From the news desk

2019 in a nutshell: Stories that impacted the Muslim community

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The VOC newsroom had a busy year in 2019 with both heart-warming and heart-breaking stories making headlines. These ranged from the exhibition of the Prophet’s (PBUH) relics making history by being on display to the heartbreaking and tragic news of the Christchurch terror attacks on the Muslim community in New Zealand which shocked the world and heightened global sociopolitical tensions.

Take a look at VOC’s list of the most notable stories covered by our newsroom which affected the Muslim community in Cape Town and South Africa 

An elderly couple, both aged 82, was found dead in their Ottery home at the beginning of the year. Rugaya and Riedwaan Addinall were found murdered and two suspects were subsequently arrested for the crime. The motive seemed to be an escalation of a robbery. The local community was shocked by the murders and many felt that crime in Cape Town had reached its peak.

A national conference exclusive to the black Muslim community in South Africa stirred up intense debate on social media. The conference aimed to establish a black Muslim think tank and discuss the growth and development of black Muslims. The motivation behind the conference was essentially that black Muslims face unique challenges in South Africa. However, public opinion on whether it was a good idea or not was divided.

For the first time in its 367-year history, the Muslim community was able to view the priceless relics of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Various items that date back 1,440 years to his lifetime were on display and the public was able to view them, free of charge, at the Al Kaaf Human Rights Centre in District Six.

After the Christchurch terror attacks on the Muslim community in Christchurch, New Zealand, Capetonians living in New Zealand expressed their shock and horror at the attacks and described the tense atmosphere in the country. However, this tragedy resulting in an outpouring of love and support from New Zealanders and an effort to promote tolerance and social cohesion.

On 30th April, history was made when Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa announced that 19 historical places in Bo-Kaap would finally be declared as national heritage sites. The areas include several mosques, schools, homesteads and the Bo-Kaap Museum. It comes after a decade long battle by local activists and historians to preserve the area’s unique cultural and historical roots. The community has been beset with challenges over gentrification and the construction of high-rise buildings. The minister’s decision follows on the back of the City of Cape Town council’s approval of the inclusion of the Bo-Kaap area in a Heritage Protection Overlay Zone (HPOZ).

Activists fighting on behalf of hujaaj strongly believe there should be an independent inquiry into the Hajj travel industry, following a surge in costs for the pilgrimage this year. Meanwhile, South African umrah pilgrims were told they would have to fork out an additional R380 for umrah visas this year after a price increase came into effect. According to the South Africa Muslim Travel Association (Samta), the Saudi Hajj Ministry increased the umrah visa fee by 100 Riyals.

The case of Major Fatima Isaacs’ pursuit of her right to wear a headscarf – and for women in the SANDF to have their right to wear hijab – blew up in South Africa and around the world this year after VOC broke the story. The case symbolised the strength of Muslim women, not only in Cape Town but around the world, as Major Isaacs’ fearlessly confronted the prejudice and discrimination she faced in her service with the SANDF through the assistance of her labour law advisor and spokesperson, Nazeema Mohamed. Together, these two women have escalated the issue, fighting for the rights of Muslim women in the SANDF and have made national and international news. The case has yet to conclude and this specific article was republished by the South African Human Rights Commission.

There was a huge public outcry in May after a  single noise complaint the athaan at the Zeenatul Islam Masjid in District Six was lodged with the police. The Muir Street mosque committee, in a statement, said the athaan had been “rendered audibly by the best means available” since its inception in 1919. Political parties, such as the ANC, weighed into the matter, calling the complaint an “affront to freedom of religion, an exercise in intolerance and a slap in the face of our legacy”. An online petition started in support of the athaan has to date, garnered more than 140 000 signatures.  In the wake of the controversy, the City announced it would work towards amending the Street, Public Places and the Prevention of Noise Nuisances by-law.

The Capetonian Muslim community was shocked to discover the desecration of the Mowbray Muslim cemetery in late October. The maqbara saw nearly 100 headstones removed and placed to create religious and/or cult-like symbols. Muslims were distraught by the desecration and many families were forced to visit the maqbara in an effort to restore the correct headstones to their corresponding gravesites.

After several mu’tamireen came forward with service complaints about New Heights Travel,  VOC News investigated and interviewed the director Fazila Malek. Malek failed to refund clients for umrah trips that did not materialize in 2019 and VOC News learnt that although many mu’tamireen parted with their money, due to changes in the Saudi visa system, the operator cancelled the trips in September 2019. The South African Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) issued a travel advisory cautioning people from booking with New Heights Travel and Tours and the company has since remained under question. The latest development in the story is that disgruntled clients and money-lenders have now grouped together and are launching legal action against Malek. At the time of writing, the amount owed to the group had reached R4 million.

 


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