As the resurgence of #FeesMustFall protests sweeps campuses around the country, Muslim youth activists believe Muslim students should not stand on the side lines of the struggle for free education. Some universities have been shut down this week as students renew calls for government to scrap tertiary fees, amid criticism from universities that they are under significant economic pressure and this would compromise quality higher education.
Things reached boiling point this week when High Education minister Blade Nzimande announced that universities would set fee increments for 2017, but not above 8%. However, Nzimande said government would assist households with an income of up to R600 000 per annum with subsidy funding to cover the gap between the 2015 fee and the adjusted 2017 fee at the relevant institutions.
Thousands of students are outraged by the decision, accusing Nzimande of shelving the responsibility of free education onto the shoulders of university management. Some analysts believe Nzimande’s announcement was simply a quick fix solution and that government should have the political will to find a sustainable solution to the fees crisis.
Standing up to injustice
As students from across the spectrum become more agitated, Muslim student bodies believe Muslims have a moral responsibility to stand up against the status quo.
“We need a legitimate plan towards free education. Blade [Nzimande] has a cowardice approach…we want concrete plans and not just empty promises,” said Naadira Alli, a member of the national MSA Union committee.
But many students say the issue of free education is not an isolated one, considering government’s wasteful expenditure, the ballooned cabinet and the malaise of corruption, maladministration and ‘state capture’.
In a society in which unemployment, poverty, and inequality are widespread, the struggle to attain affordable tertiary education for lower income families is critical. Higher education has become inaccessible and unaffordable for many academically deserving students.
“There are numerous injustices present that as we as Muslims cannot be seen to condone and as such, must not remain docile in the face of these injustices,” said Muzammil Jable, the chairperson of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at the University of Cape Town.
“We are cognisant of the struggles of our brothers and sisters, be they Muslim or otherwise and we should not find ourselves deterred from standing up for justice regardless of the inconvenience it may represent. As such, we encourage those who are able to, to join the protests as long as within they are peaceful and within the boundaries of Islam.”
The MSA Union, the umbrella body for all MSA branches, said while it fully supports the continued #FeesMustFall movement, there also needs to be a discussion around the broader movement towards decolonised, African institutions.
“The fact that our institutions of higher learning are, after 22 years of democracy, still plagued by colonial and oppressive structural policies is, to us, an injustice committed against the people of South Africa. With the Almighty commanding Muslims towards justice many times in the Holy Quran, we cannot be a neutral party in these protests, and at the very least, we must speak out against it,” said MSA Union president Nadeem Mahomed.
Demonstrations at Wits University descended into violence on Tuesday and Wednesday, following skirmishes between students and security. Students and private security guards hurled stones at each other, rubber bullets and tear gas was used to disperse protestors. Scores of students were arrested, with dramatic scenes of protesters being handcuffed and thrown into police vans.
Students not involved in the protests have criticised the movement, accusing them of putting other’s lives at risk. Nzimande has strongly condemned the violence, saying damage to property and violence can never be tolerated. He has called for dialogue with students to continue but warned it cannot take place in “an environment of violence and destruction”.
The MSA said while it acknowledges the call for peaceful protests, “true peace does not exist until justice has been achieved”. The issue necessitates a more serious discussion on societal issues at tertiary institutions.
“Calls for peace that are used as a disguise to silence the voice of black students must be exposed as such and steered away from. As the MSA, we do not advocate for any violence and destruction of public property as these acts are not in the best interests of students, but we stress that the entire movement and principle on which the student protests has been based cannot be justifiably delegitimised because of them,” said Mahomed.
“May we all find the strength to fight injustice wherever we come across it, and may Allah SWT grant justice to the people of South Africa.
“Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded.” (Quran 16:90)
Agents for social change
With the overemphasis on the moral degeneration of youth, the values of social justice and civic responsibility have been lost on young people. The critical role of youth as social justice activists is expressed in the Qur’an, said Cape Town academic Dr Rashied Omar, the imam at the Claremont Main Road mosque in a recent khubah on the ongoing protests.
In Surah al-Kahf, Chapter 18, verses 13 & 14, Allah, the Sublime, relates the legendary story of the Companions of the Cave (Ashab al-Kahf), around which there was much mystery. Imam Omar said rhe Qur’an reveals the Ashab al-Kahf to be socially conscious youth who stood up against all forms of injustice.
We shall narrate to you their exemplary story:
Behold they were youth who believed in their Lord:
And so we deepened their consciousness of the Right Way.
And We strengthened their hearts
so that they stood up against injustices and proclaimed:
“Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth.
We shall invoke no god beside Him,
for (if we do so) we shall have uttered a blasphemy. (Q18:13-14)
According to Imam Omar, it’s not inconsequential that the Qur’an designates the youthful age of the Companions of the Cave.
“By relating their youthful age the Qur’an is making an important point. It is my considered view that through these verses the Qur’an is exhorting its readers to be attentive to the fact that young people are more likely to challenge the status quo and become drivers and levers for social change,” he said.
“We may thus interpret the above verses of the Glorious Qur’an to advise us to remain attentive to the potential role of young people in pioneering future social change. We should therefore continue to encourage and guide our community of youth to act for meaningful social progress and inspire us with their natural virtues and qualities of futuwwa (youth).” VOC (Tasneem Adams)