Just who exactly is this ‘Majlis’? Whilst the strict lexical term for the word is a ‘sitting’, in reality the Majlis is a ghostly ‘presence’. Its ether, in the form of Post-Box 3393, has haunted us for decades.
And lest I be accused of playing the man, rather than the ball (or Post Box) – I don’t know whether the ‘Majlis’ is man, woman, committee, or comrade. All I know is that it ‘sits’, usually in judgement.
The mouthpiece of this mysterious Majlis is a rag-sheet called – surprise, surprise – the ‘Majlis’ which emanates from a sleepy coastal city, Port Elizabeth. It has a masthead that has not changed for 20 years, and in its columns it has consistently preached hellfire and brimstone.
In recent years, it has also taken up the cause of slandering halal certification bodies and creating calumny amongst scholars.
My first encounter with the Majlis was in 1990. This was when it declared that Coca-Cola was haram. Surprisingly, this censure was not based on Coca-Cola in Israel, the usual reason for bannings or boycotts. Rather, it was because Coke had alcohol in it.
When we dared to question this highly dubious judgment my editor was called, amongst other things, a “bearded lady”.
My next crossing of paths was in, of all places, New York. I was leaving the ‘West Indian’ mosque on a hot August night in 1997 when three young men came up to me. “Are you from South Africa?” they asked.
“We are supporters of the Majlis,” they declared. I did not have time to ask these breathless young men whether they’d been to South Africa. I could only assume that they must have been Tablighis, a missionary group that journeys across the globe in search of the souls of misguided modernists, errant Sufis and sinners.
Its name and fame in the US aside, the Majlis caught my eye for the third time last year when it launched a frontal attack on the Muslim Judicial Council’s Halal Trust and the South African National Halal Association (SANHA).
Claiming that a halal chicken farm was run along non-halal lines, the Majlis created wholesale confusion in the community. My only surprise was that the Majlis did not end up being sued for millions in the High Court.
But last week the Majlis crossed my desk again. SANHA were in the crosshairs. “SANHA Halaalizes Kelloggs Pork and Beef Contaminated Products” thundered a leaflet from Post-Box 3393.
Handed the story at work, I decided to check out the Majlis on the internet to see how its universe had expanded – or shrunk. Its presence on the net (given its condemnation of photographs, pictures, TV, music, dancing, singing and the female voice) is somewhat paradoxical.
However, I could soon see that the Majlis had been in fine fettle. Its fiery phraseology and flowery syntax remained undiminished in its enthusiasm to declare unbelief and hypocrisy.
Clicking randomly on the topics, I discovered that “hooting, photos, videos and mixing of the sexes” at weddings were deemed “evil, satanic exhibitions” of (sic) “adultery”.
The colour-coded Qur’an, designed to help the non-Arabic tongue with pronunciation, was a “trap for Satan”. Blood transfusion – deemed permissible by the overwhelming majority of scholars – was forbidden.
Being from the media (radio) I decided to check out what the Majlis had pronounced on this front. It wasn’t good. Channel Islam was “Channel Shaitan” and, goodness gracious me, music was played “with impunity” on the devil’s airwaves.
It begged the question: how do you exactly “punish” someone for playing music? Bring out the firing squads?
Apart from being a “platform for prohibitions”, the radio stations mentioned (Channel “Shaitan” and Durban’s Radio Al-Ansaar) were in serious trouble with the Majlis. Al-Ansaar had “flagrantly violated” the laws of hijab, as well as publicising and prostituting the female voice.
When it came to the religious scholars the Majlis fire was still burning strong. The learned men who appeared on the radios were not only accused of making tabligh (religious message) of sodomy, but they were also the “lewd agents of Iblis”.
If that wasn’t enough, some of the scholars were “holy cows roaming about freely”. Well, at least they had pastures in which to graze.
“No-one who understands the Prophetic concept of morality will accept these evil stations to be lawful,” opined the Majlis, adding that “any form of haram support for these radio stations is haram (sic).”
So you can imagine my sense of anticipation when I read the Kellogs “halaalization” leaflet. It didn’t disappoint. On the comedy Richter scale it rated a solid seven. This was because none of its pieces, hurriedly cut-and-pasted, actually fitted.
For under the banner headline was a letter from Grace de La Cruz of Kelloggs Consumer Affairs Department. She said that Kelloggs used gelatine from cows and pigs, mentioning things like Marshmallow Fruit Loops, Kelloggs Smorz Cereal and Frosted Pop Tarts.
Technical point, yes, but none of these cereals were manufactured or sold in South Africa. It just took one phone call to learn that this letter was from Kelloggs USA, who had nothing to do with Kelloggs SA.
Further discomfiture was to follow. The halal authorising body in South Africa was not SANHA as the Majlis had alleged, but the National Independent Halal Trust (NIHT) who assured me that Kelloggs SA used no animal products in their gelatine whatsoever.
In spite of these comedic inconsistencies, the Majlis still declared that it was “waajib” (compulsory) for Muslims to abstain from Kelloggs products. And as I reached for a packet of Rice Crispies, I hoped that the Majlis was not going to race to the dark side of the moon.
Imagine if SANHA got there first and discovered it was cheese.