n Journal for Islamic Studies - Islam in the public sphere in post-Apartheid South Africa : prospects and challenges

Volume 27, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0257-7062



The Islamic presence in South Africa dates over three centuries. Islam has mostly been the private affair of Muslims who lived in harmony with non-Muslims in "Indian" or "Coloured" public spaces, and engaged with them in political struggles against various White minority regimes. Islam has been brought into the national public sphere more manifestly in democratic South Africa. The activities of the vigilante group People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (PAGAD) in the Western Cape, 9/11 and the "War on Terror", and heightened salience of Islam as a religious and cultural force in the lives of ordinary Muslims have increased its public visibility to a level disproportionate to population numbers. The veil, beard, dress are all visible denoters of Muslims identity. Boundaries are being (re)constructed around various points of contact : between men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, Muslims and the state, Islam and secularism, and so on. This drawing of boundaries is not a movement of protest but one aimed at reinforcing religiocultural identity as part of a broader process of religious revival. This paper explores the intense exposure and reaction of the small Muslim community to the public gaze. It also examines divisions among Muslims on a range of issues, calling into question the notion of "Muslim community".

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