More food. I didn’t realize it going in, but a good portion of this journey was about food.
I’m exaggerating. But I do think the best conversations are had around food, and therefore is an important thing to document.
And fine, as delicious as it was, the food was perhaps a smaller detail compared to the unbelievable beauty of the mosque in which we ate. Have a look for yourself…
We arrived at the Nizamiye Masjid just before sunset. The call to prayer began echoing through the speakers a few minutes after we entered the beautiful dining room next to the prayer hall. Once payers were said, we gathered around a massive wooden table. They had prepared a large buffet for us to join them as they broke their day-long fast for Ramadan.
After dinner, we drank tea and ate all-natural ice cream, and our host told us more about the history of how this particular model of education came to South Africa. He explained that the building is an 80 percent scale replica of the 16th-century Ottoman Selimiye mosque in Edirne, Turkey. It’s massive. He said it can hold up to 3,000 people. The prayer hall is only one building in a whole complex that includes a school, restaurants, shops and a clinic. The focus of everything in the complex though is education.
He explained that they were making efforts to dispel myths about Muslims by welcoming anyone and everyone into the community, and educating them about Islam. He even went so far as to apologize for the Muslim faith not doing more to demonstrate that it’s a peaceful religion.
He also said that they still receive many immigrants into the community and hold classes to try and improve their integration in South African society. Difficult, in part, with the xenophobia that exists in South African society right now.
We capped the night with a walk through the complex. There were children dashing about on a playground, young people and adults milling about. Clothing stores and restaurants were closing up for the night. We stopped at stand and everyone got salep, a hot Turkish beverage made with milk, sugar, rosewater and cinnamon. It was frothy, thick and smooth, and a welcome warmth in the South African wintry weather.
For context: Only about 1.5 percent of South Africans are Muslim, according to the 2001 census (I’ve been told SA census data should be taken with a grain of salt). The vast majority of South Africans are Christian, at about 80 percent.