Farid Esack (born 1959 in Wynberg, Cape Town) is a South African Muslim scholar, writer, and political activist known for his opposition to apartheid, his appointment by Nelson Mandela as a gender equity commissioner, and his work for inter-religious dialogue.
Esack was born into a poor Muslim family in the Wynberg suburb of Cape Town. While still a child, he and his mother were forcibly relocated as "non-Whites" under the provisions of the Group Areas Act. At age nine, Esack joined the revivalist Tablighi Jamaat movement, and by age 10 he was teaching at a madrasah (religious school). At the age of 15 he received a scholarship to pursue Islamic studies in Pakistan. By the time he left for Pakistan in 1974 he had also become the local chairman of an anti-apartheid group, National Youth Action, and had been detained several times by security police.
Although he found life in authoritarian Pakistan difficult, Esack spent eight years as a student in Karachi, completing the traditional Dars-i-Nizami program of Islamic studies and becoming a mawlana or Muslim cleric. As he noted in the introduction to his book On Being a Muslim, some of his fellow students later joined the Taliban in Afghanistan. Having grown up with Christian neighbors, Esack became critical of discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan.
Returning to South Africa in 1982, Esack became involved with activities of the Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa. He, along with three other members, left the organization in 1993 and helped form the Muslim anti-apartheid group Muslims Against Oppression, which later changed its name to Call of Islam, which became an important affiliate of the United Democratic Front. Esack addressed hundreds of protest meetings, formed ties with inter-faith opponents of apartheid, and became a leading figure within the World Conference of Religions for Peace.
In 1990 Esack left South Africa to continue his theological studies. He holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, England, and pursued postdoctoral studies in Biblical hermeneutics at the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology, Frankfurt, Germany.
In May 2005 Farid Esack delivered the second Mandela Lecture sponsored by the Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa, Amsterdam.
Books by Farid Esack
- The Struggle. (1988) ISBN 0-620-12519-5
- But Musa went to Fir'aun! A Compilation of Questions and Answers about the Role of Muslims in the South African Struggle for Liberation. (South Africa, 1989) ISBN 0-620-14105-0
- Qur'an, Liberation and Pluralism: An Islamic Perspective of Interreligious Solidarity Against Oppression. (Oxford, 1997) ISBN 1-85168-121-3
- Islam and Politics (London, 1998) OCLC 67856723
- On Being a Muslim: Finding a Religious Path in the World Today. (Oxford, 1999) ISBN 1-85168-146-9
- The Qur'an: A Short Introduction. (Oxford, 2002) ISBN 1-85168-231-7
- The Qur'an: A User's Guide. (Oxford, 2005) ISBN 1-85168-354-2
- Singhai, Arvind, and W. Stephen Howard. The Children of Africa Confront AIDS: From Vulnerability to Possibility. (Athens, Ohio, 2003) ISBN 0-89680-232-9