“Verily, the hearts find peace only in the remembrance of Allah.” Qur’an 13-28
Muslims believe that remembering Allah brings peace to their life and community. In Cape Town’s Manenberg township, it has also brought peace to the community at large.
Over the past three years, a team of Muslim scholars have been on a mission to bring peace to the area suffering from gang and drug problems.
The scholars hold weekly dhikr sessions, an act of worship held in some sort of an open-area gathering in which they repeat the name of Allah and His attributes.
Over the last three years, there has never been a gang fight during the hour-and-a-half of worship attended by 100-400 people, the organizers say.
“It is not about the numbers. The overwhelming part is that despite all conditions we are able to have the dhikr running consistently for the past three years,” organizer Sheikh Mogamad Saalieg Isaacs told BBC.
For Sheikh Isaacs, dialogue involving the community’s different religious leaders would be a good start: “Crime has no boundaries and does not distinguish between religion.”
Police declared Manenberg a “red danger zone” by the authorities in mid-2015 and for several months, ambulances were unable to enter the area unless escorted by the police.
However, the gangsters in certain areas will now sometimes help the Islamic scholars lay out the prayer mats at the beginning of the programs, says Sheikh Isaacs.
“There was a specific period between 2018 and 2019 where crime in Manenberg decreased during the time we were having the dhikr programs,” he says.
The Muslim scholars have received an award from the police in Manenberg for the role the dhikr sessions play in the community.
“The dhikr has caused a calmness in Manenberg,” says Sheikh Isaacs.
“We only do it once a week. If we could host the dhikr programs every day it would have a tremendous effect, but because of logistical reasons we cannot.”
Based on Pew’s 2010 report, Muslims accounted for 1.5% of the South African population, with the Muslim community comprising mainly those who are described as Coloreds and Asians.
Black and white South African converts as well as others from different parts of Africa joined them. Islam might be the fastest-growing religion of conversion in the country, with the number of black Muslims growing sixfold, from 12,000 in 1991 to 74,700 in 2004.