As highly anticipated by a majority of Muslims, Sheikh Idrissa Muhammad is new Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) chairman, following his landslide victory at a highly contested election on Saturday 30th April 2011 at Mpingwe Sports Club in Limbe, Blantyre. Out of a total of 169 votes, Muhammad amassed 129 votes, while his closest contender with whom he traded barbs through the entire campaign trail, Sheikh Dr Imraan Sheriff only got 23 votes.
Other contesters included a long time and respectable MAM executive, Sheikh Muhammad Uthman Ntalika who got 13 votes, Chiradzulu born Lilongwe Islamic Information Bureau Coordinator Sheikh Ali Kennedy, who was making a second appearance at the elections, got a mere 2 and another Chiradzulu surprise who was publicly optimistic about the hot seat, Sheikh Imran Idrussi, also going away with 2 votes.
The heated poll which has been described as the most free and fair by all observers, started exactly at 11.00 o’clock in the morning, after successfully controlling ineligibles from entering the voting hall to avoid commotion. Even renowned Sheikhs and other notable figures could not find their way at the entrance which was highly guarded by Police officers.
Only registered voters representing every district, regional committee members, MAM executive members and trustees, Islamic NGO representatives, election commissioners, candidates, and observers who included journalists were allowed into the hall, systematically seated in columns.
The trustees present included their chairman, Senior Chief Kadewere of Chiradzulu, vice chair Hon. Sidik Mia, T/A Malengachanzi of Nkhotakota, T/A Tambala of Dedza, Mulanje’s T/A Nthiramanja and chief Nkoola of Machinga. Also in attendance was former MAM Chairman, Alhajj Yusuf Kanyamula.
Making his stick relaying speech, Kanyamula who never expressed interest to rerun, was all grateful to Almighty Allah for his term in the driving seat since March 2003, which he described as most challenging. In his usual eloquent speech, quoting Qur’anic verses in Chichewa and giving references of hadith narrations, the Lakeshore Islamic Publications and Mazeze Islamic Dawah founder said during his tenure of office most Muslims were proud of their religion.
“I might have stayed longer as chairman as you know that these elections were supposed to take place sometime back but there were some problems. I wish to thank the Muslim community for the support they gave me during my time of leadership. A lot of people are able to read the Qur’an and most Muslims are listening to Radio Islam,”claimed Kanyamula.
Kanyamula however admitted that there are a lot of problems and irregularities at Muslim Association of Malawi. He bemoaned that Muslims do not give any support to the body so that it can carry out its activities. Kanyamula challenged in the presence of the trustees that no member of the board of trustees made a single monetary contribution during his time.
This however contradicted remarks by one of the board members, Alhajj James Mdalla who earlier in his speech praised Sidik Mia, saying he is among the people who always support the association morally and financially on top of taking his time for the affairs of the association. Continuing his speech, Kanyamula said if Muslims were generous enough towards MAM programmes, the body would have been independent of donor aid.
In what could be a repeat of his appeal words to Muslims in his inaugural speech at Madina Mosque in 2003, Kanyamula recalled having gone to South Africa to appeal for financial aid amounting to Four Million kwacha, where he said they expressed surprise as to why he could not solicit the money from over four million Muslims in Malawi. He also noted with concern that there was lack of respect among Muslims. He worried that people would say all sorts of insults to leaders whom they elected themselves.
Concluding his final speech, the former chairman said he will continue serving Islam as a da’ee. Kanyamula then cheerfully proclaimed that he handed down the leadership mantle and declared the dissolution of the entire MAM national executive.
Speaking on behalf of the trustees’ chairman, vice chairperson of the board, Hon. Sidik Mia described Kanyamula as a humble leader. He praised him for his service to the Muslim community and for stepping down with dignity. He pointed out that it was not easy for one to secede. Mia then described the election as a land mark for a brighter future for Muslims.
Then it was time to start the voting process. All candidates their hearts pounding but looking composed, voters waiting in anticipation, observers watching keenly, security officers standing at ease, and scores of supporters outside listening attentively through the PA System while peeping through the windows; tension gripped when the director of ceremonies who is also MAM Executive Director, Brother Saiti Jambo called upon the election commissioner, Brother Aman Kunje, MAM Deputy Secretary General, to make his final speech and press the start button.
“It has been a pleasure for me and my fellow commissioners to be entrusted with this huge responsibility to preside over this election”, said Kunje. “Here are the candidates and this is the cream of the people whom you need to lead the Muslims mother body. But there is going to be only one choice as a winner. That’s the God chosen one and the rest must accept that it is not their time and they should support the winner. If you win, respect the losers and exercise humility so that we all work together for the betterment of Islam in this country because that’s our only cause. As commissioners, we might have failed in one way or another. The candidates might have crossed each other at some point but that’s gone now. Let us burry everything because it belongs to the past and we live for the future,” charged Kunje. “I wish you all the best and let the election process begin,” he concluded.
Ballot papers were distributed and voting began after the director of ceremonies introduced names of candidates for each position. Every candidate was mandated to nominate a trusted representative to assist the vote counting. There were 17 contestants in all the four positions which included chairman, vice chairman, treasure general and deputy treasure general.
Nothing sinister or fishy, no irregularities, the process ran and finished smoothly. Commissioners did as expected of them, trustees were there to provide cancel and direction where need was, every voter participated, observers had an eagle’s eye and others watched as security tightened. All they waited for now, were the final results, their choices. The entire hall was engulfed in suspense. One could imagine how the candidates felt at this time; suffice it to say their hearts were in their mouth.
Letting the cat out of the bag, it was finally announced that Sheikh Idrissa Muhammad carried the day as new MAM chairman. Chanting Takbeers, there were huge celebrations and jubilation, hugs and congratulations to the crowned man, clad in a yellow Saudi juba. For his colleagues who had their heads in the clouds, it was a painful ending of a long journey. They all accepted the defeat, appreciating the essence of a competition.
Gallantly walking tall towards the front to deliver his acceptance speech amid nods of heads from his cheerful funs, the triumphant Idrissa waved his hands across the hall, attracting a huge applause.
After saying praises to Almighty Allah and salutations to Prophet Muhammad SAW, Sheikh Muhammad was quick to say that he was Allah’s choice.
“I would like to thank Allah for choosing me to lead our organization. I am really humbled and honoured because it was a hot race. I also wish to thank my fellow candidates because without them this election would not have been meaningful. What I would ask from them is their support so that we can take Islam to prosperity. We should not engage in retrogressive moves because there is no opposition in Islam. I promise that I will work with everyone including other Islamic organizations. We are elected by people so that we serve them and it is God Who entrusts us with this noble responsibility. If we do good God knows. We do bad God knows and the people will testify,” said the humble looking but fast speaking and emotional Muhammad.
“I have only three policies which I would like make sure that I fulfill at all cost. First, I wish to restore the reputation of MAM which was lost long ago due to lack of financial prudence. I am going to make this organization transparent and accountable. MAM had lost donor confidence that’s why it has been struggling to effectively run its programmes.
“I will make sure that all the money is accounted for so that we can foster the development of our deen. Secondly, I would like Muslims in the country to be independent and self reliant instead of living on donations. Muslims must learn to give; hence, you may wish to know that I and my colleagues established the National Zakaat Fund which is aimed at assisting needy Muslims.
“Thirdly, I would like the current MAM constitution to go through some amendments because it has so many loopholes,” he charged. Sheikh Muhammad gave as an example the challenges that have rocked the elections process being a result of loopholes of the constitution. He also noted that there was no respect for trustees and promised to put in place sound policies to restore the dignity of the trustees.”
“In due course, I’ll call for a general meeting where these issues will be discussed in detail. This time around, I’ll be speaking less because I believe in action,” he concluded.
On position of vice chairman, Sheikh Shaibu Ibrahim of Dedza won with 59 votes against Sheikh Is’haq Liffa 56, former chairman for Blantyre Sheikh Jaffar Kawinga 35 and former chairman for central region Sheikh Hanif Kazembe 19. Until his election, Sheikh Ibrahim was serving MAM in Salima.
The Idrissa Muhammad camp also scooped positions of treasure general and his deputy.
Treasure general is now Lilongwe based chartered accountant, Brother Issa Njauju of Mangochi. Njauju amassed 80 votes, seconded by Blantyre based Balaka boy,Hussein Mwarabu with 52 votes, Mangochi’s Saizi Bakali, a long serving banker currently manager for National Bank in Zomba got 20 votes, and former Ambassador to Egypt, Brother Yahya Mmadi had 17 votes.
Njauju will be deputized by Lilongwe business tycoon, Brother Bujjard Kalera after dribbling past his contenders to score 75, to 42, 37 and 15 of Blantyre based accountant Alli Twanje, business man James Busili and former treasure for Blantyre district, Idane Fundi respectively.
The elected members will team up with new executive members namely Liffa Binali from the north, central region’s Richard Banda and James Kaombe of Jack shoppers from the south. The new executive is expected to appoint Secretary General and his deputy appropriately. Currently, losing candidate, Sheikh Dr Imran Sheriff who is also lecturer at Chancellor College, a constituent college of the University of Malawi, is serving his last days as SG while Amman Kunje is his deputy. Unconfirmed reports say Sheriff is pleading that his position be saved, after losing the chairmanship to Idrissa Muhammad.
Commenting on the outcome of the election, Honourable Sidik Mia, who is Minister of Transport and public infrastructure, told MalawiMuslims.com that he was happy with the conduct of all the contestants and the way the commissioners managed the process.
He said he expects the new leadership to address the problems which Muslims are facing, such as building good Mosques, madrassas and higher learning institutions. He said it is high time that Muslims had standards in their activities. Mia urged the new office bearers to devote their time in going into the remote areas where he said communities lack many basic necessities for them to practice Islam.
In his remarks before the voting process began, Honourable Mia was also bitter with Islamic organizations which he claimed they receive huge donor fund but they are not transparent with Muslim Association of Malawi in their programmes. He noted with concern that most Islamic organizations work in isolation from the mother body which he said was a sad development and asked them to disclose information about their funds and projects.
“We need to know what you do with the money and establish whether you have fulfilled your programmes. If we see some dumped projects in the villages, we’ll conclude that you have misused and squandered funds meant for developing Islam. The honey moon is over and you can’t operate without us. MAM must be accorded all due respect and our roles need to be redefined to avoid duplication. We must work together to change lives of Muslims in this country,” ordered Mia amid amid amusement of participants.
Meanwhile, all observers have described the elections as peaceful, free and fair. Speaking to MalawiMuslims.com, one of the observers, Brother Hamis Twabi, district commissioner for Chitipa who travelled all the way from the northern border district, said he has never seen such a well organized election in the history of the association.
“This election has impressed me and it is a lesson to us on how we should conduct ourselves as Muslims. It has also proved that Muslims are peaceful people,” said Twabi. Asked how he would feel to hear some quarters complaining of any irregularities, Twabi laughed out and said no normal human being would even say that.
Another observer from Lilongwe, Brother Vanwyck Mahmoud Dissi said the elections were conducted transparently and that he was happy with the choices of the majority. “This is what we, mostly the youth have been expecting and we hope that our concerns will be addressed,” he said.
District and regional elections were already conducted although they were marred by controversies and postponements especially in Mangochi.
Constitutionally, MAM is supposed to elect its office bearers every 5 years and the last elections were held in March 2003.
According to official results of the 2008 National Population Census, Malawi has over 1million Muslims out of over 13 million people. However, Muslims challenged the 2008 statistics and believe that they are over 4.5 million. UN 2010 reports indicate that Malawi has 15.6 million people.