Al Huda – Guidance for a disunited community?

Her confidence overshadowed the edginess in her voice, when she proclaimed, live, on a very orthodox community radio station, “I want this magazine to represent ALL Muslims, regardless of their socio-political affiliations.” This might seem insignificant at first glance, but let me put it in perspective. The South African Muslim community is one beset by many problems, amongst them  racism, classicism, sectarianism and of course, sexism. For a Muslim women (gasp) to say that she wishes to bridge these gaps of race, class, sect and gender, could appear to be one of two things: an accomplishment, or a blasphemy, depending on where you stand.

Earlier last month, Khadija Patel, a twentysomething  South African masters student, writer, and community activist, took over the reigns of well-established community publication Al Huda. Not only did she give it a face lift in terms of quality and presentation, but a makeover in content as well.

Al Huda's autumn cover. Image via ....
Al Huda's autumn cover. Image via Khadija Patel.

Khadija hoped for the first issue of the magazine under her wing, to represent new beginnings and to foster unity, through showcasing the diversity of the South African Muslim community.

Did she achieve this? I would have to give her a heads up on that. Despite minor technical glitches, the articles speak for a wide range of viewpoints and ideologies. To have taken on this role as a publisher and editor, in a patriarchal Muslim society, is indeed very brave of  Khadija. She has certainly “rocked the boat” of male domination in our community media. This should not be taken to mean that there are no other Muslim women involved in local publications, but rather, that the content and ideas that the new edition of Al Huda has introduced to the readership truly challenges the tradition of the one-dimensional material provided to the South African Muslimah reader.

So, who and what exactly comprises this latest copy of Al Huda? The contributors are as varied as the content, ranging from students, bloggers, artists and activists, to scholars, doctors and accountants, both male and female, writing from South Africa, North America and the Middle East. I am very proud to be one of those contributors.


On the intellectual state of the Muslim world:

“While browsing through a mini-history lesson ensconed in a friends recent trip to Syria, I found her caption to one particular picture interesting, “the fascinating Nourias (water wheels) in Hama, from back in the day when Muslims used to think.” “What led the wheels turning the mental processes of Muslims to grind to a halt?” I wondered.”

On the upcoming elections:

“The reality is that every vote does indeed count. If everybody had to assume the position that a single vote didn’t matter, democracy would be a failure … As Muslims we cannot be passive citizens.”

On marriage:

“The whole world is in some sort of gender crisis. Men are supposed to exfoliate, and women are supposed to be sexually liberated. Men are supposed to cry manly sobs, and women are supposed to say things like, “Tonight, you do the dishes.” “

On the Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow conference:

“The Muslim world controls important economic resources like agriculture, oil … What the Muslim world seems to be lacking however, is a unified strategy to channel these resources.”

On fair trade in Gaza:

“Whatever hope Gaza was holding onto for the possibility of fair trade ever catching on again has now been ruthlessly thwarted by Israel. Understandably, the focus is no longer on fair trade, or even on trade for that matter, but on survival and other immediate needs, that generally need tending to after an atrocity of this sort.”

Whilst some of the articles seem simplistic, I had to keep in mind that introducing South African Muslim women to topics like politics, economics and intellectual debate, needs to be injected in small doses, for an audience who have been previously fed articles that encourage women to be submissive, unengaged in matters of society and preoccupied with all things domestic, which I don’t have a problem with, as long as women are made aware of all the options available to them. Thankfully, the “to veil or not to veil” discussion was absent!

As a quarterly, Al Huda lacks the “life” which daily and weekly publications are able to portray with up-to-date news and coverage. I also find the absence of  human pictures takes away the “spirit” of the magazine, but in keeping with respect for all segments of society, I am able to overlook this whilst Al Huda is busy building’ bridges.

On the whole, Al Huda was a refreshing read, and the new lease on life it has been given promises much hope for a community in dire need of stimulating writing.

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