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Conflating issues and sacrificial lambs: Reflecting on a week of social media gyrations

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Our community is beset with a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart of our communal will. This crisis is evident in the erosion of what could be termed as eradication of the social fabric of our society specifically, and the loss of a unity of purpose of our community, generally.

This erosion threatens the collective future of our community, and could inadvertently derail the work of our pious predecessors, in protecting and preserving our “Islam in the Cape”. As a bastion of cultural and religious symbolism, the “Cape”, has metamorphosized with each generation, adapting and evolving as we – the community – gained more knowledge and understanding.

But with the proliferation of knowledge, came divergent views. Even as laypeople, we know that divergent views are not only common, but part of the Islamic tradition. However, in the “Cape” these divergent views did not only exist amongst scholars, but amongst lay folk, like us.
What separated us became more pronounced than what united us.

With each generation, this division became more distinct. And with the proliferation of social media, every person now had a soup box. Whether it’s a dramatic rant on Facebook, a heated Twitter spat, or a meme-meant-to-jab, social media has become an oft-used communication tool during times of difficulty.
Everybody has become a producer. Everyone’s opinions, no matter how biased or destructive, is being aired, without filters or consequences (at least in this life).

As such, the more sensational and slanderous a social media rant, the more likely it will go viral. Virality, in this instance, stands contrary to building a united community despite our divergent views.

The reliquaries have been hollowed out. The sacred is no longer untouched. Our unity in diversity has become a cacophony of discontent. Norms of propriety, which so often characterised our community, has given way to sensationalist “whoohaa”, at the expense of real substantive change.
While we must never conflate unity with passivity or silence, we need to also remember the adab that comes with criticism. As such, when we attempt to address or unpack issues, shouldn’t it be with the intention to rectify, and by implication empower improvement? If not, then what is the point? Moreover, and perhaps more poignantly, what is our intentions?

It is narrated on the authority of Amirul Mu’minin, ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, radiyallahu ‘anhu, who said:

I heard the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, say: “Actions are (judged) by intentions (niyyah), so each man will have what he intended…”
[Al-Bukhari & Muslim]

As such, in light of our recent communal saga, catapulted to national importance through Social Media, with Moulana Dawood Sampson as chief protagonist, we must be aware of how we say what we say, both as respondents and defendants.

To clarify, this “soap-box” opinion (of mine), is not one in defence of any particular individual or organisation, but a criticism (perhaps) on the manner in which we criticise, and the conflation of issues, thus muddying the waters, and inadvertently offending those we seek to defend.

Does Afri-Kaaps offend?

The stereotypes which exist about both the Cape Flats and Afri-Kaaps, emerge out of a social class stratification. Plainly put, we view those who speak Afri-kaaps, as less. Less intelligent, less articulate and less sophisticated. Our inherent stereotypes, as patricians, affirm our superiority in the manner in which we articulate our thoughts.

This article, for instance, will be viewed by some as more worthy of note, than one laden with Afri-Kaaps. Why? Because we inherently assume that being anglicised is a sign of intelligence.

Moreover, the assumption that Afri-kaaps, as purported by some patricians, is laden with misogyny is class stereotype that “others” the people on the Cape Flats. Misogyny exists in all dialects and all cultures.

Through “othering”, we do not address the deep cross-cultural and cross-class dynamic of both toxic masculinity and misogyny. In fact, it purports that the problem is “out there” amongst (what some patricians would term) the ruffians of the “Cape”.

In reality, the problem is everywhere. Amongst the rich and the poor. The Afri-Kaaps and the Anglicised.
“Othering” is therefore reductionist, in that it gives a false diagnosis of where and why misogyny exists in our communities.

Women scorned?
Very often, in our criticism on the treatment of Muslim Women, we as activists, fall into the same trap that Western Feminists so often fall into when attempting to “rescue” their fellow sisters. We fail to take into account a women’s agency. Muslim women have agency. Muslim women on the Cape Flats historically had, and continue to have agency. This is evident in their pioneering role, in the preservation of “Islam in the Cape”.

Moreover, in theorizing the “emancipation” of Muslim women, we fail to apply and see the unique cultural and religious identities of these women. Very often, this “theorizing” is happening from western perspectives and values. To be offended by women being described as a mother, sister and wife, is to miss entirely the high status these roles have In Islam. It is reductionist to assume that that is all women are.

Moreover, we need to question why these titles make “activists” so uncomfortable. Is it because these individuals feel uncomfortable fulfilling these roles themselves? Or is it because, as activists, we are so embedded in the liberal western feminist model that we are unable to both understand and acknowledge the agency women have in embracing these roles?

As such, when you bring polygyny into this scenario, tropes of stereotypes are hurled at women who engage in it. The shibboleths of feminists and the like, speak vehemently against it, as they “theorize” about the power structure latent in such marriages.

While, we cannot deny that there are “horror” stories related to polygyny. The act of polygyny remains a Sunnah, engaged in by the best of creation, our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), and his pious Companions (may Allah be pleased with them.). Therefore, criticism of the act of polygyny should be limited to the fallible actions of humans, rather than the sanctity of polygynous marriages, as a concept.

So many would ask, how does this relate to the utterances of Moulana Dawood Sampson? Well, what this saga has done, is open the floodgates for criticism, which have not only been limited to his utterances, but brought into focus an array of issues ranging from polygyny as a concept, to leadership within the Ulema fraternity, to the purported misogyny in the Cape Flats dialect, and then finally to the agency of women on the Cape Flats.

While we cannot deny, that the utterances of Moulana Dawood Sampson, was not only unfortunate but entirely inappropriate, we must be weary in our attempts to criticise, to not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

Simply put, this is a watershed moment that must catalyse important conversations. However, the conversations both online and in the media have been polarizing, in that it has not only condemned individuals (who have shown an appetite to learn), but an entire community.

When we conflate issues and start to criticise the use of dialects, the agency of women and the concept of polygyny, we force people like myself into a debate, in a manner that is defensive.

Fazlin Fransman-Taliep is a senior researcher at the Moja Research Institute. She is the former head of media and communications at the MJC and is a woman in a polygynous marriage. 

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