South African Muslims pay tribute to Mandela

10 December 2013

The South African Muslim community, many of whom worked closely with Nelson Mandela, was an integral part of the anti-apartheid struggle, SA Muslims Network chairman Faisal Suliman told Turkish news agency Anadolu Agency on Monday as he and other prominent Muslims paid tribute to the late former president.

Suliman said Mandela had been vocal in his support of religious freedom, noting that an integral part of South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution was the clause that guarantees freedom of religion.

“Mandela was quoted as saying, ‘We believe Muslims in South Africa have the greatest freedom to practice their religion in comparison to any other country in the world’,” Suliman said. “So in fact the liberation struggle freed Muslims in many ways.”

He said that Muslims held Mandela in very high regard. “His compassion, magnanimity and humility are traits of our prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him.”

Suliman also said that Mandela, while president, formed the National Religious Council and had “often visited masjids to give talks and meet people”.

He said that Muslims had been part of every Cabinet since the advent of democracy, and had played prominent roles in all aspects of South African life.

Abdulkader Tayob, professor of Islamic studies and head of religious studies at the University of Cape Town, told the Anadolu Agency that Mandela was loved “not only because he led the nation and the world, but mainly because he touched individuals and communities and listened to their deepest hopes, fears and dreams.

“Mandela acknowledged and recognised their [Muslims’] contribution in the country, their global fears and concerns with the war on terror, and their sense of belonging to South Africa,” Tayob said. “He offered a leadership model marked by a deep spirit of generosity; a quality rarely found in leaders.”

South African poet, novelist and activist Shabbir Banoobhai described the suffering that South African Muslims endured during apartheid as “emotional exile at home’.

Banoobhai acknowledged Mandela’s contribution in his debut novel, Heretic. Banoobhai also published a poem, For Madiba, expressing feelings on the day Mandela was freed in 1994. In his poem, Madiba’s smile symbolises freedom.

Former Muslim Judicial Council leader Sheikh Ebrahim Gabriels said that, before 1994, “our children were forced to learn the bible at school”.

“After Madiba came to power, he told the world that South Africa was a free country of many religions,” Gabriels said. “He also famously told the world that South Africa would not truly be able to enjoy freedom until Palestine was free.”

Source: Agency