Being Muslim in Soweto

For the Islamic community of Orlando East, living in a community that has misconceptions and suspicions about their choice of religion is an everyday reality.

It is 12:30 midday on the corner of the Mosaka and Mofutsunyana streets in Orlando East, Soweto. Taxis are passing and dropping off commuters on the main road, Mosaka Street.

At the corner of these streets is a three-storey mosque, a modern structure which is noticeable by the minaret with a crescent moon towering over Mosaka Street, which is visible from a distance.

A devout Muslim, Ibrahim, also known as Mpho, who converted to Islam 14 years ago, walks into a small room where a microphone is positioned against a wall. Ibrahim’s voice echoes through the speakers above the mosque as he recites a call for prayer in Arabic.

Minutes after the call, men dressed in ankle-length robes and women dressed in hijabs emerge from the corner of the street. The quietness and the peaceful nature inside the mosque contrasts with the busy main road, the constant traffic of passing cars and pedestrians.

WOMEN OF THE MASJID:The men and women at the Masjid (mosque), have separate prayer rooms known as a musalla. The women are seated on the floor while listening to Imam Zayd giving a teaching through a speaker in the room.

What stands out about this community of Muslims is that they are mostly black township converts who were not born into the religion of Islam. As much as Muslims are recognised members of the community their religion and way of life also makes them stand out in a community of people that share similar identities.

MUSALLA:Prayer at the mosque take place several times a day. The men pray and hold teachings in a wide room on the ground floor and the musalla for women is on the floor above.

The Imam, who is the leader of the mosque, a young black man, draped in a white robe, walks into the room. Imam Zayd, born as Tsholofelo Raymond Mashele.

He positions himself on a stair case that is leaning against the wall, known to the Muslim community as the minbar. In his teaching, he keeps re-iterating “Islam is not a religion. It’s a way of life”. A way of life that is not fully understood by the community on Mosaka and Mofutsunyana Streets.

As Imam Zayd gives his teaching, the congregation is seated on the carpet and listening attentively. In the background, the faded sounds of Kwaito and House music from the neighbouring houses are audible, the congregation oblivious to what could also be a distraction.

Before entering the musalla, members enter a bathroom-like room to perform ablutions, an act of cleansing the body, so that one can present themselves to God, clean and pure. After ablutions the members take off their shoes and place them on a shelf before entering the area.

A GUIDE TO LIFE:  The Orlando East mosque has copies of the Quran in Arabic, English and Indigenous South Africa languages.

A silence fills the room as a young woman wearing an all back niqab, walks into the musulla/praying area. This is Somaya, the wife of the Imam. She greets the other women in the room by saying As-Salamu-Alaykum which means “Peace be upon you”.

In a perfectly carpeted and unadorned room, the women sit in a straight line, leaning against the window as they listen to Imam Zayd give a teaching through the loud speakers in the room.

With a toddler on her lap, Somaya, explains that women are not allowed to be in the main musalla hence they listen to the teachings in a separate room.

She explains that it is a religious requirement for women to pray at the same time as the men but in a different room. “Men and women are not supposed to intermingle. To avoid things like dating because that is not permitted in Islam. Even when we host events, men and women do not sit together.”

As the women kneel on the red carpet facing a large glass window covered in a black-grey curtain, in a large hall below, the men are seen through the glass window, kneeling down with their heads facing the minbar.

The Misconceptions

ISLAMIC UPBRINGING: From left, Zaynab Mashele and Njabulo Sithole playfully paging through the copies of the Quran during the Friday afternoon service.

After the service Imam Zaydsits down on the carpet to talk about his journey as a black Islam convert, “I was born in a Christian home, and I accepted Islam at the age of 16, in grade 11. After matric I went to study at an Islamic institute in Zachariah Park. My responsibility here is to guide Muslims. In Islam as Imams we are more like scholars. If a person needs something they come to me, if they want to get married, they come to me,” Imam Zayd says.

As a Tswana man from Pretoria, Zayd says the challenges that come with being a Muslim convert make the journey “sweeter and nicer”, as one is able to appreciate the journey. “If you look at African culture and Islam, most of the things are the same. In the olden days ladies were not allowed to go to the funeral, in Islam we still do that because they’re not going to help.”

“Islam is easier for black converters than one anyone else,” alluding to the similarities in historical African traditions. “In African culture a women could not leave the house without wearing a head wrap, it’s the same in Islam,” says Imam Zayd.

There are contradictions that come with being a converted Muslim who comes from a different religious and cultural background. Imam Zayd says that he has communicated the contradictions with his Christian family. “When you’re born in a Christian home they bury you in a certain way. In Islam when you pass away, we bury you on that day.

My family knows that if I die today, they must bury me today and they must respect that. You can’t go against the words of the deceased.” Zayd says that although his family initially was not in support of his conversion, they also respect his wishes as a devout Muslim.

Spreading the good word

“The big misconception is that people, black people in the township become Muslims because they will benefit financially and not just to worship God.”

Somaya says, “When people see black Muslims, especially female black Muslims, they always assume that you converted because you’re married to an Indian. When I’m walking at the mall or in town people always stare and ask questions, they’re always shocked then they hear me speak Setswana fluently.” She also says she was born into a Muslim family in Soshanguve however her family did not actively practise the religion, she says she decided to fully practise Islam in 2006.

“In Soshanguve they always knew that I was Muslim but it’s only when I started covering my face with a niqab that people started staring and making remarks,” she says.

“Muslims are not seen as part of the community, in the township. That’s why we’re trying to show people that we are a part of you, we’re South African but we chose a different religion that you don’t understand,” Imam Zayd says.

The Orlando East mosque was completed and opened in 2011 after much contestation from surrounding neighbours who say they were not informed about the establishment of the mosque. Today, the residents are still not aware of what happens inside of the mosque. Some of the residents had interesting observations about what Muslims do in the mosque.

On Mosaka Street, one man standing outside of the ship container tuck shop opposite the mosque, casually says, “Why are you asking about the mosque? Do you want to join them also? None of us know what goes on in there, we just see them coming in and out and we hear the noise from the speakers several times a day.”

The call for prayer happens several times a day, however, the sound of the call is gentle. Imam Zayd says they had to lower the sound of the call to accommodate residents after they had complained several times.

“When we do it loudly, we want to make sure that the Muslims who do not live within the vicinity of the masjid can hear that it is now time for prayer.” Zayd points out that “A person can say I’m not afraid to practise my religion, so I can make it as loud as I want. Why does no one complain when the Christians are ringing the bell?

When abazalwane sing from the tents you can hear them all the way but no one says anything about that. If it’s too loud we’ll turn it down, Islam is a just religion. We don’t do it at night because people are sleeping.”

One of the residents, Tebogo Maloka, says they in the area did not want the mosque to be built however, they lost that battle. “The shop owner was a Muslim and so was his family. So hence it was built there. They initially wanted to buy the three neighbouring houses but the community refused.”

The plot where the mosque is built was originally a gaming store, the owner of the store was Muslim. According to the residents, the game store was a cornerstone of the community because the youth used it as a recreational space where children go to the store to play video games to avoid playing in the busy Mosaka Street.

In 2011, The Star reported that some of the residents within the vicinity of the mosque had signed a petition and wrote letters to the City of Joburg, objecting to the construction of the mosque.

Duma Orphan Kgodisang, a leader in the mosque, said, “It’s not the community that had a problem. It was just a few people. Other residents were influenced by a select few. Why don’t they stop churches – they were just being mischievous. We don’t have a problem with the neighbours. We even park our cars opposite their houses.”

The Muslim community’s efforts to integrate themselves within the Orlando East community are visible through the Mtholampilo Clinic which has become an important player in the community of Orlando East.

The clinic was opened in the mosque to provide affordable healthcare for residents. Sitting outside in his front yard, one of the neighbours, Sibusiso Mafunya, who lives a few houses away from the mosque said, “iClinic iyas’nceda (the clinic helps us), I brought my child there when they had tonsils. We don’t like the mosque because they make noise through the speakers. They have prayer sessions since 4:00 in the morning, it’s like an alarm.”

This is one of the several community outreach efforts that the Orlando East Muslim community is involved in. Kgodisang says the mosque is also involved in a feeding scheme at a primary school in the area as well as doing blanket drives in the winter to assist members of the community who are in need.

After his teaching, Zayd is seated on the carpet of the musalla with his legs crossed, talking about the modest nature of Islam. Two women walk in bringing plates of dry yellow rice mixed with boiled potatoes and mixed vegetables.

Zayd mentions there are no Halaal butcheries in Orlando East and that Muslims in the area travel to places such as Mayfair near the CBD to get Halaal meat.

One of the plans of the Muslim community of Orlando East is to hold a door-to-door open day to spread the teachings of Islam in the area. Imam Zayd says they aim to introduce Islam to the community because people do not know Islam.

“They assume that Islam is an Indian religion. We already had Islam before Indians, specifically in Northern Africa. Christianity came to South Africa because of the Dutch and English,” he says.

After the service the women, make small talk in Setswana and isiXhosa with one another as they move out of the musalla to put on their shoes which are carefully placed on a wooden shoe shelf. Exiting the tranquil environment of the mosque, the Muslims of Orlando East return to the sound of taxis and children laughing on their way back from school.

For the Muslim community of Orlando East, outside of the spiritual calmness of the mosque, this is where they, too, are at home and where they belong. They are much as part of this community of Orlando East as everyone else.

FEATURED IMAGE: The men and women at the Masjid (mosque), have separate prayer rooms known as a musalla. The women are seated on the floor while listening to Imam Zayd giving a teaching through a speaker in the room.


The sounds of Islam

In a community where listening to music is prohibited, the melodic sounds of the nasheed genre are a popular alternative in Islamic households. However, even in this religious genre of Islamic praise music there are contending views as to what is halaal and what is haram.

SOUNDS OF MAYFAIR: There are a number of stores in the Fordsburg area that cater to the musical needs of its residents. From nasheeds to Bollywood sounds. Photo: Thembisile Dzonzi

Seductive, explicit, harmful, shameless, vulgar, promotes vice, is not to be listened to or haram (prohibited in the Qur’an). These are some of the terms used by the observant Muslim community to describe Western styles of music.

Within the religious constraints of the Muslim community that prohibits music, nasheed is an alternative option. The genre has been popular in the Arab world for centuries but has also drawn a lot of debate in the Muslim community.

To unfamiliar ears, nasheed sounds like a combination of humming sounds sung in a variety of tones and melodies. It comprises various pitch formations and harmonies that sometimes mimic the sound of instruments. Nasheed can also be accompanied by a percussion instrument such as the daf, a traditional Islamic drum. It is traditionally sung in Arabic or Urdu.

In South Africa’s observant Muslim community, nasheed is sung in English and the use of instruments such as the piano have been embraced, particularly by the Muslim youth.

‘All music is haram and should not be listened to’

ALL IN THE BEAT: The drum set, traditional daf and djembe are the instruments of choice for nasheed artist Zain Bhikha. Photo: Thembisile Dzonzi

For Mayfair resident Junaid Bata, music played an integral part in his adolescent life. “Many years ago I was very involved with music. We used to play around on guitars and enjoy ourselves with music,” Bata says.

In Surah Luqman, Verse 6 of the Qur’an, it states “And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks (, singing, etc.) to mislead (men) from the Path of Allah without knowledge, and takes it (the Path of Allah, the Verses of the Qur’an) by way of mockery. For such there will be a humiliating torment (in the Hell-fire).”

This reading in the holy book is one of the reasons Bata changed his opinion on music. He says, “In our religion we are not allowed to use musical instruments, and being young we were naughty.”

As Bata matured, listening to the rock and roll of the 1960s and ’70s became a distant memory of boyhood. “When I got married I quickly moved away from the wrong things and music was one of those wrong things,” Bata says.

Bata, like many Muslims, now leads a life without Western-styled music. Sharing in the orthodox belief that all music is haram and should not be listened to. For Bata walking away from music was an easy choice based on faith.

For many observant Muslims like Bata, the sounds of nasheed have to be on par with their religious values. Keeping the sound and its content clean is a priority.

The nasheed genre is popularly associated with international artists such as Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) and South Africa’s Qari Ziyaad Petal and Zain Bhikha.

Depending on their preferred school of thought, nasheed artists share varying perspectives on the religious boundaries of the nasheed musical process. Some artists prefer to take a traditional approach and only perform nasheed using nothing but vocals and Arabic, while others are experimenting with English lyrics and various instruments such as the daf and piano.

QUR’AN COMES FIRST: Traditionalist Qari Ziyaad Patel prefers to sing his nasheeds  a cappella without the accompaniment of any instrument. Photo: Thembisile Dzonzi

For Qari Ziyaad Patel, following orthodox dogma in relation to song is an important part of Islamic teachings. “My first and foremost priority is reciting the Qur’an. This is what differentiates me from other nasheed artists,” says Patel.

For Patel, nasheed can be described as a form of Islamic poetry made with soothing sounds that are accompanied by meaningful Islamic text. These are often sung in traditional tunes that have been passed down many generations.

“We all do know and we always follow the teachings of the noble Prophet Muhammad where he has mentioned in many of his narrations telling us of the harms of music,” says Patel.

“Wherever you go today you will find that wherever there is music, sadly a lot of vices take place at raves and clubs and so forth.”

Patel began singing nasheed some 15 years ago on a visit to Bata’s house where the two began a father-son like relationship composing nasheed together.

“My son made him read the Qur’an,” Bata recalls.

“I was inspired by his voice and I said to [Patel] why don’t you sing something and he said ‘what should I sing?’ and that time there was the war in Afghanistan and the Taliban,” says Bata. Patel interjects to elaborate that the pair were so impressed by the way children were taken care of during the time of war that they decided to write about it.

Over the years they composed a few more songs together, The Grief I Feel being one of their most popular songs. “I wrote one or two songs for [Patel]. The songs were a bit heavy,” says Bata.

“All of our songs are completely kosher. All our songs are in the spirit of peace,” Patel says, as he elaborates the non-fundamentalist aspect of his nasheed. For him nasheed is not music, it’s a form of Islamic praise poetry.

1 MUSIC, 2 ARTISTS: Patel holding his album ‘Children of Africa’ and Zain Bhikha’s ‘Mountains of Makkah’. Photo: Thembisile Dzonzi

“We were taught when we were kids that anything associated with music will only bring harm and wrong with it. It’s forbidden. We were taught to be careful of the vices associated with music,” Patel recalls.

Despite the traditional approaches practised by Patel and other nasheed artists in the area, and worldwide, the more modern, instrumentally based nasheed industry is a thriving one.

Artists like Zain Bhikha have made the move to English nasheed and have found local and international popularity. Bhikha is among the handful of South African nasheed singers who sing in English and use instruments like the daf.

However, Bhikha still remains cautious about the restrictions of halaal and haram music. Most of his albums come with bonus tracks that consist of non-instrumentals or offer the drum versions of the original nasheed. “Inadvertently, by being cautious and my love for a cappella, I’ve created a niche for myself,” Bhikha says.

Zain Bhikha

In the past 20 years, the name Zain Bhikha has become one of the most prolific in the South African nasheed landscape. Bhikha’s career began with simplistic a cappellas, reciting the Qur’an on cassette tapes. It was in a fateful moment that one of his cassettes landed in the hands of Yusuf Islam, who was so impressed by it that he flew Bhikha out to London to record A is for Allah with him.

It seems the influence of working with former rock star Islam shifted Bhikha’s creativity from reciting a capella tunes to more elaborate tunes that consist of vocal layering, harmonies and drumming.

Bhikha has made a number of appearances on the Top 500 Influential Muslims in the World list, which is compiled by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan. He is also an international superstar in the Islamic music world and is often referred to as one of the founding fathers of the modern day nasheed. Though if you ask him, in his gentle demeanour, Bhikha would tell you “music is like a hobby for me”.

“I’ve seen this whole genre of English/Islamic music come from nothing over the last 21 years and every day I see new artists and every one of them comes with his or her own style. I think [the industry] is going to grow,” says Bhikha.

DRUMMING: Zain Bhikha demonstrating how he uses the daf to get his signature sound. Photo: Thembisile Dzonzi

Bhikha adds that bringing an African influence to his nasheeds has helped distinguish him from other artists. “My songs are very African, you can hear the African backing vocals coming through, you can hear the influences, even the melodies, whilst contemporary, they have a very strong African background.”

But Patel feels the shift to English nasheeds is a sad sign of the Islamic community. “There’s a great shift to English nasheeds, sadly many a time the old folk and the young folk as well they won’t understand much of the Arabic sung on some of the nasheeds. The Arabic is of a very high level and even the Urdu at times is of a very high level,” says Patel.

According to Patel, Arabic nasheeds are easier to sing because of the way in which the Qur’an is written, it allows the artist to put a tune to the words with more ease. “That gives us the edge over English artists. Arabic is very versatile,” says Patel.

He adds: “You will find that some of our parents and our grandparents would understand. But the current generation, we have lost our connection with the home language so many tend to go and listen to English nasheed.”

Patel recalls how many of the nasheed artists started off reciting nasheeds without any music but once they are in the industry they feel the need to want to try and make their material more accessible through the use of instruments and English.

“They will start to try make their music better and start inserting a bit of musical instruments. So they will initially start by inserting instruments where there is consensus from the scholars, for example the daf, and as time progresses, they want to make their music and nasheed more accessible and eventually we find some youngsters having a full-blown musical nasheed,” says Patel.

For Bhikha, music is simply black or white. “Either it’s a good song or a bad song, either it’s inspiring you to do something that is in accordance to what you wish to emulate as a human being or not. A lot of the songs out there are teaching our children harmful messages, whether it be about the materialism of this world, whether it’s about disrespecting women, whether it’s about drugs, whatever the case may be,” says Bhikha.

“For me personally, I don’t subscribe to any particular dogma. However, I do believe that I’ve erred on the side of caution to make my music accessible. So all my albums are only with drums and voices and even on the same album you will find both,” Bhikha adds to his contemporary thoughts on the longstanding debate.

“The important thing is for people to focus on the music rather than everything else. We should focus on the music, focus on the message and make a difference,” says Bhikha.

LIKE FATHER LIKE SON: Zain Bhikha’s son Rashid is currently working on his solo EP after years of collaborating with his father. Photo: Thembisile Dzonzi

His more conservative counterpart shares a stronger and more traditional view on the prohibition of musical instruments. “As a reciter of the Qur’an and a Qari of the Qur’an, I would say that this is totally and completely incorrect. For us and the teachings that we have been taught, music and instruments are not allowed,” says Patel.

Music on Islamic radio

For traditionalists like Patel, nasheeds should be recited using vocals and harmonies but no musical instruments whatsoever. “There are others who would beg to differ but majority of us here in South Africa are of the school of thought that all musical instruments are haram and should not be used,” says Patel.

Islamic radio seems to agree with Patel’s view and contributes to the conservative nature of the Islamic community of Fordsburg and Mayfair. “From a faith perspective if something is not clear, allowed or not allowed, people would rather abstain from that grey area,” says Ismheal, public relations officer at Radio Islam.

For Radio Islam in Johannesburg, the station only reserves 5% of its content for music. The other 95% is talk. “Our licence conditions don’t allow us to play music because we are a more traditional or if you would like to use the word ‘orthodox’. I suppose, yes, our listeners share this sentiment,” says Ismheal.

He adds that the station has conditioning measures that filter through all music before it gets put on air. While most stations are concerned with making sure their aired content is audible and complies with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission’s mandate, Radio Islam checks for lyrical content and the use of instruments. Their checklist is simple, “first people will listen to it see what the lyrics are, what does it say. The other is ‘is it accompanied by musical instruments’ yes or no and if it’s not, fine,” says Ismheal.

From a contemporary point of view, Bhikha’s sentiments are more concerned with the instrumentally populated Bollywood style of music. “It’s interesting in the debate about music because many people would say music might not be permissible but Bollywood music has its own genre and exceptions a lot of the times. I think it’s because the tradition of Indian culture in Bollywood is so strong there’s a lot of nostalgia there … but that’s also changing, it’s becoming a lot more modern.”

Within the large range of music on sale in the Fordsburg and Mayfair there is a split between traditional nasheed CDs and copies of Bollywood tunes that fill the album shelves in music stores.

“Like in many communities, music is a central part of the heartbeat of Fordsburg and Mayfair,” says Bhikha.

In the western part of Johannesburg, there is a plethora of small and big stores that cater to the musical needs of the Fordsburg and Mayfair Muslim community and its visitors, traditional and contemporary.

“Ultimately, I think all human beings want to listen to beautiful sounds and beautiful poetry, this is what makes up human beings,” says Patel.

FEATURED IMAGE: 1 MUSIC, 2 ARTISTS: Patel holding his album ‘Children of Africa’ and Zain Bhikha’s ‘Mountains of Makkah’. Photo: Thembisile Dzonzi


SA professor speaks outside French university after ban

A University of Johannesburg professor addressed an audience outside the gates of a French university after he was banned from speaking at the institution yesterday.

Despite being banned from speaking at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University in France yesterday, Professor Farid Esack still managed to deliver a lecture on “Israel as an Apartheid State” at the main gates of the institution.

Esack is a professor in the Study of Islam, and Head of the Department of Religion Studies at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), and also chairs the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) South Africa board. He was due to speak at the public research university in Paris as part of the Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) but was not able to after complaints were received by the institution.

“A pretty sad sight for France which turned out in their hundreds of thousands to defend ‘freedom of speech’ only a few months ago,” said Esack.

“The major allegations was that I was violent and anti-Semitic. The basis for this?”

“The major allegations was that I was violent and anti-Semitic. The basis for this?” asks Esack

According to Esack, allegations of violence against BDS supporters during the Boycott Woolworths campaign were ascribed to him as the chair of the organisation. “This was the sum of the Israeli lobby’s petition to French universities,” Esack continues.

Esack also addressed allegations that he is anti-Semitic by saying, “believe it or not, it all started with Dubula-i-Juda story that was first printed in Vuvuzela!” he exclaims.

According to Esack, BDS South Africa’s (through coordinator Mohammed Desai), attempts to explain the Wits incident “in the context of larger liberation struggle songs was presented as proof that I am anti-Semitic.”

“The BDS Board, which I chair and of which Desai is a member as the organization’s director, concurred with, unambiguously condemned that incident and BDS reaffirms its commitment to non-violence as its way of responding to the crimes of occupation and dispossession committed against the Palestinian people.”


Soccer player represents Islam


FAITHFUL IDENTITY: By wearing her hijab whilst playing soccer, Naeema Hussein  believes she’s representing her faith at a “higher level”.         Photo:  Lameez Omarjee

FAITHFUL IDENTITY: By wearing her hijab whilst playing soccer, Naeema Hussein believes she’s representing her faith at a “higher level”.  Photo: Lameez Omarjee

Watching the Wits University women’s soccer team, you may spot a hijab-wearing soccer player at the centre back, defending the goals.

Second-year BSc physiotherapy student Naeema Hussein chooses to play soccer in her hijab (headscarf) to represent her Islamic faith at a “higher level”.
Hussein says: “My faith pushes me to want to achieve more and say you can excel and aspire without needing to compromise your faith or your Islamic identity.”

Soccer career
After matriculating in 2012, she was awarded a university entrance scholarship for her distinctions. Hussein was later awarded the Bidvest Wits Football Club bursary and has been playing for Wits for the past two years.
She takes credit for initiating playing with a hijab at Wits: “They were very open to it, very considerate.” The South African Football Association changed their regulations to allow Muslim women to play in a hijab. This also helped her cause.
Hussein’s passion for soccer comes from her “Egyptian blood”.
“I have three brothers … We’ve been soccer crazy ever since I was small,” she says.
Hussein’s soccer career started in grade eight when she joined the Parktown Girls’ High School soccer team. “I was so excited. So I started on the second team, building myself up.” A year later, she was in the school’s first team and pushed for a ladies’ team at the Marks Park Football Club.
In 2010 the team was one of the youngest invited to compete at the Arsenal International Soccer Festival in London. “I think we came back with experience that was priceless,” says Hussein.
The exposure to higher levels of soccer pushed the team to perform at their best.

“It pushed me further because I was forced not to procrastinate.”

In her matric year, Hussein captained the first team at her school. At the time she was playing for three different soccer teams while balancing schoolwork. “It pushed me further because I was forced not to procrastinate. I managed my time way better like that.” The soccer was a stress relief between studies: “I think it’s important to keep a balance.”

Community leader
Hussein was also the recipient of this year’s Golden Key New Member Chapter Award at Wits. It recognises academic excellence, leadership roles, commitment to community work and participation in extracurricular activities.
Hussein is a member of the Wits Muslim Students’ Association and the Muslim Youth Movement. Last year she served on “the core” of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee.
Additionally she is part of Awqaf South Africa. Awqaf is an Arabic word for assets donated or purchased for specific charitable causes that are socially beneficial. It focuses on youth and leadership development, immediate poverty relief and long-term community investments.
Her Awqaf membership has given her an opportunity to attend an international leadership programme in Jakarta, Indonesia for two weeks in December. “They’ve given me a platform to push myself further,” she says. “When I come back it’s my responsibility to go and facilitate courses to educate others.”
Hussein and a group of girls under the Islamic Careline organisation two weeks ago launched a leadership development programme for young Muslim women between the ages of 18 and 25. Called Hayatoon-Nujoom, (“our star”) which they hope to expand to other demographics.
“The key thing is I empower myself so that I can empower those around me and at the end of the day, it’s the empowerment of the entire society, the global society that we are living in.”


Ramadan: A time to reflect and fast

By Nomatter Ndebele and Pheladi Sethusa 

For Muslims all over the world Ramadan is a time of sacrifice and reflection.

What is Ramadan?

Anwar Jhetam from the   Muslim Students Association said Ramadan marks the ninth month in the Islamic calendar.

This is the month in which it is believed  the holy Qu’ran was revealed, said Jhetam.

“It is a month of fasting and increased worship to develop a closer relationship with God.   Ramadan is a month of reflection and self development,” he said.

During this month Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and abstain from “food, drink and sex with one’s spouse”, said Jhetam.  The fast is broken after dusk at which point people are allowed to indulge in the above.

Students and fasting 

While the rest of the students go about their day, munching this and that, Muslim students have to wake up before sunrise to have breakfast and fast throughout the day until about 5.30pm.

Romy Dasoo, 1st year Engineering, said she is finding fasting while attending university very difficult.

Allahu Akbar: Muslim students  pictured at the University of Johannesburg, reciting a sunset prayer before breaking fast on Tuesday evening. The Wits and UJ Muslim student associations broke their fast together at a Ramadan Iftar dinner.            Photo: Caro Malherbe

Allahu Akbar: Muslim students pictured at the University of Johannesburg, reciting a sunset prayer before breaking fast on Tuesday evening. The Wits and UJ Muslim student associations broke their fast together at a Ramadan Iftar dinner. Photo: Caro Malherbe

She has class from 8am to 5pm. “I end up breaking fast later, due to traffic,” she said.

Third year physiology student, Imraan Ballim, said: “Apart from the weird gastric sounds, it’s quite cool.”

Ballim believes the month of Ramadan is a very spiritual experience. “You engage more with religion and what it means,” said Ballim.

He also believes the introspection aspect of the fast makes it worthwhile. [pullquote align=”right”]”It becomes easier with time as you aren’t distracted by having to eat or drink”[/pullquote]

Dasoo wishes she was more spiritual because the month would mean more to her and added that she admires students who are very spiritual.

Many students are quite aware of the difficulty of having to concentrate on an empty stomach.

Ballim agreed the first few days are difficult but said it becomes easier with time as you aren’t distracted by having to eat or drink.

Shared experience

Many Muslim students also get together to pray in the afternoon.

Ballim said this is a “nice experience because everyone gets together” and shares in the religion. Breaking fast is another good experience, as people gather with their families to feast on food they have been wilfully avoiding all day.

Special concessions are made for pregnant women, children, the sick and people who will be travelling at the time.

“They are permitted to abstain from the fast and can fast at a later date,” said Jhetam.

“At the heart of the fast is drawing closer to God during this special time,” he added, saying that students should use this time to develop character traits and habits that they will carry with them long after this religious period is over.

‘Fast’ food


BREAK FAST: Students from UJ and Wits get ready to break their fast together. Photo: Caro Malherbe

The Wits and UJ Muslim student associations broke their fast together at a Ramadan Iftar dinner at UJ on Tuesday.

The room was full of excitement as the students sat cross-legged on the floor, set with eating utensils.


Ramadan is a month of celebration for Muslims; it is the month the Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad, bestowed on him to spread the word of Islam. Muslims come together for worship and fast from sunrise to sunset every day for 30 days.

Zain Patel, chairperson of Wits Muslim Student Association (MSA), said: “Fasting means that we can’t eat or drink anything during that time. Not even water, basically nothing can pass our lips.”

Students praying before they break fast.            Photo: Caro Malherbe

Students praying before they break fast. Photo: Caro Malherbe

The Muslim men and women sat separately from one another, divided by a barricade of tables and screens.

Ibrahim Patel said the Dua is a prayer recited just before the sun sets. “It stresses the need for self-cleansing and purity of the soul. It is also to thank God for your blessings and to ask for forgiveness and to renew your personal relationship with Him.”

After the Dua was said, the Adhaan, or The Call, was done by Maseehullah Suleman. This  signals that the fast may be broken, and people may eat.

The fast is traditionally broken with small sweet dates as that is what the prophet Mohammad ate when he broke fast. The MSA committee paid for a generous meal of  chicken hot wings, sliders and pizza. Juice, soda and milkshakes were served.

The decision to combine Iftar with UJ was for Muslims from both universities to socialise with each other and gain spiritual support during Ramadan.

Iftar at UJ

Guest speaker, Ibrahim Fakude who opened the event, said there are many reasons why Muslims fast. Some fast to lose weight, some to please Allah and some just to cut bad habits, “but if you fast for these reasons, don’t expect to get the same fawaad [reward]”.

“The reason Muslims should fast is to change for the better. It is to practise self-restraint, to contribute to the welfare of society and to be charitable.


Fasting during Ramadan is also a time to deepen one’s spiritual relationship with God and to strive to be the embodiment of Islam,” said Naadira Pahad, an MSA member.

“Nobody will know if you lock yourself in your room and eat when you are supposed to be fasting.  Fasting is really something that is between yourself and God,” said Pahad.

Ramadan started on 9 July and will end on Wednesday, 7 August. To mark the end of Ramadan Muslim families will rejoice Eid ul-Fitr. Much like Christmas, Eid ul-Fitr is a time of great celebration and religious practices, where gifts are given and there is an abundance of food.