Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Exploitation of the Hujjaaj

For the Ummah

The Hajj business in South Africa is worth about R210-million per year, assuming an average hajj package of R30,000.00 per hujjaaj, and 7000 hujjaaj leaving the shores of South Africa.

The sale of air tickets is controlled by the Association of South Africa Travel Agents (ASATA)-affiliated Travel Agents of which Travel Unlimited, Sure Flywell Travel and Wembley Travel are members. Therefore, the air ticket monopoly for the hajj is controlled by these three organisations.

In 2005, Sure Flywell Travel amassed a net profit (i.e. after expenses were deducted) of R10-million for air ticket sales alone i.e. this figure excludes accomodation package profits.

If Sure Flywell Travel can achieve this level of profit, the chances are good that the other two companies are achieving similar profit margins. This is not unrealistic considering the R210-million value of Hajj packages.

This type of exploitation of the poor is unacceptable and must be rectified immediately. The question is: What is the Ummah going to do about it?

It is obvious that this type of problem cannot be left to the so-called "leaders" of the Ummah, as they themselves have proved that they are not capable of resolving problems or even setting direction for the Ummah. Many of them (not all) are part of the problem. The founding member organizations of SAHUC and the Executive's of SAHUC is as responsible as the Travel Agents for allowing the exploitation.

For as long as the Ummah remains ignorant and apathetic, they will always be lead astray. The time has come to mobilise and educate one another of how we are being mislead by prominent individuals in order to enrich themselves.

Why are we not marching to the SAHUC and Travel Agent's offices to demand lower Hajj Package prices? Because we allow ourselves to be used and we are quite content with it.

Muhammad al-Haq

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Proud Muslim, Stupid Muslim

Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuh,

Just recently, while in Pakistan and Jordan, I was boasting about what a great place South Africa is- we have almost total freedom of speech, freedom of expression and most importantly freedom of religion. Freedoms that many others in so-called ‘Islamic Countries’ can only dream of! There are almost no obstacles to us in terms of religious practices, beliefs, etc.

But I almost found myself having to eat my words. News on the internet was that there was troubling brewing back home- internal conflict in our wonderful community: Camperdown had made public statements that upset Al-Ansaar, who retaliated with lawyers’ letters. The finer details can be found at www.alinaam.org.za and I really wouldn’t want to get into that.

The reason I bring up this issue, which some would rather have swept under the carpet, is an institution called The Rand Corporation- a non-profit research organization based in the US. It is a well established and influential think tank that has the reputation of being objective in its approach. It publishes occasional papers on Islam and Muslims that have been thoughtful and provocative. (www.rand.org)

Over a year ago, Cheryl Benard published a paper entitled Civil Democratic Islam. The paper opens with ‘There is no question that contemporary Islam is in a volatile state, engaged in an internal and external struggle over its values, its identity, and its place in the world. Rival versions are contending for spiritual and political dominance…’ Following along the same lines, it goes on to discuss how, if not dealt with strategically, Muslim communities around the world, will provide endless problems. (http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR1716/MR1716.sum.pdf)

Now frankly, I believe that the entire report is highly disappointing and of poor quality. But there is an interesting strategy that is presented, which I believe is important for Muslims to be aware of. It suggests identifying different groups of Muslims and then, how to play one against the other to further a particular agenda. Now while only the foolish would suggest that sinister forces can be working locally in our fairly well organised community, we should not be naïve to think that there is no possibility of external interferences. (See: http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2004/sth-africa.htm )

According to the report, Muslims are broken down into four categories: Fundamentalists, Traditionalists, Modernists and Secularists. This alone indicates the failure of the author to correctly analyse Muslim communities. It then goes on to describe the groups as follows:

·Fundamentalists want to impose and expand the strict observance of Islam- which they often interpret in eccentric ways not always supported by orthodox texts and sources- through force, violence, terrorism, and any other means necessary, the report says.

·Traditionalists tend not to challenge the state, but oppose terrorism and violence. However, they are often uncomfortable with modernity, and many of them lack education, even about the essence of their own religion, relying instead on superstitions and local tradition. In many places, they have contributed to stagnation and inertia, and have not helped their societies prosper and progress.

·Modernists and secularists are more closely aligned with the West in their values and policies, though the more extreme secularists can hold radical views that place them beyond the bounds of democracy. Modernists support reform in the hope that the Islamic world becomes part of contemporary global society.

·Secularists go even further, urging Muslims to accept the Western idea of a separation between religion and the state, relegating religion to a private matter.

Few Muslims around the world will fit into only a single one of these categories. More so in the South African context: we have some ‘traditionalists’ now becoming actively involved in the political arena while others are still condemning television and media. We also have ‘modernists’ who are achieving remarkable results in their efforts while others seem to be merely serving their own agendas under an Islamic banner.

But while the report is riddled with misconceptions and inconsistencies, it does teach us an important lesson- without unity in the Muslim community, we expose ourselves to the influences of external forces.

But unity does also not always achieve desired or optimum results- Muslim economists cite the current banking developments as proof of this. In Britain, some ‘traditionalist’ and ‘modernists’ have come together to endorse products of a major conventional bank. Some Muslim scholars call this unlikely marriage ‘the beginning of the end of any truly Islamic economic system.’ (Muslim Council of Britain with Mufti Taqi Usmani and others have sanctioned HSBC bank in the UK. )

Looking back in history, we find that there have always been conflicting differences of opinion in the Muslim Ummah- the challenge is to deal with these challenges in the appropriate Islamic manner. Those who disagree need to engage in constructive dialogue and debate in the proper Islamic manner. The same for us in South Africa- transparent, polite, open and constructive discussion whenever a difference in opinion exists.

Achieving unity in our community will not be an easy task- the youth of today need to swallow their pride and learn from the mistakes of those before them. By doing this they can strive for a united Muslim community. The calibre of the next generation in all the different institutions, organisations, and groups gives us hope that we can achieve this and take Islam and Muslims to the heights once enjoyed. As history has showed us time and time again- a Proud Muslim is most definitely a Stupid Muslim…