I’m disgusted by how some Muslims reacted to Mandela’s death

Nelson Mandela

Yvonne Ridley says the reaction of some Muslims to the death of Nelson Mandela was profoundly insensitive and an example of how some parts of the community are now riven by hate, division and victimhood.  

The death of Nelson Mandela has provided a global pause for thought and a time of reflection for us all.

I have used the last week to try and understand the various outpourings that have resulted from the passing of this amazing man.

However, it seems there are a few who saw the demise of the great statesman as an opportunity to make inappropriate and foolish observations in the mistaken belief they would stand up and out as figures to be admired by going against the flow of popular opinion.

There was the usual cabal emitting weasel words that in their view Mandela was still a terrorist for having promoted violent, direct action during the Apartheid years of South Africa. And, of course, some died-in-the-wool Zionists have never forgiven him for his unstinting support for Palestinians by boldly declaring that South Africa would never be free until Palestine was free.

However, there were some whose words trickled down into the Muslim community like toxic rivulets of sludge. On reading them, many Muslims in the UK experienced a sense of bewilderment whilst others expressed a feeling of outrage and then there was a wave of revulsion from non-Muslims who screen our speeches and written words with interest (some of it negatively and others to give encouragement and support).

Should we pray for Mandela?

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As Mandela was facing his final stages in this life I asked people via the social networks to pray for him; not an unreasonable request from someone who believes in God but it invoked a flurry of criticisms on Twitter from Muslims who said the great man was a “kafir and will burn in the Hellfire.”

I was staggered and shocked by the venomous tweet which was viewed by some of my 20,000 followers on Twitter with shock and disbelief. Many of them are non-Muslims and they could not comprehend why someone would say Mandela was going to Hell.

My immediate thought was: “No wonder so many people hate Muslims when they read messages like that”.

Yvonne Ridley is a journalist and human rights activist
Yvonne Ridley is a journalist and human rights activist

When I embraced Islam ten years ago I boasted that I was joining the biggest and the best family in the world and while I still hold to that bold statement I also have to admit there are a number of completely wreckless fools within my community.

I don’t need to name and shame them here because they know exactly who they are but I can not remain silent anymore about these attention-seekers who want all Muslims to wallow in a sea of victimhood.

I remember in 2004 challenging rather aggressively during a TV debate Professor Tariq Ramadan for criticising the Muslim community’s “victim mentality”. On reflection I probably was overly rude and dismissive towards his views.

A decade on and I can now say: “You were right and I was wrong.” The Mandela “hellfire” comments finally capped it for me and I feel I can remain silent no longer.

Flames of hate

The Ummah is in turmoil, in places it is on fire and some of us are stoking the flames of hate towards the billions of Muslim brothers and sisters who live on this planet.

Admittedly, it’s hardly surprising we have a victim mentality when you see the shocking rise in Islamaphobia across the world, the continued Western aggression in Muslim lands and the heavy-handed security measures enthusiastically carried out by the police and intelligence services towards Muslims.

The continued unbridled attacks on our communities has impacted negatively which is hardly surprising and the net effect has been to isolate Muslims, causing a lack of confidence and a siege mentality.

Tariq Ramadan, a highly regarded academic and scholar, saw the signs of decay after the horrific events of 9/11 which is why he made his critical reflections and warnings back then on the victimhood of Muslims.

As a new convert to Islam, I thought he was being highly insensitive and lacked understanding but now I see he was right. I never embraced Islam to become a victim and I’m damned if I will allow anyone to turn me in to one.


Islam is more about what you can do, not what you can’t but there is a minority out there who seek to promote a very narrow understanding of what the Islamic message is. At the same time, their political understanding is also skewed.

The yoke of colonialism still hangs heavy on their shoulders and in this growing climate of Islamaphobia combined with a recession, poverty and misery it is easy to understand why some Muslim communities withdraw into themselves.

But the truth is millions of non-Muslim Brits are also mired in poverty caused by lack of opportunity, hope and a decent education. Many disenfranchised white people are told by right-wing extremists that their misery and hardship is down to immigrants and so the fuse is lit.

Do Muslims like being victims?
Do Muslims like being victims?

Ideally, instead of nurturing the type of victimhood to which Ramadan referred, both sides have to reach out and try and understand each other and celebrate the differences in communities like those in East London, Birmingham, Blackburn, Luton and beyond.

Instead communities are polarized but on top of that we have even started fighting among ourselves. Being a Muslim is so simple – we believe in the five pillars of Islam – that is what defines us. The one person who unites us even today is the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his teachings – so let’s focus on what binds us together and identifies us as Muslims.

It means being faithful to the Holy Qur’an but God also gave us a brain and we should use it to better understand those beloved texts, ourselves, the guiding principles and the etiquette which defined Muslims at the time of the Prophet (pbuh).

Muhammad’s ways have earned universal praise over the centuries from all quarters because he was a man who reached out to other communities. Defined by his sense of justice, human values and wisdom I’m sure, if alive in our time, he would have reached out towards Nelson Mandela and embraced him as a friend.

I’m also sure he would have been deeply concerned about the discrimination facing Muslims today but he and his companions faced much, much worse yet there was no evidence of victimhood among the great men and women of that time.


The role of women was equal to men and it was quite clear women 1400 years ago were regarded as equal in spirituality, worth and education. Men would sit at the feet of great women scholars and learn from them and there were some women who physically picked up arms and fought on the battlefield.

Today there are some mosques which won’t even allow women inside to pray. We are half the Ummah and we gave birth to the other half so why treat us as lesser beings?

I fought for women’s rights in the 70s and I’m damned if I am going to do it all over again because some Muslim men – even scholars – think I should be hidden behind a screen, not allowed to share equal platforms or take an active part in community politics or campaigns.

Are Muslim women marginalised?
Are Muslim women marginalised?

Again, I’m not going to name and shame these groups because they know full well who they are.

There are 100,000 converts to Islam in Britain and, like many youngsters who were born here, we regard ourselves as Westerners as well as Muslims– get over it and move on. There’s no contradiction.

Islam is not for Arabs, or Asians or Africans – it is for everyone. If anyone needs reminding read the farewell message of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh).

I know this article will cause a flurry of protests. Having been labeled an extremist for many years no doubt some will call me a sell out or a moderate. One of the first things we should do as survivors and not victims is refuse to allow others to label us.

Having travelled widely around the Muslim world I am actually optimistic about the future. The new generation of youth I see emerging fills me with hope because they ooze confidence and want to change their situation.

We should encourage their enthusiasm and not tie them with a victimhood mentality. That is not what Islam is about.

You can follow Yvonne Ridley on Twitter @yvonneridley

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