As a widely revered politician and ex-premier of the Western Cape, Ebrahim Rasool left South Africa to serve as the South African Ambassador to the United States (US) from 2010 to 2015. His time in the US granted him first-hand experience of issues faced by American Muslims and the accompanying discrimination.
This week, Rasool visited VOC and shared his views on everything from the Orlando shooting to the US’s presidential elections.
In addition to his numerous titles, Rasool is the founder of the World for All Foundation, which is a think tank directed toward rethinking the mechanisms available to religious groups to develop co-operative interfaith relations, cultures and communities at a global level.
Today, Rasool is flanked by his renowned colleagues at Georgetown University; Professor John Esposito, John Voll, Tamara Sonn, and John Brown, who is a foremost hadith scholar.
The presidential race and rising Islamophobia
In light of continued intra-religious conflict, Rasool asserts that Muslims need to overcome the images that they hold of fellow Muslims in order for them to be introduced to the individual behind the title.
“We are only 1.6 billion people in a 7 billion-person world. We suffer occupation in our homelands, we have extremism from inside, and we suffer Islamophobia – why divide ourselves even further by fragmenting while we are already under siege – does a general divide his army?” Rasool asserts.
Rasool explains that reports of an increase in Islamophobia globally are not exaggerated.
He says that the raising of issues of “the other” in certain countries by presidential candidates assists in harnessing voter support.
“I have never seen Muslims as uncertain about their citizenship as I am seeing now, but I have also not seen Muslims so determined to do things differently as I am seeing now,” he continued.
In light of continued Islamophobia echoed in the current presidential election, Rasool noted that the World for all Foundation has hosted workshops with Muslims leaders in the US in anticipation of the outcome of this election.
He says that the workshops addressed the need for a Hilf al-Fudul.
“We convened the leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Hispanic leader of the Hispanic Caucus in Congress, The Anti-Gun Violence movement, the Anti-Torture league, Christian churches, and we had one forum for the three-day workshop.”
The forum will convene on July 23, 2016, in a rally at the Lincoln Memorial.
Rasool anticipates that this rally will rival the Martin Luther King rally, which witnessed a united voice speaking to the oppression of the marginalized.
“I think that what we have taught them is that you can’t fight Islamophobia or bigotry if you don’t have the same passion to fight extremism, as we have seen in Orlando.”
He further noted that in light of fear mongered by Donald Trump and his supporters, Muslims have garnered agency to change the manner in which they operate.
While foreign Muslims have a biased perception of the life of Muslims within the US, Rasool asserts that in various parts of the country Muslims dominate the workforce and hold management positions within the US army.
“The entire health of the people of West Virginia depends on Muslim professionals, Muslims are in the leadership of the US military machine, and some of the most entrepreneurial is the Palestinians. That is why Muslims can’t understand how ‘a Trump’ can come along and threaten to ban them,” Rasool adds.
He asserts that with the onslaught of ISIS in recent months, the group has proved itself to be an anti-Muslim organization, as Muslims appear to be its primary target and since it shows no evidence of being anti-Zionist.
“They look at what happened in Orlando and say it is anti-gay or anti-American. Look at 200 people dying in one night in Baghdad and you will see what DAISH [ISIL] is. That is what is confounding American-Muslims.”
Rasool explains that the Janaza (funeral) of legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali, may be considered a “golden moment” of Islam in the US, but was unfortunately succeeded by the tragic Orlando shooting.
He says that Ali’s passing forced Americans to deal with their history and to question the role of Islam within the country.
“Everyone had to confront the idea why Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali and why he forfeited his title in order not to go to Vietnam and then taught a lesson about militarism and the US’s default position.”
Despite previous Islamophobic sentiment within the US, he says that Americans flocked from around the country to attend the Funeral of Muhammad Ali – a Muslim.
“He choreographed and managed his Janaza in such a way that Muslims were forced to speak next to Jews and Christians. He chose those he wanted to speak. When they spoke you began to understand that even in death Muhammad Ali was teaching a lesson and so many were astounded about the depth of commitment he had for Islam,” Rasool said.
The Orlando tragedy
While Ali’s funeral was overshadowed by Omar Mateen’s murder of innocent individuals, Rasool explained that Trump’s position within the presidential race was almost immediately solidified.
Importantly, he notes, the complexity of Mateen’s psychological profile was vital for confirming that he was not motivated by Islam.
“He was an individual who lived with a contradiction of being Muslim and having other contending identities.”
Rasool, therefore, asserts that the Orlando tragedy presented an opportunity for individuals to treat criminals on their own merits as opposed to conveniently labelling them as ‘Muslim’.