Seerah conference held in Pretoria

Developing Just Leadership

Fatima Noor

Rajab 14, 1422 2001-10-01

Islamic Movement

by Fatima Noor (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 15, Rajab, 1422)

The inseparability of the various aspects and facets of the Islamic movement was demonstrated at the ICIT’s International Seerah Conference in Pretoria from September 21-23. The conference’s main purpose was the discussion of the Seerah “from a power perspective” is part of the ICIT’s Seerah research project launched in line with the ideas of the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui; but its program also included a special session on the intifada in Palestine, which was expanded to take in also the US response to the bombing of the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre, the subject on everyone’s mind.

This special session took place on the evening of September 22, and ran long into the night, finishing shortly before midnight. It began with presentations by Sister Hanan Ramahi and her mother, Sr Lutfia Mustafa Ramahi, on conditions in Palestine. As the political circumstances of the intifada are well known, the ICIT had decided to focus on the human experience of life under Zionist occupation. The sisters, who live in Ramallah in the West Bank, are both returnees to Palestine from America and run a school for the children of other returnees.

Their account of the plight and commitment of ordinary Palestinians, and particularly children, was heart-rending. As well as the economic hardships caused by the zionist embargo, the routine harassment from zionist troops, and the risk of attack from helicopters and aircraft, the children and staff regularly face difficulties getting to school. The school administration, meanwhile, is hampered by financial problems because so many parents are unable to pay their children’s fees. Meanwhile the school faces competition from missionary schools run by evangelical Christian organizations based in the US, France and Germany. After their presentations Zafar Bangash, Director of the ICIT, arranged collections for the school which raised thousands of dollars and should help with their work, insha’Allah.

The main business of the special session, however, consisted of presentations by Zafar Bangash and Imam Mohammed al-Asi analysing the events surrounding the attack on the US and possible reasons and motivations for it. Both emphasised the impossibility of ever knowing who was actually responsible, as the investigation is in the hands of wholly unreliable parties, but pointed out the many anomalies, inconsistencies and blatant falsehoods in the US’s account of its investigation and the many indications that other parties, such as the Israeli secret service, Mossad, may have been involved. They also examined the likely aims and objectives of the American response to the attacks. Their presentations were followed by the most intense panel discussion of the conference, even if it did take place after the bedtime of most adults present, let alone children.

At the same time, the ICIT was determined that its main object, the discussion of the Seerah, should not be overshadowed, despite the fact that Imam Abdul Alim Musa had been held up in the USA as a result of the attacks, and missed the conference. As Zafar Bangash said, the conference is part of the main work of the Islamic movement, the task of creating a new model for Islamic states and societies in order that the western domination over the Muslim world can be reversed; thus it too is very relevant at a time when the West is projecting its power into the Muslim world more aggressively than at any time since its occupation of the Arabian peninsula after the Gulf War.

The conference opened after maghrib on Friday September 21, with a session featuring two major presentations by the ICIT’s senior figures, Zafar Bangash and Imam al-Asi. As Director of the ICIT and host of the conference, Zafar Bangash presented the conference’s keynote paper, “The Seerah as a Model for the Transformation of Society” [see p. 8]. In a wide-ranging presentation, he highlighted key aspects of the Seerah that are particularly relevant to the task facing the Islamic movement today, in particular the approach of the Prophet (saw) to relations with non-Muslims and his strategies for changing society along Islamic lines. He also presented new ideas on interpreting aspects of the Seerah, and outlined lessons that we can draw from these interpretations for addressing the problems we face in the modern world.

Imam Mohammed al-Asi’s main paper for the conference was “The Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) dealings with the Bani Israel”. In this paper, he closely re-examined the Prophet’s experience and strategies for dealing with the Jews of Madinah after the hijrah. In a substantial paper, which he presented in two separate sections on the first and last days of the conference, he particularly highlighted the parallels between the issues that the Prophet faced in dealing with them and the problems being set the Ummah today by the zionist state, Israel, and the global power of zionism. (This paper and others presented at the conference will be published on the ICIT website,, shortly.)

Although the second day of the conference will be remembered mainly for the special session in the evening, there were also a number of substantial contributions in the afternoon sessions. The main papers of the day were presented by Iqbal Siddiqui, editor of Crescent International, and Bala Muhammad from Nigeria. Iqbal Siddiqui spoke on “The Centrality of Social Justice in the Seerah and Islam”, suggesting that the institutions of state that the Prophet (saw) established in Madinah after the hijrah should be understood not as a new direction of work for him, but as consolidating and formalising the steps he had earlier taken in Makkah for solidarity among Muslims there and the promotion of the new community as a collectively just and moral society. Emphasising that he did not intend to minimise the importance of state and social institutions in Islam, particularly in the contemporary Islamic movement, he suggested that the work of the Islamic movement needs to be understood in terms of using such institutions for the promotion of collective morality and Islamic social justice, rather than viewing their establishment as an end in itself.

Bala Muhammad presented a paper on Social Reform and the Shari’ah in Nigeria, tracing the history of the Islamic movement in Nigeria from its origins with the movement of Shaikh Uthman dan Fodio, to the current movement for shari’ah in the country’s northern states. He also discussed some of the limitations and problems of the current programmes for implementing shari’ah without the framework of an Islamic state, for example in the states’ dealings with the non-Muslim-dominated federal government.

Local speakers on the second day of the conference included Ismail Munshi of the Auqaf Foundation of South Africa, who discussed the new organization’s plans for empowerment of the Muslim community in South Africa through this traditional Islamic economic institution, Dr Faizal Kalla, who spoke on “Principles and Practices for the Promotion of Social Morality”, with particular reference to some of the problems being faced by young Muslims in the new South Africa, and Dr Khadija Maloi of Rand Afrikaner University, who spoke on “Women as natural leaders – an Islamic perspective”, with particular reference to da’wah efforts in South Africa.

The third day began with a paper by Dr G M Karrim of South Africa, “The Power of Prophetic Medicine”. This was followed by Dr Perwez Shafi of the ICIT in Karachi, Pakistan, who presented a paper on “The Concept oF a Model Islamic State”, in which he discussed the processes by which an Islamic state could be established in the modern world, several hundred years after the development of Islamic societies was interrupted by western colonialism.

Also in the afternoon, Shabbir Banobhai of South Africa spoke briefly on “Aspects of Spirituality” before Maulana Faiz al-Aqtab Siddiqui, principal of the Hjaz Islamic University in Britain, spoke on “The Prophet Muhammad (saw)’s strategy for establishing an Islamic state”. His presentation was particularly appreciated as he had only arrived in South Africa that morning and was due to return to London the same evening, literally a flying visit to attend the conference.

After asr, the conference was addressed by Professor Jahan Ara Lutfi, of the Shaykh Zayd Islamic Centre at Karachi University, Pakistan, who spoke on “The Contribution of Women during the Prophetic Era”, and Ahmad Motiar of Toronto, Canada.

The closing session of the conference featured talks by Sr Waheeda Carvello of Al-Ghazali College in Erasmia, Pretoria, where the conference was held. She spoke on “The Prophetic Model for Education”, linking the Seerah to her experiences as a teacher and educator at the Al-Ghazali College, as well as the wider experience of being Muslim in South Africa.

The conference was closed by Zafar Bangash with another wide-ranging paper, this time on “The Prophet’s Impact on Youth and Women”, in which he emphasised the way that the Prophetic mission had drawn in those most disadvantaged in pre-Islamic Arabian society, given them dignity and justice in Islamic society, and enabled and encouraged them to play a positive role in the affairs of the new Muslim community. He pointed out bluntly that many of our problems in this field can be solved without an Islamic state.

Like previous conferences held in South Africa by the ICIT and Crescent International, the conference was attended by crowds from all over the country, who shared the overseas guests’ appreciation of the host community’s hospitality. Several guests were also able to help the South African Muslim community in their dealings with the mainstream media at this difficult time. All were also, as usual, impressed by the political maturity and awareness shown by local Muslims, and even many non-Muslims. All in all, it was alhamdulillah, another successful and fruitful function for the ICIT and Crescent International.

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