By Sia Safiyyah Muhammad
It’s been four years since my last journey to South Africa. I look at it as a journey instead of a trip, because it’s more than leisure..., it's an experience. I had to adjust to the differences upon arriving in the country six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Also, the country of South Africa operates on a British system, so the steering wheel and driving is on the opposite side. While we are experiencing autumn n America, they are enjoying the warmth and beauty of spring. The official language is British English, so you hear words like “boot” for a automobile trunk, “pocket” for glove compartment and “pram” for stroller.
Many native African Muslims eat together from one main dish with their hands, which fosters togetherness and communal conversation. The extremes of beauty and poverty still overwhelm the untrained eye.
Though British English is the most widely spoken common language, the beautiful native languages of Zulu, Xhosa and Tswana are spoken throughout the communities. The warm hospitality and daily conversations include “hello, how are you; how’s your family” – all woven into their culture.
When I visited people’s homes not more than 10 minutes went by before I was offered a refreshment of water, juice, tea and biscuits (English tea cookies). And when I am leaving. It is often said, “You must greet your family.”
The Muslims in the community gather at least once a week, sometimes on Friday for Thikrul-Jum’uah or remembering Allah and Prophet Muhammed; a short lecture/class; nasheeds (Islamic songs remembering Allah and Prophet Muhammed) and sharing a meal.
One of the highlights of this journey was the aqiqah (baby naming ceremony) of Muhammad and Ruqayyah's new addition – Fatimatuz-Zahrah –where family and community people visited their home to bless the family through prayer, a feast, gifts and celebration.
There are uniquely beautiful sights that are breath taking sunrises and sunsets, trees, plants, flowers and songs of birds indigenous to South Africa. Many of the people drive automobiles, as we do, however, many others walk or ride vans called taxis.
Many of the children in the neighborhood travel to school by vans called transports. Often the children are happy and love to be with each other. Many of the girls, teens and women wear their hair in beautiful styles as braids, cornrows, and intricate loc designs.
Many neighborhoods have a small businesses, usually in/near residents‘ homes, as barber/beauty shops, convenience stores called a “tuck shops,” or work as a tailor/seamstress.
Though the housing development companies are usually owned by Europeans, the building is often done by the native South African men. This leads me to the not-so-pleasant side of things. Though my sister is blessed to live in a comfortable situation, there are so many thousands of people who are literally living from “hand to mouth” or less.
There is approximately 30 percent unemployment among the native South Africans. Though Apartheid ended in the 1990s, many people live in such substandard conditions – makeshift dwellings of corrugated metal and cardboard.
Homes are literally packed together side by side like sardines in a can. Heavy rains and flooding can literally wash away homes. Sewage backups are often a problem. Though many of the townships (city ghettos) have small brick houses with electricity, they often deal with issues as crime and especially theft, shiftlessness, and immorality-all commonplace for ghettos of any country.
The worth of the rand (their dollar) is 10 to one. For example, I got my hair braided for $10 U.S., which is equivalent to 100 rand (which would cost at least $60 in the U.S.).
The daily diet of the average person includes white flour products, sodas, sweets and meat, making the average diet very unhealthy. The country is considered a democracy (celebrating their 20th anniversary next year), however, it literally has a long way to go to experience economic justice for all who aim for it.
The light of the Muslims in the community I've come to know and love; it is a real love, with honor and respect for G-d's Way.