Religious Freedom

MUHAMMADIYAH MASJID – TENNYSON STREET MOSQUE, SALT RIVER

Friends,

Today I share with you an open letter written by Zackie Achmat (long-time community organiser and justice activist) to the Mayor of Cape Town, Geordin Hill-Lewis. I share it with you as CMM joins in solidarity to highlight and oppose the discriminating notice sent from the City of Cape Town to the Tennyson Street Masjid describing the athaan (call to prayer) as a “noise nuisance”. I was touched by this letter. It is both persuasive and beautiful. I love hearing the athaan in the early mornings. The call to prayer emanating from the Bo-Kaap is especially clear when the North Wester is blowing. Prayers carried on the wings of the wind to bless the city below.

We are graced to live in a country where we not only have freedom of religion but in fact have very good relationships across the religious spectrum. We have never had a religious war in this country. This will continue as long as “we do to others as we would have them do to us”.

Finally, while reading Zackie’s letter I was reminded of a quote by Gerald Stern that I hope will percolate some thought within you: “Mine was not faith in anything divine, unless the salvation of oppressed people can be called divine.” You may want to reflect on Matthew 25 with this quote in mind – where Jesus says: “What you do to the least (oppressed) of these you do to me”.

With grace,
Alan

 

MUHAMMADIYAH MASJID – TENNYSON STREET MOSQUE

OPEN LETTER TO MAYOR OF CAPE TOWN GEORDIN HILL-LEWIS

Dear Mayor Hill-Lewis

My system of belief, ethics, and conscience requires one to love one’s neighbour as oneself, to protect oneself and others from harm, and to promote justice, equality, and freedom. I have no religion, apart from my system of ethics and I struggle to uphold it.

I have read the letter of a certain Mrs Estelle Thyssen to the Imam of the Salt River Muslim Congregation at the Muhammadiyah Masjid in Tennyson Street, a letter that reads like a charge sheet for a crime.

The Tennyson Street Masjid was the second home to my family, we prayed there, the funeral ceremonies of my grandparents were conducted there, my aunts were married from there—and there I learnt that all people should be treated equally. My grandfather Ebrahim Adams often prayed by himself in the mosque especially when wars raged across the world whether they were wars instigated by Pakistan against Bangladesh or Israel against the Palestinian people. He would tell me: “We are all the children of Nabi Ebrahim (Abraham) and we should love one another”.

In 1969, standing on the balcony of our one-bedroomed flat at 17 Chatham Road with my late grandmother, Asa Adams, and my aunts, I heard the call to prayer, watched people fill the street from that mosque and march towards the cemetery to join the burial of the late Imam Abdullah Haroon, murdered by Spyker van Wyk and other security policemen. Many mosques in our city performed the same ritual in the martyred Imam’s memory.

Every Friday, all the school boys would walk hand-in-hand from Kipling St Primary School dressed in white through Pope Street down Chatham Road and turn left, where we would find the Tennyson Street Masjid, a place of sanctuary to pray. Once, I performed the athaan (call to prayer). The congregation treated my call to prayer as a noise nuisance because I was completely off-key. Apart from that, to this day, even though I am not a believer, the call to prayer is an integral part of my identity, the call I first heard at the Tennyson Street Masjid. The only verse of the morning prayer that I found difficult to observe at that time was “Asalatu Khair Minal Naum”, it is better to pray than to sleep. None of our Christian neighbours ever regarded the athaan as a noise nuisance.

As a socialist, it is my duty to defend every democratic right, including the right to worship a god or ancestor of one’s choice. I believe the letter describing the athaan as a “noise nuisance” is not only discriminatory but also deeply offensive to the Muslim community. I have no doubt that all reasonable people of faith, whether Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, or ancestral worship and atheists regard the City of Cape Town’s letter as an unconscionable infringement of religious freedom.

I refuse to succumb to any form of identity politics. But as a citizen, defined by the philosopher Michel Foucault as a person who can criticise their rulers without fear of consequence, I demand that you withdraw this obnoxious notice from the City of Cape Town that can also be construed as racist. It cannot be that an apartheid law of 1989 is applied in an Islamophobic manner.

Thus far, you have been a Mayor that walks our streets, one who listens to all the people you encounter, engages all opinions especially those you disagree with in a respectful manner. Geordin, a personal friend of long-standing, I know that you hold your Christian faith dearly and would find any attempt to banish the cross from the public sphere because it offends a Muslim, Jewish or atheist sensibility as an intolerable crime against religious freedom.

Just as we have a duty to oppose anti-Semitism, anti-Christian and all forms of racism, I must add my voice to the demand that you withdraw this Islamophobic notice issued by Mrs Estelle Thyssen and apologise to the Muslim community of our country and elsewhere.

Warm regards
Zackie Achmat

 

 

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Be Resurrected from Prejudice

Methodist Manse, Chamberlain Street, Woodstock

 

Friends,

On Tuesday evening we received the news that the Woodstock manse was on fire. A fire that seems to have started in the roof spread throughout the whole house and destroyed everything inside. We are very grateful that Rev. John Stewe and his family are safe, but they lost everything except the clothes that they were wearing at the time. We are not yet aware of the reason for the fire. The insurance company is being engaged. Thank you to everyone who have expressed generosity and care. Here are the account details for where you can make a donation to the Stewe family. Thank you.

MCSA Table Bay Circuit
First National Bank
Business Account 500 611 809 79
Reference: Stewe

This past week we have been meeting as the Synod of the Cape of Good Hope District. In these COVID pandemic days Synod is a hybrid affair. We met both in person and in localised “hubs” online. I say it every year, but I will say it again, that it is always a gift to be reminded that we are part of a big beautiful diverse family that is spread across almost all urban and rural areas of the Western and Northern Cape. Each context embodies vastly different gifts and struggles. For example, Bishop Yvette Moses reminded us that at this time the region of Namaqualand is served by one clergy person who must travel a few hundred kilometres between the churches that she serves. From the close urban environment of Cape Town CBD it is difficult to comprehend this. Bishop Yvette invited all clergy to make ourselves available to travel to Namaqualand for one weekend of service before the end of the year to assist our colleague. As a result I will be going to Spoegrivier (Google it) in September.

 It is our tradition on Synod Sunday to “exchange pulpits” and this morning I will be in Bellville.
For those of you at CMM today you have the wonderful privilege of getting to know
Rev. Vuyelwa Ntshinga from Durbanville Methodist Church.

Vuyelwa, I hope you enjoy the Heavenly Coffee.

 

Last week in our reflection on Acts 10 and 11, I said that it is easier to raise the dead than to resurrect people from their prejudice – especially prejudice that has been baptised by religion. I suggested this because the story of raising Dorcas in Acts 9 was stated rather matter of fact-like and without any explanation, but when it came to Peter facing up to his prejudice against “uncircumcised gentiles” a whole chapter is needed to get him to the truth that “I should not call anyone profane or unclean” and an understanding “that God shows no partiality”. And then a further 18 verses of Acts 11 are needed to explain and defend his gentile-loving-journey.

This past week we witnessed again the stubborn difficulty to be resurrected from prejudice. Theuns du Toit’s racist act of urinating on the desk and belongings of fellow student Babalo Ndwayana in the Huis Marais residence at Stellenbosch University, is shamefully sad, traumatising and enraging. This is yet another painful reminder that we still have a long walk to an anti-racist society. May the same Spirit that “told Peter to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us” (Acts 11:12) disturb and move us to this end.

With grace,
Alan

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Missing Moments

 

EITZ Visual Artists

(corner Burg and Church Streets)

 

Friends,

It is amazing how the briefest of moments can determine the direction of our life. This can be true for good or for ill. Sometimes these brief moments are barely recognised as moments, yet their effect can last a life time. A child plays the piano. A parent listens. The child makes a mistake. The parent sighs. Between the notes, the child hears their parent’s sigh and out of the corner of their eye, the child notices their parent lower their head ever so slightly. This is interpreted by the child as disappointment and disapproval and perhaps embarrassment to listen any further. Afterwards, there is no discussion between the child and parent. No clarification. This is communication without conversation. Feelings are felt but not mentioned. All in all the sigh and the slight lowering of head took no more than a second, yet from that moment on, the child now middle aged, decided never to play the piano again. Just as big doors swing on little hinges, so our lives swing on the briefest of moments.

How terribly sad to be silenced by a sigh. How terribly disturbing that it is possible we may mute the music of another by the slight lowering of our head.

Sometimes our relationships with others are determined by moments that are missed moments. The moment that seems to have a sell-by-date embedded within it. The moment within a moment that somehow we feel has now passed, making whatever we had committed to do in the moment, no longer right or true or even possible. That what would have been appropriate is no longer so. And this scarcely conscious sense may end up determining a relationship forever.

The following is an extract from Kazuo Ishiguro’s book entitled, The Unconsoled. Ishiguro has an amazing ability to turn up the volume on our own internal dialogues so that we can hear ourselves.

“With that she had turned and disappeared out of the room. It had occurred to me to follow her through into the next room, visitors or no visitors, and bring her back for a talk. But in the end I had decided in favour of waiting where I was for her return. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Sophie had come back into the room, but something in her manner had prevented me from speaking and she had gone out again. In fact, although during the following half-hour Sophie had entered and left the room several more times, for all my resolve to make my feelings known to her, I had remained silent. Eventually, after a certain point, I had realised any chance to broach the topic without looking ridiculous had passed, and I had returned to my newspaper with a strong sense of hurt and frustration.”

One of the gifts of an author, in fact, one of the gifts of all artists, is that they help us to hear what we are deaf to and see what we are blind to. They bring to attention what we miss. Art is birthed in attentiveness. Artists gift us with the fruit of their attentiveness. Often they introduce us to ourselves as they help us to recognise ourselves and to know ourselves more truthfully. In this, artists help us to become more alive to life.

We would all become more alive to life were we to be more attentive to our living. Attentiveness however, requires stillness. And we live in an age of distraction that makes stillness an immense challenge. For this reason many have found the Examen Prayer that involves the daily practice of pause to be healing and helpful. The examen prayer invites us to pause and attentively examine or review our day. Without condemnation and without complacency, we are encouraged to compassionately reflect on our living. By grace we are invited to gently discern how we chose life or death in each moment and perhaps even the moments within each moment. The hope is that over time our lives may be less easily silenced and less prone to silence others.

With grace,
Alan

 

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Mother Earth

 

Friends,

On this Mother’s Day, I share with you two reflections. Please see the website for the links to the two websites for further reading.

In grace, Alan

The first is an extract from A Rose for Your Pocket: An Appreciation of Motherhood by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“The thought “mother” cannot be separated from that of “love.” Love is sweet, tender, and delicious. Without love, a child cannot flower, an adult cannot mature. Without love, we weaken, wither. The day my mother died, I made this entry in my journal: “The greatest misfortune of my life has come!” Even an old person, when he loses his mother, doesn’t feel ready. He too has the impression that he is not yet ripe, that he is suddenly alone. He feels as abandoned and unhappy as a young orphan…

People in the countryside do not understand the complicated language of city people. When people from the city say that mother is “a treasure of love”, that is already too complex for them. Country people in Vietnam compare their mothers to the finest varieties of bananas or to honey, sweet rice, or sugar cane. They express their love in these simple and direct ways. For me, a mother is like a “ba huong” banana of the highest quality, like the best “nep mot” sweet rice, the most delicious “mia lau” sugar cane!

There are moments after a fever when you have a bitter, flat taste in your mouth, and nothing tastes good. Only when your mother comes and tucks you in, gently pulls the covers over your chin, puts her hand on your burning forehead – is it really a hand, or is it the silk of heaven? – and gently whispers, “My poor darling!” do you feel restored, surrounded with the sweetness of maternal love. Her love is so fragrant, like a banana, like sweet rice, like sugar cane…

Mother’s devotion is overflowing, like water from a mountain spring. Maternal love is our first taste of love, the origin of all feelings of love. Our mother is the teacher who first teaches us love, the most important subject in life. Without my mother I could never have known how to love. Thanks to her I can love my neighbours. Thanks to her I can love all living beings. Through her I acquired my first notions of understanding and compassion. Mother is the foundation of all love, and many religious traditions recognise this and pay deep honour to a maternal figure, the Virgin Mary, the goddess Kwan Yin. Hardly an infant has opened her mouth to cry without her mother already running to the cradle. Mother is a gentle and sweet spirit who makes unhappiness and worries disappear. When the word “mother” is uttered, already we feel our hearts overflowing with love. From love, the distance to belief and action is very short…

If I were to have any advice, it would be this: Tonight, when you return from school or work or, if you live far away, the next time you visit your mother, you may wish to go into her room and, with a calm and silent smile, sit down beside her. Without saying anything, make her stop working. Then, look at her for a long time, look at her deeply. Do this in order to see her, to realise that she is there, she is alive, beside you. Take her hand and ask her one short question to capture her attention, “Mother, do you know something?” She will be a little surprised and will probably smile when she asks you, “What, dear?” Keep looking into her eyes, smiling serenely, and say, “Do you know that I love you?” Ask this question without waiting for an answer. Even if you are thirty or forty years old, or older, ask her as the child of your mother. Your mother and you will be happy, conscious of living in eternal love. Then tomorrow, when she leaves you, you will have no regrets…”

The second is an extract from Humanity’s Attachment to Mother Earth by Oumar Konare, a former intern in the United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP):

 “…Philosopher Mircea Eliade proposed a reflection about the “Mother Earth”. He compared Earth to the mother, on a symbolic level. Just like the mother, it is the first object of attachment that we encounter in the objective world. Earth holds us like a mother, it nurtures us like a mother does, providing food, chemicals, wood, and answering our every need in a seemingly omnipotent way, akin to the vision an infant has of its all-powerful mother until it has grown enough to fend for itself.

Moreover, clinical experience has demonstrated instances when patients separated from their homeland (immigrant workers, refugees, nomads) exhibit symptoms of depression and anxiety, echoing the situation of a child deprived of its mother’s care. The similarity comes from the feeling of abandonment from the loss of a familiar, known, secure, gratifying object.

Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein theorized, from her observation of babies, that an infant at some stage fears that it has “damaged” its mother by clinging to her and feeding off her, and this causes the child to enter a phase of depression subsequent to so much guilt. This guilt actually allows us to mature enough and form a psyche that can both withstand frustration and develop an ability to feel remorse.

This would mean that guilt and the ensuing need to “repair” are experienced at the very early moments of our life. While these theories are quite controversial, the central message is that humankind is capable of developing a stable psyche because of our very deep capacity to feel bad about our actions, and to delve into a more ”gentle” identity and accept to make amends by learning, by “being good”, and then by repairing the damage we have caused. As children, we thrive on a “good enough mother”, rather than an all-powerful mother, and the guilt from damaging the mother, by claiming too much from her — in another form of all-powerfulness — is one step towards socialization and the integration of norms and values.

In practice, it is often very apparent in adults how many of their everyday actions have a source in their early interactions with their mothers. In regards to Earth, this is something that is quite apparent too: we do feel deeply moved by the consequences of our use of Earth and our all-powerfulness towards her.

One main question remains though: are we moved enough by the plight of the planet to question ourselves, deal with depression and make amends at the same time? If we are not, we should think of ways to allow ourselves to be moved by those feelings so familiar and yet so terrifying because they force us to confront the possibility that we are in fact powerless and our ultimate fear of becoming victims of something we cannot control at all — the revenge of she who created and fed, and on whom we depend for everything…”

 

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