The fall and rise of Muslim youth in South Africa, Western Cape

Ten years ago, to be a religious Muslim youth would be considered to be conservative or traditional. Ten years later, to be a pious Muslim youth is being associated with the idea of being ‘modern’.

The fall and rise of Muslim youth in South Africa, Western Cape

Shu'eib Hassen/ World Bulletin

The title might read slightly odd as the phrase usually reads “the rise and fall”. However, this is a deliberate interchange between the “rise” and “fall”, as I explored in thought the territory of Islamic religiosity amongst youths within the Western Cape Province of South Africa. Before I grant you access through the terrain of this subject matter I must equip you with the necessary insights. I would not want to indulge the reader into an exploration only to leave you stranded on the way back.

Firstly, youth as a term must be confronted. Ted Swedenburg, in his 2007 article Imagined Youths, states that “in fact, ‘youth’ is a socially and culturally determined category, a transitional phase between childhood and adulthood that, in its contemporary form, is a product of modernity.” Thus, the reference to the understanding of youth differs from society to society and from culture to culture, and society and culture is intertwined. In this context, the respective age for this numerical definition of youth will have to be from about 17 to 28.

The reason for this decision stems from the history of the oppressive apartheid regime. There are two aspects to consider: (1) the timeline of this article is based upon a generation that did not experience the direct cruelty of apartheid, and (2) the effect of apartheid upon a post-apartheid generation. The former explains itself, whereas the latter needs some further elaboration. The 1960s Group Areas Act stipulated different areas for different ethnic groups. This not only monopolised the land for the government as they could now ‘legally’ plunder properties but also systematically enforced the age old tactic of divide and conquer. In doing so, communities were split and people were subconsciously infected with a racial sense of community. It is a sense of community that develops and unknowingly promotes a stronger bond between homogenous ethnicities within the area. As for those that do not coincide completely with the dominant racial group it is more difficult for them to be accepted as part of the community. Muslim youths are raised, unintentionally or intentionally, to favour their respective race. In the post-apartheid era, where democracy has settled its roots and is still in the process of bearing fruit, the geographical location of Muslims remains quite racially bordered.

The sense of Ummah is a pertinent component and requires a Muslim to let go of such things as patriotism, racialism, and so forth. So how do Muslim youths that are raised in a predominantly non-mixed racial area adapt to the multiculturalism within the Islamic concept of ‘Ummah’? Even though the areas in the Western Cape are still quite racially bound they are slowly opening to the diverse ethnic population (Emphasis on the word “slowly”). Once exiting from schools the two largest Islamic ethnic groups in the Western Cape, the Indian community and the Cape Malay community, are confronted with other racial and religious identities on a huge platform when entering the tertiary education arena. Not that every Muslim from these two communities are able to enter into tertiary educational institutions. Those unable to do so are socialised - to a lesser or greater - degree in the workspace. Also, such racial barriers are slowly beginning to deteriorate and dissolve as racially mixed marriages are becoming less and less rare.

Muslim student organisations on campus try greatly to engage with Muslim students via various Islamic programmes or outreach schemes. Unfortunately it does not reach to the majority of the Muslim student population. There is even the safety mechanism some students deploy where they try to remain in a racially homogenous clique of friends. Gradually, the Indian and the Cape Malay Muslim youths are connecting and are using the divides that kept them apart as humorous interjects of nonsensical ridiculousness.

The slow rise of an Ummah is existent in a community sense, but from what level of religiosity or piety? Westernisation has majorly influenced South Africa, much like it has with the rest of the world, and has indeed carved its mark upon the Muslims youths in the Western Cape. The attraction of non-Islamic entertainment has become irresistible to some and to others has been seen as indignation of ‘kaafir’ (disbeliever). This has altered for many Muslim youths two lines of religiosity. One crowed sees themselves as doing sin but will correct them once they have reached a certain age and felt it is time to ‘grow-up’. The other crowed is convinced that the theological sin they are indulging in is acceptable to themselves as individuals, still feel comfortable to be called a Muslim, and have taken on the approach of ‘who are you to judge?’ Everybody tends to practice their religion according to how they feel comfortable, and coupled with that is usually a sense of theological jurisprudence. When such a coupling is separated then something different begins to mould itself. Therefore, in this instance, the constitution of what makes a good Muslim becomes separated from shariah and focalised onto a western model of globalisation’s concept of individualisation.

From the dust of nightclub exertion, from the empty bottles of alcohol consumption, and from the sheets of premarital sexual intercourse there are those that through some epiphany escape this lifestyle. There are also those that have not completely bought into this particular market of entertainment. Their numbers are increasing and subtly changing the scene as a gap market emerges. Local Islamic institutions, such as the ILM academy and masjids with capable resources, have been pushing through innovative Islamic programmes that are given by younger sheikhs and thus might be able to communicate easier to the youth. These programmes have been growing in popularity through word of mouth and due to the information age’s advancements in communication the word of mouth is wildfire if the product is of high quality. Also, alternative place to socialise that offer a more Islamic environment has is slowly gaining popularity amongst Muslim youths.

An Islamic pride, like the phoenix from the ashes, is arising in the Western Cape from Muslim youths. It is not enough to create a religious community revolution, but it is enough for the individual to internally self reflect. This plants the seed and in due time the roots of belief gradually affirm itself in the heart. If not, then it does create a higher awareness of Islam and the world, thereby formulating informed responses to questions from non-Muslims.

Ten years ago, to be a religious Muslim youth would be considered to be conservative or traditional. Ten years later, to be a pious Muslim youth is being associated with the idea of being ‘modern’. But it is not the western sculpted ‘modern’ but ‘modern’ that translates to progress, and wayward from any connection to negative connotations. There is still much needed for the imminent rise to be fully fledged. Young Islamic leaders that are capable of connecting to the current youth problems is needed to direct individuals into a community. The concept of Ummah can only be properly procured once a true Muslim Youth community is established.

However, the everyday realities still leave a mysterious fog over the future of Muslim youths. Mothers are dropping their children at Muslim schooling facilities without wearing a scarf, fathers are not making salaah while telling their children to do so, parents are welcoming and feel comfortable with the western model of courting, parenting is substituted by technological entertainment, and sunnahs mannerisms are seen as strange in the household and stranger in the city. The first role model of a child is their parent and if the institution of the household is held on flimsy ground, then Islam amongst the youth will be built in a glass house. The fall and rise of Islam amongst the youth in the Western Cape is most definitely improving at a gradual and steady rate. The plethora of backgrounds the Muslim youths come from are acting as bricks building a home for one family; i.e. the Ummah. The bricks used to build this home are coming from the walls that were once the divides in the past.

Last Mod: 02 Temmuz 2013, 18:44
Add Comment