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Living for Diversity

Living for Diversity

By Devan Moonsamy

Diversity as a ‘Festival of Sacrifice’ – but what kind of sacrifice?

Eid-ul-Adha is just ending, and I am reminded of the struggles many Muslims are undergoing for various reasons. Eid-ul-Adha is the Festival of Sacrifice, a commemoration of how Ibrahim’s (or Abraham’s) faith was tested by God, how he proved himself worthy, and how God approved of him for his incredible show of faith.

Something often pointed out is that, even though Ibrahim was willing to sacrifice his own son at God’s command, God prevented the actual killing, and supplied an animal to be sacrificed instead. Therefore, many conclude that the sacrifice of human life is not in fact required by God to prove faith.

It would seem that what one does in service of God and obedience while alive are more important. What service and obedience require exactly people will not necessarily agree on. Some believe it does include the sacrifice of human life, not just to prove faith, but also to seek revenge and carry out justice.

However, the majority of Muslims are really peace-loving people. They have been spending a lot of time in congregated prayer for the festival, and while the theme of sacrifice is important, thoughts of revenge and seeking justice for wrongs are not on their minds. Many religious people will agree that it is for God ultimately to judge and punish humans if they deserve it. Our limited knowledge cannot substitute for God’s omnipotence and wisdom.

Muslims have a strong desire to worship God as their sacred text instructs, and to work and socialise together in a wholesome and meaningful life. Involvement in ‘terrorism’ runs contrary to this way of life.

That is why millions of Muslims align with the #NotInMyName campaign. The campaign was originally started by Muslims in the UK, who state on their website ‘we utterly condemn ISIS who are abusing the name of Islam with their acts of terrorism.’ Muslims are saying that ISIS does not speak for them and is misrepresenting their faith.

I am reminded of the 2014 hostage crisis which took place in a café in Sydney, Australia. I relate what a Muslim man named Umar from Australia said soon after the incident. He was extremely upset and said some things which at first were unexpected. He agreed that Muslims are being given such a terrible reputation by these acts of terrorism. However, Umar said that Muslims are being given this burden to carry for some reason. They are being persecuted for their faith, and that is to be expected.

Umar’s main concern was for ‘the righteous name of Allah’. That God is used as a justification for taking people hostage and killing them – that is the worst part. Muslims don’t want to be labelled terrorists. But more than that, they don’t want their God associated with terrorism. It’s not what people think about Muslims as much as what they think of Allah, who is an all-merciful, all-compassionate God.

According to many people’s religious faiths, God has the power to bring people back to life, to heal them, even to place them in a paradise, heaven or state of Nirvana. So the things we suffer will eventually be completely gone and replaced with something far better. Even in the here and now, the issue is not about our human worries and complaints. For many religious people, it’s about steadfast faith and humility.

One can certainly sense strong humility from someone like Umar, and a willingness to sacrifice his life, but not through his death, through his living for God. This is not easy when people point to you as the bad guy because of this decision. What this really means is that people must live for God every day, acting out their faith in all they do.

It’s not about seeking a heroic and glorious death with a one-way ticket to paradise. In comparison to the daily struggles we all face, the fight to resist various temptations, the latter seems something of a cop-out.

Yet, Muslims whose daily lives are such a far cry from the labels of ‘terrorist’ or ‘criminal’ are still being pasted with them by the ignorant. Some years ago, alarming evidence came forward that the 9/11 attacks on the US were more part of a kind of secret civil war than the acts of foreign-based terrorists. We probably won’t be able to settle on the truth of this matter for years to come because of the repercussions for citizens’ trust in their government.

Not everyone in current generations may be ready to admit the truth because the ‘War on Terror’ is all too fresh. In fact, it’s not over. It has been going on for a shocking 17 years and has required a massive sacrifice of human life, and I would include those who live with the scars in their daily life as part of that group. It has been America’s longest war ever, and predictions are that it will continue for about the next six years!

This not what the vast majority of Muslims want, or what the vast majority of people worldwide want. So why does it continue? There are still people who are angry and afraid to the point that they won’t or can’t give up the fighting. After almost two decades of fighting, some may not even know another way of life.

The evidence is certainly hard to swallow, and leaves one with such a sick feeling – even as a South African who may never have been to the US. I wonder if a better term for this ongoing war is the ‘War for Terror’.

There is too little being said about the needs of Muslims and others who have been caught in the crossfire. There are millions of displaced refugees who are struggling to find a safe place to settle down where they are welcome and can start to rebuild their lives. Even where they are being taken in, they may remain ostracised by the broader community for generations.

In South Africa, we have been largely shielded from the effects of the war, because our government did not become involved. Nevertheless, South Africans have been tested on their tolerance and ability to embrace and leverage diversity for everyone’s benefit, and people everywhere are facing this test.

Will we be willing to sacrifice our own comfort and advantage for the sake of diversity? Will we live our lives with conviction in being part of the solution? Will the world in time reject the senseless sacrifice of lives in favour of a different sacrifice – a sacrifice we can celebrate as a festival of the much higher cause to live for peace, for harmony, and guided by love for one another?

Homophobic Violence: “It’s because their hearts are dead”

Homophobic Violence: “It’s because their hearts are dead” – By Devan Moonsamy 

Lest we forget: Banyana Banyana star Eudy Simelane

It has been 10 years since our Banyana Banyana soccer star Eudy Simelane was found gang raped, robbed and murdered. She was stabbed over 25 times. It is unfathomable that such brutality could ever be justified.

The reason for this heinous crime? Eudy was lesbian. In the decade since, it feels like we are no closer to overcoming this terrible persecution. Violence and abuse the world over against people of differing sexualities and gender identities is a reality. Our hearts go out to Simelane’s family who no doubt still feel the weight of her loss at the age of 31. Mally Simelane, Eudy’s mother, has said that she has finally found a way to forgive her daughter’s murderers.

What strength and humanity Eudy’s mother shows in the face of such devastation. Still, hate crimes such as this are destroying South African lives. And, what is more, it means that others like Simelane continue to live in fear, continue to hide who they are, simply because of some people’s complete intolerance for what is really none of their business at all.

The neighbourhood in which Simelane lived, KwaThemba on the East Rand in Gauteng, is said to be largely LGBTQ-friendly. Simelane may have felt safe, her family may have had a measure of confidence that she was accepted. As a result, the attack came as a massive shock to the community.

A long time has passed since Simelane’s death, but we mustn’t forget her. We mustn’t forget her bravery in living life as who she was, her advocacy for LGBTQ people, and as a soccer player in a male-dominated sport.

There have been many more recent cases, but this case is notable in that Eudy’s murderers were the first in South Africa to be convicted of so-called “corrective” rape. However, this characterisation doesn’t seem to apply, and LGBTQ organisations are guarded about the term as well.

Correction implies an attempt at discipline. This was extreme homophobic violence and a hate crime through and through that showed complete disregard for human life and dignity. Many South Africans will agree that such crimes are an offense against all of us, not only against people who are gay.

One such person is Bongi, a middle-aged woman from Mpumalanga. I feel that Bongi’s reaction to the issues gives considerable insight into the views of most South Africans. Her feelings on the issue, as an older member of a township community, should be taken very seriously, especially by those who purport to speak and act for communities, even believing they have a right to take justice into the own hands by attacking and somehow “correcting” homosexual people.

“You are killing the thing you think you are protecting”

What sparked an intense discussion was that Bongi recently heard those terrible words: “She deserved it”. This was not in reference to Eudy in this case, but another lesbian woman who was raped for so-called “corrective” purposes. Bongi seems shattered as she talks about it, she tries not to cry, but she can’t help it. She says she does not know the woman who was raped, but this person’s reaction continues to echo cruelly in her mind.

While Bongi can’t speak for everyone, I think her views on rape, and on homosexuality, will ring true for many South Africans: “I know there are murderers and rapists anywhere. It’s a fact of life. But when I hear them say ‘She deserved it,’ in front of me then I feel anger, and my bones are like on fire. I know if I don’t get away I am going to spit on this man.

“I also feel scared. It makes me scared of men. I can get scared just seeing some guys coming this way.”

When Bongi was asked if she would feel the same if a straight woman were raped compared to a lesbian, she said, “It’s the same… I don’t agree with people being lesbian or gays, but that is my feeling. It’s not for me to be playing God and deciding who is punished. It is not for anyone to take hate, or even thinking it is justice, as their excuse to do such things.

“It doesn’t matter if she sleeps in the bed with a man or a woman. She is doing her life, I am doing mine. If Eudy or this girl who was raped recently was my daughter, I would still say I love her. I would still say ‘Come to the house and let me meet the woman you are with.’… God is not going to punish me for that. Murders will be punished and rapists and men who rape even small girls, they are going to be seriously punished.

“My awareness is heightened because I am a South African woman. I have to be prepared for a possibility. We tell each other, you must be strong now. Don’t wait until it happens to try make yourself strong. Even the 12-year-old girl must know she has to be very strong, she must know the township has dangers.

“We tell the girls to always watch the men, and make sure they are not alone with any man. Even her uncle or brother can be dangerous. You think you can trust him. But then his friends get him drunk or get evil in his head.

“If there is a man around the place, she must rather go to the neighbour’s house and wait for her mother to come home. If some guy is giving her mother or sister trouble, she must scream. She must scream loud. And she must use the locks, and keep the house locked.

“Don’t these guys know how they destroy people’s trust? They destroy men’s dignity in addition. They destroy our dignity. They make themselves devils. They identifying themselves as devils…

“If a person is gay, it can be wrong, but I don’t know any gay people causing hate and violence… If you are violent and raping people, how can you say you are fixing a problem? What are you doing to help the community? You are not helping us. You are destroying us. You are killing the thing you think you are protecting, because we are one group of people, one group that is God’s children. It’s not gays outside and the rest of us under God. We are one people.”

Bongi was asked, “Why do you think these men did it? Was it only because the women are lesbian?” She replied, “It’s because their hearts are dead. Lesbian and gay people are just their excuse to be devils, their excuse to act out this kind of evil in them.”