Religions must move from comparing themselves to one another to collaborating against extremism: Rasool

Cape Town – South Africans of different faiths must unite against prejudice, or face being overrun in an era of extremism, former Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool said on Thursday morning.

A formalised, mainstream extremism was emerging that could be devastating in humiliating others and granting them “outsider status”, said Rasool, who had served as South Africa’s ambassador to the US.

“Unless we call it out, give it a name, we will not understand the phenomenon,” he said at an Interfaith Harmony Week breakfast, hosted by the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies.

He said the middle ground of religious communities had to find a way to “dramatise itself and find a militancy with which to speak”.

Older generations’ discrimination and ignorance

Different faiths had to move from comparing themselves to one another to collaborating.

“We have shared values at stake in a time of danger. It is not comfortable because if we speak about shared values, we cannot pick and choose our favourite one.”

Rasool said religious groups needed to work on dealing with older generations’ discrimination and ignorance. Racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, xenophobia, islamophobia, sexism and misogyny should be tackled collectively, he said.

“The notion of us living in a time of danger is what makes the South African Constitution as valuable as what it is.”

Former Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs said courts could not become interpreters of religious scripts. He echoed the importance of the Constitution as a document that protected everyone’s rights.

Sachs was asked to write the court judgment which made the country the fifth in the world to legally accept same-sex marriage. He recalled highlighting the connection between the sacred and the secular.

“Religion and religious belief is not simply something that has a meaning in private. It affects the nature and temper of the country, the fabric of society,” he said. “But religious beliefs cannot dictate the fundamental rights of others.”

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