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Shamima Shaikh Memorial Lecture 2019

Shamima Shaikh Lecture 2019

“Reclaim Islam from those tearing Muslims apart’

By Thandile Kona

Professor Sa’diyya Shaikh’s captivated a Durban audience last week when she took them on a journey of exploration on the life of the late activist Shamima Shaikh, and through the lens of Sufism, Sufi teachings, about love and justice.

Shamima Shaikh was a member of the MYM’s national executive committee and its first National Gender Desk Co-ordinator, former editor of Al Qalam newspaper and an activist of note. The event, opened with riveting performance poetry by renowned poet, Mphutlane Bofelo.

The debate became lively when members of the audience asked questions ranging from gender hierarchies within Sufism, the price that activists like Shamima Shaikh have to pay in pursuing the values they stand for to the gendered roles for men and women in Islamic societies.

Professor Shaikh regaled the audience with anecdotes from the Sufi tradition about female Sufi saints who were leading intellectuals in their time and how they led full lives on their own, not as extensions of men in their lives and around them. These women, she said, displayed advanced spirituality and wisdom than their male counterparts and put paid to the notion that women were of weaker faith therefore could not reach the zenith of spiritual enlightenment.

Sufism, she argued, offers a possible escape route from the sectarianism and brutality that is tearing the global Muslim community to shreds with each sect claiming superiority over others and seeking to impose its interpretation or misinterpretation of scripture on all others.

Such sectarianism and brutality manifests itself with the violence in many parts of the world through groups like the Islamic State, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab and others. The defeat of such injustices that are perpetrated in the name of Islam is what consumes activists in the mould of the late Shamima Shaikh. Muslims should always strive to reclaim Islam, its interpretation and practice from those with tyrannical inclinations and impulses, she added.

‘Gender inequality big turn off for many young Muslims’– Professor

By Naseema Mall

Young sisters who face gender inequality and other injustices in South Africa’s Muslim communities, could be forced to find “spiritual nourishment” elsewhere – and end up rejecting Islam, warned Sa’diyya Shaikh, Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Cape Town.

She was speaking at the Al Ansaar Hall in Durban where she was guest speaker at the 2nd Annual Shameema Shaikh Lecture where thorny issues affecting Muslim sisters were explored under the banner of “Islamic Feminism”.

In the South African context, it focused on women claiming their rights in spiritual spaces, interpersonal gender relations, spiritual “superiority”, and injustices meted out to women based on male orientated interpretations of sacred texts.

The annual Shamima Shaikh Memorial Lecture provides a platform for discourse on the struggle of South African Muslim women for viable inclusion in these spaces, and a framework for gender justice.

“Many of the young people simply cannot stomach inequality. Yet many of these amazing young people often end up rejecting Islam because so much of what they encounter in the Muslim communities are characterised by gender inequality and other injustices, and they cannot reconcile this dissonance. And so smart, ethical and spiritually alive young people go out to search in other places for spiritual nourishment since the conservative models within our community are so far removed from the ideas of justice and compassion they are seeking.

This year’s topic was “Cultivating Spirit, Embodying Justice: Sufism, Gender and Islamic Feminism”.

Shaikh has a special interest in Sufism and postulated that the discipline teaches us that a person’s inner state is the ultimate value in Islam. “Irrespective of all the external and material realities, whether it is wealth, social class, race, gender or any other external markers, the ultimate and most important focus in this life is the state of the heart. Social and interpersonal justice is nothing but the work of the spirit,” said Shaikh.

Globally social injustices and gender inequality are perpetual struggles. According to Shaikh, drawing on Islam’s encompassment of love and compassion injustice and inequality can be reformed. She explains: “Gender justice and all social justice is the work of the spiritual path. This is important for our collective futures. If we strive to embody an Islam that brings together justice and spirituality we are less likely to emulate young men and women whose inner sensibilities are drawn to equality, supported by social realities where the ideals of social justice and human rights are part of our political landscape, even as we struggle to make these a reality.


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