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Why Muslims should stand in solidarity with students

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The following jumuah khutbah was delivered by Imam Dr. Rashied Omar at the Jordan Street Masjid in Manenberg on Friday 30 October. 

The month of October 2015 will forever be remembered in the history of our country for the courageous protests by our university students for free quality education for all and for an end to the exploitation of workers through a contract system known as outsourcing.

We congratulate our university students for the modest victories they achieved in getting the proposed increases in university fees scrapped for the year 2016 and the exploitative system of outsourcing workers ended at institutions of higher learning.

Notwithstanding these modest victories for students and workers much still remains to be achieved towards the goal of free education for all and a living wage and dignity for all workers in our country. Thus the struggle continues…

History teaches us that it is usually young people who have been at the forefront of social justice struggles. The case of the large numbers of South African youth who led the 16 June 1976 uprising against the racist apartheid state as well as the large numbers of youth who since 2011 continue to challenge despotic regimes in the so-called Arab Spring are cases in point.

This critical role of youth as social justice activists is vividly exemplified in the Glorious Qur’an. 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. The 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)

It is highly instructive to note that the Arabic word used in the above Qur’anic verses to refer to young people, namely fityatun (sing. fata), has a special meaning and usage in Islamic literature. Its infinitive form futuwwah, meaning youth and chivalry, is a composite of virtues, such as energy, revolutionary vigour, heroism and an altruistic character that derives pleasure from helping others. Not surprisingly, these same characteristics have often adorned the dispositions of young people who have frequently been witnesses to God for justice at various epochs in human history.
It is thus 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.

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.

It is therefore regrettable that the young age of the Companions of the Cave is overlooked by many commentators of the Glorious Qur’an. Lamentably also the Qur’an’s unequivocal message of acknowledging youth within our communities remains unheeded, especially by religious institutions, and with it we squander our greatest potential for social progress.

Ultimately, in the above verses the Glorious Qur’an is advising us that our hope for social progress and our future lies in the youth. We should thus be inspired by the courage of our current university students who are speaking truth to power and striving to effect radical change in our country, for the benefit of all. It is critical that we as parents and community members find ways of supporting and showing solidarity with the struggle of students and workers for free education for all and a living wage and dignity for all workers in our country. CMRM

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