Book review – To be Muslim in South Africa

2014-07-24 06:00

Regarding Muslims: from slavery to post-apartheid by Gabeba Baderoon

Wits University Press

207 pages

R288 at

In her latest book, academic Dr Gabeba Baderoon explores the history of Muslims in South Africa, which spans well over 300 years, and considers how this history is important to our country today.

What made you choose this topic?

I was a student in 1996 at the University of Cape Town when all those events around Pagad [People Against Gangsterism and Drugs] happened.

And I was affected in a powerful way, but I wasn’t able to explain it.

Later, I realised the presence of Muslims is an underdiscussed phenomenon in South Africa.

That’s why I decided to do this thesis, which turned into a book.

Why do you think Islam is important in the understanding of contemporary South Africa?

In 1994, South Africa celebrated the end of apartheid.

At the same time, it was the 300th anniversary of the presence of Muslims in South Africa, which was lesser known.

So the book starts by asking what the place of Muslim people is in South Africa’s history – which isn’t a singular history.

It is quite a complex question, so I started with a landscape painting that shows, for instance, that many images of Cape Town are images that include enslaved [Muslim] bodies.

I wanted to make sure the book was an exploration of South Africa through the history of Islam in the country.

It is about development of self, it’s about belonging, indignity and race. It looks at how we look at South Africa and Islam through the media.

How did you choose the topics?

Since it is a very broad and complex question, I went with what struck me. So the book deals with slavery, colonialism and apartheid, and the manner in which that history continues to impact on contemporary South Africa.

For instance, contemporary sexual violence has a deep history in slavery and the enslaved black body.

I also looked at landscape paintings, Muslim food in South Africa, the images of Pagad and the Muslim narrative in South Africa that connects with the “global” narrative of isolation, extremism and largely a lack of understanding of Islam.

It also looks at the vibrant work of contemporary Muslim artists (poets, comics, feminist writing) in post-apartheid South Africa.

What do you want people to take away from it?

The book isn’t just for religious scholars, or people interested in Islam.

My vision is that the book will be of interest to people who want to understand or are asking what it is to be South African.

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