The Botswana Muslim Community is embroiled in an embarrassing row over an internal report alleging that indigenous Batswana Muslims are marginalized and discriminated against by Indian Muslims.
One Motswana member, Al Hasan Lentswe, backed by a group of indigenous Batswana Muslims who want to topple Indian Muslims from the leadership of the country’s Muslim community presented a paper at the Muslim community’s June 10th second consultative meeting alleging racism by local Muslim Indians.
The report was presented two weeks ago, ahead of the Botswana Muslim Association’s Annual General Meeting slated for today (June 24) where the association’s new leadership will be elected.
In a tone that suggests eminent revolt, the report states that, “while we appreciate that our Indian brothers have their roots in a dreadful caste system (probably worse than apartheid), we cannot look on while Muslims subject other Muslims to emotional torment and inability to freely practice the deen of Allah.”
The President of the Botswana Muslim Association, Satar Dada, confirmed that he had seen the report and that they are addressing its contents. He, however, pointed out that most of the claims in the report were unfounded.
“A lot of it is false allegations”, said Dada, who contextualized the differences between Indigenous Batswana Muslims and their Indian brothers as “a clash of cultural differences.” Dada further said he could not deny that there are some racist elements among Indians just as there are racist elements among indigenous Batswana and called on everyone to defend the country against racism.
The document, under the heading “Racism”, states that “it is an inescapable fact that Batswana Muslims have been greatly marginalized in terms of welfare, education and general acknowledgement of their Muslim status. The community has remained predominantly Indian in the more than 50 years of its existence with only poor Batswana making up the minority.”
The report further states that, unlike in Muslim communities in other countries, in Botswana, “only the Indian males marry Batswana females, and never the Batswana males to Indian females. This gives the impression that Batswana Muslims are like People of the Book; you can only marry their women but don’t give yours to them.”
The report further claims that Indian Muslims will not eat food prepared by non Indian Muslims. The report quotes one “Indian sister in Selibe ÔÇô Phikwe” who, when preparations were being made for a revert sister’s wedding ceremony said, “One of us must cook or else our people wont’ eat.”
The report cites another incident where there was “a white sister who thought that Indians were very helpful when every time there’s an event they would tell her to just bring drinks and they would cook, until she realized what was actually happening.”
The report further states: “This has been raised before that while there is always a good turn up at the burial of an Indian, the same does not happen when the burial is of a black person. This is equally true for other social events such as weddings, etc.”
The report further takes issue with the apparent tendency to promote Indian culture among the Muslim community at the expense of Botswana culture and that the Indian Urdu language is used as the medium of instruction at places of worship.
“We have to tolerate foreign languages like Urdu in the Masaajid while Setswana is shunned. The da’wah will not be successful until Setswana is ratified as its official language and also used as well in the places of worship.”
The report claims that “one of the methods used to lure Batswana staff to Islam is of the promises of zakat and sadaqah (charity).”
“Yet it is inconceivable that in 50 years our zakat fund (charity fund) has not been successful in empowering the poor and improving their economic status. Instead, one of the commonly repeated complaints made by those Batswana who have dared to venture into business is that Indians buy only from their Indian brothers. Instead of their intended inducement of self sufficiency, the zakat, due to its distribution technique, creates dependency.
“The disparity between South African black people and Batswana in terms of Islamic knowledge is astounding. The brothers there are educated and as a result they have many Imams and Da’ ees (spiritual leaders). The general feeling is that not enough has been done to develop locals. There aren’t any Batswana Imams or even Muadhins. What instead happens is that other black people are brought into the country to fill positions that should be filled by Batswana. The suspicion is that the foreigners are used as a buffer between Indians and Batswana. Batswana find themselves at the bottom of the heap with other African nationalities somewhere between the Indian and Motswana and used as a control tool.
This resembles exactly the caste of India which the British used in the Indian sub-continent to subjugate the masses.
President of the Botswana Muslim Association, Satar Dada, says while he agrees with the report that Setswana instead of Urdu should be used at places of worship “because about 70 percent of our members understand Setswana instead of Urdu” he feels that most of the allegations are false. He said it is unfortunate that some people joined Islam with the hope of becoming rich and become disgruntled when things do not turn out as they had hoped. He said people should not convert to Islam “for the sake of money. They should do it for the sake of their belief in God.”