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UUCSA: where it all began

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Representatives of the various bodies that make up the United Ulema Council of South Africa (UUCSA), took part in a panel discussion on Wednesday to discuss the alleged ‘fraudulent usurping’ of the UUCSA brand. The discussion also highlighted the origins of the organization, its goals, and its role in the local Muslim community.

UUCSA has been embroiled in a fierce legal wrangle over the supposed theft of its name by Port Elizabeth based scholar, Maulana A.S. Desai. With UUCSA failing to legally register its name upon formation in 1994, Desai reportedly had the brand registered in his own name instead, after applying to the local trademarks registry in 2013.

UUCSA has claimed that they have been threatened with legal action should they continue to use the name. Since then, a number of similar ‘fraudulent’ UUCSA’s have emerged, issuing contentious statements in the group’s name.

Jamiatul Ulema KZN secretary general Maulana Rafiq Muhammad, whose organization falls under the UUCSA banner, said the idea behind a unified ulema body originally came about in June 1991. A committee of local ulema met in Ladysmith, where a resolution was adopted for the formation of a supreme council of Ulema in South Africa.

“This was the original seeding, of the formation of UUCSA,” he said.

Despite this, the body was only officially launched on the 13th August 1994, at a meeting at the main offices of Jamiatul Ulema KZN. That meeting was chaired by the late Sheikh Nazeem Mohammed, and was attended by some of the country’s most senior ulema at the time.

Muhammad said the need for a united ulema body became apparent when the issue of Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr on different days, became a divisive issue for the community. The situation had a deep impact on the society, and became a key factor that spurred the formation of UUCSA.

“It is a vehicle to speak with one voice on national issues to government, and also on issues that challenge the community that needs one united voice,” he said, in regards to UUCSA’s vision.

According to Maulana Ebrahim Bham, secretary general of the Jamiatul Ulema SA, the ulema fraternity also played a critical role in the issue of Hilaal, or the moon sighting.

UUCSA has often faced criticism from the community over its handling of the moon sighting, but Bham said they had never been complacent on the issue. Rather, it had helped bring about a system in the country, whereby Muslims of all spectrums were brought into following one united Islamic calendar.

“Of course people sometimes glibly say that it took you so long to make a decision (on the sighting of the moon), but if you’ve got 7 or 8 organizations to take into account, yes it will take long. But look at the benefit, which is that you’re getting everyone on board,” he said.

Bham stressed it was vital that the idea of unity amongst the Muslim community be encouraged.

“Yes people can have opposing views on certain things, but there still needs to be harmony,” he said. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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