Ganief Hendricks tells us how and why he wants Shariah Law in South Africa
Well known for his “LABOUR LAW FOR ALL” slot on a community radio station that captured the imagination of hundreds and thousands of listeners in Cape Town will he have the same success with shariah law and get ”ISLAMIC RULE FOR ALL” ?
He looked nothing like the picture. Alright, maybe not nothing like it, but the face on his election poster was definitely slightly thinner, and his hair with not quite so many grays. Even though I had had this image as a reference point to give me some kind of idea what this man looked like before I met him, for some reason he did not meet my expectations. I suppose my own inner closed mindedness drew up all sorts of stereotypical images when I read about his links to alleged Islamic extremists and his desire to bring Shariah Law to South Africa. But there standing before me with a smile on his face he looked more like the Muslim version of Santa Claus would if there were one. This was him, Mogamad Ganief Ebrahim Hendricks, founder and leader of the political party Al Jama- ah. Once again lead by my own judgment of something I did not and admittedly still do not quite understand I thought to myself, ‘well he seems nice. Devout Muslim he may be, why would he want to impose something like Shariah Law on the entire country?’ As if reading my mind he asked the question for me: ‘With all the negativity attached to Shariah Law across the globe, why on earth would a political party with any hope whatsoever of ever wanting to achieve any real kind of success through democratic means attach themselves to it?’. His response was, “There are things that we can take and learn from Islam and Shariah Law and because Muslims have such a deep history in South African politics I do not understand why we are not taking part and sharing the shariah with lawmakers. A political party must have an ideological framework. We are going to follow the ideological framework of Islam and it is obviously the Shariah, it can’t be anything else.”
The mixture of religion and the state in itself is a sticky issue, so how exactly would it work to govern a predominantly Christian country with the laws of Islam? To stress the relevance of Islam to South African politics Hendricks too me back all the way to the 17th Century Cape under Dutch rule and told me the story of Sheikh Yusuf, the founder of Islam in South Africa who, centuries later, was awarded the Oliver Tambo medal in Gold by former president, Thabo Mbeki, for laying the foundation for freedom in South Africa. He spoke with reverance about Tuan Guru who wrote the first laws on liberation while incarcerated on Robben Island.
Whilst imprisoned on Robben Island for twelve years, Tuan Guru wrote the Quran from memory as well as a number of his own writings. He used this to teach Islam to his fellow prisoners. The slaves, free blacks and the local Malays found themselves attracted to Islam because it called not only for tolerance between the races, but went further and called for anti- racism. “They liked the fact that it told them that the white man was not their God and had no rights over their bodies and that the white man was not superior to the black man,” Hendricks said. Malays who vote for the DA have still not shaken off this tendency to see the white man as God I quipped.
It was the pioneers of Islam in the Cape like Tuan Guru, who first started to speak about the merge between religion and politics. Hendricks agrees with this saying, “You can’t be a good Muslim by just worshipping, you need to merge politics with the Shariah.” I will persuade the Ulema one day to take part in the political life of the country and maybe the Mufti can be the President of the country. “With his long beard and khurta” I asked but no response.
Now it’s really great that in the 17th Century a Muslim Imam helped to spread new ideas of thinking that would inspire a struggle for freedom, but is that really enough reason for one religion to impose their will on an entire nation? According to Hendricks, Shariah Law can be used to help the government in areas in which they are struggling such as the protecting of children and orphans and family law. In the event of a divorce, the system right now would most likely award custody of a girl child to the mother, “It seems to make sense,” Hendricks says, “A girl will need her mother growing up in to a woman.” However, according to Shariah Law, the father must be awarded custody of his daughters. This is because they apparently need to be protected from their future step father. “Most step fathers rape and abuse their step children. You think this sounds far fetched? Speak to social workers, some step fathers seem to have this natural tendency,” Hendricks says.
Another example he brought up was inheritance upon the death of a parent. Although a third of possessions can be given to whomever the deceased chose, the rest must be divided a certain way according to the Shariah rules. This is done as a way to try to maintain a balance of wealth. But why not just leave a will rather than making it a law for the entire country? Because as it is now with it being an option it cannot serve its purpose to balance the wealth in a family and thus the community because not enough people are doing it.
Hendricks thinks an Islamic state in South Africa is possible this century. Obviously he will not be there if and when it happens but he believes he is on the right track to lay down the foundations for this. He plans to work on this one step at a time and is currently trying to use the Philippine MPL model to bring about limited Shariah law to the Muslim community only. This model has been working for 34 years, where the Muslim are 13% of the country are able to practice the limited Shariah Law in matters relating to Muslim family law. The shariah trumps the Constitution and is part of the laws of the land with no government and judicial interference. Through shariah courts they are able to maintain a certain level of self determination with regards to issues of marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody of the children. South Africa’s own Chief Justice wanted a shariah court for Muslims
Hendricks hopes that the Muslim community in South Africa can do the same using Section 31 of the Bill of Rights which allowed for gay and lesbian marriages in the country and which a small white community are trying to use to form a boerestat. Hendricks makes it clear, that they do not want complete separation, just the ability to control these personal matters. Besides the ones mentioned before, marriage is important as to this day despite the fact that marriages in Christian churches are recognized by the state, those done in Mosques are not. Hendricks says, “It is complicated because you cannot get married in a mosque and promise to follow the laws of marriage according to the Shariah and then go and sign a South African marriage license that says you will follow the national marriage laws. You cannot go against your faith, so it is a problem.”
Once they have managed to achieve this portal, Hendricks hopes that as the country sees the way Shariah Laws can work positively, they will be able to shake off some of the stigma attached to them and show that they are something that the nation can learn from. He hopes this will lead to people turning to these laws for help in cases where other solutions have failed so they will spread and lead to a government in which politics and the Shariah have merged. Hendricks did want to stress that an Islamic state did not mean its entire people would have to follow the Islamic religion but non- Muslims would only follow the Shariah laws to the extent to which they would have a positive effect on their lives. An example he used was the criminal justice system. He emphasized that this can only be put into place where it is certain that for instance a theft such as crime was done out of greed rather than need. In this instance non- Muslims would not be subject to Shariah Law which would have them have their hand chopped off but would suffer some other penalty that their Muslim counterparts.
With this basic understanding of what Hendricks hopes to achieve and why, why should people, Muslims and non- Muslims alike, believe that him and his party can bring about a positive change? Besides his friendly demeanor, Hendricks has had many achievements in his lifetime. These include founding the Muslim Student Association; receiving and award for being a pioneer of the internet in South Africa the same year he was called, ‘The most influential person in Cape Town’, a best selling book, and being part of the leadership of Radio 786, to name a few. Hendricks is now the General Secretary of the Trade Union, ‘Workers Against Regression’ which fights for the rights of people with sensory and physical disabilities. He won a settlement against the government to get them a Provident Fund a ground breaking achievement for this disadvantaged sector of the South African population.
Despite all these positive achievements, Hendricks also has some affiliations which some people may consider to be questionable. Hendricks was the first Founding PRO (spin doctor) of the Islamic Unity Convention, with Achmed Cassiem, the man who formed the group Qibla as the chair after Dr Sheikh Abdul Kariem Toffar the most respected religious leader in the country stepped down. Qibla is a group that some people believe is still active and believe participates in organized violence in the name of Islamic extremism. Hendricks explains that Qibla is very much a thing of the past and that it was not an extremist group, but rather a group that helped in the liberation of South Africa from Apartheid.
He says, “In the 1970 people went for training in Libya. I also went but I went more for organizational training. Organizations for liberation and other Muslims went for military training for how to use guns and grenades and those things and also brought them in down through Africa for the ANC. It was important that they went for this training, imagine you are trying to use a grenade, you throw it wrong and then you all die. Anyway they were then able to train other people in South Africa. They kept the weapons in the Northern Cape. The people in Qibla are some of the most peaceful people I know.”
Another incident occurred when Hendricks was working at Radio 786 where they were accused of anti- Semitism by the Jewish Board of Deputies. With regards to this Hendricks wanted to make one thing clear before he responded, “In all media if you say anything about the holocaust you’re dead. They have a special fund and monitoring unit that monitors radio stations 24 hours a day.” He continued, “When this incident occurred, the station decided that we were not going to apologize. Some Scottish historian came on one of our shows and said that only 1 million people died in the holocaust not 6 million and that most of them died of diseases in the camps not because of what Hitler did.” The station felt they did not need to apologize because they did not any way espouse the opinions of this man and did not feel their right to freedom of speech should be violated. The Jewish Board of Deputies took them on and the resulting cases brought on constitutional changes in favor of the stations case. Hendricks believes there was a holocaust against Jews and all holocausts that followed in Rwanda and Palestine must be remembered. The Jewish one according to him has been the most tragic.
Also, prior to the 1994 election, Hendricks was part of a group encourage the people of South Africa not to vote because they did no approve of the sunset votes that meant the whites would maintain economic power. This same group was accused of threatening Independent Electoral Commission workers. Hendricks claims this was a ploy, as at the time they were still trying to set up Radio 786, and these allegations would likely lead to ICASA not granting them a license. In any case the group visited the offices of the women who had allegedly been threatened, “We brought them flowers and wished them well and said do your jobs as part of the democracy,” Hendricks said. Hendricks did however vote. I was active in the Free Mandela Campaign forcing the MJC at the time to call for his release. How could I not vote for him at the first opportunity.
With regards to global Islamic groups, Hendricks is sure there are no extremist groups working in South Africa, “I would know,” he says, “I would be one of the first port of calls, the elderly.” Despite admitting he would be the one who may be contacted Hendricks made it clear where he stood with regards to groups like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. He says, “I cannot identify with any liberation movement that does not protect lives of women and children in their operations. I have no respect for them and I will not support them.”
Back to South African politics, there are other Islamic parties besides Al Jama- ah. The African Muslim Party have been competing in election since 1994 and have not been able to achieve any really kind of significant success, what is different about Al Jama- ah? Hendricks responded by saying, “The AMP received R1 million in 1994 to compete in the elections but they didn’t build structures. They just waved flags and started a party. “We expect the DA to start an Islamic Party to split the Muslim vote.” Maybe not now but in 2011
So now how does the party plan to move forward with the momentous task it has set for itself? “At the moment I have a seven year plan. I founded the party on the 20th of April, 2007 so we are now in our 4th year. Although we were not able to win a seat in parliament in this year’s election we still managed to get 30000 or so odd votes and create national awareness about the Party. We are now working on building structures,” he says and will contest all the wards in the 2011 municipal elections in Cape Town which is our stronghold. Despite that Hendricks will never know if after all his effort he succeeded he seems just as dedicated to his goal.
GANIEF HENDRICKS AND AL JAMA-AH IS TAKING THE LEAD IN GETTING LEGAL CONSEQUENCES FOR MUSLIM MARRIAGES IN SOUTH AFRICA SAYING THAT THOSE IN FAVOUR AND AGAINST THE BILL MUST NOW FOCUS ON THE WAY FORWARD. THE PARTY IS RECOGNISED BY THE SOUTH GAUTENG HIGH COURT AS A REPRESENTATIVE BODY OF MUSLIMS. THE COURT ORDERED THAT IT GETS THE VIEWS OF MUSLIMS ON THE MUSLIM MARRIAGES BILL AND COMMUNICATE IT TO GOVERNMENT AFTER GETTING AN EXTENSION FROM GOVERNMENT TO EXTEND THE DEADLINE FOR COMMENTS IN AN APPLICATION BY A CONCERNED HUMAN RIGHTS BODY TO THE HIGH COURT. THE APPLICATION WAS NOT SUPPORTED BY MAINSTREAM MUSLIM RELIGIOUS BODIES LIKE THE MJC AND UUCSA AT THE COURT HEARING ACCUSED OF NOT EDUCATING THEIR CONGREGATIONS ABOUT THE DIRE CONSEQUENCES OF THE BILL. THEY DO SO NOW AFTER THE COURT ACTION.THE PARTY WILL ADVISE THE GOVERNMENT TO WITHDRAW THE BILL. INSTEAD OF THE BILL THE PARTY WANTS THE SHARIAH TO TRUMP THE CONSTITUTION, A SHARIAH COURT AND THE TRIBUNALS ON MARITAL DISPUTES SET UP BY THE FOUNDING FATHERS OF ISLAM IN SOUTH AFRICA TO BE STRENGHTENED. THE PARTY HAS DECLARED A NON VIOLENT JIHAAD TO GET THIS BY CHANGING THE CONSTITUTION OF THE COUNTRY AS A FIRST STEP AND GETTING A FOOT IN THE DOOR IN THE NEW LAW (SUPERIOR COURTS BILL 2010) TO RESTRUCTURE THE COURTS IN SOUTH AFRICA WHOSE JUDICIAL STRUCTURES IS STILL BASED ON APARTHEID TODAY .
Interview with Ganief Hendricks /Al jama- ah Party Manifesto Available online at localhost:8888/aljama
‘Terrors South African Front,’ by Josh Lefkowitz. Available online at http://www.inthenationalinterest.com/Articles/Vol3Issue33/Vol3Issue33Lefkowtiz.html