Islamophobia, South Africa (Country), District Six, Cape Town, Religious Intolerance, Rainbow Nation, Rainbow Nation Myth, Azaan, Woolworths, Halaal Food, Christian Friendly Products

Islamophobia, South Africa (Country)

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OPINION: For the first time in its history, the Zeenatul Islam Mosque in Cape Town was issued with an official complaint that characterised the sacred sound (call to prayer) as a noise nuisance.

For about 100 years the Islamic call to prayer has sounded from the Zeenatul Islam Mosque in Muir Street, District Six, Cape Town, five times a day. This past week, for the first time in its history, the mosque was issued with an official complaint that characterised the sacred sound as a noise nuisance.

For the most part, the expiration date of the “rainbow nation” myth has been noted and accepted. Rainbowism has been thanked for its strategic utility at a crucial juncture in this country’s history, critiqued at length, and in the fervour of the decolonial turn in scholarship, abandoned in favour of a more nuanced exploration of the politics, poetics, meaning and management of difference in this still ever-new South Africa.

In one news report the complaint was minimised as “one grumble” in the 100-year history of the mosque. But we would be gravely remiss to underplay the seriousness of one complaint. Without first critically engaging with what appears to be a subtle yet sustained increase in the presence of thinly veiled anti-Islamic sentiments in South African public life, it would be reckless to allow the attention it is receiving to fade into the social media abyss, or to assign the responsibility of this passive-aggressive act of intolerance to the hubris of a lone individual.

Even more chilling are the numerous, overtly Islamophobic and explicitly hateful claims that are being made. As one piece of campaign material, easily downloaded from the internet, reads: “It may not be too far-fetched to assume that some of the South African ‘halaal money’ has already been used to finance terrorist organisations such as Hamas and Isis’s [Islamic State’s] unholy war against Christians and Jews. Using halaal money for terrorising and persecuting Christians in our own country may even become a reality much sooner than we may expect.”

In committing to an attitude of tolerance, we commit to exercising our ability and displaying our willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviours that we don’t necessarily like or agree with. Tolerance, however, is just the public face of intolerance. It is worn in polite company, but can be disregarded at a whim and frazzled by a perceived infraction or inconvenience, however minor.

In the midst of a crisis, hope springs eternal, and the defence of the Zeenutal Islam Mosque from individuals and communities across the religious spectrum has been heartening. It’s a clear and unconditional display of inter-religious solidarity. I am certain that in this case justice will prevail and the city will ensure that the mosque is able to carry out its activities without restriction.

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