On Friday, 26 May, the evening call to prayer signified the start of Ramadan 2017. Ramadan is when Muslim people embark on a month of fasting, reflection, patience, and acts of goodwill. At a time when Islamophobia is becoming increasingly acceptable and South Africa is mired in the political doldrums, we should reflect on the unique and often overlooked story of Muslim and Christian coexistence in South Africa.
In many countries, the us-versus-them narrative has led to suspicion and downright bigotry toward people of the Islamic faith, while in South Africa we have managed to live together in relative peace. Apartheid's Group Areas Act, as it was implemented in Cape Town, settled many South Africans of colour on the Cape Flats, giving rise to many eclectic and vibrant communities. One such community was Belgravia Estate, postal code 7764, where I spent my teenage years and most of my student years.
The eight avenues, just off Klipfontein Road, intersecting 10 or so crossroads were characterised by property ownership, with homes ranging from elaborate brick structures to homes constructed from corrugated sheets. Young and old, well-off and not so well-off lived as neighbours and friends and it is from this cross-section of well-educated and not as educated, of Muslim and Christian, that Umalusi boss Prof John Volmink and international jazz musician Jonathan Butler hail.
The peaceful and authentic interaction between people of different faiths was echoed in the street names. In streets named Salaam and Martin Luther, families lived caring about each other while their children attended the local schools in the area.
The daily call to morning and evening prayer, as well as the tolling of the church bells on Saturdays and Sundays, created a pulsating beat to which residents of Belgravia went about their lives while living with one another, taking the time to get to know one another. The bowls of lentil soup and boeber brought over to neighbours during Ramadan turned neighbours into friends.
Women of faith shared their worries about children and grandchildren, they shared laughter and tears, they supported one another during times of difficulty and joy, all the whilst sharing the strength and comfort which they got from their faith. They always seemed oblivious to the fact that the one is called God Allah and the other simply God. As Ramadan 2017 gets under way, we wish our fellow South Africans a blessed and peaceful Ramadan.
We also let them know that as civil organisations put pressure on the government to combat the threat of extremism in the country (according to Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula), we too will create an environment that is conducive to forging a sense of belonging, acceptance, respect and integration, for these are powerful antidotes to jihadist ideas to which young people may be vulnerable.