The Perception of Islam and Muslims in South Africa and the World- An opinion Piece

By Rashaad Essop


Overview:


I really hate watching television. I’d rather peel paint off a wall and eat it.

That’s not to say that I don’t watch TV-I do. I just feel like I’ve become more than aware of the formula behind what are known as ratings, and the generally one-sided, non-interactive aspect of mass-broadcast media, so much so that I’d much rather be browsing the web, finding my own content instead of having it find me.

This was the approach I took when researching content, interviewing people and writing this article: to start off as if I knew nothing about what I was about to dive into and to be as objective as possible. What are the general perceptions of Muslims as of 2013 when taking into consideration so much information (and disinformation), content and worldviews bombarding us anytime we turn on the radio, television and even connect to our favourite websites?

In 1983 there were more than fifty mass-syndication news agencies pumping out news content in America. As of 2012, it was a mind-boggling six – six syndicators at the top of the pyramid. I mention this because I think they’re relevant. By not imposing TV upon myself, I don’t ingest much “hyped-up” news.  I do however, manage to stay as “current” as I deem necessary.

By The Media

The Kazi Saga in South Africa: Islamophobia?

“Nobody helped us. They wanted me dead also, but I survived,” Anser Mahmood reported to Sapa news agency in August 2012. “Two white people… they called him [Osama] bin Laden in Afrikaans because of his beard…and then they called us kaffirs.” Onislam.net 1

According to a family friend, Mohammed Fayaaz Kazi was allegedly beaten to death by two Afrikaans-speaking men who insulted him because of his beard. I looked at the coverage style of this incident by several news sources, but selected the following four most influential:

  • OnIslam – a South African journal      dealing mostly with news affecting the Muslim community:

The grisly murder has sparked widespread condemnation of Islamophobia in the African country.1

  • Mail & Guardian:

The “savage” attack on two Muslim men in the North West carried “the stench of Islamophobia“, former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils said.2

  • International Business      Times, US Edition:

Only days after a Neo-Nazi white supremacist massacred six Sikhs in the United States, two bearded Muslims were attacked in South Africa by two white Afrikaners, with one of the Muslims dying.3

  • Eyewitness News

Earlier in August, the two men allegedly beat Kazi and his friend at a fast-food outlet in Magaliesburg in an apparent Islamophobic attack.4

The above exercise was not to delve too much into the incident itself, but find at the very least mentions of terms such as, terrorism, Islamophobia or Al Qaeda (or a combinations of these terms) which directly or indirectly place Islam in a particularly negative light. Alas, this incident was quickly dubbed an “Islamophobic” attack.

Other Incidents Involving Assault in South Africa: Islamophobia?

  • In 2011 a Muslim youngster      was assaulted by 8 policemen. 12
    • Was it an Islamophobic       attack? The victim was Muslim, in his twenties- Very difficult to say.
  • Every now and then an  Islamic veil-banning issue comes to the      fore internationally 14
    • Islamophobic? Perhaps

 

 

What is ISLAMOPHOBIA?

Definition: Is·lam·o·pho·bi·a noun /isˌläməˈfōbēə/  /iz-/ A hatred or fear of Islam or Muslims, esp. when feared as a political force18

According to the Vanguard episode “Islamophobia”, available on Youtube, there are violent movements growing in numbers in the UK and US that are completely anti-Islam. The findings of these are “sometime arguably legitimate [referring to 9/11 and media reports on “terror”], much of them – unfounded”. One of the largest of these movements, the EDN is only a few years old, its founder one Tommy Robinson. The thing is; his movement is not truly Islamophobic. They just enjoy violence and infamy.

Without writing a 600 page book on the Media I’ve tried showing how buzzwords tend to have certain implications and generate a sometimes “false” perception of the truth. Using the word Islamophobia, whilst not directly implying that Muslims are ‘the bad guys’, does in fact portray Muslims’ as ‘victims‘. In short, news, if it is to be as objective as possible, should avoid generalizations especially when covering topics on peoples and their respective religions and cultures.

 Authors Note: As a prelude to the next section of this article, I would like to point out that one gets a clearer picture of the perceptions and core emotions of the public opinion when becoming the journalist-interviewing people at the ground level, asking questions and discussing themes- rather than succumbing to the journalism doing desktop research via the web and newspapers

By the People

Q: What is your perception of Muslims?

Out of curiosity I asked a Canadian what he thought of Muslims where he resided:

Miguel,

“Muslims, like most people I have met, are very nice people, but there are some hotheads like in any religion”, says Miguel Z – a Canadian living and working in America.

Miguel: “I think that some Muslims who live in western nations isolate themselves from the broader society purposefully, which can cause problems and just like in any other religion, there are some hotheads”

 

Q: Have you met any, though? Or is your perception based solely on media reporting’s, for instance?

 

Miguel: I work with several Muslims. The two founders of the company I work for are Muslim (one is from Tanzania and the other is from Pakistan). Several employees perform their prayers in our office daily. However, I have noticed that they often get into arguments with one other regarding their different viewpoints on Islam.

This is not uncommon, I believe. One of my colleagues is a part-time Imam at a local Mosque and sees a lot of situations where an American Muslim marries a foreign Muslim and they often wind up having inter-faith arguments around marital expectations and the role of women in Islam.

Furthermore, all three of my colleagues get frustrated with their fellow Muslim brothers and sisters who don’t want to “fit in” with their line of thinking.

 

Miguel and I do business together, but often chat over Skype on various issues. We often discuss highly controversial topics such as US foreign policy, invasions etc. He knows I’m a Muslim, and South African, yet feels comfortable speaking to me as an equal. He also has a very high opinion of South Africans in general.

Miguel once mentioned something interesting: He said that George W Bush never publicly condemned Muslims during his term as president. Not once. His immediate response to the 9/11 attacks included a public message to Muslims around the world. He didn’t declare war on Islam, nor did he incite Islamophobia. “We respect your faith”, He once said. Miguel is right. Bush didn’t publicly condemn the Muslim diaspora, nor has Obama in recent times- (http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/09/george-w-bush-on-muslim-americans-immediately-after-911/ ).

Chris- the South-African, “South-Korean”

Chris – late twenties, married – was born and bred in South Africa. He currently lives and works in South Korea.

Living abroad has really opened my eyes to a lot of things,” he writes in his mail to me.:

I think that as a group Muslims in South Africa are viewed in a positive light. I am not strictly religious myself, and I think that this helps me to see each religious group without prejudice.

I think that the vast majority of Muslims are kind, giving people. I am yet to meet a follower of Islam who would treat me poorly for any reason at all. I feel that Muslims are sometimes seen in a poor light because of the way that the (US and European) media portrays them. Sure there are some extreme Muslims, but the same can be said of pretty much any other religion. I think that this label is unjust and bears no connection to what Islam means to most Muslims.

Nasiem – Malay, Muslim

“Are you sure?” he asks me.

I’ve just told him to hold nothing back when detailing his views, irrespective of the truth behind them. It’s the same thing I said to all my interviewees.

Nasiem, a Business Management graduate in his late twenties describes himself as Malay, and comes across as something between upset and confused about his perception of Muslims in the world, as well as South Africa.

“There are divisions amongst us,” he says, after a few moments thought, “something, I cannot pinpoint exactly, is dividing us. For instance, there is inter-cultural conflict between Malays and Indians from where I come from”

Yusuf – Businessman, Early Fifties, agrees with Nasiem

”There is disunity between Malays and Indians in this country”, Furthermore, Yusuf, a seasoned businessman mentions that many Muslims do not practice their faith as they claim to and that some of them are “the biggest crooks” and “gamblers” that he knows.

An Online Chatroom

At one point, I pushed the boundaries of common decency and flat out asked on a chatroom whether they thought of the word “terrorist” when I mentioned the word “Muslim”. Boy did I get a tongue-lashing:

If there was anything I learnt during the writing of this article), it’s that everyone has a different viewpoint on the same topic, It seems that in general, people think of others as just people, not as adherents of the religion they follow. Rarely is an entire religion targeted.


Conclusion

In conclusion, it seems as if both Muslims and non-Muslims alike have varying perceptions of Islam as a faith and Muslims, as people. Whilst many judge Muslims as “just people”, the media on the other hand has encouraged, wittingly or unwittingly, a negative perception of Islam; the impact of this, having in certain instances, brandished and labelled Muslims in a negative light.

 

Footnotes:

¹ http://www.onislam.net/english/news/africa/458490-beard-murder-shocks-south-africa-muslims.html

² http://mg.co.za/article/2012-08-08-muslim-man-beaten-to-death-over-beard

³ http://www.ibtimes.com/echoes-wisconsin-massacre-bearded-muslim-murdered-south-africa-white-supremacists-742598

http://ewn.co.za/2012/08/22/Islamophobic-killer-denied-bail

¹⁰ http://ewn.co.za/2013/02/27/Viviers-denied-bail-a-second-time

¹¹ http://ewn.co.za/2013/03/25/Muslim-beard-murder-case-postponed

¹² http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Student-charges-8-cops-for-assault-20110225

¹⁴ http://www.news24.com/World/News/France-moves-to-outlaw-burqa-20100124

¹⁸https://encrypted.google.com/search?num=20&hl=en&q=Islamophobia&tbs=dfn:1&tbo=u&sa=X&ei=VtvRUdL1MIOR7Aa_n4DIBw&ved=0CCwQkQ4&biw=1600&bih=753

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2 Comments

  • I agree with your findings in this article. I find it interesting (as a non-Muslim) to hear about the differences that exist between followers of Islam from different parts of the world. Makes sense though. My brother is a converted Muslim (raised Catholic) and he has only had good interactions with the Muslim community (in South Africa, Indonesia and Canada). I think that the media has a VERY important role to play, and they need to use phrases and words without any type of connotation attached to it.

    • Thanks @tintin (and welcome to Irtiqa). I do intend on exploring the Media side of things because as you have mentioned, it’s very influential in our lives. Not to mention DESIGNED to shape the masses’ wants, thoughts and impulses.

      It’s not all fruit and Yogi Sip (or however the expression goes), though… In the Muslim communities there are bad elements and individuals too.

      I will (Insha-Allah / God-willing) cover these criteria in a future instalment.

      – Rashaad

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