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Mass Mawlud 2014: an affirmation of the Prophet

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A colourful jungle of umbrellas. © Shafiq Morton
A colourful jungle of umbrellas. © Shafiq Morton

LAST year one could easily have thought there was an imperial plot against the Mass Mawlud held at Green Point Common. Apart from the anti-mawlud brigade getting thoroughly narked about it, a chain of events on the day snowballed into an organisational nightmare.

A rampaging 60-knot south-easter, sweeping with venom into every corner of Cape Town, not only destroyed the VIP tent and blew over toilets, but also the stage. For safety, City Council officials ruled it had to be partly dismantled, leaving guests sitting on bare scaffolding in the hot sun.

If that was not enough, people had to wait for an hour after the scheduled 8 am start whilst national security combed the venue. This was due to the protocol of deputy-president Kgalema Motlanthe being the keynote speaker.

Motlanthe’s scheduled presence meant a total shutdown and crowds around the Green Point Park faced closed gates. And if that didn’t cause enough aggravation, state security insisted on bag checks, creating further bottlenecks and even more delays when the gates were opened after 9 am.

However, the people of Cape Town were not going to be denied their Mass Mawlud, and things got going at about 11 am in a commendably good spirit.

This year the organisers – in partnership with the City of Cape Town – took the event to the old Green Point Track. It had been the historical venue of a mass mawlud during one of the visits of the great Indo-Pak scholar and Sufi, Maulana Abdul ‘Alim Siddique, over 50 years ago.

The weather was certainly kinder, and as I walked to the track from Mouille Point, I saw that at last year’s venue there wasn’t a breath of wind. South-east clouds were beginning to curl over Table Mountain, but I knew the wind wouldn’t get into Green Point like it did in 2013.

The crowd at the track might have been slightly smaller than last January, but the sea of white – punctuated by a jungle of colourful umbrellas – was impressive from the top of the grandstand. Furthermore, the event did run smoothly. Groups such as Wahid performed nasheed, Sidi Ahmad Tijani blasted the rooftops with his melodic voice and the dignitaries kept their speeches short.

Once again, the issue of politicians at Muslim public functions raised its head. The mawlud is a religious affair, tweeted and face booked some commentators, who felt that political and social affirmation was just a pathological sign of Muslim community weakness.

Having attended my share of public functions for over 30 years, and acknowledging the above points, I would beg to differ and argue that to carp about public figures on our platforms would be churlish in modern South Africa.

Firstly, there is an issue of good manners. The mayor and the premier, who in post-apartheid South Africa serve us, had a right to be there as sponsors. And as a significant stakeholder in the community, the ANC representative also had a right to be there.

None of these public officials abused their platforms, and I can vouch that having dealt with them for many years and privately knowing some of their spiritual proclivities, their kind words about us were genuine.

Secondly, and I made this point last year, the world watches us with envy. In Cape Town we can all enjoy a mawlud in the sun without teargas, rubber bullets or tanks. We can embrace our citizenship with freedom and our faith with lack of restriction. Not even the “Arab Spring” has brought this to the streets.

Thirdly, the willingness of public officials to associate with us is indeed an affirmation, but not a petty psychological one soothing cultural or ethnic egos, but one that affirms we are significant role players in society – politically, economically and socially.

Fourthly, the happy association of political leadership with us are the signs that we are not a marginalised community pushed to the fringes by prejudice and fear. In an era of Islamophobia how many Muslims in Great Britain, the US and other democracies would love to enjoy the open patronage that we do.

And fifthly, didn’t the Prophet (SAW) entertain deputations from different territories and kingdoms in Madinah? Indeed, had the Prophet (SAW) been inhospitable and inaccessible, his message of clemency would never have spread far and wide so quickly after his death as it did.

In his keynote address Shaikh Yahya ibn Muhammad Ninowy, paying tribute to the uniqueness of Cape Town, said that all humans were born in a prison called life in which we were all sentenced to death.

But the person who embraced the mentality of an inmate would not be successful in the prison. A prophet called Muhammad (SAW) came to mankind and taught us that the sky was not the roof of a cage, but the beginning of something far greater.

Society today was experiencing a spiritual drought; faith had been shrivelled up into the dry formats of “do’s’ and “don’ts”, of hollow rituality without substance. This, said Shaikh Ninowy, was not the message of Muhammad (SAW). His message was of liberality, of setting the human spirit free.

“If the day of the Prophet’s (SAW) birth was not amongst the days of Allah’s days, then I don’t know what is,” he said.

It was a question of finding the divine love in everything, of not living our life without love. The mawlud was a reminder to renew our pledge with Allah and His Messenger, to follow His path of love, even if it required the hard slog of sacrifice.

The Prophet (SAW) cared about us; he gave us love before our physical creation, even before we could care and love. Success begins with love, and it ends with love, said the Shaikh in a brief, but thoughtful address.

At the closing ceremony, salawaat (salutations) upon the Prophet (SAW) were led from the stage. It was a poignant public moment. And whilst the Mass Mawlud in Cape Town might did not boast the millions that similar functions in Indonesia and Nigeria might attract, the fervour and passion of thousands at the foot of Africa certainly made up the numbers in intention.

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