The topic of decolonisation has been particularly pertinent in recent times, amidst several social justice movements calling for increased awareness of the lingering effects of colonisation in institutions and social life, globally. In South Africa, the social, economic, political and institutional struggles people experience are all inextricably linked to race and colonial history. A recent programme hosted by the University of Cape Town’s Muslim Students Association brought different minds together to unpack the experience of Islam in South Africa and how that experience is in some ways tied to ideas of racial superiority and colonial legacy.
“The topic was decolonising the South African experience of Islam – not decolonising Islam itself,” said VOC journalist, Yaseen Kippie, a UCT student who facilitated the event.
“It was about decolonising the South African Muslim experience and looking at the interracial racism and classism that is in our community.”
Among the panellists were Prof Shaheed Vawda, Maulana Fudhail Jones, Insaaf Ayaana Isaacs, Maulana Yaseen Katona, and Nelisiwe Shahida Naomi.
The alienation of black South Africans – and black Africans, more broadly – from Islam was a key point in the discussion.
However, the problem is by no means limited to the black African community.
“An audience member referenced the classism in so-called Indian mosques, where Indians who came as indentured labourers are treated negatively by those who came as traders…it plays out in our masaajid as well.”
Decolonizing Islam in the South African Experience
Posted by UCT MSA on Wednesday, 31 July 2019
Imam of Driftsands Muhammadi Masjid, Imam Yaseen Katona hails from Malawi and was a participant in the discussion. He emphasised the need to bring Islam to all in South Africa and similarly referred to the Islamic alienation black Africans face, despite the all-inclusive nature of the religion.
“Many think Islam doesn’t belong to African people – that Islam is only for a special tribe or race. If we can have these programmes and conversations more regularly, I think we can start teaching our communities.”
“Certain traditions that the AmaXhosa practice are not far from Islam,” said Imam Katona.
“They go for circumcision and their women must dress like Muslim women should, after marriage [in terms of modesty]. Islam came to Africa before many other places and that needs to be explained to the community. Our [African] traditions are not far from the teachings of Islam.”
The legacy of Apartheid and colonisation continues to haunt the lives of many, all over the world. Evidently, not even religion has successfully pierced the evil veil of racial superiority just yet. However, through enhanced spirituality and increased knowledge, there is hope that no Muslim will ever, directly or indirectly, embrace a racist ideology.
“One of the points Professor Shahid Vawda mentioned was that the way Islam came to Africa was very different from how it came to South Africa. Many ‘Cape-Malays’ feel inferior to white people at university and in corporations but feel superior to black people. It’s a transference of a mentality that comes from colonialism,” said Kippie.