Address by President Nelson Mandela at an intercultural Eid celebration, Johannesburg

30 January 1998

Mr Chairman;
My Muslim compatriots;
Distinguished guests;
and fellow South Africans,

Eid Mubarak!!

I join you today filled with admiration for the communities who for the past month have fasted from sunrise to sunset. Such sacrifice as that of Ramadaan promotes spiritual growth. It demonstrates the power of self-discipline; nurtures feeling for those who are starving; and provides an opportunity for renewal.

It begins too to explain the make-up of people like Shaykh Matura, from whose karamat on Robben Island, as prisoners we drew deep inspiration and spiritual strength when our country was going through its darkest times.

That contact with Islam through the karamat and the regular visits by Imaam Bassier also had its lighter moments. We noticed that the prisoner assigned to clean the karamat had grown very fat, while prisoners in general lost weight, it was only later that we discovered that he had in fact been eating the biryani and samoosas which visitors had left behind.

Shaykh Matura also reflects the deep roots of Islam in the history of South Africa; as do those brought to the Cape as political exiles or slaves, starting with Shaykh Yusuf, freedom fighter and leader from the Indonesian island; and many of those brought to our Eastern shores as indentured labour from India and Zanzibar to work the sugarfields of Natal. These threads and others have left indelible marks on the South African landscape.

Our country can proudly claim Muslims as brothers and sisters, compatriots, freedom fighters and leaders, revered by our nation. They have written their names on the roll of honour with blood, sweat and tears.

Mr Chairman, As we celebrate the day of Eid, as we harvest the benefits of Ramadaan, and as we reflect on how Islam has enriched our nation and how our nation in turn has embraced the Muslim community as its own, we can only feel saddened that ignorance and prejudice about Islam and Muslims in Africa and beyond are still used to fuel tensions.

And yet although religions are still too often misused in this way, they have a profound power to unite and generate respect for others. It is my belief that Muslims can, by harnessing the more inclusive strands in their own heritage, make a particular contribution to a more humane Africa.

Africa has made Islam its own, from the very beginning when the African Christian King Negus and Abyssinia gave protection to the followers of Prophet Muhammad. That example of respect and co-operation points to the role religion can play, and the spiritual leadership it can provide, in contributing to the social renewal on our continent.

Now that South Africa is free, the ties which the Islamic community has always had with other parts of our continent can flourish and enrich our nation without restraint or distortion. They are part of our common African heritage.

During the apartheid years Muslims rose to the call to unite in struggle against oppression. Here in this area of Johannesburg we witnessed resistance to the Group Areas Act which will live in the annals of history.

Victory in our struggle, with the support of the international community, has won for all South Africans the right to govern themselves. It has also brought a constitution that guarantees the equality of all religions and gives them full protection.

Now we face a new and even more difficult struggle. In the first years of our freedom we have, as a nation, made a good start. Yet all of us in every community do also know that there is much more still to be done. The call now is for each of us to ask ourselves; are we doing all we can to help build the country of our dreams; to use the opportunities where we have them to create jobs and sustained growth; to ensure as law-abiding citizens that criminals find no refuge in our midst; to take an active part in improving the areas in which we live.

I know that Muslim organisations in South Africa will continue their sterling humanitarian work, transcending the divisions which were imposed upon us. In this way they are helping to heal our social fabric torn by apartheid's long and destructive history.

I am sure today's Eid celebration and the inspiration of Ramadaan will reinforce what is known in Arabic as Sumud, everlasting moral strength, in order to create a better life for all, more especially for the poor.

May you continue to experience the benevolence of God in your journey of renewal of the heart and mind. May your strong call to serve humanity, on this Day of Eid, be answered, in yourselves and in others.

I thank you. As-Salaamu Alaikum

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website