With "Apartheid: Anti-God, Anti-Human" as the theme of the day, about 200 Muslims gathered one recent morning at the Islamic Center of Southern California to consider the implications of that theme for the local Islamic community.
Such a conference, said Nazir Khaja, director of the center's Islamic Information Service, was in keeping with the perceived need not only to educate Americans about Islam but to educate "our own community about global, local and national issues so that they get involved. If they do not, they are not really practicing Islam."
"Why a day for South Africa?" asked Dr. Maher Hathout, former chairman of the Islamic Center. "We have no choice if we want to live up to Islam, to submit to God. In the same package comes commitment to the way humans should live in the way of divine justice."
Lest there be any doubt of their obligations, he concluded by admonishing them, "Please remember that your Muslim learning is not an intellectual activity. It does not stop there."
The center's current chairman, Dr. Abdul Razaak Abu-Kura, had welcomed them with the same urgency and admonition, saying, "Anything that afflicts our fellow human beings anywhere reflects on us. We have to show our solidarity with our fellow human beings wherever they are, wherever injustice is committed against God, against humanity."
The event was sponsored by the center and another mosque, Masjid Ibadullah, and drew a mixed group, illustrating the diversity of the area's estimated 250,000 Muslims. There were men in business suits or caftans, students in jeans and tennis shoes, women in veils concealing head scarfs or modern dress. They were white, black, Asian and Middle Eastern, American- and foreign-born.
That Muslims have a particular connection with the history of South Africa and its contemporary racist social structure known as apartheid was underlined for them by Muhammed Jeppie, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Capetown and leader of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa.
Currently constituting about 10% of the population and with members from all racial designations, the majority of them classified as "coloured," Muslims have been in South Africa since the British and Dutch first started colonizing it in the late 17th Century. The first Muslims were brought as slaves, exiles and political prisoners from Southeast Asia, Jeppie said.
While apartheid per se is a late 20th-Century institution, racial oppression is as old as the colonizing of South Africa and from the start Muslims were victims of it, Jeppie said. However, over the years the people were "politically complacent," which he attributed to a leadership and clergy co-opted by the political structures.
Not so today, he said, describing the changing Muslim response to the current crisis. Dating the current turmoil to the economic, military and political crises of the 1970s that led to widespread resistance, culminating in the 1976 Soweto uprising, he called 1979 a turning point for Muslims.
Revolution in Iran
He said the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 had an impact, increasing Muslim consciousness, politicization and organizing. For some, he said, the cry became "one solution, Islamic revolution." Since 1970, he said, the Muslim Youth Movement, the Muslim Students Assn., the Qiba Muslim Movement, the Call of Islam and various professional and service organizations have been established.
Increasingly in the past few years, Jeppie said, "Muslim youth searched the Islamic heritage for Divine imperatives to struggle and fight the apartheid state."
And it was those same Islamic imperatives that were invoked at the Islamic center as the audience was urged to join the struggle, not so much because of the connection with Muslims in South Africa but because of the dictates of Islam, a word which means subjection to the will of God.
Although political realities were discussed, much of the discussion went deep into the roots of religion. Speakers described the perversion of Christianity that took place within the Dutch Reformed Church to justify racial separation and subjugation.
And they reminded their listeners of the ethical demands of Islam, with almost every speaker beginning his remarks, "In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful. . . . "
Abner Mariri, chairman of the South African Students Committee at UCLA, a dynamic, slight young man, said he first wanted to sing for them the Azanian anthem. (Azania is an African name for the land known as South Africa.)
"We will pray for such a man," Mariri said of the white South African, intoning his words with a mounting cadence. "And we will fight, not because we hate him, but because he interferes with God's program. He interferes with the people of God. We will take bombs if need be. . . . Our land was taken by force. It was maintained by force. It will take force to bring down South Africa."