The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) had on Wednesday held an auspicious event at the iconic Saint Georges Cathedral to commemorate 75 years since its inception.
The venue played a significant role as it was the place where at least 62 Islamic scholars and academics had gathered for the first time in 1945. In doing so, they had secured their position as a council that would play a unifying, advisory and advocacy role to preserve and progress Islam and its values.
The council was formed toward the closing of a global war which claimed the highest number of deaths to record, totalling at an estimated 50 million. World War II occurred between 1939-1945, where the so-called Axis Powers, namely Germany, Italy and Japan, battled the Allies, France, Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent, China.
The war had stirred South African politics in different directions, but the country evidently participates don the side of the Allies and fought major battles in North Africa, Ethiopia, Madagascar and Italy.
The MJC was founded just before the adoption of the dreaded Apartheid regime in 1948, which would permanently change the country’s course. At the time, the iconic Cathedral was seen as a safe haven where may discussions and interfaith collaborations occurred.
MJC Deputy president Moulana Abdul Khaliq Allie was among the first to take to stage where he noted the momentous role the MJC has played in the development and contribution of the Muslim community toward a democratic South Africa. A 10-point plan outlining the organisation’s mission was drafted and agreed upon on February 10th.
These points included the preservation of Islam and its Islamic identity, promoting unity and co-operation among all scholars and the broader community, to further the education and academic progress of citizens, to contribute significantly to social development and to act as a Judiciary for the Muslim community and to provide social services to the broader community.
MJC presidents since inception
Shaykh Achmat Behardien (1952 – 1955)
Shaykh Mohammad Shakier Gamieldien (1955 – 1970)
Shaykh Igsaan Gamieldien (1970 – 1978)
Shaykh Abubakr Najjaar (1978 – 1982)
Shaykh Nazim Mohamed (1982 – 1998)
Shaykh Ebrahim Gabriels (1998 – 2006)
Moulana Ihsaan Hendricks (2006 – 2016)
Shaykh Irafaan Abrahams (2016 – to present)
Senior ulema, interfaith leaders, political figures and dozens of organisations were included in Wednesday’s celebratory speeches. Organisations that attended included the United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA), the Chartered Governance Institute, Cape Town Information Centre, Ashura, NGO’s and Humanitarian aid organisations and the Imam Haron Foundation.
Among the guest speakers was the African National Congress (ANC) Treasury General Paul Mashatile, who noted that these important milestones are an opportunity to reflect on the progress made:
“The occasion of the 108th of the ANC and the 75th anniversary of the MJC are significant milestones in the history of the country and the history of the liberation struggle. These milestones offer a unique opportunity to reflect on our shared struggles and collective journey toward the values we hold dearly,” said Mashatile.
Mashatile shared words he heard from former President Nelson Mandela, whose 30th anniversary of his release from prison was celebrated the previous day. The SG noted how Mandela honoured the peaceful co-existence of the country’s interfaith community and how religion played an emancipating role for those locked up in Apartheid prisons.
The revered Judge Siraaj Desai, who had been instrumental in a number of landmark rulings and who continues to serve as a Judge after nearly 25 years, said the MJC needs to continue its trajectory toward social justice.
“What’s important is not the number but its important to celebrate the achievements of the MJC’s leadership over the past four, five decades. They were outstanding figures in the struggle for change in this country, they made an important contribution. But, more than anything else, they paced Islam in the mainstream in the struggle of the country,” he said.
Judge Desai noted that the MJC became more progressive between 1980-1990, under the leadership of Shaykh Abubakr Najjaar (1978 – 1982), Shaykh Nazim Mohamed (1982 – 1998) and Shaykh Ebrahim Gabriels (1998 – 2006)
“I worked not simply as a Muslim but outside of the political movement. We had a working relationship and if the MJC continue on this trajectory, then the Islam will make a greater contribution to effect social change,” he added.
Reverend Edwin Arrison also highlighted the successful collaboration of various faiths and how this diversity has added to the country’s successes. He said the interfaith community has stood the test of time and noted the need to continue to work toward common goals
“It was not difficult at all to find each other in the trenches. what we were struggling for was a south Africa that we could all be proud of collectively and equally,” he said.
Arrison added that faith leaders and citizens should not solely rely on government:
“My appeal is that we should not wait to be called by government. we should take the initiative amongst ourselves, to say ‘what is that will be bringing together for the south Africa that we bring forth in our mosques and churches. We pray for a just, reconciled, peaceful and equitable, sustainable south Africa that is free of racism, tribalism, corruption, xenophobia, gender based violence- where there is shelter and food for all and every child can grow to their full potential,” said Arrison.
MJC President Shaik Irfan Abrahams also read a letter written by Nelson Mandela, that reflected the collaboration between the MJC, and the ANC. Abrahams added that the issues of the global Muslim community require more attention and effort
“After 350 years, it is an indictment that our Muslim Marriages Act has still not been finalized. I would be failing in my duty if I do not mention, that the MJC remains concern about South Africa’s silence on the plight of the Muslims in China, India, Yemen and Myanmar. we applaud all those who are striving for the liberation of the Palestinian people, a struggle that will remain a priority.
Reading out the speech of Mandla Mandela in his absence, MJC secretary General Sheikh Zaid Dantie said that the struggle icons grandson urged the MJC to double its efforts going forward.
“With our constitutional democracy and a strong humans rights culture embedded in our human rights, we must ensure that over the next 25 years the MJC develops a much stronger programme of engaging (Chapter 9 institutions) that play critical role in protecting the religious and linguistic diversity that constitutes the colourful fabric of South African society,” said Mandela.
“My grandfather always said, as long as there is a single human being suffering anywhere in the world, our struggle is far from over,” said Mandela as he wished the MJC well in it’s endeavours.
Many of the speakers made reference to the councils’ founders and contributors
The MJC’s Women’s network -was later established in 2017, after women required a forum to be able to identify and cater to the needs of women in society. Islam has long advocated for and maintained its stance regarding the enormous, irreplaceable and respected role of women in a progressive and successful society.
Executive member Maulima Khadija Patel Allie explained that since it’s initiation, the network has been working with communities across Cape Town and beyond.
“Alghamduliah, it has now been 3 and half years later where we have been rolling out programmes in the form of awareness, development, parental programmes, positive parenting and all things related to relationship dynamics. The intention was that wherever we find ourselves, that we attempt to be of assistance (and serve) the needs of those in the areas we are in,” said Patel-Allie.
“When women are able to unite, we can become a much more dynamic force and that is something that the MJC’s woman’s forum is diligently working on,” she added.
Mualima also noted that at least 10 women’s forums from across the Mother City will be getting together next week to find ways of working together and strengthening each other’s endeavours. “Family restoration” is the theme of this year because ‘when you work on a woman, you work on the home’, said Patel-Allie.
Mashatile highlighted, ahead of President Cyril Ramaphosa State of The Nation on Thursday, that the ANC is looking forward to working with the Muslim community.
“We, as the ANC, remain committed to fighting drugs and gang abuse in Cape Town. We are working to improve the lives of the people of cape Town, the Western cape and indeed the people of the country, to grow our economy in a manner that creates jobs, especially for the youth,” said Mashatile.
“We are also determined to strengthen the fight against corruption and the theft of public funds. In our view, corruption is a crime against the poor. one of our key areas of focus this year will be on strengthen the criminal justice system.“
“The Muslim community in the country has a global community of nearly 1.2 billion people and has a significant footprint on our continent. this places an enormous obligation on the mjc and the Muslim community at large. As the ANC we stand ready to continue to work with the MJC and Muslim community to build a country, a movement and a continent of peace, where will put our shoulder to the wheel. We wish the MJC well as it embarks on the journey to its centenary in 2024,” said Mashatile.
Life Achievement awards were also handed to the following people not only for their historic contributions to the MJC but also for their role in advancing the promotion of Islam and it’s values across the country and the world:
Judge Siraaj Desai, Shaykh Abdul Hameed Gabier, Shaykh Amien Fakie and Dr Maulana Ali Adam,
The MJC is expected to announce a series of events in the coming days.
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