Fight or Flight – From the awkwardness of the edge of my chair, little did I realise that the scenes and sounds that were rapidly unravelling before me that windy morning correlated perfectly with one of the most well established physiological responses in the Natural World. I doubt the behavioralists would have much trouble identifying it: Confronting a threat that is perceived dangerous, the human reacts with as many resources as needed, as much energy as possible, to minimise the risks.
And so, here was one of the oldest and most recognisable Muslim Theological Bodies in the country trying to hold its own against one of the nation’s most formidable media voices, let alone the wrath of a public dismayed. And its performance was hardly surprising. Sensing emergency, it shifted into self-perseverance mode, drawing on both its offensive and defensive instincts, all for the sole aim of survival. And just like the proverbial injured bear, few were spared its erratic rage. Media organisations, Halaal Certifying bodies and even Social Media platforms instantly became fair game.
In the other corner was a perturbed Muslim Public. Here too, the physiological response was unsurprisingly spot-on. Sensing betrayal, he too began venting his anger which quickly grew into repulsion for the perceived source of his tragedy, as can be evidenced by the avalanche of BBM and text messages, Facebook updates and tweets that soon began circulating.
Ultimately, as the emotions thawed, both proponents articulated a desire for justice.
So reads the story thus far of the fallout from a 3rd Degree investigation into Halaal Certification at a controversial Cape Town cold storage facility which has inflamed passions nationwide. As argued, such physiological responses are typical all over the Animal Kingdom.
But as the Best of Creation, surely there should be a point where our animalism stops, and our humanity begins.
In the emotional fracas that often surrounds such scandals, it is all too easy to lose perspective. Shameless name calling, Holier-than-thou judgement passing and bravado-induced threats become all too common, granting many a false sense of security. Snide comments (such as attributing the sickness of some MJC leaders to the consumption of pork) and ill-witted humour (the many contrived MJC acronyms doing the rounds) are propagated unchallenged, and respect for authority and learning is steadily eroded. In the haste, some have even been calling for the MJC to disband.
It however should legitimately be asked, how can we so impulsively allow ourselves to airbrush a 67-year legacy of service by an influential organisation merely on account of the uproar surrounding one(or perhaps a few more) scandals?
From its establishment in 1945, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) could lay claim to being only the second Ulema body to be formed in South Africa. Among its stated aims at its founding was the consolidation of unity amongst the Ulema and striving to attain the spiritual, educational, intellectual, moral, social, cultural and economic aspirations of the Muslim community.
Throughout its history, the MJC counted among its membership, scholars of high repute and great activists including the anti-Apartheid stalwart and martyr, Imam Abdullah Haron who was elected its Chairman in 1959. In 1971 it took the pioneering step of initiating the Muslim Board for Prison Welfare and State Institutions, providing an invaluable and previously unheard of service to Muslim inmates. It took another bold step to defend the frontiers of the faith in 1982 when it declared the heretic Ahmeddiyya or Qadiyani sect to be non Muslim, also participating in legal proceedings to ensure the protection of Muslim institutions from their foreign elements. It was among a host of Muslim organisations that took a vociferous stand against the apartheid regime’s tricameral parliament and also played a leading role in providing the necessary assistance to the Black community at large during the 1985 upheavals and 1986 Crossroads crisis.
As it stands today, the MJC remains one of the most representative and influential religious organizations in South Africa. Overseeing the administering of some 160 Masaajid across the Western Cape, it is also the first religious port of call for the province’s one million plus Muslims.
Contrary to the sweeping generalisations in the wake of the current crisis, Halaal certification is but one of organisation’s areas of focus. The MJC boasts departments of social development, media, Fatawa, Da’wah and quite impressively, even an environmental affairs wing – an initiative few Muslim organizations would hardly consider.
For years, the MJC has been tirelessly championing the cause of the dispossessed Palestinians and highlighting the Zionist threats to Muslim and Christian Holy Places. Its activism gave rise to the inception of the Al Quds Foundation(SA) which in 2011 achieved the milestone of leading one of the first Aid Convoy’s from the African Continent to the besieged Gaza Strip.
The President of the MJC, Moulana Ighsaan Hendricks also represents South African Muslims on various international forums such as the Al Quds Foundation International and the International Union of Muslim Scholars, which is spearheaded by the highly respected Sheikh Yusuf al Qardawi. In 2011, Moulana Hendricks was listed among the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the world by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan.
It is this rich reality that those dismissing the MJC as ‘Masti Judicial Clowns’ or ‘Must Just Chow’s’ so grossly fail to consider. These pernicious sentiments also feed into a dormant – though widespread – Malay-Indian racism that could very easily be inflamed, with devastating consequences.
For those of us further North, disjointed from the MJC’s core constituency, the organisation’s relevance can hardly be diminished either. Representatives from the MJC have consistently served on the leadership of the United Ulama Council of South Africa(UUCSA), which represents all mainstream Islamic organizations nationally. The MJC is also one of the founding members of the National Religious Leaders Forum(NRLF) which serves as a constituted forum for dialogue between government and the religious fraternity.
Failure to acknowledge the contribution of the MJC, and ill-considered calls for it to disband thus have the potential to deeply impair the functioning of the greater South African Muslim community. Additionally, it could shatter unities and consensus that took years of deliberation and compromises to achieve. A case in point would be the sighting of the moon. For years, the community was beset with controversies stemming from Transvaal Ulama bodies refusal to accept the testimony of sighting from the Ulama of Cape Town. It would truly be a sad day to see such hard earned gains ever reversed.
That said, the MJC should not imagine that the anger and betrayal felt by the Muslim community will simply dissipate. As the Arab Spring taught us, the awakening of masses is undoubtedly a powerful new force and its ability to bring about a more democratic future will be profound.
For one, raging against the use of social media is a bad starting point. Whilst there is absolutely no justification for paranoia and mistruths to be circulated by the public in their hunt for scapegoats, there is also a big need for organisations to become more media savvy and handle sensitive communications matters better.
The examples of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, both held in high esteem by the MJC, should also be instructive. The widespread success enjoyed by these sister movements in Egypt in Palestine can in part be attributed to the higher levels of internal transparency and accountability they aspire towards, in contrast to their political adversaries. In the shadow of the Arab Spring, these prominent organizations have also shown to be receptive, evolving structurally to become more democratic.
Instead of the MJC becoming defensive or antagonistic and the Muslim community distributing broadcast messages encouraging the burning of MJC offices, the Orion Crises should be recognized as possessing the potential to herald the Spring of Accountability for Muslim SA. As many have pointed out, the demands for accountability are not restricted to the MJC but can and should very well be extended to encompass other Halaal authorities, Hajj Operators, Theological Bodies and Media Institutions.
The physiological longing for vengeance is great, but the Islamic prerogatives of Nasiha and Amr bil Ma’ruf are greater. It has been reported by Nu’maan bin Basheer (RA) that the Holy Prophet (SAW) said: “There are people who do not transgress the limits (laws) of Allah, and there are others who do so. They are like two groups who boarded a ship; one of them settled on the upper deck, and the other, on the lower deck of the ship.
So, when the people of the lower deck needed water, they said: ‘Why should we cause trouble to the people of the upper deck when we can easily have plenty of water by making a hole in our deck.’ Now if the people of the upper deck do not prevent this group from such foolishness, all of them will perish – but if they stop them then they all will be saved.” (Bukhari & Tirmidhi)
Regardless of whom you deem the occupants of the upper and lower decks to be, this directive should be the Ummah’s sole motivator towards the amelioration of the Orion crises. Seen another way, if a brother’s house is about to burn down, the issue is to help him not to lose it, and not (at that time) to question why he got himself into the mess in the first place. In the aftermath of the 3rd Degree expose’, this is precisely the challenge we are facing.
Will you be adding more fuel or putting out the fire?