Major Props to the speakers on the show ‘Muslim Identity’ on SABC 2 for having the courage to say what they think (which is shared by a lot of people I think). It’s never easy to go on a public space and be who you are, people are much too judgemental. So standing ovation for you all!!!
The show started off about being ‘muslim’ and then in went on to the highly contest space of “race” or more appropriately culture, maybe subtly but it was there. I do think they should have had an anthropologist on the show...not because I’m bias, but because they study society and culture. If you’re going to talk about buildings you gonna have to talk to an engineer no?
So as a Muslim anthropologist...this is what I’ve got to say:
Identity is probably some the most difficult theory to deal with (besides religion) in anthropology. Why? Because you cannot calculate it, you can’t box, you can’t label it and therefore it makes it very difficult to understand it. So the short version is:
Identity is something that is created through negotiation. Negotiation between the society you are born into, the practices that you are taught to do, the practices that you want to do, your religion, your social standing or ‘class’ and your experiences. (and any other experience that affects your thinking)
Because Islam has no restrictions on cultural expressions (as long as it does not contravene Islamic law), the Muslim person needs to now negotiate between what they believe and what they were taught to practice (their culture).
The identity is created through a relationship BETWEEN culture and religion and not through the giving up the one for the other. That is why you will find many different groups with different practices but the same belief system.
And that is the problem. Some times when religion should be given preference, culture is...and thus leading to a transgression of the religious law i.e. gham issues. I’m going to say this AGAIN!!!Culture and religion is NOT the same thing. They are intertwined, sometimes confused, but they are NOT...I repeat NOT...the same thing. Because there is this space in Islam to practice your culture, MANY Muslims often blur the lines. Which is not necessarily wrong, but it is not Islamic either.
Now the big problem comes in when we look at our leaders and scholars in the Muslim community. Their culture becomes a part of their public image and by in large the message that they have. Because a Muslim scholar will ascribe to a certain school of thought. And this school of thought is often ascribed to by many people of the same culture; the school of thought is then given a culture by default. People then label each other, because as humans we can only really understand something if it’s labelled. So Muslim Indians are Hanafi, Muslim Malays are Shafi, and the ‘progressive Muslims’ are all Sufi. This of cause is wrong but it does not stop it from happening.
The way black and white Muslims negotiate their culture is very tricky. And really that was the best part of the show. It’s like they are left in the wind. The only reason is because the Indians and Malays had a much longer time to learn how to deal with issues between their culture and religion and were able to organise themselves and align themselves with a specific school of thought.
If you look closely the tensions between culture and religion still exist. So what the black and white Muslims should do (and are probably doing) is negotiate with their culture as a group. Jessica Aisha said something about being Afrikaner Israeli Muslim...and that it not always is able to co-exist. And I just want to tell her, that being Muslim and Indian does not always co-exist either. Culture is static, always changing and growing. You will find away to keep some stuff get rid of others, and poof a new Identity is born. And your children and their children will carry on the traditions. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Now as a normal watcher of the show:
The fact that Muslim Indians are seen as “racist” not only to ‘other people’ but to people of their own kind (the whole gham thing again) is not exactly a secrete. So I don’t understand the big issue with Zuhayra actually asking the question out right. I am so proud of Jessica Aisha saying that Men actually go to these centres looking for white revert females to marry. *STANDING OVATION*. It’s not a nice thing hear on such a public sphere but sometimes you need to. Instead of Muslim Indians coming out guns blazing about all the things that was wrong with the show, first have the guts to admit “Yes, we can be racist at times...even to our own people”. Only when we...yes I said we...start acknowledging what is wrong in our society and the part we play in it, then can we change it.
Someone has to tell these people that what they are doing is wrong. Because they sit in the enclaves, protected by people who are a part of the same enclave who are leaders and scholars, who make excuses for them and you know what? Nothing changes. (Just so that you know I’ve been using the word enclave long before the show)
It’s not easy to say what you think. The show was just a representation of a few peoples opinions and ideas and research. It’s not a blanket idea...but it spoke about many things that I have said myself, thought about and questions that I’ve asked. It was just a poker in the flames.
I smell a follow up.