Muslims in Southern Africa

The local African Muslims have been plagued by numerous challenges like poverty, illiteracy, diseases, hunger, malnutrition and poor sanitation. Education is still a rare privilege.

By Anis Mohammed

The arrival of Islam in Southern Africa dates back to the early Arab traders who along with their business spread Islam among the local population. The teachings of Islam on One God, equality, human dignity etc. Attracted many Africans to the faith. The colonisation of many countries in the region by the British made these countries enter a phase of slavery and humiliation from which they are yet to come out. The British ruled these countries for a long time, after they finally gained political independence.

Three Different Categories
When the British left these African countries, there were broadly three classes among the population. The white British, who ruled and administered the country; the brown Asians, who dominated the business sector; and the Blacks, who worked as virtual slaves or for a very less pay. From railway coaches to post office counters, everything was segregated into three different categories.
The Muslim Population of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana is around 3-4%. This includes the local Africans as well as Asian Muslims, especially from India, who settled there a long time ago.

Contribution of Indian Muslims
The local African Muslims have been plagued by numerous challenges like poverty, illiteracy, diseases, hunger, malnutrition, poor sanitation etc. Education is still a rare privilege. The child of a farmer stays with his parents in the farm and ends up his future in farming, and the same is true for many children of mine labourers. This has been a custom for a very long time. This trend is changing slowly, now that there are some NGOs run by local African Muslims, who have understood the importance of education. As of now though, it is still primary and secondary education which is being given attention due to the limited financial and human resources of these NGO’s. University level education and research studies in foreign universities are still a distant dream. Apart from education, there is a need for the local African Muslims to be supported in terms of capacity building, personality development, entrepreneurship etc.

Charitable Causes
The trading sector in these countries is dominated by businessmen of Indian origin. Many Muslim businessmen do support various charitable causes. A considerable amount is collected by way of zakat is collected through these business and is being spent through NGO’s setup and controlled by Muslims of Indian background. Statistics provided by these NGOs in terms of beneficiaries sometimes give a rosy picture, but in terms of educational and social progress, the local African Muslims are still way behind.
One of the reason for this trend is the ‘sawab mentality’ among Muslims. Even the ulama who guide them give references to those teachings which stress on the sawab aspect, rather than the hisab aspect. Building of a masjid and feeding the hungry are definitely important teachings of Islam and there is no doubt about it, but living among the local African Muslims for around 100 years and leaving them in the same condition after that period of years is definitely an aspect of hisab, for which they will have to be accountable before Allah. Investing in the educational and social development of local African Muslims is a moral and social responsibility of the other Muslims, and if they can do it, the local African Muslims can come to live a life and dignity and honour.

Issue of Racism
Another big issue facing local African Muslims is racism. The Indian Muslims do not mix with the local African Muslims. Their living areas are different from the locals’. They still consider them inferior and think that their place is only among the working and labour class. They consider that they are just meant to be helped, but are not meant to be developed. In this regard it is important to remember that when the Prophet migrated to Madina, he ensured that the Muhajireen from Makkah and the Ansar of Madina had brotherly relations, not just in iman but also in all other aspects of life.

Muslim Religious Organisations
The Tabligh Jamaat is the dominant Islamic organisation working among the local Africans, followed by the Salafis and Barelvis. The Leadership of all these organisations is still with the Muslims of Indian background. The local African Muslim are not encouraged to take up leadership positions. The ulama are all imported from South Asia to guide the locals. Many delegations come from that part of the world to preach to the locals. Apart from the theoretical teachings of namaz and Deen, the locals are not given much guidance on Islam as a way of life. During one of my trips to Zimbabwe, I was surprised by their attitude towards the local Africans. My host was a local African and I had stayed at the house of an African brother. Some of the senior Tabligh Jamaat members were surprised that I trusted a local African and that I came from India to be with them!

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