Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Civic Engagement - An Islamic Duty

By Nadeem Mahomed

Today (12 August) marks International Youth Day; a day commemorated by the United Nations (UN) since 2000. This year the theme adopted for the Day is ‘Youth Civic Engagement’.

UN’s Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, comments “In this landmark year, as leaders prepare to adopt a bold new vision for sustainable development, the engagement of youth is more valuable than ever. At this critical moment in history, I call on young people to demand and foster the dramatic progress so urgently needed in our world.” 

The engagement of youth in societal matters is essential in achieving sustainable human development, yet platforms for them to engage with these issues in the spheres of society (economically, politically, socially) are often not easily accessible. Being the representative body of Muslim student in the country, the Union of Muslim Students’ Associations (MSA Union) of South Africa has endeavoured over many years to provide such a platform to our students.

Why do we need a socially conscious youth?

We know that Allah SWT is Al-Adl, The Just and Most Equitable. If Allah is just and we see injustice being committed on the Earth, then it is because we, the Creation, are perpetuating this injustice.

There are verses upon verses in the Holy Quran making justice unavoidable for us. Verse 135 of Surah Nisa reinforces this: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even though it be against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, be he rich or poor, Allah is a Better Protector to both (than you). So follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you may avoid justice, and if you distort your witness or refuse to give it, verily, Allah is Ever Well-Acquainted with what you do.”

Allah makes it clear that if we have tauheed, we must pursue justice no matter the circumstances.

As members of broader South African society, we have a responsibility to contribute to it. We do not live in a cocoon, and living in a society riddled with a range of socio-economic issues - especially post-Apartheid - it is imperative that we engage and look at the ways in which as Muslims we can contribute. For example, the National Development Plan has been adopted by the ruling party and can therefore be seen as the plan for the future of this country. Do we know what that plan says? Have we scrutinised it and been involved in pointing out its flaws – and working to fix those flaws? Have we sat down as a Muslim community and given thought as to how we can improve education, healthcare and security, how we can combat corruption and unemployment and address transformation?

As a Muslim organisation, we have too often heard that politics has no place in our work within the Deen and this was an unfortunate rhetoric that was put forward by many during the Apartheid era. Over the years, the practicing of our religion has, in many regards, been reduced to a mere set of rituals.

But [this is a blog, so I will use my literary licence to start this sentence with “but”] I would like to ask this: our Islamic calendar – when did it begin? It does not begin with the birth of the final prophet Muhammad SAW, as the Christian calendar does with the birth of Hazrat Isa AS, nor did it begin with the first revelation. The Islamic calendar began when the Muslim community of Makkah made hijrah to Madinah and assumed political power of the city. Islam, has since day 1, been intertwined with politics (if looking at politics as the activities associated with the governance of people).  

It is understandable that everyone has their interests, and politics may not be one of them, but social issues must be. We must make an effort to know what is happening around us. Listen to the news, not just the weather or sport updates. Occasionally flick through a newspaper. Follow some news accounts on Twitter, along with Mufti Menk’s. Discuss the news events of the day with your family at dinner. Formulate views and opinions on what we see unfolding in parliamentary proceedings on a daily basis; about the investigations into Nkandla; about whether the widows of the miners killed in Marikana will get justice. Formulate them and express them.

Further afield, we must remain aware of international issues. We know all too well about the atrocities committed against the citizens of Palestine, but Palestinians are not the only persecuted people. Exhibit A - the Rohingyan people. They have been discriminated against since the 1980s, but their plight has gone unnoticed for the most part. As a society, we are comfortable in waiting for someone to tell us whose struggle is important and whose struggle we must care about – we do not take that initiative ourselves.

And why Muslim youth specifically?

As Muslims, we believe wholeheartedly that Islam is the best way of life, and that the Holy Quran has the answers to all our problems. So why then are we fine to entrust the future of our communities and families in the hands of everyone else? We need to be at the forefront of charting out the future of our country so we can rest assured that our future generations will grow up in a country whose values are closely aligned with that of Islam’s and continue to enjoy the religious freedoms we do today.

Over decades, we have inherited societal ills from the generations before us. Ultimately, it is the youth that will have to deal with those issues. We need to take this platform, with both hands and a loud voice, to engage with these issues and come up with the solutions. The mere fact that the problems our societies face have not been solved indicates that those solutions must lie within the minds of the generations to come. We need an environment that cultivates this thinking to see this to fruition. As the youth, we cannot remain ignorant. We need to champion causes, and have an active voice and presence in our communities.

You do not need to be going to marches or protests or even re-tweeting 'Free Palestine', or whatever the struggle-trend of the moment may be, to prove that you are aware of injustices that may be going on. In fact, you do not need to prove anything to any human being. Our duty is with Allah to fulfil His commandments during our time on Earth.

It is vital that, as an individual, you are able to empower yourself with the knowledge of the status quo - from both a local and a global perspective - to remain aware of injustice, to take up the fight of the oppressed and carry this Ummah forward, God-willing.

About the author
Nadeem is the current President of MSA Union and represents MSA Union within national civil society circles. Doing his Honours in Accounting Science at Wits University, he also plays an active role in student development and politics on campus.


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