Thursday, February 26, 2015

Are Al-Qaeda and ISIS really at our gates?

RECENT reports that government had been told by the UN that 11 foreign terrorists might want to use the country as a base is nothing new. A neutral space in the “war on terror” and a gateway to the continent, South Africa’s neutrality is often seen to be the source of its vulnerability.

Accounts of Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, the Taliban and secret training camps existing here are not strange to our ears.  However, much of this has been anecdotal, with little concrete evidence.

The leaked Al-Jazeera spy tapes, which unearth that intelligence gathering is not an exact science, are a case in point. The saga of “jihadi training camps” (Islamic extremism is a MOSSAD obsession here) has been on the intelligence radar without meaningful substance since the 1990’s.   

Of course, that does not mean that our SSA should smoke a cigar. In this troubled and turbulent epoch, South Africa still has to be watchful. The UN report, which informs the country of a possible scenario, is a notice of vigilance. 

At the same time, we have to be honest with ourselves: a look at the past two decades reveals that we have not been exempt from the footprint of terror. In the 90’s, for instance, the Western Cape was gripped by fear when PAGAD, an anti-crime movement operating beyond the law, metamorphosed into a sinister anti-state one.  

Shortly after PAGAD began to feel the weight of the courts in 1999, immigration authorities were alerted to the presence in Cape Town of Khamis Khalfan Mohamed, a suspect in the 1998 US embassy bombing in Dar us Salam.  Mohamed – an alleged Al-Qaeda operative –was questioned and handed over to the FBI.

Then in 2004 police commissioner Jackie Selebi revealed that eight foreigners had been detained for planning to bomb the British QE2 luxury liner. Selebi’s claim was quickly denied.

Later in the same year, a Gauteng medical practioner, Dr Feroze Ganchi, and 20 year-old student, Zubair Ismail, were detained after a shoot-out with Pakistani security forces in Gujarat. According to their families, Ganchi and Ismail were on a hiking holiday.

Another East African Al-Qaeda suspect, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was resident in the same house they were staying. The police seized laptops, maps, arms and explosives. Allegations that the South Africans were hatching plans to target Johannesburg were denied. They flew home as free men.

On October 31, 2005, a Pakistani national, Khalid Ahmad Rashid, was arrested in Estcourt and flown to Pakistan by a private jet. Only after numerous petitions by fiery local advocate, Zehir Omar, did details of his rendition become known.

In 2006 Rashid Rauf, a British citizen, was arrested in Pakistan with a forged South African passport. He was the mastermind of a plot to bomb trans-Atlantic flights. According to the Institute for Security Studies one of his accomplices, Mohammed Gulzar, lived in Gauteng with false South African papers before his arrest in Britain.

Some security experts suggest that it was probably Home Affairs’ corruption that became the biggest security liability to the country, its officials caught red-handed in 2002 working with foreign syndicates to issue forged identity documents – documents which ended up in the hands of Al-Qaeda operatives, including Haroon Aswat who was linked to Britain’s 7/7 bombing.

It was with South African papers (reportedly costing R60, 000) that Samantha Lewthwaite, wife of 7/7 bomber Germaine Lindsay and dubbed the “white widow”, is believed to have slipped in to East Africa. In 2012 Kenyan police issued a warrant for her arrest, saying she’d travelled on a fraudulent South African passport issued in the name of Natalie Webb.

Home Affairs confirmed that Lewthwaite had entered South Africa in 2008. Other reports say she had stayed in Mayfair, Johannesburg, for two years.

In 2007 the Imam Haroon Brigades popped-up on the website of Voice of the Cape radio station claiming credit for sabotaging Koeberg, and warning the SA government of its involvement in Somalia. Security officials raided a house in Muizenberg and discovered swimming pool chemicals under the bed of a suspect.

The 2010 World Cup was ostensibly centred more on crime than terror. Nonetheless, Free State University academic, Prof Hussein Solomon, claimed that Al-Shabab sleepers in the Somali community were preparing to target US interests during the event.

In 2013 The Daily Maverick ran a story by De Wet Potgieter entitled Al-Qaeda: Alive and Well in South Africa. His piece zeroed in on the Dockrat brothers, Farhad and Junaid, who had purportedly donated R400, 000 to the Taliban.

According to Potgieter, the Dockrat brothers had run an Al-Qaeda training camp in the Eastern Cape. It had been monitored by national intelligence, whom he suggests, were inexplicably called off the job. After inaccuracies in the story were interrogated by lawyers, The Daily Maverick pulled Potgieter’s piece off its site.

Late last year an ISIS YouTube video featured an Abu Shu’aib, professedly from South Africa, extolling ISIS’s virtues and encouraging Muslims to emigrate to its neo-Islamic state.

Recently, it was discovered by Simon Allison from The Daily Maverick that an 18 year-old South African, Abu Hurayra al-Afriki, was fighting with ISIS.  Abu Hurayra (an assumed name) is said to be of Indian origin from Gauteng. He claims that another South African, Abu Bara, is also in ISIS’s ranks.

Added to the above, Media24 has broken a story that a Port Elizabeth family sold off their house to join ISIS. And whilst this is cause for concern – ISIS is a “one-way” ticket – this has to be measured against Tunisia (3,000 fighters) and France (over 1,000) amongst the 25,000 or so foreign fighters with ISIS.

Former SABC Head of Religious Broadcasting, Muhammad Nur Nordien, is right when he says that South Africa’s Muslim community – whose leadership has condemned ISIS out of hand – is not homogenous, and that a handful of individuals out of about 2 million, is a very small, if not unrepresentative, number.

In conclusion, whilst there is an obvious need for watchfulness, it could be said that Al-Qaeda and ISIS are not banging at our gates. The only instances of terror on South African soil since the 1990’s have all been indigenous – either from rabid right wingers or from PAGAD, who were put on the US’s terror list in 2001.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Taj Hargey's "Open Mosque Members": justifying the light fantastic

"Open Mosque Members" assert Hadith,or Prophetic
Tradition is akin to irrationality.
THE ARTICLE ‘Seeking the Light
Fantastic…’ by Shafiq Morton (MuslimViews
December 2014) is a shocking reality
of the distorted and irrational beliefs
that have permeated Islamic society.
It is also an insult to many Muslims
who have become complacent to
this type of expression and hence do
not bother to respond.

To claim that the soil near Quba
has special healing properties is the
type of thinking that has made many
young Muslims become disillusioned
with the level of Islamic preaching
and Islamic literature of today, and
also makes the religion a laughing
stock amongst its opponents.
Islam is a religion of Revelation
and Reason, not Stories and Irrationality.

There is no scientific evidence of
the Quba soil claim. The same can be
said for the water from the Zamzam
source, which has in fact been
analysed to contain high levels of
arsenic and declared unfit for human
consumption by the Association of
Public Analysts in the UK.

The sight of Muslims carrying
heavy containers laden with water,
and now digging up the soil from
Quba, is a sad reality of the level to
which Muslims have sunk.

Besides the many contestable opinions
expressed about the city of Madinah,
the verse quoted in Surah Maida
5:15 ‘O People of the Scripture! Now
hath Our messenger come unto you,
expounding unto you much of that
which ye used to hide in the Scripture,
and forgiving much. Now hath come
unto you light from Allah and plain
Scripture,’ (M M Pickthall) undoubtedly
refers to the light of the message,
a figurative expression, not to the
physical make-up of the Prophet

The claim that emanates from this
verse is tantamount to raising the
Prophet to a state of divinity, as
Christians did to Jesus (AS), an
attempt propagated by scholars of

That the Prophet was light before
he became form is not mentioned in
the Quran nor that he performed any
miracles such as emitting light from
his incisors.

The Quran, in fact, stresses the
mortality of the Prophet (SAW) in one
of the many verses, such as 18:110:

‘Say: I am only a mortal like you.
My Lord inspireth in me that your
Allah is only One Allah. And whoever
hopeth for the meeting with his
Lord, let him do righteous work, and
make none sharer of the worship due
unto his Lord.’ (M M Pickthall)

To say that this argument is
backed by interpretations of the
Quran and hadith is to absolve the
writer from responsibility. This can be
accepted if the writer is an author of
fiction but not one with a journalistic
background in which the ethics of
investigation and rationality prevail.

To perpetuate the lies that the light
of the Prophet (SAW) moved through
the DNA of the Quraish, that the
Prophet (SAW) was born circumcised,
and 500 of his nearest ancestors were
not pagan, indicates acceptance of
stories handed down and distorted
along the way.

The term ‘DNA’ of course was not
around when hadith was constructed
around 250 – 300 years after the
death of the Prophet, so with time
comes further distortion.

The author’s claim that the
Prophet (SAW) will be granted the
‘station of intercession’ is also contradicted
in the Quran in verses 7:188
and 2:48.

‘Say: For myself I have no power
to benefit, nor power to hurt, save
that which Allah willeth. Had I
knowledge of the Unseen, I should
have abundance of wealth, and adversity
would not touch me. I am but a
warner, and a bearer of good tidings
unto folk who believe.’ [(M M Pickthall)

‘Beware of a day where no person
can avail another person, nor will any
intercession be accepted from it, nor
will any ransom be taken, nor will
they have supporters.’ (2:48)

The remainder of the article is
filled with opinions and hearsay from
past so-called scholars, and is not
worthy of analysis, except to say that
Muslims must move away from such
unfounded thinking and focus on following
the true example of the
Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

Members of The Open Mosque
Wynberg, Cape Town

Answer to the Open Mosque: Justifying the Light Fantastic

The "Open Mosque Members" claim
Madinah's soil has no
healing qualities
THE assertion by ‘Members of the Open Mosque’ that my article Seeking the Light Fantastic on the Prophet (SAW) reflects that I am a liar is a view that they are entitled to. As they state, Islam is a religion of reason and revelation – but if they want to debate on Islamic matters, surely they will have to use Qur’an and Hadith as the primary sources of reason and revelation themselves too? 

However, there is cause for concern here. The Members – apart from bizarrely demanding journalistic proofs alone – brush aside Hadith (which they regard as historical distortion) and pour arrogant scorn upon the academic enterprise of over 1,400 years of Islamic scholarship on the history of the Prophet (SAW).

Nevertheless, given the authentic, classical paradigm (via Hadith) the healing qualities of Madinah’s soil are not a fairy story as The Members so cynically allege. We have the saying in which the Prophet (SAW) asked the Bani Khazraj – who were ill – whether they’d forgotten the soil of Su’aib (a place near Quba).

“In the name of Allah…the dust of our soil mixed with our saliva is a cure for the sick by the permission of Allah,” said the Prophet (SAW) to them.

If this is considered weak, there is a supporting Hadith in which the Prophet (SAW) says that the dust of Madinah is a cure for leprosy. And in another Hadith, Sayyidah A’ishah remarks that the Prophet (SAW) would wet his finger, put it in the dust and then apply it to a sick person.

But the question: is this unscientific? The Saudi Journal of Science did a study in 2010 by taking soil samples from Madinah mixed with saliva. The findings were that the soil and the saliva both possessed certain anti-bacterial qualities. Similar studies were done in India, Yemen and Egypt.

As for Zam-Zam being contaminated with arsenic. The Members have relied upon a 2005 report in which the British Food Standards Authority issued warnings against ‘fraudulent’ Zam-Zam water being sold in Britain. ‘Fraudulent’ is the word in the report.

However, in 2011 the BBC also found arsenic in Zam-Zam samples. The critical question is whether Zam-Zam has been contaminated at source, as the Saudis reportedly damaged the eye of the well when dynamiting rock for the expansion of the Haram.

The ‘old’ Zam-Zam water has a unique balance of salts and minerals. Space does not allow further commentary, but I do have a sample of Zam-Zam water from 1987. The Members are welcome to take a sample to the lab.

In any case, a reading of prophetic hagiography will tell us that Zam-Zam is one of the reasons why Makkah exists today – and arsenic or no arsenic – its religious significance does not diminish in any way because of possible contamination.

As for the Prophetic light, or nur. The Prophet (SAW) was in possession of miraculous attributes afforded by God, and there were times when his nur would become physically apparent. The writings on this on fill volumes in libraries.

By relying upon English for Qur’anic commentary, The Members have  misread the verse at the end of Surat ul-Tawbah, which they use to justify that the Prophet (SAW) was a man ‘like us’ with no special qualities.

If they were to read the Arabic – as opposed to translator Pickthall – they would realise the Qur'an reflects on the notion of the Prophet’s humanity in an elevated form.

Indeed, the Prophet (SAW) was like us in flesh, but in other aspects he was not. That is why the Qur’an does not use the colloquial word for man, ‘rajul’, when it addresses the Prophet (SAW).  Instead, the elevated word ‘bashr’ is used. Lexically, ‘bashr’ does not mean ‘man’, but ‘the bearer of good news’.

The Qur’an is very specific in linking the Prophet (SAW) to the revelation, which sets him apart. The next word after the phrase ‘like you’ refers to the revelation. In other words, the message is: ‘I am a man like you, yes, but….’ and there is immediate confirmation that the Prophet (SAW) has attributes superior to us.

It is also the view of the classical scholars that the Prophet (SAW) will intercede for us on the Day of Judgement. There are over 40 Ahadith on this in all the major books, one account attested to by 14 Companions alone.

It is reported from Ibn ’Abbas, a cousin of the Prophet (SAW), that he personally heard the Rasulullāh (SAW) saying each prophet up until Jesus had been given a special prayer for his people. “I have saved mine for the hereafter, and that will be my intercession for my ummah on the Day of Judgement.”

The Arabic in the Hadith is “du’a-ti shifa’t ul-ummati yawmul qiyamat”. The word ‘shifa’t’ means ‘intercession’. What the traditional sceptics always forget to mention is that the Prophet (SAW) never did anything without Divine Sanction. His du’ah, his special prayer, was that it be postponed and Allah, the Almighty, granted permission.

As for the Prophet’s (SAW) nasab, or lineage. Firstly, anybody who knows history will know too that the Arabs specialised in detailed family trees. Secondly, the Prophet (SAW) said about himself: “Nothing of me hailed from the fornication of jahiliyya (or moral debasement). I was only born through the union of Islam.”

Thirdly, Ibn Sa’d and Ibn Asakir report from Hisham ibn al-Kalbi that his father investigated 500 grandmothers of the Prophet (SAW) and found no signs of paganism or moral degeneration in any of them.

My allusions to the prophetic DNA are an interpretation, yes, but if The Members want to dispute this they have to come up with an alternative as to how the prophetic nur travelled from generation to generation.

The karamat, or minor miracles, of how this light manifested itself amongst the Prophet’s (SAW) Quraish ancestors are remembered because they were so remarkable. In the same vein, so is the extraordinary birth of the Prophet (SAW).

The Members, it seems, are prepared to accept the immaculate conception of Jesus, but struggle with the magnitude of the noble Prophet’s entry into the world, which was extensively witnessed and recorded.

Finally, with the final sweep of a dismissive pen, we Muslims are summarily urged to follow the ‘true path’ of the Prophet (SAW).  However, with the Prophet (SAW) stripped of his Sunnah, one can only wonder what this really means.

Friday, February 13, 2015

State of the Nation 2015: an encouraging sign of democracy

I STAY in the city bowl area near to parliament. For the past 22 years I’ve witnessed the preparations for the State of the Nation address at close quarters. Each February it has always been a much-anticipated ceremony, a ceremony signalling the start of the parliamentary year and for us journalists – a new season.

Every year SONA has followed a set pattern in its preparations, and every year it has been entirely predictable. Hedges get trimmed and the parliamentary precincts get a makeover. We have meetings with GCIS – the state communication body – and technical issues are thrashed out.

However, this year things were markedly different from the outset. Government, which is understandably cautious on security concerns, appeared to have embraced paranoia – as opposed to rationality – in the light of EFF threats to disrupt President Zuma’s address.

The first sign was the feed, in simple terms the cables that TV networks and radio stations use to get their images and sounds to the public via the parliamentary chamber. Instead of the networks having their own feeds, everybody was linked to one feed.

This immediately set off concerns that should something happen inside parliament, the feed would be cut and the media left in darkness. It had already happened with the parliamentary broadcast when the EFF had first challenged the president to pay back monies spent on Nkandla.

To put it bluntly, we were facing the real prospect of state censorship during a state of the nation broadcast; a blackout within an august body in which every South African had a stake, and a right to know what was going on – regardless of unparliamentary behaviour or not.

Added to this, I witnessed things I’d never seen in terms of preparation for SONA. Days before the event, there was unusual helicopter activity over the CBD and barricades were set up in places I’d never seen them before.

Security paranoia really showed its hand, I feel, when we learnt that the president would not be entering the House from Government Avenue as per tradition, but from the Tuynhuis side – something that we observed would keep him a distance away from the media and the crowds on the red carpet.

We also heard that there was a heavy security presence at parliament, and that should something happen, the EFF members would be dealt with. We did not doubt that; and it did not take much to notice that there were more men-in-black than usual prowling the precincts.

However, when Cabinet Ministers, MP’s, honoured guests, ambassadors and the media entered the building it became evident that security fears had gone into overdrive. I was in a broadcast van when just before 6 pm my phone started to buzz with the startling news that the mobile signal had been turned off in the House.

This enraged the media, who in an act not historically seen in parliament before, began to chant “bring back the signal”. ANC backbenchers chanted “ANC! ANC! ANC!” but they could not drown out the ensuing Twitter storm.

I believe it was the switching off of the signal – a heavy-handed Big Brother blunder – that catalysed the ensuing chaos, combined with the rabbit-in-the-headlights response of the Speaker. She appeared to have been flummoxed by a flurry of points of order – not from the EFF as expected – but other opposition parties.

Her initial response that the secretary of parliament would “look into” the cell phone signal saga was an unfortunate turn of phrase. It was probably not her intention, but she managed to further antagonise those who wanted a more definitive response on their basic constitutional rights to communicate.

I’ve covered SONA in various capacities since the 90’s, from the dying days of apartheid to the highs of 1994 and the recent challenge of 2015. I use the word “challenge” here quite deliberately, without political euphemism.

And whilst the proceedings of SONA 2015 may have surprised, disgusted and disappointed many watching it unfold on television, I must admit I don’t feel that way.

As someone who has covered the South African story both sides of apartheid, I am proud that South Africans still have the spark in them to protest against injustice, to stand up for their rights, to ask the difficult questions and to face up to our historical cancers.

Our democracy, given its socio-political landscape, is by definition an emotional and extremely demanding one. Yes, there are questions of procedure and appropriate protest behaviours. But surely the bigger issue is the underlying distress about our future prospects, and the current trajectory of the ruling party: a party that sometimes forgets its power is borrowed from us.

From within the beast of the mighty ANC, and from without it, it is our inalienable right as citizens to interrogate executive power and to ask for genuine accountability from our public representatives. As author Songezo Zibi says about our problems in his recently published book, Raising the Bar, Hope & Renewal in South Africa:

“Society is the pool from which leaders emerge. If we cannot fix our society’s socio-economic value system, there is absolutely no hope that the promises of our politicians will be anything but conventional platitudes that serve only one purpose, to con citizens into believing them to be something they are not.”

Zibi adds that the necessary moral and ethical transformation of South African society in the 21st century cannot be effected in parts. Nothing will be achieved if power doesn’t orientate itself towards exactly the same values as the society it is meant to serve. Political power, he says, must be an outcome of society itself, and not be a blunt instrument of control.

And SONA 2015, as noisy and as chaotic as it was, is an encouraging sign that many South Africans are not prepared to be bludgeoned by that instrument.