I went to university in Durban in the mid 90s. I had a bunch of Muslim kids in my class. There were no beefs, no thoughts of “the other”. Just some other kids. There was Aisha from Zimbabwe — the chick who bounced between being a Muslim and a communist, but was always eternally hot. OK, I know I shouldn’t just be judging girls off their flyness but I was 18 at the time. She did have a magnificent brain to go with that fit body. I’m digging myself in deeper here, aren’t I? … Moving on! Dawood. He was older than us, a few years ahead, and totally awesome — Megadeth and Sabbath T-shirts, big hair and crazy toys stuck to his drawing board. He was a nutter of note. As were Faraan and his brahs who drove hotted-up cars and liked a pipe in the morning. They were cool like ice. Then there was Aman, who coined my favourite saying: “You gotta be a pig in this wild, wild world!” He said it after we discovered that he had grazed knees while shagging some chick on his balcony. One of my best mates was Doung Janangeer, or to use his full name, Anwar Mohammed Janangeer, the crazy Mauritian architect turned artist who has been making waves in the South African art scene. All of these kids were Muslim. Some of them quite devote and the others, well, they tried to be good when they could.
Their religion didn’t seem to play a big part in our discourse. Maybe during Ramadan we’d say things like: Dude, aren’t you starving? Or we’d get a little bit bummed because Gustav down at the ref wouldn’t serve bacon or ham and shit because he was a Muslim. I think I had more arguments with Aisha about her commie outlooks than anything to do with her faith. When I hung out with Doung, there were many occasions where he’d be doing his prayers before we went out. I’d be sitting on the couch and there would be this dude on his prayer mat bowing to Mecca. Not once would I have ever thought about it as the clash of cultures, or the war of ideas. It was just what he did.
Now I am not trying to suggest that, we were like sesame street, or the rainbow bloody nation, or something, we had our faults and we had fights about rubbish that kids fight about. Who smoked all the zol? Arguments about rock vs R&B on the communal studio radio. But overall, my days in the UKZN archi department were good, and a lot of Muslim kids helped to make it good.
But then bam, 9/11 happened, and everyone started hating on the Muslims. Every Muslim got tarred with the Jihadist brush. But none of them had really changed. Yes, thousands of people died, and that was tragic, but that didn’t mean any of the kids in my class were any different. They were the same people they’d been on the September 10 2001. It wasn’t like overnight every Muslim became radicalised. Osama bin Laden wishes he could have that effect on people.
I want us to remember that time. That time before we hated the Muslims. That time when Muslims were simply our neighbours, the kids in our class, our GPs, our dentists, the guy down at the shop, the woman two desks across, the guy in the IT department, the lady at chemist and the hot commie chick from Zimbabwe.