By Zaahidah Meyer
A national conference exclusive to the black Muslim community in South Africa has stirred up intense debate on social media. The South African Black Muslim Conference will be held at the Soweto amphitheatre from 19-21 April and is being organised by the Gauteng Muslim Shura Council. The conference aims to establish a black Muslim think tank from various backgrounds and will also discuss the growth and development of Islam and black Muslims.
Speaking to VOC Drivetime on the motivation behind the conference, one of the participants Tandile Kona said it aims to unpack the problems black Muslims face in South Africa.
“We decided to get together to discuss resolutions to some of the problems that we are facing as black Muslims, residing mainly in township areas,” said Kona.
Black Muslims face more difficulties than that of Muslims of other backgrounds, among them, issues of racism and classism.
When discussing other communities within Islam, Kona said the Malay and Indian community have an established culture and religious identity.
“They have a way that they practice Islam which comes from their cultural background which is not something found in the black Muslim community. We are trying to create an identity,” said Kona.
According to statistics, there are 1.2 billion people residing in Africa. Of that 1.2 billion, 446 million are Muslim. Every Muslim community in Africa has its own identity and Kona believes its time to establish the identity of black Muslims in South Africa. For example, while the identity of Muslims in Senegal might not be the same of those in Cape Town, it is still considered Islam.
Kona went on to say that he regarded the Malay and Indian communities as black people but pointed out that in this, black essentially refers to “indigenous.” One of the main problems is that many instruct others to practice Islam the way they do, according to their culture.
“When black people become Muslim, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place because your family distances themselves saying you have adopted an Indian religion. Then you go into the Muslim community and you’re not fully accepted there because there is this unsaid notion stating ‘you are part of us but not fully part of us. Therefore, we need to create a sense of belonging,” said Kona.
Kona further added that he did not understand why there were misconceptions of the conference as they do not plan to slander or attack any community.
“The only intention we have is to try to build a community of black Muslims in South Africa within Islam, of local flavour and one that is indigenised which we can identify with,” Kona said.
Kona further explained that there is a silent denial of the African heritage in South Africa.
“Black Muslims are not new to South Africa but there needs to be this unveiling of silence that has been there.”