Since its inception in 1945, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) has served a crucial role in catering to the religious needs of the local Muslim community. Whilst opinions on the ulema body may not always be the most glowing, the ulema body has ultimately been at the forefront of issues pertaining to the spirituality of Capetonian Muslims.
As the religious authority marks 70 years of existence, several of its stalwarts have praised the MJCs “unbridled dedication” towards the community, simultaneously recounting their experiences and hardships.
One of those to have held a longstanding relationship with the MJC has been former president, Sheikh Ebrahim Gabriels who recognised the body as being the foremost leader on issues pertaining to halal. He said the body had made great strides in making halal food easily accessible within the Cape, as opposed to other secular states where Muslims were often required to travel great distances for halal meat.
“This is an ulema body that has seen to all the religious needs of its community. Where it’s the marriage or an imam giving a speech at a reception, we are celebrating 70 years of the MJC’s social welfare department going out of its way (for the community,” he said.
The religious authority according to Gabriels, had also worked tirelessly to save marriages and stand up against drugs and liquor, as well as a host of other “foreign ideologies”.
“This ulema is celebrating 70 years of protest marches. One beautiful and great march sought to defend the honour and dignity of our beloved Prophet (S.A.W). Marches for Syria, Iraq, and the biggest march ever in South Africa for Gaza were all led by the MJC,” he highlighted.
Sheikh Abdul Gamied Gabier, an MJC member since 1960, chose to reminisce on the icons of old. Having joined at a time when the organisation was being led by the likes of Sheikh Shakier Gamieldien (president), Sheikh Ahmad Behardien (vice-president) and Imam Abdullah Haron (Chairman), he said it was unfortunate the community had since forgotten the contributions of such “strong and legendary personalities”.
“We are a community that don’t write the events, and we expect those that come after to write about them. This is not the way it should be. These events should be recorded at that time because the people who write about it afterwards will not have experienced it, and it becomes here-say,” he said.
Whilst certain issues may have caused differences and tensions within the community, particularly in areas relating to fikh, Gabier said there had always been a sense of commitment from mureeds towards their the ulema leadership. He further described the MJC as equating to the ‘Islamic heartbeat’ of the local community, especially during the earlier years of its inception.
While there was widespread criticism levelled against the ulema for not actively resisting the apartheid regime, Gabier said the MJC were amongst the more vocal religious groups during the turbulent years. Gabier admitted however that there were a few within the organisation who refrained from speaking up, potentially due to a lack of understanding the dynamics of politics. He also attributed this aloofness to the guise that politics and religion need not mix.
“They refrained to such an extent where it looked as if they believed it not a stand which Muslims had to participate in. To me that was a wrong attitude, because we are all South Africans,” he stressed.
With the MJC now entering a new period in its long history, some would question whether changes within the authority were of necessity. However, Gabier said the MJC in its current state would remain a crucial part of the local Muslim community as long as Capetonians were still in need of the ulema body’s counsel and assistance on religious matters.
Current MJC trustee, Imam Yaseen Harris initially joined the body in 1951 at the tender of 17, when his own father served as chairperson. He became a full several years later, working his way up from assistant secretary to roles as an administrator and ultimately, the director of the Halal Trust until his retirement a few years ago.
Amongst the most recognisable moments of his involvement was the highly controversial Ahmadiyya Court Cases of the 1980s, in which the Cape Town branch of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement took several of the leading Islamic religious bodies to court.
Like Gabier, Harris also acknowledged the MJC’s involvement in the struggle against Apartheid as a “personal highlight”.
“We were the only organisation that took up the nationalist party, in that not a single Masjid was ever demolished…we fought the Apartheid regime even so far as the United Nations, so this is one of our highlights and great achievements in what the MJC did for the Muslims of South Africa,” he explained.
In addition, he also recognised the MJCs contribution with regards to the halal sector.
“I took over the halal inspections in 1984, and we are now accepted as a member of the world halal council…We are in the minority part of South African citizenship, yet we can dominate the food fraternity. Most of the foods today are certified halal, primarily because of the MJC.” He added.
The MJC marked its 70th anniversary celebrations this past weekend with a series of events at the Nurul Latief Masjied in Macassar. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)