2016 has definitely been a year of many up’s and even more downs. Rafieka Williams has a look at the 10 most significant developments in the Cape Muslim community.
New MJC President
In April, the Muslim Judicial Council announced Shaykh Irfaan Abrahams as the new president following a vote taken at the Annual General Meeting. Although the community was welcoming of the decision, there was criticism in some quarters that the well-known community activist lacked the capability to lead a progressive ummah. In the year that Abrahams has been the president however he has had to deal with the issue of a divided and indifferent ummah.
Muslim political parties
This year saw Cape Town submitting the longest list of political parties contesting in the local government elections. More importantly Muslim political parties came out in their numbers. It was almost too many to bear. As expected however, politics and religion do not mix and none of these parties secured any significant amount votes. Even more disappointing, the public had gone with the Democratic Alliance who had won hands down. Many questioned the reasoning behind so many Muslim political parties, bringing to light the division between Muslim political beliefs.
Questioning Political Affiliations
No sooner had the Muslim Judicial Council announced its new president than the frenzy around Local Government Elections had started. With the introduction of the Economic Freedom Fighters onto the local government scene – the biggest contenders next to the Democratic Alliance and the African National Congress (nationally) – it seemed the Ummah needed guidance as to who to vote for. As a result, the MJC intervened and urged people to vote for what they considered the lesser evil -.the ANC. But many questioned how a religious organisation with a following of most of the Cape Town Muslim congregation could so unapologetically choose one side. Historically the MJC and the ANC have had to keep close ties in order to prevent Islamaphobia in governance from materialising, to forward the Muslim ummah’s agenda and to practice religion freely and without persecution. But in a democratic country is it enough to choose one side without critique?
Terrorism within or without
The terrorism allegations against the Thulsie twins this year has made headlines since the story broke. It made everyone aware of the South African government’s approach to terrorism – vague and uncertain. It also highlighted how vulnerable young men and women are to the global terrorism phenomenon. However , the South African government could learn a thing or two from those living in the Cape Flats. It could be argued that the Cape community has long been trying to fight terrorism and gangsterism is still the leading cause of deaths on the Cape Flats. Yet, a blind eye is turned to the daily terror that kills so many within due to gangsterism. We have our own terror to think about.
For the larger part of the year, the Syrian issue has gone largely unrecognised by the ummah. This until the world came to a standstill as the war took one of the most historic cities in the Middle East – Aleppo. The battle for Aleppo forced the world to break the silence around the on-going war in Syria and in turn, the Cape community were compelled to get involved. People felt strongly because it wasn’t only about the global political theatrics happening at the United Nations Security Council, but the reckless decision-making had killed scores of innocent people. For the most part, the Syrian struggle has called into question the place of the Muslim Ummah in preventative measures. How long will it be allowed for atrocities to be inflicted upon those regarded as brothers and sisters before action is taken?
A recent article in the Muslim Views written by Mahmoud Sanglay elaborated on how sectarianism has been at the core of divisions among the Muslim community. Although it has been vigorously propounded in the Middle east and been stated as one of the reasons for war in the region, the Cape Muslim Ummah has been for the most part, unaffected by it. Or so it is believed. Consistent conversation and education about the harms of sectarianism has been overlooked, understanding where and how it breeds has for the most part been disregarded. Lack of measures to prevent conflict on home turf, allows angst to simmer below the surface. One can only hope that this simmering is allowed to air before it sizzles.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign in South Africa came under heavy criticism from the media and analysts this year. They were finally challenged in the public arena, not by those who oppose them but those who apparently support the cause. Prominent political commentator Steven Friedman springs to mind. Following a year of minimal visibility, soon the campaign had no choice but to end their hallmark boycott of Woolworths. It seemed although it had high moral value, consumer forces had won this round. We can’t wait to see what’s next for BDS.
Muslim Marriages Bill
This year also saw the Muslim Marriages bill being argued in the Western Cape High Court after a ten year law reform process. Presently South Africa does not recognise Muslim marriages even though a Draft Bill has been passed and public comment closed in 2011. The main argument against the bill is that it infringes on Shariah Law by trying to dismiss the practices that Muslim couples are obliged to follow according to Shariah. Arguments for the bill state that Muslim women are the most vulnerable to Shariah law after divorce. Countless women left destitute after being left by their husband is evidence of this. Perhaps it is required that Muslim men check their privilege, take responsibility and come to an understanding of what their role is as men before the state gets involved.
Saudi Arabia’s Visa fees
Then came the Visa debable. The Saudi government, guardians of Makkah and Madina earlier this year imposed a 2000 riyal fee on returning Hajji’s and Umrah pilgrims to the holy city. First time umrah visitors will still be able to go without any charge but second time goers will need to pay the fee. The Ummah was outraged and organisations were formed to bring light to the issue but to this day the Saudi Government has been mum on the situation. One has to question what motive could the Saudi government possibly have for limiting access to the one place where Muslim people around the world come together and feel closer to the Almighty, especially when it’s the religious right (and rite) of Muslims.
Heritage under threat
The image of Bokaap with its ray of colourful homes and old cobble streets has long represented the image of the Cape’s diversity. The image of children in white Islamic attire running between the colourful buildings has made the front pages of global magazines. It’s a place that has deep historical significance and arguably, the last remaining home of the Cape Malay tradition. But holding onto heritage and tradition is slowly dying among younger generations. It is a challenge that persists in the debate of tradition versus progress. How much value is placed on the history, heritage and uniqueness of a place beyond the aesthetics and material gain. Whether the Cape community acknowledges it or not, Bokaap is only Bokaap because of the people and it is the responsibility of all people, not just those living there to protect the culture that exists before it is destroyed and turned into yet another memory.
In compiling this list, it is evident that the Cape Muslim Community has an insidious issue with division. To call oneself as a Capetonian Muslim, there has to be an acknowledgment of differences before those who identify with the community allow it to affect ways of behaving as a collective.
Still too much goes unsaid while even less action is taken. Transparency and accountability is largely ignored as business as usual continues without any outright defiance. If 2016 has taught the world anything, it is that to be indifferent and ignorant is to be naive and the Ummah has been here for too long to fade into irrelevance.