“Cape Town’s Circle of Muslim Shrines. Between Public and Religious Discourse”
On the occasion of the inauguration of the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies on Thursday, 25 June 2009, and of the related workshop “Prayer in the City” (26 - 27 June), we invited Prof. Abdulkader Tayob to give the keynote address. Therein Prof. Tayob, who teaches Religious Studies at the University of Cape Town, delved into some of the topics that were treated in concentrated form in the two coming days of the workshop.
He described how Muslim shrines encircling Cape Tow define the city’s geography and memory and gave evidence of the fact that they could be considered as spatial symbols of post-apartheid South Africa. They are first of all symbols for anti-colonial resistance, reflecting the protection of cultural rights in the new constitution. Secondly, they are contested by various Muslims groups on the basis of different theological interpretations – a continuing discourse interlaced with the building of national and cultural identity in South Africa.
Against this background, Prof. Tayob took a close look on how a so-called Muslim “public” emerged thanks to the public discussion on issues of heritage, ritual and theological disputation during the last 30 years in South Africa. The “public” he describes is not monolithic as the term “public sphere” would suggest, but rather corresponds to different registers. For example, the Muslim public in Cape Town adopted and articulated by means of the shrines such common goods as cultural freedom, marginal history and heritage. These common goods, however, are faced with competing representations as formulated by Muslim theology and “proper” Islamic practice on the one hand, and by divergent social identities formed around these public sites, on the other hand.