“For us, this woman opens up the need for debate and engagement. People always have prejudice. But it’s how we respond to it that counts.” These were the words of Dr Nuraan Davids, an executive member of the Pinelands Muslim Association (PMA), responding to the fuss created on social media following a complaint from a Pinelands resident.
On a recent social media post, Jennifer Ball described what she called “Islamic howling” stemming from the Pinelands Islamic Centre, a newly established masjid serving the Pinelands Muslim community. However, social media users were more outraged by her second intimation in which she states that “now we are going to have ISIS chanting at us all hours as if we need to convert or die.”
Speaking to VOC Breakfast Beat this week, Dr Davids rejected Ball’s accusation and assured residents that the athaan was not broadcasted over loud speakers.
“Our view is that if we are somehow imposing on her space, then we should perhaps look at that. But the other allegation that we are somehow linked to ISIS and that we are forcing people to convert to Islam, with the possible threat of death…that’s far-fetched and disparaging.”
The posting has sparked anger and shock amongst Muslims in Cape Town, prompting the association to carefully consider its own response on social media.
“Our first thoughts were…do we even respond and give her the attention she’s looking for? Or do we look at this as one single incident, that doesn’t represent the majority view,” says Dr Davids.
“We have to take what she said and encourage her to engage with us. If she has legitimate complaints then we are happy to address it.”
While Muslim commentators on social media have responded fiercely to the issue, Davids cautioned the community from “descending into a diatribe”.
“It doesn’t help us or Islam. It’s important for us to know that there’s a particular response needed not couched in language of hatred or antagonism. There’s a global sense of Islamophobia at the moment…”
“It’s not about religion per se but it’s about the visibility of religion. It’s about the visibility of hijab, for example. That’s upsetting to many people.”
“We have to engage with her on a human level. We have to teach her and respond to her with tolerance. The number from responses from Muslim and non-Muslim is clear that her views are not welcome. The more we resort to bad and harmful language, the more we propagate the view that we are an intolerable people. That’s why we had to be very tempered in our response. Our position still stands to this woman and anyone else that if there’s any complaint, they are welcome to visit the centre and voice these issues. We will deal with it appropriately.
Pinelands has become more of a racially and culturally diverse area in recent years, but for many Muslims living there, it was not easy. The PMA’s 15 year long struggle started in 1999 when the City of Cape Town put the property up for sale. The PMA were embroiled in a drawn out high court battle to get the green light for the project.
The PMA was formed in 2000 and started madrassa classes in June of 2000 at Huis Der Nederlanden. In 2008, the PMA took transfer of a plot Erf 2990 in Nursery Way and building began in earnest in June 2011. The centre was officially opened in June last year.
The centre consists of a madrassa, pre-school, library and salah khana that would cater for the needs of Muslim residents in Pinelands. For prayer times, the inside of the building caters for up to 500 musallees.
Davids acknowledged South Africa’s struggle for integration and social cohesion post-apartheid.
“It was very hard for us to get the centre up and running. Now the challenge is for us to let people to understand who we are and what we are about. We have to do it sitting around a table and engage.” VOC