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1999 Parliament of World Religions

by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA


The Third Parliament of World Religions was held in Cape Town, South Africa from December 1-8, 1999. The first one took place in 1893 in Chicago and 100 years later the Second one took place in 1993 again at Chicago. The Council for the Parliament of World Religions in 1993 decided to hold the meeting every 5 years.  

I was one of the 7,000 delegates who arrived in Cape Town, South Africa a very beautiful and picturesque city with a salubrious climate. It has famous mountains called Signal Hill, Lions head, Table Mountain, and Devil's Peak. The Dutch about 340 first colonized South Africa years ago and later on the British took over. They brought bonded laborers from Malaysia and later on the Indian sub-continent to work on plantations and to build the railways. I arrived in Cape Town on December 1, 1999 at about 3 PM in the afternoon. I was received at the International Airport by Dr. Ali Mahathe a General Practitioner of Medicine or Family Physician and his eldest son Hamied. They took to the house of my host Br. Mohamed Patel who lives in Constantia a Posh suburb of Cape Town. There I met Br. Sulaiman Ebrahim who is the father in law of Br. Mohamed Patel. In no time Br. Sulaiman Ebrahim engaged me with discussions covering several topics. Although by profession Br. Sulaiman Ebrahim is an automechanic he is endowed with scholarly knowledge. He showed interest on my article on "Spirituality and Quantum Physics" His argument is that Aristotle the Greek Philosopher is a fictitious character and he never existed. He wants proof of the existence of Aristotle. He also asked me as to what happened to the original work of Sahi Bukhari. 

Several Guests arrived that evening in Br. Mohamed Patel's house. Among them were Dr. Hamid Hai, Dr. Yusuf Azmi, Br. Syed Wahajuddin Ahmed, President of the Overseas Pakistanis, Dr. Malik Mujahid, former President of ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) all of them from Chicago. Dr. Imtiaz Yusuf came from Thailand. Dr. Ahmat Davutoglu came from Turkey. Justice P.K. Shamsuddin came from Cochin, Kerala, India. Br Nejaad Brabus represented Dr. Mustafa Ceric, Mufti of Bosnia, Sarejevo, came from Bosnia. 

On December 3, 1999 I was asked to deliver the Jumuah Khutbah at the Masjid ul Quds one of the largest Mosques in Cape Town which can hold about 4,000 worshippers. The topic of my Khutbah was Benefits of Ramadan. I was invited to deliver a lecture on December 5, 1999 at the University of Cape Town where the Bazme Adab Society held its meeting. My lecture was on " Spiritual healing in Islamic Medicine." The meeting attracted about 200 Urdu speaking members to attend. I was surprised to see that Urdu is still spoken by the descendants of the Urdu speaking Indians who came to Cape Town about 120 years ago. They hold classes for children and adults on Sundays including classes on Conversational Urdu. Again on Monday December 6, 1999 I was invited to address the Muslim graduates of Medical, Dental and Allied Health Professions at the Masjidul Quds. I was impressed to see the majority of the graduates are Muslim women particularly in Medicine. The meeting concluded with a dinner to all the graduates and guests. 

Papers at the Parliament were presented at six different locations, like the Technikon (Technical University), Cape of Good Hope Center, Civic Center, University of Cape Town. My paper was at Technikon on December 6, 1999 at 3:00 PM on “ Organ Transplants, Genetic Engineering and Cloning-An Islamic Perspective.” It was well received as gauged by the full attendance. The full lecture was recorded and broadcast by Sister Noura on Radio 786, which is owned by the Muslims. An article covering my paper appeared the next day in the Cape Town’s Newspaper “CAPE TIMES.” Former South African President Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama spoke at the Cape of Good Hope Center. 

On the night of December 7th the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), which is a conglomerate of Muslim organizations and mosques and who had boycotted the Parliament completely, invited all the Muslim delegates attending the Parliament to a Reconciliation Meeting followed by a Dinner. I met Dr. Irfan Ahmed Khan, Dr. Sayyid M. Sayeed, Prof. Syed Hamid former Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, Prof. Muhammad Muqim, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, and others. The MJC and other local Muslims did not support the Parliament of World Religions in general and the Muslim delegates in particular because they thought that the Parliament meeting is a Zionist/Pagan plot to produce one religion and change our faith. Also they thought it is against Islam to dialogue with the people of other religions. They said “no” to interfaith dialogue. Imam Musawi of Ahle Baith of London, UK criticized the leader of the MJC for quoting a verse from the Qur’an out of context. He emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue. Many speakers including myself spoke to clarify the misunderstanding. I gave the example of Shaikh Abdul Qadir Jilani. Dr. Sayyid M. Sayeed translated the Arabic presentations of a Lebanese Imam and that of a student from Ethiopia who spoke of his positive impressions of the Parliament of World Religions meetings. 

On Sunday, December 5, 1999 most of us went to Cape Point Nation Park where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean in the mini van of Br. Mohamed Patel who is generous in paying the admission fee for each one of us. We also saw the landing place of Vasco da Gama in 1497 on his way to Goa, India. 

On December I left Cape Town for Johannesburg and arrived at 5 PM there. Moulana Abdus Samad Abdul Khader and Mr A.S.K. Joommal, Editor in Chief of Al-Balaagh received me at the Airport. Br. Joommal was my host during my stay in Johannesburg. Actually due to apartheid the town called Lenasia where all the Indians live is segregated. It is one of the suburbs of Johannesburg. There is a suburban town for the whites, one for the colored people, one for the Indians and one for the blacks or natives of South Africa. The cities in South Africa are comparable to any city in Europe or America, because they were planned and built by the Europeans such as the Dutch and British. Hence standard of living is also comparable to Europe. The whites own most of the real estate. The whites run the economy of the country. The most pathetic thing is that the blacks live like homeless people in shed houses in isolated towns. The famous town is called Soweto, which is an acronym for South West Town (South West of Johannesburg).

Each white or Indian household has 3 to 5 blacks working as servants. 

On December 9th I was interviewed on one of the Indian Community owned Radio stations “Radio 95.4”. The topic was on the Medical Benefits of Ramadan, as Ramadan just started on that day. On December 10th which was a Friday I was invited to give the Jumuah Khutbah and lead the prayers at Masjidul Islam in Johannesburg. There I met Mr. Omar Deedat who is one of the brothers of World Renowned Da’ee, Shaikh Ahmed Deedat. I also met Dr. Akhtar one of the owners of “Wonder Flooring” which supplies all types of flooring materials. “Wonder Flooring” appears to be doing financially well. Before my Jumuah Khutbah I was interviewed by Dr. Yusuf Amod ( a Physician) and his brother A. K. Amod on Radio Islam. It was a 90-minute program on the subject of “ Qur’an and Science.” Dr. Yusuf Amod regularly broadcasts a 90-minute program every Wednesday night on the topic of FOOTPRINTS OF THE CREATOR covering “Qur’an and Science” and “ Islam and Science”. He has produced over 48 audiocassettes each cassette has a playing time of 90 minutes. This Wednesday evening program is very popular in South Africa. While returning to Lenasia, which is about 30 miles away from Johannesburg, my hosts drove me through downtown Johannesburg. Both sides of every side walk is flooded with hawkers who are the native blacks, selling vegetables, fruits, T-shirts, Shoes, and the like. I guess they lack education and skills to compete in the modern world. This happened because of the apartheid.  

The town of Lenasia has about 12 Mosques. Cape Town has about 40 Mosques. Cape Town has about 300,000 Muslims, Johannesburg has about 300,000 Muslim and Durban has about 600,000 Muslims. The total Muslim population in South Africa is about one to one and a half million. The Muslims constitute only 2 per cent of the population. The sad part is that the Muslims are segregated as there is a Mosque for each Mazhab (Madhab). There is a Hanafi Mosque for Hanafi followers, Shafi Mosque for Shafi followers, Shia mosque, etc. 

I saw in Lenasia a full-time Lenasia Muslim High School, which charges 4000 Rands per year. There were no Colleges of modern education run by Muslims. Fortunately the Muslim students in Government High Schools are allowed to be taught in the same classrooms by the Moulanas on Islamic subjects after 2 PM when the teaching of secular subjects is over. The Muslim students acquire their Islamic knowledge between 3 PM and 5 PM everyday except the weekends (Friday and Saturday). 

Before my departure on December 12th morning I delivered a lecture to the members of the Islamic Medical Association of South Africa, Johannesburg. That afternoon I spoke to members of a Mosque in an Indian suburb of Pretoria, which is the Capitol City of South Africa. 

The Muslims of South Africa were generous to give me books and booklets, which I consider highly valuable to me. Brother Sulaiman Ebrahim of Cape Town, the Islamic Scholar, has impressed upon my mind that Jesus ibn Mariam (peace be upon him) had a father. He used the Qur’anic verses in his arguments.

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