Tuesday, April 26, 2016

World power: the intended and unintended consequences

We are most destructive generation.
Copyright Shafiq Morton.
WRITING a predictive and analytical piece about global events in this day and age is often predicated by the frustration, and the qualification, that things can change so quickly. 

The globalisation of information technology and economic systems has globalised the dynamics of politics and power.

However, it’s not a complete circle. He, who controls information and the money, might arrogantly think he can control everything – but as the Wiki leaks and the Panama Papers have shown, information is a double-edged sword.

Ultimately, there are no guarantees. Landscapes can shift fast, like sand-dunes in the Sahara, and no sooner have you pressed the send button, when something else happens to confound what you’ve just said. Then there’s the “pipeline theory” where, for instance, if you open a tap in New York, Alice Springs in Australia gets wet.

Oil, the black gold of the Apocalypse, is the obvious paragon here. The oil price, forced to drop via deliberately increased OPEC volumes, has been a war by any other name. Oil is tied to the dollar, and as the barrel price has plummeted to unprofitable production levels, it has caused the economies of Iran, Venezuela and Russia – all troublesome entities to the US and the Gulf – to tailspin. It’s just so easy.  

Or so it seems, because there are unintended consequences. Those who’ve turned on the oil taps have inflicted damage on their own economies too and sent other major oil producers – such as Nigeria, Angola and Malaysia – down the toilet. From one single action at the source, millions end up suffering.

Take Iraq and Libya, Iraq trying to rebuild from 2003 and Libya reeling from post-Gaddafi tribalism, extremism and chaos.  Is it significant that Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, both monstrous, but tolerated oligarchs in Washington and London, spoke about not playing the dollar game before their overthrows? It is cynical, yes, but the infamous “seven sisters” of the oil business have always preferred to deal with closed societies.

And now the people of Iraq, Libya – and even poor old Syria – have to pay the price of being a chessboard for macho Russia, Iran, Turkey, Israel, maybe China, the nervous Gulf states and a war weary US. Europe, in particular, has signed off on the most racist deal since Nazism to ensure that refugees – mostly Arab or Africans fleeing the developed world’s proxy conflicts – will be cleansed from the Euro-zone and sent to Turkey.

Further afield one faces the stultifying lack of moral consciousness of Aung Suung Kyi, once the darling of the human rights community, who refuses to condemn Buddhist extremists from ethnically cleansing the indigenous Rohinghyas of Burma. Human Rights Watch, and other agencies, rate the Rohinghyas as the most oppressed people on earth, and yet this Nobel Peace Prize winner is unable to utter a word.

If that’s not enough, there is the arms industry, undeniably the most corrupt industry on the planet. Claiming that it makes the world more secure, the real effect of the military-industrial complex since World War Two has been the opposite. The arms industry is a hugely hypocritical business. So much so, that you could find Hizballah and Israeli buyers bidding for the same equipment at an arms fair.

Again in the arms industry, which recycles weapons used in one conflict zone to another – thus compounding global bedlam – there are unintended consequences. It’s famously called “blowback”.  

Writing in his book, The Shadow World inside the Global Arms Trade, former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein says: “Perhaps the most obvious example is the US arming of the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Armed and trained to drive the Soviet Union out of the country, the same trained fighters, with the same weapons, formed the core of the Taliban and the adumbral Al Qaeda network that today constitutes America’s greatest enemy.”

And that’s the truth, but let me stop for a moment. Reading all of this correctly is an instinct that as I’ve just said – often gets betrayed. There are no easy rides on the conspiracy shuttle. There are no comfortable walks on the actuality trail.

And this six month old year, battered and bruised by ISIS terror, wholesale corruption, human suffering and natural events such as floods and earthquakes, is already reeling from the tumultuous events that have shaken it.

Locally, we’ve had the curse too. Crippling drought and then Number One, and then Number One’s son and his adventures in Guptaland, and then Number One’s firing of a finance minister that almost sunk the economy, and then, Number One’s deserved bitch slap from Thuli Madonsela via the Concourt.  

We’ve had service delivery unrest (actually the young, the restless and the unemployed broaching vital issues) and university protest (the young and the restless asking the same questions but in a different way).

Reading what I’ve written so far a person might be tempted to think that the 21st century is a horrible place, or that I’m manic. Manic I’m not, but indeed, in many ways the world is horrible, but never in human history has man had the potential, and the means, to do so much good and to reduce the poverty gap so effectively.

We have the technology and the knowledge, but what is slowly killing us is rampant consumerism,  environmental rape, the venality of power and the masonic military industrial complex. Here, God-given technology is used for questionable means, unguided by any morality except naked expediency.

However, it is a sober thought that on the historical timeline we are probably mostly the most well-off, but most destructive generation of mankind. As I’ve said, we possess tools no other civilisations have had before. Look at Dresden in the second World War, the Niger Delta, Hiroshima after the bomb or the Vietnam jungle after Agent Orange.

But how do we deal with all of this as Muslims? Wet-blanket defeatism is not our ethos. As the late Sayyid Muhammad al-Maliki said on his last visit to Cape Town: there may well be lots of fasad – or calumny – on the earth, but there is still goodness amongst us. And whilst it may well be our duty to speak – or act out responsibly – against injustice, it is equally our duty to focus and build on the khayr, the inherent goodness that appeals to us all.

Or as another Shaykh, Nuh Ha Mim Keller, told me after 9/11: we have to strive according to our capacity as Allah, the Highest, permits us. There will always be things beyond our control, and we have to leave them in the hands of the One who knows best, whilst we beseech Him for the best outcome.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A survival guide to Islam (the one without ISIS)

The Qur'an mentions mountains, the sea and the sky.
Copyright Shafiq Morton
MUSLIM scholars say God created what we know as Creation because there was darkness, and He wanted to be known. The Qur’an says that God – known as “Allah” in Arabic – is not an angry, vengeful God.

He is a God of Truth, a God of Mercy and a God of Compassion. The Qur’an – which is regarded as the uncreated word of Allah – has been preserved intact since its Revelation over 1,400 years ago. It opens with: “In the name of God, the Most Gracious and the Supremely Merciful”.

The Qur’an, which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad via the Archangel Gabriel over a period of 23 years, talks to mankind, and not just to Muslims. God says in the Qur’an that people will have different beliefs – and that he created man into nations and tribes, not to despise one another, but to know one another.

God created us in spiritual form first, and gathered our souls together in a pre-historic Heavenly place, asking: “Am I not your Lord?” And before we all entered the material world as human beings, our spirits answered in unison: “Yes, Lord, You are our Lord.”

Because God created light out of darkness, truth is Light. This is the Light of an open heart, the Light of Knowledge and the Light of Divine Love, for it is said in Islam that God’s Mercy far precedes his anger, and that his love for us is infinitely more than a mother pining for her lost child.

Islam simply means “peace” and “submission to God”. The Arabic word “salam” means peace, and Muslims greet each other with this greeting to remind themselves of this. Peace is the greeting of the Angels, and the Divine salutations of God’s 124, 000 Prophets He sent to earth.

99% of Mercies are not perceived by us

According to Muslim scholars, God’s Creation has many dimensions, most of which we cannot see. In fact, God tells us Himself that 99% of His Mercies are not perceived by us.

When God decreed Creation He created three kinds of beings. The first was the Angels, shaped out of pure Divine Light. The second was the jinn (the genies) moulded out smokeless fire, and finally, there was man – shaped out of primordial clay, or DNA. Satan, who was a pious genie, was told to prostrate before God’s proudest Creation, Adam. But in a fleeting moment of jealousy and arrogance, he refused.

Satan, once a beloved servant of God, deemed his fiery essence to be superior to the clay of Adam. For his primeval act of racism, he was cast out of prehistoric Paradise and given respite until Judgement Day to act out his nafs, his basic desires.

Because God wanted Himself to be known, He gave man (and the jinn in a semi-parallel universe) one of His most precious gifts – consciousness. And this is why, in a Divine unfolding, Cain had to slay Abel, and why Adam had to be cast out of Paradise. There is no concept of original sin in Islam.

The point is that to recognise the good we had to know the bad, and so Cain was infused with the envy and greed of Satan when he lusted for his brother’s wife. To realise the sweetness and elevated consciousness of Paradise, we had to grovel in the dirt of the material world. To know the true Majesty and Compassionate Mercy of God, Adam had to learn about forgiveness.

Because Islam means “peace and submission to God” in its absolute sense Muslims deem that every person is born “Muslim”, is born in a state of Islam, though that person may go on to embrace other beliefs during their lifetime.

Muslims believe that there can only be one God, one Creator. If there had been two Gods, or more, Creation would have been in conflict with itself. Worlds and universes would have devolved into a soup of unfathomable chaos as the pantheon of gods clashed.

The power of natural beauty.
Muslims respect and revere all of God’s 124,000 Prophets, with some enjoying more textual prominence than others. Of the 124, 000 prophets, 313 were regarded as Messengers (those given some form of revelatory text).

What we know is that God revealed 100 pages and fourteen books. Adam was given 10 pages, his son Seth (or Shith) was given 50 pages, Idris (Enoch or Akhnukh) was given 10 pages and Abraham was given 10 pages. Moses (or Musa) was provided 10 pages prior to the Torah, the Injil (or the Gospel) was granted to Jesus, the Zabur (or the Psalms) were sent to David and the Furqan (the Qur’an) was revealed to Muhammad.

Adam is regarded as the Father of Mankind, Abraham is seen as the Patriarch, Moses is respected as the Lawgiver, Jesus is loved as the Great Healer and Muhammad is saluted as the Final Messenger, a Prophet for all people and for all times. The name “Muhammad” derives from the word “Ahmad”, the praised one. Muhammad was the first to be called “Muhammad”.

In Islam life is sacred, and the Qur’an echoes the Jewish Torah when it says that the one who kills someone without compunction has killed the equivalent of mankind. Suicide bombing, the murder of innocents and the wanton destruction of the environment, are expressly forbidden in Islam.  

It is only logical that a loving, Merciful God would embrace all his Creation, that He would also love his animals and plants. There is special mention in the Qur’an of the camel, the cow, the dog, the pigeon, the ant, the bee, the spider and even the pig, as well as the fig, the date and the olive.

In fact, the Qur’an continually reminds mankind of nature – of its seasonal fruits, of the soil’s fertility, of the intrinsic harmony of the seas, the rivers, the skies, the moon, the sun and the stars.

Islam is a way of seeking knowledge, the first word of revelation being “read”, with a wider import of going forth and understanding. In fact, the three most mentioned words in the Qur’an are God, knowledge and justice – Allah, ‘ilm and ‘adl.

To this effect an Arabic poet wrote that ignorance was darkness, because it was a “death before a death”. The Prophet once told his Companions that the scholars were the inheritors of the prophets as they bequeathed knowledge instead of gold.

Jihad is a hugely misunderstood concept of faith

The word “jihad” means “to struggle to one’s utmost” in all endeavours, and does not primarily refer to “war”, or even “holy war”, as is so commonly believed.  In fact, the Arabic word for war is “harb”, and not “jihad”. The Prophet Muhammad once told the Muslim army as it marched back to base from battle at Tabuk that it was returning from the lesser jihad (war) to the greater jihad (the struggle against the self).

This is a hugely misunderstood concept of faith, the Prophetic axiom often undermined by extremists who wish to reject it on the basis of a weak narrator in its chain, adding that it is apologetic and untrue. They fail to understand that jihad – as we’ve said above – is a comprehensive process of the mind, the tongue, the pen, the hand and, only finally, the sword.

Authentic scholars accept the spirit of the Hadith on the basis of its accepted truth, as its underlying questions of self-remonstrance, the pursuance of knowledge, worship and piety are fully supported by the Qur’an, whose principles remain the defining ones.

Moreover, most of the Qur’anic verses on jihad refer to specific historical incidences only, and according to the rules of Qur’anic exegesis, cannot be used by the scholars to justify law-making. A Qur’anic edict on the betrayal of the Treaty of Hudaibiyya, and the Qur’anic exhortation for the Prophet to ruthlessly punish the miscreants, only applies to the instance mentioned – it applies to no other.

Unfortunately, extremists have failed to tell the masses of their gross literalism and their betrayal of this basic Shari’ principle, so we are incorrectly exhorted to kill unbelievers “wherever they are”.

Essentially, Islam is a way of being grounded in absolute simplicity, love and devotion. Before God all people are equal, and God will forgive sinners for as long as they sincerely repent. Or as a gnostic saint once said: “the tears of a sinner wipe away the misdeeds of a hundred years”.

The practice of Islam is based on Five Pillars:
  •        That God is One, and that Muhammad is His final Messenger.
  •        The practice of five daily prayers.
  •        Zakat, payment of alms tax (about 2% of one’s residual wealth) to the poor. 
  •         Performance of the Ramadan Fast (if one has the health).
  •         Performance of the Hajj (if one has the means).

If a Muslim cannot fulfill any of the last three obligations due to ill health, war, poverty or other valid reasons, there are equivalent (but hugely less taxing) acts laid down by Sacred Law that can equally compensate for them.

The Shari’ah, the Sacred Law, is primarily derived by competent scholars from the Qur’an and the practices and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (the Sunnah and the Hadith). The next stage is the use of applied reason (called ijtihad), deductive analogy (called qiyas) and ‘ijma, which is academic consensus – and, interestingly, not as common a phenomenon as one might think.

The word “Shari’ah” means a watering hole

The word “Shari’ah” means a watering hole, and classical scholars define Shari’ah as something providing relief, not suffering or punishment. The maqasid – or the purposes of Shari’ah – are defined by the protection of faith, the protection of life, the protection of family, the protection of the intellect, the protection of  property and the protection of the character.

This has to be extended as much to non-Muslims, as it has to Muslims. It is well-known that the Prophet encouraged his Companions to make non-Muslims their neighbours. It has to be understood that the application of Shari’ah – via Fiqh – is not a monolithic system at all. The four great Imams of jurisprudence, Imam Malik, Abu Hanifah, Imam Shafi’i and Imam Hanbal did not agree on a host of legal issues.

This reflects the ethos of the Prophet himself, who tolerated difference and the use of reason as long as it was expressed with God-fearing deference, sound reason and respect for the other. In fact, Islamic law is not a static work of unbendable principles, but a dynamic and evolving system dealing with the issues of the day.

Mandatory limb amputations, mass executions and stonings do not reflect the intended language of the Shari’ah, nor does ISIS vigilantism and the selective rulings of so-called Islamic leaders. Amputation, execution and stoning – revelations in the context of their era – are used in the Qur’an to indicate the ultimate resort in addressing grave transgressions. Classical jurists all concur that compassion, reasonability, reliable witness and strict due process have to be the backbone of Shari’ah.  

For example, if a person has been negligent with their goods and they are stolen, the thief is automatically given a lesser sentence. If there is a shortage of food, a thief will not have his hand amputated – a ruling followed by the Caliph ‘Umar in the 7th century. This was the same ruler who once ordered four witnesses in an adultery case to be flogged. He absolved the alleged adulterers because the one witness had differed slightly from the others.

Allowance for forgiveness

As can be seen, mitigation is a critical element of any religious judge’s arsenal as all legal principles and applications are governed by their context. There is also allowance for forgiveness or shades of retribution in the case of murder where the aggrieved party may petition the sitting Qadi to grant a more lenient sentence, or for blood money to be paid.

Hugely misunderstood is that a fatwa, the legal opinion of a scholar, is just that – a legal opinion. A fatwa does not enjoy the status of a “hukm”, which is a legal ruling that binds the parties to the legality of that ruling.

A person has a right to interrogate a fatwa, which has to be issued in light of the accepted interests of a particular community. A fatwa against the smoking of tobacco, for example, is merely an understanding – a recommendation – that smoking is unlawful. However, it is not a de-facto law for which the smoker can be punished.

Under an Islamic State (in reality a non-existent institution today) non-Muslims have to enjoy full constitutional rights. The Caliph, or ruler, has to grant them freedom of religious practice, the freedom of association, the ownership of property, the ability to trade and he has to accord them personal respect.

And finally, Islam is a matter of the heart. God does not judge us by our outward appearances. As Muslims we cannot sit in the judgement of what is between another person’s ribs; that is a secret between God and His servant, not between man and man.

May you go in Peace.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

ISIS’s Western (s)hit list and the former South African-based cleric

ISIS, the so-called “Islamic State”, has published 14 editions of its online magazine, Dabiq. It is a catchy masthead title. Dabiq is the Syrian town mentioned in an end-time Prophetic tradition where Muslim and “Roman” armies will fight a bloody battle that will herald the arrival of Jesus.

The magazine itself is well laid-out, colourful and graphic – but it does become an extremely dense read due to its evangelical otherism and downright bloodthirstiness. Its copious misquotes, its long-winded reckonings, its sweeping generalisations, its hectoring, its theological absolutism, its pornography of violence and its gross misinterpretations of classical sources also make it extremely difficult to digest.  

Its latest edition certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard. The cover has an etched photo of the former Egyptian president and now jailed Islamic Brotherhood leader, Muhammad Morsi, at the ballot box – evidently a symbol of evil. Sub-headed in green against black, it is entitled “The Murtadd (faith-betraying) Brotherhood”.

The editorial feature proceeds to revile the ikhwan for selling out to secularism, drowning the text with decontextualised quotations. It states that “over the last few decades, a devastating cancer (the Brotherhood) has emerged, mutated, and spread, attempting to drown the entire Muslim community in apostasy”.

Dabiq carries on in its usual breathless manner that… “It should be clear now…why the Brotherhood is a party of extreme apostasy and why it is thus obligatory upon the Muslims to declare the stance of takfir (unbelief), bara’ah (disavowal), animosity, and enmity towards this group…”

Brussels, the very latest locus of ISIS-attributed terror is featured too, in sickening Dabiq doggerel.

“Brussels, the heart of Europe, has been struck. The blood of its vitality spilled on the ground, trampled under the feet of the mujahidin. Flames ignited years ago in Iraq have now scorched the battleground of Belgium, soon to spread to the rest of crusader Europe and the West.”
The alleged suicide bombers of Brussels Airport and the Metro station, former convicts Ibrahim al-Bakrawi and Khalid al-Bakrawi, are referred to as the “Knights of Shahada” with the traits of “generosity and bravery” grotesquely attributed to them.  
Indeed, reading Dabiq is a shocking experience – even for a hardened journalist like myself. And even it wasn’t true, the old cliché to fall back onto comedy, doesn’t apply. Even if ISIS wasn’t a political reality, and even if it hadn’t claimed a caliphate in the dangerous vacuum created by Mid-East occupiers, the magazine would still make one’s blood run cold.   
But perhaps the most ominous, and alarmingly seditious, aspect of this latest edition is a story entitled “Kill the Imams of Kufr (unbelief) in the West”. Described as “venomous” religious leaders who’ve maintained a disunity in Islam, they’re accused – somewhat predictably – of uniting upon western interests.
In the story all these imams are named, some even pictured, with the captions describing them as “taghut”, or deviant. And whilst most hail from the US, Canada, the UK and Australia, there is a South African link in Dr Abdullah Hakim Quick, a historian, social activist and mission worker, who spent over a decade amongst the poorest in Cape Town, returning to his home in Canada in 2010.
Quick, currently a Senior Lecturer and Resident Scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto and the Outreach Coordinator for the Canadian Council of Imams,  attracts Dabiq’s ire for his messages of condolence for Canadians killed by ISIS, and for his outspoken stance on social issues.
Quick, who has campaigned against racism and homophobia, has said that some of his closest blood relations are Christian and that many of his colleagues and friends are of the Jewish faith, a total anathema to ISIS.
Other personalities, whilst perhaps not well-known outside Muslim circles, are key figureheads of reason and moderation in the Islamic world community. Ironically, two of the vilified religious figures, Bilal Philips and Pierre Vogel, are allied to the Saudi arch-conservative school of Wahhabism, but are attacked anyway for publicly condemning ISIS’s theology.
Shaikh Hamza Yusuf of the US, a Sufi and classical scholar who heads the Zaytuna Institute, is described as “the pinnacle of apostasy”. The Sufis, who follow the spiritual inward path of Islam, are particularly reviled by ISIS. Shaikh Hisham Kabbani of the US Naqshbandi Sufi Order is singled out for abuse as is Shaikh Muhammad Yacoubi, a Syrian exile and scholar, who has written a book debunking ISIS.
Imam Suhail Webb, celebrated for his conciliatory role between faith communities in the US,  is described as the “joke of Al-Azhar” – Islam’s best-known theological university – and a man who has spent his career making a name for and a fool of himself as the “all-American imam”. Another public figure to incur the sanctimonious wrath of ISIS is Congressman Keith Ellison, a Muslim and Democratic Representative for Minnesota.
ISIS’s sinister message – which encourages people to actually kill these people – is reflected thus:
One must either take the journey to Dar al-Islam (the “Islamic” state), joining the ranks of the mujahidin therein, or wage jihad by himself with the resources available to him (knives, guns, explosives, etc.) to kill the cru­saders and other disbelievers and apostates, including the imams of kufr, to make an example of them..
The “them” and “us” sum-game, the ultimate resort of those who think that they are the only rightly guided ones, is found in the wind-up to the feature.
“The two camps (of Islam and the rest of the world community) have continuously become more distinct. Those who support the word of kufr on one side and the supporters of Allah’s word on the other. In this clouded time, each Muslim must be careful and be sure to be in the right camp”.
Bearing the above in mind, perhaps the safest thing  to conclude from this latest Dabiq and ISIS diatribe is, that in reality, it is the opposite which is true. That as a Prophetic axiom goes: he who wrongly utters unbelief (such as the ISIS caliph) may well indeed be proclaiming the same upon himself.


Agree with us, or off with your head. Image Daily Mail.
The ISIS "hit list"

Hamza Yusuf
Suhaib Webb
Muhammad al-Yaqoubi
Hisham Kabbani
Yasir Qadhi
Bilal Philips
Pierre Vogel
Tawfique Chowdhury
Waleed Basyouni
Abdullah Hakim Quick
Abū Basīr at-Tartūsī
Mohamed Elibiary,
Arif Alikhan,
Rashad Hussain,
Keith Ellison,
Huma Abedin
Muhammad Abdul Bari,
Sayeeda Warsi,
Waqar Azmi,
Sajid Javid,
Ajmal Masroor

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Into the future, a reflection on the Western Cape Muslim community

The changing face of South African Islam.
© Shafiq Morton
A VISIT to the Boland outside the urban fringes of Cape Town for a jumu’ah indicated to me that since the historic fall of the apartheid government, our community has undergone substantial demographic change. Two decades ago, this small country town had few Muslims – let alone an established place of worship.

But on this Friday, the mosque was full – not only with local congregants – but with people from North Africa, Somalia, the Indo-Pak region, Malawi and other destinations. Indeed, those sitting on the patterned carpet facing the imam were a veritable league of nations.

It is often in the microcosm, the miniature, that we gain understandings of the greater societal macrocosm. In this case, the Cape Muslim community is evidently not the same it was in 1994 when we first experienced democracy. 

I would venture that after a “stagnation” of many decades, marked by political and geographical isolation (even before 1948), the very fabric of our community has undergone massive sociocultural transformation due its post-apartheid encounter with the rest of the world.

It surprises me, however, that so few of us seem to have noticed the critical significance of this trend – and the possible dynamics of the Western Cape Muslim community in the future.

To understand this we have to delve into the past. This is because in the 1830s, when slavery was abolished under the British, the Cape Colony was believed to be one-third Muslim. And not only did this community consist of emancipated slaves, but a much forgotten class called “black freedmen”.

Research reveals that the community has always been an assimilative one. The 19th century scholar, Shaikh Abu Bakr Effendi, married a woman of English blood. In fact, there is enough archival and oral evidence to suggest that in the 19th century there were numerous “mixed marriages” in the Cape.

For this reason I suspect that “Malay”, which was the lingua-franca amongst slaves as Malayu was widely spoken at the time, was used to deny mixed DNA during apartheid. Bradlow and Cairns, who researched early slave communities, reveal that only 31 per cent of slaves hailed from the East Indies, with 36 per cent from India and 26 per cent from Africa.

It is powerfully evident, nonetheless, that it was the Sufi Shaikhs from the noble class of the Orang Cayen – the exiles from the Dutch East India colonies – who taught the community their Deen, despite the Statutes of India forbidding the practice of Islam. Later, with slave owners under more pressure to liberate Christian slaves, there was little resistance to them becoming Muslim.

However, today Muslims are not one-third of the populace. The City Council reported in 2011 that Mitchells Plain, for instance, was only 22.6 per cent Muslim. Other numbers are merely speculative, as the two post-apartheid censuses did not measure South Africans by faith.

1996 research papers did courageously claim that Muslims constituted 6.6 per cent (281, 050) of Cape Town’s population against 3.9 million people. The national total of Muslims was pegged at 600,000 – 1.5 per cent of the nation.

Then again, Google claims that we are 3% of the population (1.59 million). This unattributed figure is more realistic – but perhaps still vastly understated – as audience surveys at Voice of the Cape have topped 300,000, indicating that if any of the above numbers were to be true, every single person in the Cape Town community would have listened to the radio.

With our numbers highly speculative, it makes it difficult to go beyond perceived trends, but they are still significant and they do ask for interpretation.

On the one hand we have become an upwardly mobile community; a generation of artisans and shopkeepers has been replaced by a generation of doctors, dentists, academics and corporate lawyers. On the other hand, some sections of our community have remained mired in poverty, unable to break the chains of social anomie, backyard dwelling, unemployment, crime and gangs.

In the meantime, over the last two decades I have counted Muslims hailing from fifteen different African countries and seven from Asian and Middle Eastern ones living and working in the Cape. As a blend of refugees and economic migrants, most have weathered extreme hardship and xenophobia to contribute to our local economy.

Some of their children are even starting to attend our schools, and yet another assimilative process has quietly begun. The interesting question, of course, is how this melting pot of identities – mostly still in self-defensive silos – is going to converge into the greater one. In fact, one of the major challenges is the breaking down – in the positive sense – of these social silos.

The other big question is where the community’s base of power is going to rest in the future, and what kind of Islam is going to predominate. Whilst many new South African Muslims boast centuries of Islamic tradition, and share the intrinsic values of our Sufi heritage, some have been ideologically poisoned by the strictures of Wahhabism and damaged by the intolerance of sectarian conflict.

Then there is a growing interest in Islam in the black townships, where locals are fast realising that being Muslim is not an ethnic identity determined by beard length, shortened trousers and Pakistani shirts. The visits of African Shaikhs, such as Shaikh Hassan Cisse, have had a huge impact, as have the well-publicised reversions of figures such as Judge Hlope and Mandla Mandela.

Some in these township and expat populations have indicated that the Jami’ats and the Muslim Judicial Council, as we now know them, will have to change if they want to be truly representative of the community. There is already sentiment amongst those who see themselves as marginalised, that the traditional “Malay” and “Indian” blocs are an anachronism.

Whatever the case, our social landscape is transforming before our very eyes and it should be our duty to observe it, to study it and to understand it as we become a melting pot that forges the substance of a fresh new South African identity.