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The little mosque on the Bo-Kaap

By Anam Kaleem

"Hayya 'ala-Salah, Hayya 'ala-l Fala. Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar. La illah illallah." (Come to prayer, come to success. God is the greatest. There is no God except the One God.)

The call to prayer filled the city from the towering minarets of Cape Town's majestic Jumu'ah Masjid in the Bo-Kaap, the home neighborhood for a South African Muslim minority known as the Cape Malay, many of whose ancestors were brought here from Indonesia as slaves.

Crowds of Muslims, predominantly men dressed in suits, quickly shuffled into the mosque for their obligatory Friday sermon and prayer. Since it starts at 1 p.m., many people came straight from their jobs, said Shereen Habib, an activist born and raised in Cape Town.

We entered the intricately designed metal gates and climbed the few steps leading to the mosque. At the top were six fat, evenly-spaced white columns, giving it a modern look tied to classical Muslim architecture.

The two doors and the line of windows were shaped in an arched wooden design. The right door was the women's entrance, and the left was the men's.

In the marble floored foyer, the thunderous, amplified voice of the khateeb--the orator of the sermon--could be heard as attendees took off their shoes and put them on wooden shelves before entering the carpeted prayer area.

At the top of a short set of stairs stood the khateeb, a pale man with acorn-colored hair who was dressed in a floor-length white robe and a short, stiff, brimless white cap called a kufi. The men sat near the speaker while the women sat behind them, separated by a wooden divider that they could see over and listen to the speaker.

The khateeb, speaking primarily in English, told the people they should not feel as though they were better than someone else because they had the opportunity for more knowledge. He also said we should not focus on the minor details of Islam but should concentrate on the fundamentals of the religion.

"Some men worry if the hems of their pants are folded the right distance away from the ankles while praying but are not thinking about the real importance and intention of the prayer," said the khateeb, as light reflected off a metal chandelier shone on his face.

"Aqeemus Salah," said the khateeb, indicating it was time for prayer. Everyone stood shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot in straight lines across the mosque. The khateeb, standing by himself at the front, recited a prayer at the end of which the people responded with "Ameen" (Amen).

Afterward, some men rushed off to work while others stayed for the opportunity to mingle with their brethren. "My son loves coming here on Friday because this is the time he gets to meet his friends and hang out with them," said Habib.

Posted by South Africa Group on June 7, 2011 8:04 AM
Category: South Africa