Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Remembrance at Habibia, Cape Town

A PLEASANT Saturday afternoon was spent by the Dairat us-Salihiyya Dhikr Circle remebering their Creator at the gravesite of Maulana Abdul Latief in Rylands, Cape Town. The Maulana, one of Cape Town's pioneers of Islam, is regarded as a saint, or a friend of God.

Maulana Abdul Latief was sent to the Cape by another great figure, Sufi Saheb of Riverside in Durban, in 1904. In those days, Rylands Estate - formerly Doornhoogte -  was bush. The first foundation stone of the Habibia Mosque was laid on a spot of land that Sufi Saheb had purchased. Maulana Abdul Latief had to endure great hardship, living in a shack without running water as he built up an institution that today hosts a creche, a primary school and the International Peace University South Africa (IPSA). A high school and an orphanage were relocated.

Maulana Abdul Latief passed away in 1917 and his burial place is situated next to the mosque, which has been renovated to meet the needs of a growing and vibrant community.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Post Truth, the Big Brother of disinformation

MY first piece for Muslim Views for 2017 was meant to be a rediscovery of Shaikh Yusuf of Makasar. But events in Syria over the holiday period have presented more pressing issues, so Shaikh Yusuf is on the back-burner for now. This is because Syria has typified everything that has been going on in the media in the past year, an annus horribilis for us journalists covering world events.

What caught my attention was that the Oxford Dictionary had voted ‘post truth’ the word of the year. By definition, post-truth is when objectivity – or reason – becomes less influential than truth in shaping public opinion. To put it more bluntly, the post-truth era gives public figures the licence to lie.

The US comedian, Steven Colbert, called it ‘truthiness’, a belief that what you feel is true rather than what the facts support. In this scenario, it makes it easy to find a Zionist under every bush, or the forces of white capitalism behind every corrupted South African politician.

The Syrian conflict, representing a myriad of agendas from at least six foreign players, has been the worst victim. And when states can spread falsehood with such sophistication – as the US, Israel, Russia and Iran can – post-truth becomes a dangerous and divisive thing. Is Syria a US-Russia Cold War play? Is it about gas pipelines? Is it about the so-called ‘Shi’ah crescent?’

Most of us hear only what we want to hear, and the consequences are far reaching. It’s a cliché, but we do live in a worldwide village of overwhelming data – raw unprocessed data – and in this digital universe there is always someone prepared to pedal our worldview, despite its unreality.

In other words, conspiracy theories can be created at will. Climate change can be dismissed; politicians can use non-sequitir, or blame ghostly third forces, when facing our serious questions on economics, governance and accountability. Truth becomes relative, and not the absolute it should be.

The prime example of this is Donald Trump, a congenital liar tapping randomly into societal unease by spewing xenophobia, sexism and preying on genuine working-class fears. Indeed, Trump was click-bait deluxe; and by simply being Donald, he grabbed the headlines.

The US media, who’d feasted on his crassness, only realised too late that they’d let a genie out of a bottle. Middle America, yearning for a quick-fix to its enduring socio-economic woes, had been stirred by Trump’s armchair mantras, which sometimes hit the target, and sometimes not – except that when they didn’t nobody was listening.

Another phenomenon, together with post-truth, has been the advent of ‘fake news’ pedalled especially on Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes advertising ploys designed to generate mouse-clicks, and sometimes mischievous – or even genuinely satirical ventures – these fake news URLs have created havoc in the media.

With newsrooms already gutted by digital attrition and corporate cost-cutting, the few qualified journalists left behind have been left to deal with the damage. There is hardly a newsroom in the land that doesn’t have a list on its bulletin board naming fake news sites due their reporters having fallen for the trick.

The US website, BuzzFeed, reported that President Obama had banned the pledge of allegiance in schools. It clocked up two million hits before being found untrue. Other major fake news events were the Pope endorsing Trump, ISIS supporting Hilary Clinton and a woman defecating on her boss’s desk after winning the lottery.

Back home we had Zuma dying (several times), Mandoza passing on (he hadn’t), the government banning lobola, Trump threatening to capture Robert Mugabe and a gay baboon terrorising a village. And whilst some of the fake news is indeed funny, and difficult to take seriously, reports of people dying are not.

Where fake news and post-truth have their worst impact, however, is in parts of the world where there is conflict. When the Russian-Iranian supported advance on eastern Aleppo became news in December, it was an immediate headache. With ‘fake’ journalists abounding, from Syrian and other quarters, it became difficult to ascertain exactly what was going on.

From ‘embedded’ reporters in east Aleppo – whose phone batteries mysteriously never went flat – to Russian shills, it seemed as if one was dealing with entirely different universes. Reports varied from people cheering at Assad-aligned troops to women committing suicide at the prospect of being raped by Assad-aligned troops.  

In all of this, we journalists trying to make sense of things have also become victims – mainly of abuse – in a case of if your agenda doesn’t fit someone else’s, it becomes a case of shoot the messenger. There is no neutral space, and even humanitarian organisations have felt the trigger.

In emotionally polarised scenarios, it is so much easier for people to hang on to post-truth, than to interrogate events. Burst that bubble, and your life will become hell: the invective will be harsh, it will recognise no personal boundaries – and what is worse, it will come from mainly anonymous sources, themselves mirroring the worst of the sectarianism tearing the Middle East apart.

Of course, criticism is healthy and part of the job, but 2016 has definitely been the worst in four decades of journalism. And if we think 2017 is going to be any better, we are going to be disappointed – post-truth has been coming at us for some time, and terrifyingly, looks like it will be around for some time too.

Twenty-five years ago, a Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich first coined the term ‘post-truth’ in an essay entitled ‘A Government of Lies’He wrote in The Nation that after Watergate and Vietnam, the US public had come to equate truth with bad news. Consequently, it didn’t want bad news anymore, no matter how vital it was to the health of the nation. “We looked to our government to protect us from the truth,” wrote Tesich.

And whilst the initial context of post-truth is an American one, this Big Brother of disinformation in our digital century has ensured that its effects will be global. The implications for the future of the world community understanding itself are frightening. And a quarter of a century later, Tesich’s words are still poignant:

“We are rapidly becoming prototypes of a people that totalitarian monsters could only drool about in their dreams. All the dictators up to now have had to work hard at suppressing the truth. We, by our actions, are saying that this is no longer necessary, that we have acquired a spiritual mechanism that can denude truth of any significance. In a very fundamental way we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mawlud, Masjid Khalil al-Rahman in District Six

A dhikr group that uses the mosque in District Six every Thursday night (all welcome) for the performance of the devotional liturgy, the Ratib ul-Haddad of Imam 'Abdullah ibn 'Alawi al-Haddad, hosted its an annual mawlud - the commemoration of the Prophet Muhammad's birth - at the mosque. The dhikr group is led by Muhammad Salih Toefy. The Ad-Dairat us-Salihiyya Dhikr Circle also joined the commemoration. Food parcels were distributed after the event.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Ad-Dairat us-Salihiyyah Dhikr Circle, empowering women

THE Ad-Dairat us-Salihiyyah Dhikr Circle has a social legacy that goes back for more than 90 years when Shaikh Muhammad Salih Hendricks of the Azzawia in Cape Town initiated programmes that were to prove empowering for local Muslim women.

Having studied at Makkah at the turn of the century for 22 years, he had been steeped in the Prophetic way by his teachers, savants who were the finest exponents of classical knowledge of their age in Qur’an, Prophetic Tradition, Sacred Law, spirituality and theology.

Spending a year in Zanzibar as a Qadi (or religious judge) on the way home after the 1914-18 World War, Shaikh Muhammad Salih reached Cape Town and embarked upon a strenuous teaching programme that would see him occupied from before dawn to well after dusk on a daily basis.

Not only did he teach members of Prophet’s family – the Sayyids who’d fled the Wahhabi invasions of Makkah and Madinah in 1923 – and instruct a whole generation of imams, but he also established classes on the Ihya ‘Ulum ud-Din of the 11th century colossus, Imam al-Ghazali.

Another significant contribution was his focus on women with regards to Islamic education. So much so, that when he built the Azzawia on the slopes of Devils Peak in Walmer Estate as a Waqf Ahli (a family trust) in 1920, he decreed that the mosque space only be in the centre of the prayer hall.

The Shaikh was so keen for women to attend classes that a section extending from the walls was declared non-masjid, and women with their monthly course could attend his lessons without hindrance. Furthermore, to symbolise tolerance of the four madha-hib, or schools of thought, he built four prayer niches – or mihrabs – into the Qiblah wall.

“Die Ou Shegh” (the old Shaikh) as Shaikh Muhammad Salih was lovingly called, had a distinctive understanding of living and devotional space.

He had his house designed so that the family could move from room-to-room in complete privacy, this whilst guests ate in the dining room, or attended special classes in the front lounge. This he did by constructing a series of inter-leading doors down the one side of his residence – which itself was linked to the Azzawia via his book-lined study.

As an institution, the Azzawia had many nooks and crannies – and teaching spaces. One of them was a pillared area under the Azzawia, wrongly referred to as a “basement”. It houses storage rooms, a classroom, offices, a library and a hall.

Called the “diwan” by the old students of the Azzawia, it was here that classes were taught too, especially when Shaikh Muhammad Salih’s two sons, Shaikh Ebrahim and Shaikh Mahdi, returned from studying in Makkah in the 1940s, followed by Shaikh Mujahid in the late 1950s.

Old students remember Shaikh Ebrahim giving classes in this space, which would be enclosed by a railing and cushioned bolsters. The diwan is still used for classes for men and women – especially on Wednesday and Thursday nights – and serves as the madrasah during weekday afternoons.

Shaikh Muhammad Salih introduced the Barzanji mawlud (a poetic tribute of the Prophet Muhammad’s blessed life recited to commemorate his birth). Its melodious style of recitation – something unique to the Cape – was fine-tuned by one of his students, Ahmad Seraj.

Shaikh Muhammad Salih was the first imam to introduce the women of Cape Town to active participation in the mawlud, and they were accorded their own event, which is well-attended to this day.  

As a practioner of tasawwuf, or Islamic spirituality, Shaikh Muhammad Salih would encourage certain litanies based on the Ba ‘Alawi tradition of his Shaikhs. This is something Shaikhs Ahmad and Seraj continued when they as – third generation Shaikhs of the Hendricks family – arrived back home from studying in Makkah in 1993.  

The Dairat us-Salihiyyah Dhikr Circle was founded by the two Shaikhs and Hajjah Naeema Manie whose great-grandfather, Shaikh Mu’awiyyah Manie, had been a close friend of Shaikh Muhammad Salih. To this day, Shaikh Mu’awiyyah is the only South African Qari to enjoy the privilege of reciting the Qur’an in the Holy Mosque in Makkah.

The idea of the women’s Dhikr Circle – which salutes the legacy of Shaikh Muhammad Salih – was to broaden its base, to take the Ratib ul-Haddad litany and the mawlud to the greater community. Active for the past decade, the Ad-Dairat us-Salihiyyah Dhikr Circle has grown enormously and has expanded its activities to da’wah and social upliftment.

Its annual keynote event, the mawlud, was held at the Primrose Park masjid late in December and was addressed by the mosque's imam, Shaikh Moosa Titus. The keynote address on nubuwwah, the essence of Prophethood, was delivered by Shaikh Seraj Hendricks, who together with his brother Ahmad, is a patron of the Ad-Dairat us-Salihiyyah Dhikr Circle. 

Maulana Abdurahman Khan, a student and representative of Habib ‘Umar ibn Hafidh of Tarim, spoke about the legacy of Sayyidah Fatimah, the Prophet’s blessed daughter.

A large crowd attended.

Young and old.

Sh Seraj Hendricks delivers address.

Hajjah Naeema and Sh Seraj Hendricks.

Sh Moosa Titus addresses mawlud.

Maulana Abdurahman Khan speaks.

Time for du'ah, or reflection.

Sprinkling perfumed rose water.

Hajjah Naeema

The mawlud in progress.

The qiyam, accompanied by Sh Mujahid Toefy.

The final prayer.

Yellow roses were said to be the Prophet's favourite.

Photos Shafiq Morton