The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) on Wednesday formally strengthened its relationship with the South African Department of Defence (DOD), signing what the ulema body has described as an ‘historical and significant’ memorandum of agreement between the two sides. The agreement centres on the development of Muslim chaplains that currently serve within the structures of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). It forms part of a broader initiative to ensure all members of the SANDF are afforded access to spiritual care, including that of the Islamic community.
The deal, signed by the defence forces’ chaplain general, Brig Gen (Rev) Monwabisi Andrew Jamangile and MJC president, Maulana Ighsaan Hendricks, supersedes and amends existing verbal agreements between the DOD and MJC, and reaffirms the ulema body’s power to recommend individuals that can provide religious guidance and assistance to forces. These agreements have existed for over 20 years.
“The MJC will continue to have the authority to nominate successful candidates to the DOD for qualified chaplains, traditionally qualified as Imams of course. These individuals will continue to service within the different sectors of the defence force,” explained Hendricks.
The signing was attended by several MJC members who serve as chaplains within the countries naval, military, correctional service and police forces. They include Sh Abdullah Abrahams in the defence forces’ military wing, Maulana Ahmed Davids of the SA Police Services (SAPS), Maulana Ebrahim Johnson of the SA Navy and Maulana Azim Khatib in correctional services. The MJC hopes the current agreement will help build on these numbers, and expand the number of chaplains serving in the SANDF.
“We pride ourselves as Muslims in SA that such important establishments and institutions are within the reach of the Muslim community.
“It is a significant development for us, particularly as a Muslim community to see a democracy and institutions ready to consider, according the constitution of SA, the needs of various religious communities who serve within the SANDF,” Hendricks said.
The MJC, based on reports received from its chaplains, also makes assessments as to what improvements and changes are required by Muslims within the defence forces. According to Hendricks, their current area of focus has been directed at the need for ‘camouflage Qurans’, which are tailor made for those who will be deployed into the field.
“This is an exercise the MJC has given a lot of attention to, that the correct translation of the Quran be at the disposal of the services,” he noted.
There are currently no clear statistics as to home many Muslims currently form part of the SANDF.
The signing of the agreement ironically coincides with the 1985 Trojan Horse Massacre, where South African security forces used a truck to infiltrate an anti-Apartheid protest in Athlone, largely attended by students. The Apartheid forces, hidden between crates loaded on the truck, emerged and opened fire on the unarmed protesters. Three people aged 21, 15 and 11 respectively, were killed in the shooting. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)