29 September 2009

Grahamstown Moli

Grahamstown Moli saab: From Russia to Israel to Joburg to Azaadville to India and Pakistan!

Maulana Amir Sherman has been living in Grahamstown for almost two years. He was born in Yahud, a city in Israel in 1973.

“My parents were from Russia and had immigrated to Israel the year before I was born,” he said. They lived there for 12 years and then moved to South Africa in 1985.

“I was schooled in Johannesburg and went to Technikon there where I studied many things – mechanical engineering, computers and electronics. I also used to do tricks on horses for the circus.

While at Technikon I met Muslim friends whom I became very close to. We used to smoke, drink, take drugs and womanise together,” he reminises.

In the 10 years they were friends, he would occasionally accompany them to the mosque for prayers on Fridays.

“They used to speak about the practical aspects of Islam - cleanliness, shaving of pubic hair, prayer and so on.They also told me that Moses, the Jewish prophet, was mentioned more in the Q'uran that the Prophet Muhammad himself,” he said.

“They were not practising Muslims but what attracted me to them was that they had warm hearts, good characters and when I was high on ecstasy, they used to comfort me.”

When his parents got divorced, his dad moved back to Israel and his mother and sister moved to Germany. He was 25 years old at the time and moved in with one of his Muslim friends who was living in Johannesburg.At this point he started asking himself questions about life and death and what happens to a person after they die. He wanted to worship but had no Jewish friends to show him how to pray.Sherman was then employed by one of his friends who ran a business selling, among other things, air fresheners.

“This friend of mine then went on the straight path, grew a long beard and started wearing a robe. I used to be with him most of the time and visited the mosque with him,” he said.

In this way he was invited to Islam, after returning from missionary work in the Indian sub-continent.
“My friend saw that I was inclined to Islam as I visited the mosque with him regularly.

He said to me that I needed to choose whether I wanted to remain a Jew or become a Muslim,” said Sherman.

“He also said that whatever I choose, he would still be the same friend to me and this touched my heart.”
“I decided that I was ready to become a Muslim and said to myself that if there was anything I didn’t like, I could always turn back,” he says of the time.

He then became a Muslim in June 1998 and joining the missionary work that his friend was involved in. It was here that he met a group of Maulanas (Islamic scholars) who had just returned from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“I spent 40 days with them and this was the best time of my life,” he said. “I saw these scholars standing and preaching and prayed in my heart that that was what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.

When he returned from the missionary work, he joined a Muslim seminary school in Azaadville near Johannesburg. He studied there for seven years and then went on missionary work in the Indian sub-continent. There he met an American born Muslim man living in Pakistan that had a Jewish father and Christian mother. Sherman married this man's daughter while he was in Pakistan and moved back to South Africa with his new bride.

On his return to South Africa in December 2006, he worked at a motor spares shop in Johannesburg during the day and taught Muslim children in the afternoons. In March 2008 he moved to Grahamstown where he engages in some social work during the mornings and teaches Muslim children in the afternoons.

“I lead the prayers and I am a spiritual leader for the Muslims here,” he said. He feels that the Muslim community in Grahamstown is growing with people moving here from other places and some locals embracing Islam.

“I like Grahamstown. It is very peaceful and green and the people here are kind, hospitable and helpful,” he said.

This article first appeared in Grocott's Mail: http://tinyurl.com/gtwnmoli

21 September 2009

Eid in The Hague (& later Copenhagen)

After the wonderfully different iftaar I met with Asma, a Dutch woman who stars in a local TV show “Girls of Halal”, and Zana from Sweden who is an organizer of major Islamic and other events. We went to pray the last Taraweeh at an Indonesian Musjid in West Amsterdam but we got there a bit late and the doors were locked. We then quickly rushed to another nearby Musjid where the three Imaams recited beautifully.
After Taraweeh, even though it was getting late, we decided to visit a third friend, Faisal, in Den Haag, or The Hague, a 40 min drive from Amsterdam. We chatted Muslim society and politics the whole time and before we knew it we were outside Faisals house. He took us down to the beachfront where we had some good discussion.

Having not slept the well on the plane the previous night, I was knackered. Fell asleep in the car on the way back to Amsterdam and only got up when we reached my hotel. I knocked out and had a solid sleep till late Saturday morning.

Caught up with some emails and admin when I woke up and then went out to explore Amsterdam. This was my second visit to this tourist filled city so I was quickly bored and returned to my hotel room after a short excursion. Checked out of the hotel and walked to the central station where I was picked up by Asma. We took Zana to the airport to catch his flight to Sweden and from there I took a train to The Hague. Met with Faisal who took me to visit a good Jordanian friend of mine working at the ICC. Spent the afternoon with him and then went to a local Indonesian Musjid for the last ifar of Ramadan 09. On the way I got a call from Islamonline radio where I discussed my experiences.

We arrived at the Musjid as Maghrib azaan was going and the atmosphere was amazing. From the foyer to the building, people were bustling all over the show. Young and old, males and females, mainly Indonesians and a few others were breaking fast with delicious Indonesian goodies. It was strange to see Indonesians all speaking to each other in this Afrikaans sounding language. In no time I was stuffing my face and chatting to many of the friendly young people there. Everybody filed upstairs to the Musjid area to pray, men from the front of the hall and women from the back. After Maghrid Salaah the Takbir was melodiously recited in a manner that reminded me of Cape Town. I suppose many Muslims in Cape Town have similar Indonesian roots. What also really impressed me was that after prayer everyone lines up and greets everyone else – but men and women separately of course.

More delicious food was served after the prayer and I chatted to a Dutch revert, married to an Indonesian, who was an active “Green Muslim”. His group arranged regularly for the slaughter of have animals that are organically reared and well treated. He felt, and I totally agree with him, that Muslims need to be at the forefront of the movement promoting conscious and ethical consumption. Rounding the meal off with good strong coffee and delicious ginger tea, we joined the takbir recitation before the Esha prayer.

After prayer we headed to Faisals home where I spent the night. His family was really warm and welcoming and we were up till late talking. Had a hard time waking up for Fajr and then again for the Eid prayer. I’ve experienced Eid in a few different countries in the past few years and one universal Eid experience is the rush in the morning to shower and get done in time for the prayer! Even though it was only 9am here (compared to 6.30am in SA) we were still quite panicky and rushed and just made it to the hall in time.

The Eid prayer was hosted by an organization called Minhajul Quran and was almost totally Pakistani. I obviously couldn’t understand the Imaam during his Khutba, not becaues he spoke in Dutch but because it was in Urdu. Someone from the Pakistani embassy was a VIP guest and hence was given a few minutes to address the crowd. Anyone who knows Pakistani politics, would appreciate this more. After prayer we greeted hundreds (ok, but it was a lot) of people and then left. On the way to the car we stumbled across another little Musjid on the corner close by. Faisal spoke to people there who explained that it was a fairly new center for people of Indonesian decent who came from Surinam. There is a special Dutch word for them too, as they are very different from the immigrants who came straight from Indonesia. I guess its like the difference between someone like me and someone from India moving to London.

The rest of the day was a constant buffet feast. We moved around a bit and ate loads wherever we went, often not by choice. Before I knew it it was time to pack my bags and head for the airport so that I could spend the rest of Eid in Copenhagen.

Typed this out while waiting for my flight. Made a mistake of sitting near the escalator, so the Dutch voice is stuck in my head now: Mind your gap!

19 September 2009

Ramadan in Amsterdam

The BA flight from Port Elizabeth to Joburg had an incredible amount of leg room - I could have sat a fat person on my lap and still had more place! I guess I have been flying kulula and 1time way too much the past few months...
The plane left before sunset and I was then confused about what time to break my fast - coz the higher you go, the more of the sun you can see right? Well, waited for it to disappear beyond the horizon and then whipped out the tupperware of pies that my wife had equipped me with - there were loads there, shared it with fellow passenger and there was still left over. And that was only the first of two tupperwares.I then felt really guilty when the whole plane was smelling of delicious home made pies as the bland airport food was being distributed.

Met up with some of the boys at the airport while waiting for my international flight. But as they were leaving and I was trying to get through passport control, I got stopped:
"What is the liquid in your bag?" asked the lady looking at the weird xray screen?
"I got no liquids," I said. They then proceeded to empty my bag and the whole area filled once again with the smell of delicious home made pie.
"What is this?" she asked, holding up a purple gift pack of bubble bath and perfumed stuff.
"Erm, oh that! Its a gift for my wife's friend," I said, kicking myself for not packing it away with my check in luggage.
"You can't take this with you," she strenly informed me.
"What? Why? It's just shampoo and stuff!" I struggled.
"But it could be a bomb!"
With all the travelling I've done, this was the first time I had been stopped for carrying purple bubble bath and smelly girly stuff! Thought I'd just throw it away and tell the wife's friend to say she got it, but didn't want to risk any disaster by doing that. Called the boys back and was going to send it back home with them, but then I managed to get another bag and checked it in. An hour later, I was sorted out and going back through airport security. Managed to get a few minutes in the airport lounge - I have free access so have to make use of it - and then was one of the last passengers boarding the plane. It was a good thing I did online sear reservation as I was able to sit right in front of the plane.

The KLM flight was quite average - I think I'm too used to travelling with Emirate and the other fancy Arab airlines - and I was quite unimpressed. Didn't manage to get much sleep becoz my back was aching, so I twisted and turned the whole night. By sehri time, or what I thought was sehri time, I had actually fallen asleep. Was bummed when I woke up but decided to take advantage of my traveller status. Landed in Amsterdam and got stopped between the plane and the airport by some security.
Guard: "What are you doing here?"
Me: "Nothing much hey."
Guard: "What? Do you have a visa? Show me your passport."
Me: "Here you go."
Guard: "So what will you do in Amsterdam?"
Me: "Think I'll go look for a Mosque now and some Muslims. But nothing else planned. Anything interesting or fun that I should know about?"
So even though I was the one of the first out of the plane, most people had gone past me while I explained to this genius that I was actually enroute to a conference in Denmark and was just stopping over for 2 days in Amsterdam. I told him that I would be visiting friends and spending Eid here before flying to Copenhagen.
But that was not the last of it. Got stopped at airport control again and then after the baggage collection again. All the same line of questioning and same attitudes. And I had fun annoying the hell out of all of them - they're quite suprised if you not all nervous and shivering when they giving you this big scary security personnel attitude..

Eventually managed to get train tickets and get onto the train to Amsterdam central. Sat near two Syrian women who were speaking in that wonderful Syrian dialect about how the young girls don't wear Hijab anymore and the other juicy gossip. Sitting there and listening to them brought back at the wonderful memories of last Ramadan in Damascus.

After eventually finding the hotel I was booked in, I found out it was the wrong one. The one I was in was through the flower market, along the canal on my right and then across the bridge. I didn’t have much luggage for my short stay so the hot weather didn’t get to me that much. Checked in at the correct hotel and then asked the guy behind the counter, Abdurrahim, to direct me to the closest mosque for Jumah. We googled it and he pointed it out on the map, claiming that it was a mere 15min walk. Over 30mins later, and when I noticed more beards, hijabs and graffiti filled walls, I knew I was near the Mosque. I was pleasantly surprised at how big it was and the number of people there. At least a thousand or even close to two I would guess. The imam was giving the lecture in Arabic but it was quite simple and I understood most of it. I can’t remember when last I heard a Jumah lecture that was actually enjoyable and that didn’t leave me frustrated and disappointed. Ok, maybe not disappointment coz I guess you can only disappointed if you any expectations to begin with.

After Salaah there were some announcements about Eid, in Arabic, and I was about to ask the brother next to me to translate them, when he asked me the same thing. Mohammed from Ghana was new to Holland having lived and worked in Spain for the past few years. We then both asked Bilal, a Dutch of Moroccan descent, who explained the times that Eid prayer would be. Chatted to these two brothers for a bit and then headed back to the hotel.
On the way I stopped at a place called the 1%Club. Anna, the founder, was at the Highway Africa conference in Grahamstown two weeks ago, but we were both so busy that we never had chance to talk. We discussed the 1% model in their small and funky offices: they try to get people to donate 1% of their earnings or money and then match these funds with various social initiatives around the world. I found it quite interesting and explained to her the similarities between their ideas and the Islamic pillar of Zakaah – a compulsory 2.5% tax that Muslims are required to annually pay to the poor. I plan to get more involved with them and will be discussing them again soon. Made use of the internet there and then headed back to the hotel to shower and freshen up.

A Palestinian-Dutch friend of a friend arranged to pick me up for iftaar. We went to a community centre that hosted an interfaith iftaar with people of all backgrounds and faiths. A representative from the local municipality, a women’s group and a Muslim guy gave brief lectures. The food was good – arab salad, arab rice, kibbeh & those vine leaves wrapped with rice. Then we had nice arab sweets – it was like almost being in an Arab country, but everyone around me was speaking this Afrikaans sounding language. The meal was wrapped up with a very different kind of whirling dervish and then I headed to find a mosque to pray in with some other friends.

This is as far as this train ride allows me to write. My stop is coming up but I'll write about the rest of my journey the next time I make use of this extremely efficient and comfortable public transport system.

16 September 2009

Women attending the Eid prayer

Fatwa from Darul Ihsan Islamic Services Centre issued by Shafiq Jakhura:

Whether or not it is correct for ladies to attend the Eid Salaah?

A narration of Umme Atiyyah (R.A.) indicates that in the time of Rasulullah (s.a.w) females would come out for the Eid prayer and participate therein. (Tirmidhi)

However, Hazrat Aisha (R.A.) mentions that if Rasulullah (s.a.w) was present among us to see what the ladies were doing (adornment-wise), he would most certainly have prevented them from attending the Musjid just as how the ladies of the Bani Isra’eel were prevented (Sahih Bukhari).

In other words, during the time of Rasulullah (s.a.w), firstly there was less chance of evil and sin and secondly, women would come out without any form of beautification. Therefore they were permitted to attend the congregational Salaah. However, after the time of Rasulullah (s.a.w) women gradually began to beatify themselves when leaving the home and the chances of evil and sin spreading also increased.

Hence, they should no longer attend the congregational prayers and if Rasulullah (s.a.w) were present in that time he would have most certainly prevented women from attending. Hence, the fatwa of the latter jurists is that it is not correct for women to attend the congregational prayers, whether they are the daily prayers, Jumuah or Eid.

Imam Tahaawi (R.A.) has mentioned that the reason for permitting women to attend the Eid was to show the number of Muslims to the enemies of Islam. This reason and wisdom no longer exists in our times.

There has been a difference of opinion among the Scholars with regards to females attending the Eid prayer. Some have permitted females attending the Eid prayer under all circumstances, whereas other Scholars have prohibited this under all circumstances. On the other hand, other scholars are of the view that young females are prohibited from attending the Eid prayer, whereas the elderly are not prohibited.

Nevertheless, according to the overwhelming majority of Scholars, it is not permissible for a young female to attend the Eid Salaah. This is in keeping with the verse of the Holy Quraan, wherein the Holy Quraan commands females to remain in their homes. The reason for this prohibition is that the coming out of such young females could become a cause of spreading immorality in the society. This is especially clear in our times.

Question relating to above from Quraysha Yousuf:

Re your circular stating the majority of scholars deem it impermissible; this is not true as the majority of the Muslim countries worldwide have Eid salaat for women. Please clarify which majority you are speaking off?

2) In the Quraan, Allah mentions the words of the Prophet SAW "today I have completed your religion for you", hence to assume any actions other than the ones the Prophet SAW has deemed appropriate to leave behind as his final sayings, is to go against the Prophet's testimony that he has completed the deen for us. The Prophet SAW predicted many severe fitna and especially from
women and their dress, are you implying that in spite of knowing these prophecies he 'failed' to predict the 'harm' of women attending the mosque?

Perhaps you might consider the Prophet's greater wisdom than ours, he knew of many of the women's fitnas to come, yet he clearly stated more than once, 'do not prevent them.' And all the Khaiphs, the Ummayds and Abbasids all continued in this practise, only South Africa and a few isolated societies prevent it, so how do you define majority?

07 September 2009

Mxit'ing with addicts (by addicts)!

I first found him on twitter and then tracked him down through his
blog, where I found him online so I chatted using the chat function.
Marlon Parker, lecturer at Cape Peninsula University of Technology
(CPUT) is a social entrepreneur who is using technology to empower
Re-constructed Labs (RLabs) is an initiative that came out of the
impoverished Cape Flats area in Cape Town. With 80% unemployment, the
community suffers from serious drug and gang related issues. “My
brother was involved with drugs and gangs and is currently in prison,”
Parker said, explaining his personal interest in this project.
“We have developed a system that allows us to have conversations on
various mobile chat platforms – Mxit, The Grid and even twitter”, he
explained, “With this we transform, or re-construct, ex-gang members
and drug dealers who use social media to express their stories and
help others.” They started off using blogs to share their experiences
and this has evolved through the use of the other mobile chat
Started early last year, already 10,000 people have used the service
and at least 600 have got help and gone on to the next level of
further offline counselling said Parker. “We have 19 advisors and
offer drug counselling and advice.” He explains that the challenge is
to get the mainstream media to listen to the community. In this short
time, he says they have had at least 50 articles written about this, 3
television appearances and more than 20 radio interviews.
“We now also offer debt counselling, Aids counselling and advice for
women in the community who suffer from abuse,” he said. Together with
the organisation Cell-Life, they offer counselling for those with Aids
through the National Aids Helpline.

04 September 2009

Racism still haunts Rhodes

Rhodes Rejects Racism. Posters and stickers with this slogan were
spread widely around the university this week, following
Vice-Chancellor Saleem Badat's call for action against racism. The
call by Badat, for members of the university community to acts against
racism, was prompted by a racial attack against University Professor
Fackson Banda and his family. Banda and his family were driving
through the university during the Inter-Varisty weekend when a Rhodes
student allegedly shouted the racial insult ‘Niggers’ at them.

Badat was "hugely distressed by this despicable behaviour" and called
for a series of activities starting from Monday 24 August, to promote
“human dignity, human rights, equality, non-sexism and non-racialism
at Rhodes”. Ribbons, posters and stickers were distributed throughout
the university along with a circular from Badat, and lecturers were
asked to have discussions on the issue.

Professor Jen Snowball was one of the lecturers who heeded the call by
handing out copies of the circular to approximately 800 of her
students. "Although there wasn't much discussion, the majority of
students listened to the explanation of what had happened," she added.
Adrian Visagie, a computer science student, wore a ribbon and said,
"Racism is so close minded, it not thinking. Campaigns likes this make
people aware that racism is there."

Professor Alan Kirkaldy issued a statement on behalf of the National
Tertiary Education Staff Union (NTESU) condemning racism and extended
it to sexism and homophobia. The statement condemned the "sexist
slogans on a number of the overalls worn by Rhodes students" during
Inter-Varsity, as well as the alleged homophobic attack which resulted
"in a student being stabbed in the neck by a broken bottle". Kirkaldy
said that the university has very good policies on racism, sexism and
other forms of discrimination, "but is sometimes not rigorous in
implementing, perhaps due to the fear of bad publicity." He said that
the campaign has been quite well received, but he has heard concerns
from students about the university's commitment to change.

Banda expressed his appreciation for support and solidarity and said
that the campaign has been well recieved. "This campaign can't solve
the problem of racism but it will help," said Banda. "This is not an
isolated incident. Many people suffer from racism and they must be
able to report it without feeling that it will be swept under the
carpet." He feels that the university has shown strong leadership in
responding and this has allowed people to express what lay dormant in
their minds about all forms of discrimination. "For me this was about
democracy and education. During their university years students are
meant to cultivate the values of democratic citizenship - tolerance,
respect, civility, non-racism, etc. - that they will need to live
their adult lives successfully in a multicultural setting."

The SRC and Sports Council joined other student and academic groups in
condemning all forms of discrimination. "Our objective remains to have
sport at Rhodes be a
medium for genuine integration and promotion of social cohesion of
various peoples," said the Sports Council statement.

Vuyo Sileku, a chemistry student, said that "campaigns have been going
on for ages. How long are we going to have campaigns for? How long are
we going to keep wearing ribbons and stickers?" He said that there are
deeper issues that need to be tackled but nobody was willing to tackle
them. "People are criticizing this campaign now. Racism won't end at
Rhodes until mindsets change," he added.

A student, who wished to remain anonymous, said that while this
campaign is a positive step, the university is "still reluctant to
make real changes". She said that Rhodes has come a long way from
being a traditionally white university, but many are still unhappy.
Last year, the South African Students' Congress (Sasco) called for the
name of Rhodes University to be changed, because of its connection to
British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes. "Rhodes was a mass murderer and
a racist," said Kirkaldy who is a history professor. "I had a guest
visiting here who was astonished that there is still a residence
called Jameson House." The Gender Action Committee at Rhodes is trying
to remove portraits of "old white men" from the university's council
chambers, but is facing massive resistance from lecturers and some
students. Kirkaldy said that the art on display at the university
should also "reflect a commitment to change". "People have to know the
good and the bad about these people who's names and faces are still
part of the university today. Most student don't know who Rhodes was -
they think he was just another diamond miner."

But Banda said that the issues of renaming have always been a part of
a larger debate on campus and must not crowd out the more important
issues on hand.

This article first appeared in the Grocott's Mail - http://bit.ly/WKcTU