There is no one way to be a Muslim woman

I’ve decided to focus on women in Islam outside the Somali community in Mayfair. Although that was the bulk of what we got to experience about Mayfair, I know there is more to the area. Also, I believe there is not one way to be a muslim woman and that should be thoroughly explored, mostly because people’s perceptions toward muslim women are so skewed in South Africa. And these are my own experiences.

Muslim women are not oppressed and are not confined into one identity. What interests me is that although Islam is the over-arching religion in the area. It is the religion that most of the residents practice, and because of the nature of the islamic religion, it often feeds into your lifestyle, giving it cultural significance as well. But within the framework of a predominantly muslim community, there are ways in which people express their own cultures differently.

Islam is a religion and yes it is a way of life. It seeps into every part of a muslim life and dictate the choices that muslimah make in their own personal capacity. A muslim will make a decision about their lives by following muslim laws and traditions.

In my opinion Islam has been able to feed across different races and different histories all over the world because it is a religion that one can easily assimilate into without discarding other parts of your identity. You don’t have to stop being black to be muslim. You don’t have to have money to be muslim. You don’t have to wear a scarf all day every day to be a muslim. Islam accepts everyone and unites people under one belief.

This to me is fascinating because people their differences into their lives and make it part of an islamic culture. In masjied I sit next to Turkish, Lebanese, Indian, Somali, South African people and when we pray, we stand shoulder to shoulder because we are all muslim. There is a community there connected under one umbrella which I think is amazing.

In the Cape Malay culture especially, there are things that are distinctly Cape Malay that the Indian community for example, does ascribe to, but is still closely tied to the Cape Malay people’s religious beliefs and Islamic routes in South Africa. I’m hoping I can look at this more closely and compare it to the ways that Indian women in particular are distinct in their own cultural and religious practices, something that goes beyond food.

Where is the news?

The journalistic process is a grueling one. You are under constant mental strain, trying to figure out how to do justice to the stories of the people you are writing about. You also have to separate yourself, your feelings and beliefs in order to forward an agenda that has already been set. The battle field is already set, the lines are already drawn, you just have to stand at the side lines and watch the war happen.

We have been constantly reminded of how difficult it would be to get access to Somali women and how they don’t speak without the presence of Somali men and one of my colleagues have told me about a similar encounter but this has been for me to process.

I’m starting to think that maybe going into the community with my own preconceived ideas and agendas would be a disservice to the Somali women in Mayfair. Besides, Somali women are not the prototype for Muslim women and the Somali community is a growing one. They don’t feel quite at home but they’ve carved out a space for themselves in Mayfair where they feel comfortable, a place that is their own.

As a journalist, one has to find conflict for a story to be “worth it” a standard that i don’t fully agree with but those are the rules of the game. The conflict iwth Somalis in Johannesburg has been over done. and looking at the rest of my classmates will be explored even further.

Different stories have to be told, that is my purpose as a journalist.

The women are okay

From the tour we did yesterday, there were many of my fellow classmates who seemed eager to focus on Fordsburg and the Somali’s in the Mayfair area.

As a journalist, I believe that focusing on minorities is essential because voices are important. I have expressed my hesitance towards homeless people because I think telling the story of a homeless person would be false. False because I have an inclination to help a homeless person instead of exploiting them just so I could get a good mark. Marks are not everything.

I’ve only been a real practicing journalist for a year and I do believe that I am a journalist, from my core, but I know that reporting on homeless people rarely ever helps them unless it’s done properly and I’m not confident in doing that.

The role of women in little Mogadishu struck me though. Walking around in the streets in the Somali community in Mayfair and visiting the stores, I witnessed that there were very few women around. The tour guide had told us that Somalis prefer women to be home… When he took us to the local masjied (mosque), there was no facilities for women. As a Muslim woman I felt very distressed by this. I didn’t like it at all.

That feeling stayed with me and I still feel today, a day after the tour. However I took it as a learning experience. When in-depth started I was confident because I thought I knew the area but I was sorely mistaken.

As a journalist I believe I have an obligation towards these women. Not because I feel like they’re oppressed. I don’t believe that they are but my obligation I think is to explore the ways in which this is not about oppression or empowerment but the confidence these women have in their religion to express it in the way that is acceptable to you and your relationship with the almighty, not anybody else. There is power in that.

Women in Islam live different lives to women in the broader South African society. The world and society needs to know this.

“I am within and without. Enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

“I am within and without, enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life”

Fietas, Fordsburg, Mayfair. When I first heard this was the chosen locations for us to do our in-depth research, I felt like it had been chosen for me. I’ve had a battle with journalism this year because I’m not the conventional journalist, I’ve discovered that about myself but this was divine providence.  I live in the area,  I know the troubles and I know the culture. I’m going to nail this! I hope.

Going on the tour through Fietas today I felt partly an insider, partly an outsider. “I was within and without, enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life” is the quote from the Great Gatsby which most accurately captures my experience of the “tour”.

I have always been curious about Fietas. There is an aura of displacement hovering in the air. I have passed 14th street many times on my way to Wits where I have previously encountered what I referred to as a”village” of homeless people sedated their own displacement. I always walked pass very quickly and when I first started writing as a journalist I promised myself that I would tell these people’s stories.. but I never did. Even now for in-depth research project I can’t get myself to do a story about these people – I walk pass them quickly. Not because I’m afraid of interacting with them but because I am so fascinated that it borders on obsessive, which is something I don’t particularly like about myself.

My fear with doing a story about this “village” is that I would be exploiting them. I don’t want to exploit the little that these people have – their stories – for my own journalistic greed. How is 2000 words meant to capture the reality of someones pain and displacement.