Bo-Kaap Museum in Cape Town recently hosted the Shamima Shaikh Memorial Lecture under the theme, ‘Narratives of Empowerment: Muslim Women and the Gender Jihad in South Africa.’ Shamima Shaikh who passed away on January 8, 1988 was a dynamic activist of the Muslim Youth Movement and fought for justice throughout her life. She considered herself as an Islamic feminist and worked within Muslim communities for women’s rights. She was also a journalist and helped in the production of Al-Qalam Newspaper. The lecture was delivered by Dr Fatima Seedat of the University of KwaZulu Natal. The lecture was opened with a heartfelt introduction by Shamima’s eldest son, Minhaj. The event came to life when two spoken word artists, Nazlee Arbee and Aisha Mponda gave a powerful rendition of poetry which was dedicated to Shamima Shaikh.
It was after the poetry session that Seedat spoke. She sketched a vibrant picture of Shamima’s role in the evolution of the gender jihad (within the Muslim community) in South Africa by tracing her roots in the Black Consciousness Movement and the anti-apartheid struggle. She placed Shamima Shaikh in the same mould of great Muslim women such as Fatima Meer, Amina Cachalia and Zulaikha Mayet.
She explained how, not only was Shamima ostracised by the powers that be at the time, but that they also sought to project her as a woman that had lost her mind. All this was an attempt to suppress her quest for justice, and perhaps because Shamima Shaikh simply and stubbornly demanded space for women in the life of the community. She would not take ‘NO’ for an answer and she was not a woman who could be dictated to or put in her “proper place”. Citing examples of struggles that Shamima waged, like the struggle for gender justice and against racism, she noted that these struggles needed to be championed fervently. “Our duty is to ensure that we, like Shamima and the woman who argued with the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), continue to question, to stretch the boundaries and to push the envelope”.