Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Representations of Islamic Belief and Practice in a South African Context: Reflections on the Fictional Work of Ahmed Essop, Aziz Hassim, Achmat Dangor and Rayda Jacobs

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Representations of Islamic Belief and Practice in a South African Context: Reflections on the Fictional Work of Ahmed Essop, Aziz Hassim, Achmat Dangor and Rayda Jacobs

Article excerpt

Summary

This study explores the representation of Islam in the fictional work of four South African writers: Ahmed Essop, Aziz Hassim, Achmat Dangor and Rayda Jacobs. After clarifying significant principles of Islam, I follow a threefold basis of enquiry, considering how far these authors, in terms of their fiction, reveal Islamic belief as an empowering force for social justice and compassion; how far they are prompted by feminist views; and how far they feel a need to interrogate Islamic teaching and practice. Given particular attention in my enquiry are: Essop's story, "The Hajji" (1978) and novel, The Visitation (1980); Hassim's novel, The Lotus Eaters (2002); Dangor's novella, "Kafka's Curse" (1998) and novel, Bitter Fruit (2001); and Jacobs's novel, Confessions of a Gambler (2003a) together with her short story collection, Postcards from South Africa (2003b). To begin with I contrast Dangor's more interrogative stance towards the use of violence with Hassim's apparent readiness to countenance it. In the next section what emerges is a reluctance or refusal on the part of prominent male characters to show compassion or forgiveness, although such a response would be profoundly in keeping with the Muslim tradition. Women, on the other hand, exemplify a readiness to engage in various kinds of merciful intervention. Finally, in relation to women's rights, I reveal how male-centredness is, perhaps surprisingly, not typical of fiction by Muslim writers, although it is the one woman writer in this study who engages in a more searching interrogation of conventional Muslim gender attitudes and assumptions.

Opsomming

Hierdie studie ondersoek die verteenwoordiging van Islam in die romanliteratuur van vier Suid-Afrikaanse skrywers: Ahmed Essop, Aziz Hassim, Achmat Dangor en Rayda Jacobs. Nadat die belangrikste beginsels van Islam uiteengesit is, doen ek 'n drieledige ondersoek na die mate waartoe die gekose skrywers in terme van hulle skryfwerk die Islamgeloof as bemagtiging vir sosiale regverdiging en medelye ontbloot tot watter mate hulle aangehits word deur feministiese oortuigings, en hoe sterk hulle genoodsaak voel om die Islamitiese leerwyse en praktyke te bevraagteken. In my ondersoek skenk ek besondere aandag aan Essop se verhaal, "The Hajji" (1978), en roman, The Visitation (1980); Hassim se roman, The Lotus Eaters (2002); Dangor se novelle, "Kafka's Curse" (1998) en die roman Bitter Fruit (2001); en Jacobs se roman Confessions of a Gambler (2003a) en haar versameling kortverhale, Postcards from South Africa (2003b). Ek begin deur Dangor se bevraagtekening van geweld te kontrasteer met Hassim se skynbare bereidheid om dit te ondersteun. Wat in the volgende afdeling duidelik blyk, is die prominente manlike karakters se traagheid of weiering om te vergewe of deernis te toon, alhoewel so 'n respons beslis sou stryk met gevestigde Islamitiese tradisie. Daarteenoor toon vroue 'n bereidwilligheid om hulle in te laat in verskeie ingrypings van medelye. Laastens wys ek hoe, met betrekking tot vroueregte, manlik-gesentreerdheid nie tipies van the letterkundige tekste van Muslimskrywers is nie, alhoewel dit die vroulike skrywer in hierdie ondersoek is wat the gebruiklike Muslimhoudings en -aannames oor gender bevraagteken.

Islam is at the forefront of worldwide issues and tensions because of the activities of various Islamic fundamentalist groups, most notably Al-Qaida, and more recently, because of the vehement outcry against the Danish newspaper cartoons, several of which portray the Prophet Mahomet as an Al-Qaida type of terrorist. As Bruce Lawrence explains in relation to the Afro-Eurasian area south and east of the Mediterranean:

   Islam as a pragmatic referent in organizing social or economic
   life was denied autonomy under colonial rule ... the subordination
   of Islamic ideals and values to political pragmatism continued in
   postcolonial polities. As a result, Islam remained a reservoir of
   symbolic dissent, often couched in violent terms, available to
   marginalized, aggrieved groups. … 
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