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A Rama’daan Window on South Africa

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South Africa, post 1994 and democracy, has become a melting pot, where the sights, sounds and flavours of the entire world combine to create a most appetising fusion.

A walk around Johannesburg reveals Somali woman, elegant in flowing knee-length burkhas, and long skirts; Nigerian men, their elaborate cloaks, a palette of colour that at once, transports one to a dusty Nigerian road; Pakistani men in kurtas; Bengali women in salwar kamees, dupattas trailing, a flag of rich hue.

Kara Pau, Chicken Tikka, Kebaab. The aromas mingle as do the people. And come Rama’daan, the air grows fragrant with something new: The bouquet of the Islaamic Brotherhood.

Almost a month before the arrival of our Blessed Guest, i.e., the month of Rama’daan, Spice Shop windows sport advertisements. Wares from around the word are sold in their overcrowded precincts. Dates, fresh and dry, Zamzam (yes, we pay for it here), rose water, almonds; all manner of ingredients to create the lush feasts common on many South African tables.

People busy themselves, shopping for spices, meat and a whole range of other goodies. Some go as far as shopping for ‘Eed clothes , claiming that going about that chore during Rama’daan is just too tiring.

Others begin spring cleaning. The transformation is evident, robust. With the sighting of the new moon, the Month is ushered in. Men ready themselves for the first Tarawee’h (congregational night prayer specific to Rama’daan) that will be performed in the many mosques  and Madrassahs.

The huge number of ’Huffaaz (those who memorize the ’Qura~n by heart and recite it well) in South Africa means that places where the Tarawee’h is performed are as numerous as the seeds in a pomegranate.

The next morning, fasting begins in earnest. Lights can be spied in many windows at the time of Su’hoor (predawn meal). Families give one another wake-up calls. The mosque is unusually full at the time of Fajr (dawn). An Ummah has been galvanised into reflecting the true spirit of the Islamic Brotherhood.

A day on the street in Rama’daan is different. The Fast Food outlets in the areas where Muslims are a majority go quiet. The sounds of people on the move, earning a living or going about their day to day activities, are somehow muted.

But as the day winds down, the tempo picks up once more.  Mosques become gathering places, where Muslims from around the world converge, each bringing with them a slice of home. They lay this out before them, assembling in groups. And then, comes the Ath>aan. It resonates from the loudspeakers poised like sentinels atop lofty minarets; the end of a long day of fasting under a burning African sun.

Water and sweet dates from Medina and Tunisia enter parched mouths, and slip into empty stomachs. The Muslims in true brotherhood eat, then stand - straight rows, and bow in obedience to the One Allaah; bow in unison.

But something is amiss. Yes, you’re right, the women. Where are they? Where I live, I hear the Ath>aan of no less than three mosques. And not one of these make provisions for the sisters to share in the feeling, to perform the Tarawee’h, where ’Huffaaz - some as young as thirteen - lead the congregation, guide the men through the completion of the ’Qura~n.

There are mosques- where Muslims that follow the Shafi‘ee Math>hab (school of thought) dominate - where women can share in the activities of Rama’daan, and perform the Tarawee’h in congregation. And oft-times, I wish I could be there. But alas, they are too far away.
So what do we, as women, do? As the hour of sunset draws closer, we bustle about in kitchens, preparing all manner of delicacy. The aroma of baking pies, frying samoosas (pies), simmering curries and melting ghee hangs in the air, enticing, inviting.

Frothy jugs of falooda (sweet drink) sweat in the hot air, the moisture running in rivulets down their sides. Plates, laden with the choicest pickings make their way, borne by children impatient for the fast to end, from home to home.

But here too, something is amiss. Do the plates find their way to the homes of people we do not know? Do they find their way past the thresholds of those less fortunate than ourselves? Many of our African brothers and sisters have seen the beauty of Islaam, but sadly, in my predominantly Indian community, they are marginalised, ignored.

I cannot fault my brethren totally though, for many of these brothers and sisters have acquired quite a reputation, drifting from door to door, especially during the month of Rama’daan, begging in the name of Allaah. And often, they turn out to be charlatans.

But this year I have promised myself that it will be different. I have made an intention to change the things that are within my power. So that means that while the mosques are excluded, those less fortunate are not. I’ve made it a challenge to myself, a challenge to extend a hand of friendship to as many fellow Muslims as I possibly can.

That is my goal this year, one to add to the target of reading as much ’Qura~n as possible, or performing the Tahajjud (predawn prayer) prayer daily. The intention is to, through my actions, display the concept of the Brotherhood (or Sisterhood) of Islaam in as vibrant a way as I possibly can.
Maybe you should attempt the same. Change starts with little stirrings, little ripples on the glassy surface of waters that mask blights. And enough ripples, can create a wave that might someday sweep in a current of positive change. Start making a stir.

Saaleha Bhamjee -
Saaleha Bhamjee is a freelance writer based in South Africa.Read More >>

Last Updated on Sunday, 23 August 2009 23:28  

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