Transnational Islam and public sphere dynamics in KwaZulu-Natal: rethinking South Africa’s place in the Indian Ocean world

Presented by
Seminar Date
February 16, 2011
Islam in KwaZulu-Natal has typically been seen as an Indian preserve and as closely linked with contestations around South African Indian identities. Against this background, dedication to Islam among Africans has appeared as exceptional, represented by groupings with particular histories of immigration from Mozambique, Malawi or Zambia. Since the 1970s, strong efforts have been made to extend the call of Islam to Africans in the province, as demonstrated in the mobilization efforts of the Islamic Propagation Centre International and the Muslim Youth Movement, and in the dawah projects of transnational Islamic NGOs like the World Assembly of Muslim Youth. Following the transition to democracy in 1994, Islam played an important role in establishing contacts between South Africans and the thousands of immigrants from other African countries – many of them with an Islamic background – who have been coming into KwaZulu-Natal. The essay discusses two different examples of Islamic practice in an African informal settlement on the outskirts of Durban, an demonstrates their different understandings of the relationship between Islam and African cultural ‘custom’. It places these differences of local theology and politics in the context of propagations of Islam as manifested in the writings of Ahmed Deedat and recent examples of pamphlet literature by African Muslims. It argues that understandings of Islam in KwaZulu-Natal as an African religion relate the area to the Indian Ocean world not only though links across the sea to South Asia, but also along the coast – bridging the gap between the Swahili continuum to the north and transnational Islam in the Cape.
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