Original Articles

Aesthetics of Muslim public and community formations in Cape Town: observations of an anthropologist

Published in: Anthropology Southern Africa
Volume 38, issue 1-2, 2015 , pages: 103–119
DOI: 10.1080/23323256.2015.1052825
Author(s): Ala Rabiha AlhouraniDepartment of Anthropology and Sociology, South Africa


This paper explores the implications of the arrival of Muslim Somali immigrants for the emergence of other Muslim communities in post-apartheid Cape Town. The ethnography unpacks the complexity and diversity of Somali identity formation, their culturally distinct politics of aesthetics in performances of Muslim-ness, and how they form community. Further, the paper focuses on the mass celebration of Mawlid Al-Nabi (the celebration of Prophet Mohammad's birthday) in Cape Town. This celebration reveals an emergent Muslim urbanity and public performances of Muslim-ness that signify the integration of the religious and the secular, and the various ways in which Muslims position themselves within the “multicultural” context of contemporary South Africa. The paper examines the sense of citizenship and multiple belongings that Muslims have to their respective cultural localities (such as Malays, Somali, Indian, African and White), to an imagined Muslim community in Cape Town, to the South African nation, but also to a Muslim transnational Ummah. The paper explains that performance of Muslim-ness is partially influenced by, and embodies, distinct cultural localities of Muslims. Conversely, it appears to draw on aesthetics of Islam, which embody a symbolic enactment of sensorial religious sacredness, which is common, shared and performed by the culturally diverse transnational Muslim Ummah.

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