Crime has had a massive impact on all Capetonians often in more ways than what we can imagine. An urban legend amongst Cape Muslims suggests that centuries ago, if a judge or magistrate wanted an additional or a public opinion on a court case, he would instruct the bailiff to request any passing Muslim wearing a red Turkish fez to come and assist. The red fez with the black toggle was culturally reserved for elderly men and implied that the person had performed the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca and was presumed to be honest. This tradition lasted for many decades until local criminals realized what the fez represented. To evade suspicion about their activities, thugs started wearing the fez, consequently ruining the tradition and the integrity that it represented for Cape Muslim culture.

Another Muslim tradition was similar to that of the Seven Day Adventist Church. Like the Adventist who visits door to door on a Saturday morning, a particular school of thought within the Muslim community visited families at dusk to encourage men to attend the evening prayer at mosque. They were usually welcomed, treated with hospitality and after a brief discussion and some tea; most men racked with guilt would sheepishly tag along. This tradition has also been curtailed after some Muslim families were robbed by criminals dressed in the traditional Islamic wear. Criminals had entered the homes under the false pretence of inviting the men along to attend mosque. Today, unfamiliar men who wear the traditional Islamic wear moving from house to house are regarded with suspicion.

Historically, mosques, especially those inside the city use to be a spiritual oasis in a space filled with noise and clutter. After mid-day prayers some men would relax on the soft carpet at the back of the mosque resting a while before returning to the hard labour that waited on the building site. Because criminals repeatedly stole the Mosque sound systems and the Islamic calligraphy artworks, many mosques began to lock up immediately after prayers. The tradition of a permanently open mosque that existed for 300 years is coming to an end. Going to Mosque for the early Morning Prayer and the late evening prayer is also problematic as spare wheels, car badges and wiper blades are not safe.

Even the celebration of Eid has been compromised. For centuries Muslim families opened their homes to friends, family, neighbours, strangers and very often non-Muslims. On Eid, Muslim and non-Muslim children from all over Cape Town moved from area to area greeting anyone remotely Muslim with the idea of securing the traditional “barakat” {free food, sweets and money}. Today, in many suburbs families peer from behind burglar bars and trellis-doors inspecting their video camera intercoms to decide if they should open the sliding gates or not.

I can only imagine what other freedoms and cultural traditions will be conceded in the next decade. If places of worship that has provided sanctuary for the down trodden and those looking for spiritual salvation are no longer safe from criminals what is the value of democracy and freedom of worship.

Cllr Yagyah Adams

Cape Muslim Council