Interviewer: Seyhmus Nayýr / World Bulletin
It is possible to see every shade of green in Malawi where most of the population is made Christian as a result of the intensive activities of missionaries. Although it is known as "the warm heart of Africa" in world tourism, the people are not accepted to schools just because they are Muslim in Malawi.
Malawi is one of the countries that Humanitarian Aid Organization (IHH) organized a sacrifice aid activity for Sacrifice Festival in the continent of Africa. It is the producer of rice and tea of south-eastern Africa. And also it is a country that there are genial people with always a big smile on their faces while they live in such a great poverty. Most of the population lives in rural part of the country and so there seem to be feudal structures in those regions. Although 80% of the population is Christian according to the official records, Muslims say that the rate of Muslims is intentionally kept down and the actual rate of Muslims is 40%. If considered approximately 80% of the population once consisted of Muslims, this can give you an idea about the intensity of missionary activities in the country.
The activity of missionaries has been so influential that it is shown that Muslims are the cruel that dealt with slave trade but missionaries are the heroes that saved them in the history books studied in the country. It is planned the existence of Islam to be deleted by 2020. According to the history written by missionaries, Islam came to the country through Arab slave dealers in the sixteenth century.
It is said that the first rebellion against the exploitation was launched by Reverend John Chilembwe who was a Christian in Malawi. That rebellion did not yield any results since it did not get enough support and Chilembwe was later executed by British colonial administration. Chilembwe is the national hero of Malawi and it is possible to see many places named by his name there.
One of the main problems in Malawi is the insufficiency of public health service. The country is plagued with malaria. It is stated with a shocking number that the average life span is 37. We talked about the country and its problems for World Bulletin readers to Ramazan Kayan who visited Malawi :
Have you visited Africa for the first time? What did you feel during the journey?
I have been to Malawi for the first time within the campaign for sacrifice aid to one hundred countries that IHH organized for Sacrifice Festival. First of all, I would like to say that sacrifice is a religious duty and it is a really different feeling to remember hungry people in the world with such a duty. We were a group of 13 friends when we were boarding the plane at the Istanbul airport. We were to go to Africa. First we came to Dubai. When we were in Dubai, we said goodbye to each other there since each of us was to go to different countries. Those pictures from the time of Asr-i Saadet started to appear in my mind suddenly. In those pictures, Rasulullah (PBUH) gathered his companions around in Medina and was giving invitation letters to the hands of his companions he chose, also sending each of them to different countries.
The messengers set out to Oman, Bahrain, Hadhramoot, San'a, Kayser, Kisra. They started a universal journey that is very difficult, heavy and risky but also so peaceful. The stars of earth went for a walk that will last until the morning of doomsday to lighten the darkness. While I was busy with the question 'I wonder what the reflection of that holy journey is for today', we reached first Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, then Malawi together with my friends, Tarýk Akcan and Orhan Þefik. I can say that I am still under the influence of especially that journey since it was a journey that aimed to reach and meet our brothers and share their problems without any political and commercial interests.
Which city did you first go to?
Our journey took a little long. We reached first Dubai, with a connecting flight from Dubai then Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, from there Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi because there were not direct flights from Turkey to Malawi. When we arrived in Lilongwe, we were welcomed by Mr. Musa Caferi, the minister of culture and sports of the country. Our main region that we would work and focus on sacrifice-slaughtering was Blantyre where Muslims are populous and is one of the most advanced regions in the country. Our friends welcomed us in that city and our translator was there, too. As I said before, Blantyre is a city that Muslims are populous but missionaries are highly active. It has a population of approximately 700-800 thousand. We met a lot of people when we were in that country. We contacted with local people. We had a chance to meet the people from Islamic institutions that work there.
Which Islamic institutions work in Malawi?
Muslim Association of Malawi is one of the first ones that came to my mind. IHH generally contacts with it as a partner institution when IHH goes to Malawi. Also there is an institution called Assembly of Muslim Youth of Malawi and they have Islamic centers that they focused on. They mentioned us about a new founded Islamic institution. It is the Asian Muslim Agency for Aid. In addition we saw Muslims who are of Indian origin, settled there, are economically in a good condition, achieved great services that can be appreciated with their Islamic conscious. Some of them are Muslims from Message (Teblig) Community. We faced the people who are also of Indian origin and deal with trade and that carried the activities of Ebul Hasan en-Nedvi launched to this country. I saw that Muslims who belong to the school that we call ehl-e hadith are more active. Since they are in good wealth, their Islamic sensitivity is very strong. And they allocated their economic advantage to solve the problems of Muslims there. They seriously get interested in both health and education, also food issues of Muslims in the country. They told us one of their activities that impressed us most.
300 rich Muslim families came together and combined their financial power in one frame. They found one institution. They organized people of about 8 thousand and made great efforts to deal with and find solutions for the problems of 4 million Muslims by means of those people. We were very impressed with what those Muslims did there in a place where missionaries have actively worked for years. When we went there to give them some messages and conveyed some experiences from Turkey to them, we had a chance to convey the messages and experiences of Muslims there to somewhere else. I see it is personally a serious gain.
DICTATORS AND MISSIONARIES
What else can you tell us about Blantyre and also Malawian Muslims?
If going back, I would like to say that Malawi is an ex-British colonial country. And the country was crushed greatly under British colonial administration that started in 1907 for years. This situation lasted until 1964. During the British colonial administration, especially missionary activities were seriously done. Before British colonial administration started, while 80% of the overall population had been Muslim but 20% of the overall population had been Christian, the rates has reversed now as a result of the intensive activities of missionaries and churches in this poor country. According to official numbers, 80% of the overall population is Christian but 20% is Muslim.
Objecting this statistical figure, Malawian Muslims say that officials are intentionally trying to show that they are less. When we asked what the rate of Muslims was, they said that of the overall population, 40% was Muslim and 60% was Christian. Actually we encounter a very serious problem in even this situation. We see a community that is increasingly made Christian in Malawi. Therefore this situation is changing the balance against Muslims and it is possible to observe that the increase that is in favor of Christians is there in Blantyre, too. But compared with other regions, it is possible to recognize a little more the existence of Muslims, effectiveness of madrasahs and the number of mosques in this city.
We witnessed for so many times that they went to mosques as a whole family on prayer times there. Women, children, men… We saw women and children came to the mosque as many as men when we went to Eid prayer. Muslims have social orders that focused on mosques there. This sensitivity keeps them strong. Recently the great effort of madrasahs-opening of Muslims who have Indian origin and I said just before is an important resistance against the policy of de-Islamization and also this provides an alternative education along with. In addition we heard from Muslims there that Dr. Hasting Kamuzo (1964-1994), one of the dictators of British colonial administration placed constantly continued to implement the policy of de-Islamization after and during the colonial administration in the time of his long repressive rule. As a result of that, we encounter that alarming picture (Muslim population increasingly being made Christian) I mentioned just before. Even the case reached in such a level that Muslims remained indecisive. While some of them want to send their children to schools, some of them do not send their children to schools since they think the children will culturally remain under their influence and estrange from the religion of Islam if they send the children to their schools. But the children of those who want to send to school are not registered to schools since they are Muslim when they go to those schools.
Some of the families had to change the names of children just so that they could go to school and study. Since those whose names were changed are heavily exposed to western and Christian culture taught in those schools, their identity, mind and character start to change in time. While I was listening to these things, I thought deeply. How were we Muslim world comforted with disinformation of media for years? While we were consoled that a few western renowned people decided to belong to Islam, how did we remain unaware of de-Islamization operations that targeted our generations? We did not even know how hundreds of thousands of people were made Christian just in Malawi while conversions of Malcolm X and Cat Stevens were talked about a lot… Well, how did they achieve it? They did it first by making them poor and second keeping them ignorant. Communities without education and which live in a great poverty will first lose their sensitivity and then values… I remembered a very significant remark of the Prophet (PBUH) there. The remark is that "poverty would nearly be blasphemy". I was startled with this painful truth.
Well, what kind of activity do missionaries have except for that?
As we see, they work intensively on three fields. The first one is to build churches. I can easily say that it is not possible to see churches even in any western country as too many as in Malawi. Culture centers and houses that churches have designed in one way that attracts young people. The second one is to open educational institutions. They are trying to open them with the aid money that came from churches. The third one is about health problems in the country. They open clinics since there are very common infectious diseases in Malawi. Namely they do work by considering the fundamental needs the community expects. Churches use all their opportunities to meet educational, religious and sanitary needs of the community.
AN IDEALIST MAN
Did you meet Muslims who came from other countries in Malawi where missionaries work such intensively?
First of all, I want to say that Islam first came to Malawi through Arab traders in the sixteenth century. In the next ages, mostly Indian Muslims first came to trade there, but recognized the fertility of the soil in time and settled in this country that there are a lot of natural scenic beauties. There are people who came from Message (Teblig) Community but then stayed there. We stayed in their houses. There we faced the continuance of the activities that Hasan en Nedvi started, too. Especially at one night, we were very impressed with what one of Indian Muslims who we stayed in his house with told us. It is our brother called Faysal and 32 years old. But he is very conscious, energetic and his deep knowledge is worth appreciating. He told us that he would focus on Islamic services to achieve his Islamic projects after he worked and gained some capital until he was 40 years old.
This statement impressed me actually. In Turkey, one man who involved with business seeks to expand his business by investigating the second or third investment opportunities. But he does not think so. He chose a target for himself. He decided when he will stop and he aimed to return to his main responsibility. When I asked what he was doing, he mentioned especially about his activities in two fields. The first one is about what to do in order to solve the problems of unemployment, poverty and hunger in the community. The second one is about Islamic education. He says that the people should be regained the consciousness of Islam because their roots are based on Islam even if they are estranged from Islam. He told us that he implemented such a project of his own regarding the poverty of the people. As he recognized a job called tailoring was not known in the country, he bought sewing machines from outside by using all his means. These machines were given to the poor families as a gift and they were taught tailoring. Now hundreds of families live on his job. Secondly he told us such a project of his own regarding Islamic education.
Especially rural areas of the country have feudal structures. There are tribal chiefs who have a big influence on the community. Also there are people called "Tie" under chiefs. We can say that they are like village headman in Turkey. But they have a governing structure passing from father to son, not as a result of an election. They were visited and offered pilgrimage. And they accepted this offer readily. Their expenses were afforded and most of them were sent to pilgrimage. The Islamic consciousness of tribal chiefs increased when they returned. The chiefs who went to pilgrimage asked those who organized this activity what they could do for Islam. Each of them were offered one madrasah be built in a district or village they are since influential people in the society. They were told generations would get rid of ignorance in this way. They did not turn this offer down and until now 550 madrasahs were opened in this way. This project impressed us much. Allah granted many opportunities when Muslims started to do something in a country like Malawi whose population is made Christian. They want to send influential families to pilgrimage by sea in the next projects and so these families will meet and talk to each other. Organizers will provide them education with scholars they will introduce.
Also we heard that Sudanese Muslims went to Malawi recently. They formed a fund called Zekat and rich Muslims send their aids through this fund. There are aids coming from a new organization, Asian Muslim Agency I mentioned just before. There are also Turkish aid organizations like IHH, Kimse Yok mu, Deniz Feneri that managed to reach there.
THE COUNTRY OF RAIN
What is the outlook of social structure in Malawi? How do the people live?
I can say that Malawi is not poor actually. It is a country that has a lot of wealth and beauties. But it is the second country that there is the widest gap between the rich and the poor at the same time. The picture is that the rich is too rich and the poor is too poor. Producing tea is very common in the country. We went to the regions that tea is produced. They are very immense fields. Later we found out that all tea fields belong to only four people. They are owned by four families whose position are the tribal chiefs. We went around for days but did not see even one tractor in Malawi where is an agriculture country although there are very fertile soils. There are primitive agricultural methods. Everywhere is very green and it has potential in terms of forestry but there is not infrastructure to use these resources.
There are forests but still a job of carpentry is not known in Malawi. That Indian Muslim suggested us that, "if you want to do permanent works here, the problems are not solved by bringing sacrificial animals and meeting a few days of needs. You can bring carpentry to this country and open carpentry shops. And so you can produce permanent solutions for the problems of people." Really people are in great poverty and misery. But this poverty does not emerge from impossibilities, on the contrary emerges from not being able to use the existing resources. And of course it is because of the fact that especially western and white people exploited and plundered and also occupied there. If there are enough infrastructures, they have a serious potential to satisfy their own needs and also to export the other regions of the world.
Did you encounter any prejudice since you are white?
Of course black people have such a psychology of being excluded, despised and exploited that comes from history. This understanding is partly softened by the fact that Indian Muslims went there before us. They offered them job opportunities. When we were there, we felt that a piece of meat that we carried there from here did not mean much. What's important for them was to be remembered. The fact that they were talked by Muslims from other regions of world and they saw us together with them was worth everything for them. This happiness can be observed on their faces. As one Muslim from the other part of world remembered and asked them how they were, they said that, 'we have power to defend ourselves against churches and missionaries now. Also Muslims come and help us. They do not leave us alone. Until now, some criticized us like that. You have a lot of mosques, Muslim people and Islamic countries in the world. Who came and helped us one day? Therefore the fact that you came here prevented this propaganda. It is quite enough for white Muslims to be with us.' Even it is very important for a white Muslim to greet a black Muslim in their mind. They are not used to eating together with white people around the same table. But when they see that, they start to think that Islam is not just the religion of black people and it is a universal religion and also they learn this by experiencing it.
PLAGUED WITH MALARIA
How did they meet you as you were distributing aids as an IHH team?
When I was with them, I felt that it is not that important to get a piece of sacrificial meat. They think that it is very significant that Muslims coming from other regions of world remember, listen and protect them and they feel they are not alone. Both the people and governors care about this much. It was the second or third day of Sacrifice Festival that we went to a village. All the villagers gathered on the field and on one side women, on the other side men and in the middle children. Especially women stood up when we were about to go in the village. They enthusiastically welcomed us by chanting and singing eulogies and divine songs. This event took hours. There I learned how we should spend Eids and what they mean. The people were happy and smiling while they were in such a great poverty. But here the people in good conditions do not smile in any way and can not do it. They did not leave there for hours until we went. It is not possible to forget the happiness on the faces of barefooted children and elder people while receiving aids that we gave. The impact of this important picture penetrating in our mind still continues. I mean we felt the atmosphere of Islamic brotherhood in a universal level there. This impressed us most since we can renew ourselves.
But I would like to mention you about another important matter. Malaria is a disease that spread by mosquitoes and thousands of children die of this disease in the country. But the cost of treatment is just 5 dollars. Thousands of children can be treated with the money we spent for diapers here in Turkey. When we asked them if the state could do anything, they said it did not do anything else except giving protective curtains against malaria. When we were in Malawi, our guide advised us that we should not be in rural areas in the afternoon because it is the time when mosquitoes start to fly. We should not forget that they are the children of ummah. Malawi is one of the countries where child death rate is very high. They told us that average life span is 37 in the country. AIDS is very common, too. According to official figures, 17% of overall population is plagued with AIDS. I think this is not incidental. Especially colonial countries considered and sought to control the countries that carry threats over the long term and they left them in this deadly condition since they suffer these problems.
Do you think the fact that there are such mortal diseases of this kind in Malawi and generally in Africa is another exploitation of colonists?
Malawi is the tenth poorest country in the world. But as I said just before, I think this is not incidental. While colonist powers were withdrawing, they replaced dictators who collaborated with them. Also they helped them in order to block these people from moving in groups to western countries or America. But we see such a problem in this situation. It is not known by whom and to where these aids are gone. Some of aids are stolen and some of them are distributed through churches. Aid runs parallel with missionary. In this way church is shown as a protector. Transforming the masses through aid organizations is systematically carried out. Western key policy is to keep that population on that continent.
With which feelings did you leave Malawi?
We returned to Turkey but left our heart and soul there. I could not forget the warm, friendly and cordial attitude of these people. When I went there, I realized that we confined our responsibility as believers to our paths. But now I see we have a responsibility that expands to Malawi. Distances remain meaningless in a globalizing world. You can find yourself in Malawi after twelve hours of journey. And you see there are a lot to do in Malawi. Also you realize IHH has a serious burden although it is very new. But these are not the problems that can not be solved. I saw the abundance of Sacrifice there.
I knew sacrifice means coming close. But I witnessed it could be such a strong connective factor by experiencing it in Malawi. The blood of sacrificial animals slaughtered added spirit to Islamic brotherhood. What carried us there was sacrifice. I saw how to experience an Islamic atmosphere and excitement by means of sacrifice. We should focus especially on activities of this kind more.
This interview was translated by Ülkü ESER and M. Hasan UNCULAR for Worldbulletin.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16