MUHAMMADIYAH MASJID – TENNYSON STREET MOSQUE, SALT RIVER
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”.
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.