It is extremely rare that a statesman of the revered status of Nelson Mandela graces the planet. His legacy in history must be as the most esteemed political figure in contemporary history. He was respected by hundreds of millions around the world for a spectrum of justifiable causes of peace and justice.
Very few people become such an icon in their own lifetime and volumes have already been written about his struggle to become one of the most inspiring figures of the 20th Century.
He was a hero in many more ways. He had a long and close relationship with South African Muslims who were in the forefront of struggle against apartheid (more details http://www.muslimnews.co.uk/newspaper/top-stories/mandela-icon-struggles-muslims-forefront-apartheid-resistance/ ) and with Muslims and Muslim countries across the globe. These included Algeria’s revolutionaries in the 1960s. It was to be as a model to the South African liberation struggle in that it also “faced a large white settler community that ruled the indigenous majority.”
After he became President, he said in 1996 that now his country was 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.” In his inaugural address, he said that all religions count amongst them were “united by a common vision of a better life” for the people of South Africa.
Blessed with longevity, Mandela gave a lecture at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies in 1997, titled, “Renewal and Renaissance – Towards a New World Order” in which he touched on the relation between Islam and Muslims in South Africa as well as his own reflections on the role of religions in the black continent.
“African Muslim polities shared the ambivalence of other states and religions towards the colonial slave trade, protecting believers from the violation of their fundamental rights but also complicit in the trade in human lives. In the face of European colonialism, Islamic communities took their place along the whole spectrum of resistance politics, including the struggle against apartheid.”
He went on to pay tribute to Muslims who died while in detention in South Africa because of their resistance to repression.
His theme was that Islam is the majority religion on the African continent. It was part of Africa’s identity and in the face of nineteenth century colonisation that was in many respects the culmination of the Renaissance-initiated expansion of European dominion over the planet. The effects were too well known and the purpose of studying history was “not to deride human action, nor to weep over it or to hate it, but to understand it and hopefully then to learn from it as we contemplate our future.”
“South Africa’s vibrant Islamic heritage is a valued and respected part of our nation. It is contributing to the forging of a new South African identity. Democratic South Africa, unlike its predecessor, accords Islam equal constitutional status with all other religions.” He referred to when Prophet Muhammad (p) sent his oppressed followers to the African Christian King Negus of Abyssinia for safety, and they received his protection, “was that not an example of tolerance and co-operation to be emulated today? Is that not a profound pointer to the role that religion can play, and the spiritual leadership it can provide, in bringing about the social renewal on our continent and in the world?”
Mandela’s policy of inclusivity that was his mark and suggested that the nature of interaction between the strands of religious heritages could help lay solid foundations for the establishment of a world order based on mutual respect, partnership and equity.
His other important legacy that the media and our politicians seem to have amnesia for, deliberately it seems, is his role as a freedom fighter, his resistance against oppression. Interestingly, when Mandela unveiled his statue in Parliament Square in August 2007, then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said the statue would act as a “beacon of hope for the oppressed around the world” and showed the word that “no injustice can last forever.” However, when British Muslims campaign for and support Palestinian resistance against Israeli brutality and occupation, are considered as “extremists” and “terrorists” and put behind bars.
While championing the liberation of South Africans, Mandela’s global struggle for peace and justice was never more so in the cause of the Palestinians. In calling for the liberation of Palestine, Mandela said: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”