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[OPINION] Eid Mubarak, here’s to a year of tolerance

The heavy mist descending from Table Mountain could not cut through the crowd of Muslims gathered on the hills of Bo-Kaap who prayed in unison to celebrate the morning of Eid and mark the end of a long month of fasting.

Other Muslim communities would have done the same today. Some in Durban, some in Pretoria and even the Gold Mosque in Ormonde, Johannesburg, which saw itself at the centre of a contentious debate earlier this month, would have had an Eid prayer and lecture of its own today.

What the Imam might have spoken about when he addressed followers, I don’t know, I was not there. What do I hope he might have spoken about? Tolerance. Especially given the significance of the video that found its feet at that mosque and went running like wildfire earlier in the holiest month of the Islamic calendar.

Ramadan is not hard to understand. It visits for approximately 30 days, a guest that poses a contradiction in terms. Traditionally, when we receive guests, we feast but when Ramadan enters the door of a Muslim home, it does so for the opposite reason, for fasting.

Your humanity leaves you when hunger visits, the only way to fix it in its place and make it stay is when you channel the energy you use to feed your mouth into your mind and heart and instead. Fasten it with silence and love.

The guest of Ramadan sits at the table, it is there at sunrise when families take their first meal of the day and it hangs about throughout the exchange of hours that happens between the next convening at the dinner table when fasts will be broken. Testing each Muslim carefully, there is only one question: How much did you feed your soul today?

How much did the men at the Gold Mosque in Johannesburg feed their souls this month when they harassed women by trying to stop them getting too close to the “men's section” to try and listen to the Qu’ran being recited? How much did the men at the Gold Mosque and so many mosques like it feed their souls when their stringent and patriarchal laws oppressed women and robbed them of their human and spiritual freedom to practice their religion?

When the women entered that mosque, humanity left through the front door - in plain sight, in viral video format if you will. Ramadan was watching.

Your holiest of guests, Ramadan, was also watching when the Majlis website’s response to the women entering the mosque came in the form of calling the women prostitutes and lesbians. To quote: “These women bereft of any vestige of haya (Imaani shame and modesty) conducted themselves lewdly like prostitutes. Perhaps they are lesbians. It is never possible for a decent Muslim lady of respect and shame to ever acquit herself with such obscenity as these lesbians had flagrantly, rudely and in Shiah style displayed.

Then, of course, there are also two of the biggest bloodshed incidents in the history of Islam in South Africa that took place this month, and that is the mosque killings that house the guest of Ramadan in South Africa this year - One at a mosque in Veralum in KwaZulu-Natal and another at a mosque in Malmesbury, Cape Town. Both knife killings, both of worshippers and both in the month of Ramadan.

The Veralum mosque attack is shrouded in conspiracy theories about in-house fighting (so to speak) between Shias and Sunnis.

The motives for the Cape Town mosque killing are still unclear, although, it’s frightfully hard for the mind to not draw some sort of parallel.

But how did the Sunni council feed their soul when they shared a post that shouted outright racism toward their Shia Muslim sisters and brothers? Saying that their blood is black and their hearts are dark. Warning other believers of the Shias existence, and saying that they are not welcome in the Sunni house of worship? Ramadan was watching you too.

Or how did those Muslims of South Africa feed their souls this week when their reaction to a piece we did on the struggle to be gay and Muslim in South Africa (Lut’s People) was nothing short of inhumane. The story featured profiles on the struggles and journeys of South African Muslim queers who have been through the most in life to be who they are and consolidate that with practising a religion they love. “The punishment for being gay is stoning and beheading,” was many a response. If you eat hatred, you will spew hatred.

But, it’s in fasting that another form of feeding is supposed to happen. The body is deprived of water and food for a (lunar) calendar month and forced to accommodate the holy guest of Ramadan without nourishment. Resources, some might say, that nurse the human faculties - like those of patience, kindness, joy, happiness. Ramadan is a month of tolerance. It is a month of tolerating the hunger in the body in exchange for feeding the heart and mind. It is a month of opening oneself up to being nourished by enlightenment and empathy.

Perhaps what many Muslims need before another Ramadan returns is to ask themselves if there is any point to their self-righteous observance of this holy guest, when in fact instead of feeding the faculties of their humanity, all they are doing is starving their compassion instead.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.

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