. It is deeply unfortunate that such patronizing views about the immaturity and inexperience of youth are not unique to American society. All societies are afflicted with the same infirmity. For example, in South Africa we were exposed to it during the 1976 Soweto student uprisings and again more recently during the #FeesMustFall student movement.

 

Over the past four years in South Africa we have witnessed a number of key moments that were inspired by young people who have called for radical social change. In March 2015, the #RhodesMustFall campaign which began at the University of Cape Town (UCT), called for the decolonisation of South African university spaces by showing us the ugly faces of institutional racism, capitalist greed and patriarchal attitudes within places of higher education, as a microcosm of our societies. The #RhodesMustFall protest reverberated across the country and even made links to student movements across the world, but with particular links to students in the Global South.  This was followed by the #FeesMustFall student movement which began in October 2015 at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits). The #FeesMustFall movement connected the struggle for free decolonised education with that of outsourced workers and strategically allowed for links to be created at universities across the nation. This was an unprecedented move not seen since the days of the anti-apartheid struggle. The #FeesMustFall movement shook many out of their comfort zones and complacency towards neo-liberal policies that have seen the commodification of education and the widening of inequality in our country. It is through the pressure created by these young students that the State continues to be challenged to accede to all of its demands of free decolonised education within our lifetime. The #FeesMustFall movement has left an indelible mark on the terrain of Higher Education in South Africa where institutions are now being forced to grapple more meaningfully with issues of transformation and decolonisation.  (For a useful perspective on student protests in South Africa, both past and present See: Students Must Rise: Youth Struggle in South Africa Before and Beyond Soweto ’76, by Noor Nieftagodien and Anne Heffemen. Wits University Press, 2016).

 

Elsewhere in the world, we have witnessed the courageous commitment to justice by a 16-year old Palestinian girl, Ahed Tamimi, in the face of the brute force of an Israeli soldier. This inspired a renewed global resistance to the Zionist Israeli regime. Ahed Tamimi spent her 17th birthday in an Israeli prison and continues to serve an eight-month prison sentence. During the Arab Spring of 2010, social media helped young activists organize an unprecedented revolution that started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, and other Middle Eastern countries. From the Arab Spring to Parkland and Palestine to South Africa, youth and young adults are showing us that they can be the most dynamic and committed catalysts pushing for social change (For a useful youth perspectives on the Arab Spring See: Demanding Dignity: Young Voices from the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions (I Speak for Myself), by Maytha Alhassen and Ahmed Shihab-Eldin. White Cloud Press, 2012).

 

Even more recently, during this past Ramadan, the #BoKaapRise movement inspired by Bo-Kaap youth have been playing a leading role in protests against gentrification. Starting on Friday 25 May 2018, Bo-Kaap residents held innovative “boeka protests” in Wale Street, Cape Town. The protest action saw hundreds of residents and their supporters break their fast with a shared meal in the middle of Cape Town. The “boeka protest” was the culmination of weeks of protest action intended to raise concerns about the virulent nature of gentrification of the Bo-Kaap area. Through exorbitant property rates that the City of Cape Town is imposing on Bo-Kaap residents, they are forcing many working-class residents and pensioners to sell their ancestral homes to greedy Capitalist developers who plan to replace these homes with high rise buildings for foreign direct investment. After years of seeing their parents and neighbours struggling against the creep of gentrification, it is the youth of Bo-Kaap who are now raising their voices and galvanizing their community to take back their streets and say, ‘Enough is Enough’. (For my views on the Bo-Kaap protests See: “The Battle, the Bo-Kaap Protests and Affordable Housing”, Khutbah delivered at Masjid al-Quds, Gatesville, 1 June 2018).

 

The Need for Intergenerational Dialogue

 

Many of today’s youth perspectives and radical forms of protests are challenging more established political views and strategies for social change. This, in many cases is causing intergenerational tension and conflict. However, this conflict should be welcomed and nurtured to allow for more robust debate. For example, during the past Ramadan this intergenerational dynamic caused a great deal of anxiety within the Bo-Kaap protest movement, with some of the veteran activists chastising youth activists whom they accused of being over ambitious and hijacking the struggle to promote themselves. We also experienced a similar intergenerational conflict right here at CMRM during the height of #FeesMustFall protests in 2016 and 2017. We discovered that one creative way of dealing with such intergenerational conflict was to create a safe space for dialogue and debate.

 

Our experiences at the CMRM Discussion Forums taught us the following key lessons about intergenerational dialogue:

 

  1. The need for dialogue about the nature of the struggle and its objectives is vitally important as it provides a platform and safe space for activists, supporters and allies.
  2. We need to embrace a critical exchange of critical ideas, which allows for a deep, meaningful and robust debate.
  3. We need to listen to each other with both generosity and sincerity to actively hear “the other”.
  4. We need to recognize that the context between generations is very different. The struggle against the apartheid regime is vastly different to the struggle today. Today, young people have political freedom but are still struggling to achieve socio-economic justice for all. While the goal might be the same, the current context calls for different strategies and tactics to those of previous generations.
  5. Finally, we need to embrace and be open to both the strengths and the weaknesses of our respective struggles. By doing so, we will have greater opportunities to find each other.

 

This fruitful CMRM experience should be documented, continued, and shared with other communities as it serves as a creative and liberatory pedagogical model for intergenerational conflict and debate. Intergenerational dialogue and debate is a powerful strategy to build alliances and solidarity across community spaces that can lead to collective action. 

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, as we celebrate National Youth Day tomorrow it is critical that we remain attentive to the potential role of our youth in driving social change. However, we need to liberate ourselves from attitudes of paternalism and begin to listen more carefully to our youth so that we may be able to appreciate and learn new and creative ways of advancing our common struggle for social justice and human dignity. As a student leader in 1976 I recall how painful it was to be maligned by elders that I loved and respected because they thought our anti-apartheid activism was disrupting the status quo and the negative peace of our society. To give you a greater insight into my own experience of condescending paternalism as a young person, I invite you to the screening of a new documentary that will be launched this weekend titled: Salt River: The Untold Story. The movie will be premiered tomorrow, Saturday 16 June 2018, 10:30am at the District Six Museum, 1:30pm at the Cape Castle of Good Hope, and 7:00pm at the Palestine Museum, 26 Sir Lowry Road, Zonnebloem, Cape Town.

 

On this great day of `Id al-Fitr which coincides with National Youth Day, 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 Compassionate Justice assist us in understanding and being patient with our youth and 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.

 

Let us use June 16th as the starting point for a new consciousness and appreciation of the role of young people in securing the future of our community and our country. We conclude with a special supplication for youth, which we recommend should be read on June 16th and whenever we remember the contributions and manifold challenges facing our youth.

 

A Duā for the Youth

 

O Allāh protect our youth

And guide them O Allāh, on every path of goodness

And grant them sanctuary in your compassionate Care and Mercy, O Lord of the worlds

And distance from them all causes of sorrow and grief

O Allāh strengthen and empower them and instill in them a natural inclination

towards everything that is beneficial

And guide them to the most noble of conduct in all their affairs

So they may rise up as worthy leaders

For indeed in them lies our hope for the future and our aspirations for reconstruction

So we beseech Thee O Allāh to realise our dreams, Thou art truly most noble and Generous

 

May you all have a festive ‘Id and may you live well 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 vir Labarang

 

 

 

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