24 April 2010

Doha debating SA

So its been a month in Doha already and I'm still slowly getting settled. All the admin with work is done and now need to find a base and a good mode of transport. Fortunate to have many good people around me, so a decent social life is promising.

Doha has quite a lot going for it - in recent days, Robert Fisk had the good fortune of meeting me, and so did many of the brilliant young film makers that came for the Al Jazeera Film festival.

Also happened to bump into Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir who are in town raising funds for their Zaytuna college in the US. Interesting stuff...

I have been trying to practice my Arabic with whoever I can - didn't have to this week as the Aspire Musjid had a fair English lecture by Bilal Philips' regular replacement, or so they say. After Jumah though, the usual Quran radio station I have on in the car had an Arabic lecture.

The lecture of Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qardawi is aired on radio here. I was quite impressed when I heard him talking about South Africa (in arabic: Janoob Afrikiya) - from what I understood, he was explaining how Islam had spread all over the world, even to the tip of Africa. Muslims from traveled south from East Africa, others were taken as slaves from Indonesia and Malaysia, and he explained how the last batch came from the Indian sub-continent.

It was good. I wanted to open my car window and shout out to everyone - listen to the radio, he's talking about my country! He went through the history of how Islam developed, the first Musjid built in Cape Town, and how the direction to Makkah had to be changed once they were able to calculate it correctly. He mentioned how some Muslims seem to be so well integrated into society, and were doing an excellent job of showcasing what Islam was about.

But my shouting out the window idea died when he moved from the west of the country to the east - he said that Muslim women in Hijab are seen all over, in schools and universities, in offices and businesses. That they travel freely, both in the country and abroad. But many are not allowed into the Musjids!

I understood most of what he went on to say, but I didn't need to hear it. And we didn't need him to come and say it - Muslim women (and men) have been fighting for their right to be part of, and have access to, the Musjid environment - the Musjid which is meant to be the centre of the community, is only for men - as some/most SA men tend to think. Qardawi found that odd and spoke out, saying it was not right. But we didn't really need him to come to SA to say what most know already...


I see that I did get most of it right, as the newspapers here in Doha are reporting - like newspapers are expected to do, they have sensationalised his words a bit and kept most of the negative and very little of the positive, or so some say. Have a look for yourself:

Click here: http://mzan.si/Q7Fb

In Silence we Protest

At 6am this morning over 1,000 men and women, students and teachers met at the sports hall to collect our T-shirts. This week was declared Anti-Sex Crimes week at Rhodes University and saw talks, exhibitions, discussions and protests throughout. These were all aimed at raising awareness around issues of rape and sexual violence, while highlighting the alarming statistics that exist.

There were 3 types of protests one could choose from:

1. Rape Survivor

2. Silent Protestor, and

3. Men in Solidarity.

I had signed up to be a Silent Protestor many weeks ago when news of this event had been released. Each protest t-shirt conveyed different messages. As a Silent Protestor, I was silenced with black tape, symbolic of my solidarity with survivors silenced by rape and sexual violence.

By the time I got there most of the t-shirts were handed out and everyone sat waiting for the silencing to start. We had rape victim survivors from the 1 in 9 campaign, the organisers, address us and thank us for the standing up and ‘speaking’ out. In line we stood and one by one were silenced with broad black tape placed over our lips.

Together everyone, in silence, made their way to the main administrative block. We filled the main entrance to the building and stood in the rain to give national press and photographers a chance to take pictures of us.

This powerful campaign has been held annually at Rhodes University for the fast four years. The number of people who were interested and made the effort to get involved was amazing and it makes a ‘loud’ (excuse the pun) and a very visible statement about sexual violence. This is by far the largest Anti – Sex Crimes protest Rhodes has ever seen. During the day we were to go about on task as normal, resisting the desire to talk and eat all day long.

Many people stopped and stared at us, not really knowing what to do or say. In an attempt to create awareness about the protest and explain what we were doing, we handed out fliers giving reasons for our protest. The flier read like this:

I am protesting today because:

Government statistics report that 55 000 women are raped in SA every year.

Medical Research Council statistics indicate that only 1 in 9 rape survivors go on to report the rape and of these, only 4% were successfully prosecuted annually.

These statistics translate to approximately 500 000 rapes every year.

There are approximately 24 million women in SA – which means that based on current statistics, if a women lives to be 50 years old she has an almost 100% chance of being raped at least once.

These numbers are unacceptable to me – they should unacceptable to you too.

Rape limits human potential. It silences people, makes them less than human, keeps them afraid and isolated.

Our silence today affirms our solidarity with the 8 in 9 women silenced by rape and sexual violence.

Freedom of Speech is denied to victims of sexual violence.

I call on all men to break the cycle of sexual violence. Stand up against sexual violence and help us create a world where women are truly equal, where they are free to walk where they want to, when they want to, wearing what they want to.

Until we achieve those goals – women will remain silenced.

We have a long way to go!

At 12:30 we again all assembled but this time on the road in front of the main admin block to have a DIE-IN. Each protestor found a spot on the road and was asked to lie down as though they had died. Traffic was obstructed and all those who came out for lunch were faced with protestors in their way. Together we had a moment of silence to ponder and reflect on the meaning and reasons for our protesting. It was perhaps the quietest protest I had been to.

The day was frustrating and had angered me at times. It was frustrating trying to communicate with people and the impatience people showed towards me was surprising. No words were spoken and no food was eaten. The sticky tape hurt my face and lips.

At 6pm we met again at the sports hall to break the silence and share a meal. As each person walked into the door they removed the black tape from their face with great relief. A debriefing was held to discuss the feelings and experiences from the day. A “take back the night” March was organised after supper and free entrance to a concert, the last of the week’s events, was held.

Thereafter my silent protest was over. -- Amina Ebrahim

11 April 2010

3 weeks in Doha

Al Jazeera logo
Originally uploaded by bilal.randeree
I can't believe how the past three weeks have disappeared - been getting used to working 10 hour, fast paced shifts and really enjoying it so far. Doha is ok really, not too much happening but just enough to not go insane. I guess living in Grahamstown last here makes it seem a bit better than it actually is..

Still a few things I need to get used to here in Qatar. Like getting into the wrong side of the car, or looking the other way when crossing the road! Been quite a few near death experiences.

Speaking about near death - even though petrol is only QR 0.80 a litre (about R1.60) - I actually ran out of it the first day I was driving here. Midday, on a busy main road, the car just switches off. Had to get out, push it through traffic and then find a garage. Filled a 5 litre tin for under R10!

It's Sunday morning now, and I've been at work since 6am - that is something else that I'm going to need to get used to...

06 April 2010