by Na'eem Jeenah
Muslim opposition to colonialism and apartheid in South Africa began soon after the arrival of the first Muslims in the Cape Colony in the mid-17th Century. Various acts of resistance through the centuries highlighted the opposition of the Muslim community to the oppression it faced. From the late 1960s, Muslims began playing a role in the struggle against apartheid in excess to what their numbers might suggest. Many of these Muslims joined the various liberation movements that were active: the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress, the Black Consciousness Movement, the South African Communist Party, and other socialist or nationalist organisations. From the 1970s, an increasing number of Muslims and Muslim organisations joined the struggle as Muslims. Anti-apartheid resistance, then, increasingly came to be
characterised as a ‘jihad’ by the protagonists who argued that this jihad was an Islamic duty upon all Muslims. This was especially so in the 1980s when a number of Muslim organisations and individuals involved in the anti-apartheid struggle argued that they did so because they were thus commanded by the Qur’an and that such involvement constituted ‘jihad’. This paper will examine the arguments put forward to justify this position and will evaluate the arguments justifying the notion of jihad that became popular in the 1980s in South Africa in comparison to the mainstream Muslim position regarding jihad. The paper argues that the South African anti-apartheid struggle thus developed a novel conception of jihad. It will also highlight some of the South African offshoots of the ‘anti-apartheid jihad’, such as the ‘gender jihad’.
Na’eem Jeenah is the Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre and a PhD candidate in Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand.