In South Africa, many blacks convert to Islam
Islam is growing in South African communities, offering a haven from social vices, an ethic of charity for the needy, and social reform.
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There are no official statistics on the number of black Muslims in South Africa, but Mr. Motsau, who works for a Muslim charity group working in townships around Johannesburg, estimates that there are now 10,000 in Soweto alone. Muslim leaders in other areas say the growth in other townships has been similar.Skip to next paragraph
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"Islam is the fastest growing religion of conversion in the country," estimates Omaruddin don Mattera, a prominent writer and poet who converted more than a decade ago and is now active in helping to spread the faith. "But no one will tell you the statistics, because they don't want to threaten the Christians."
Some 72 percent of black South Africans are Christian. The rest mostly adhere to traditional African religions, and a small number are Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu. Islam, which first came to Africa in the 7th century, was spread to much of the continent by Arab traders over the course of centuries. But on the continent's southern tip, the religion failed to take root in black communities that were Christianized by settlers and missionaries. Apartheid and the isolation of the Indian community also slowed the spread of the faith.
Today, much of the conversion work in townships is being carried out by older converts like Motsau and Mattera and by the tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants from other African countries who have surged into South Africa since the end of apartheid.
Funds from Indian Muslims in South Africa are helping, but there is enormous tension between South Africa's black and Indian Muslim communities. Blacks accuse the Indians of racism. And many Indians tend to adhere to a more radical brand of Islam. One Indian group, Pagad, is named on the US list of alleged terrorist groups, and is responsible for bombing some Cape Town restaurants.
While black Muslims sympathize with Palestinians and Afghans, they tend to be moderate and concerned with issues at their own back door.
"[Indian] Muslims in South Africa are more worried about problems far from their eyes. They see a problem in Afghanistan, but not in Soweto," says Omar Duma, who struggles to raise money for the small religious school his family runs from their home. More than 100 black children attend the after-school classes in his maddrassa, receiving soup, bread, and education in Islam, the Koran, and Arabic.
Small schools like one run by the Duma family are playing a lead role in spreading Islam in the townships, especially among the poor. Their founders and teachers believe they are doing a double good by feeding poor children and spreading the faith. But not every community has welcomed such charity. In one area of Soweto, neighbors have gone to court in an attempt to close a newly opened maddrassa. Tensions between Muslims and Christians are rare, but some are concerned such conflicts may increase as the faith grows.