Fashioning Religious Selves: Middle Class Muslim Women in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Friday, July 18, 2014: 5:45 PM
Room: Harbor Lounge B
Oral Presentation
Safiyya GOGA , Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Pretoria, South Africa
Almost twenty years after the inauguration of a democratic dispensation, South Africa remains caught up in the paradoxical efforts of nation-building. To produce unity out of a racially fractured past, the language of ‘social cohesion’, ‘diversity’, and celebration of ‘our cultural heritage’ (exemplified in the setting aside of Heritage Day) is large on the Government’s agenda. Yet signs of the failure of the ‘rainbow nation’ (and hence of the multicultural project) seem ubiquitous – growing socioeconomic inequalities, rampant government corruption, social unrest and discontent among the poor, as well as arguably unchanging or hardening of racial mistrust and racial separateness. That forms of cultural and religious authenticity arise and are ever more strongly asserted within this climate makes it crucial to ask what they might mean: more specifically for this paper, what does being middle class and Muslim in post-apartheid South Africa mean?

This paper provides some insights into the questions around nationhood and religious subjectivities through an analysis of the historical situatedness of middle class Indian Muslims in South Africa. Some preliminary thoughts will be provided on the ways in which discourses and practices around clothing and ‘proper’ dress among middle class Indian Muslim women in South Africa construct ways of understanding and placing the self within and/or outside the boundaries of nation and nationhood. Using a combination of literatures – an extensive global literature on Muslim women and dress/ fashion, the literature on Muslims and Indians in South Africa – I will explore how the expression of religious group belonging through the visibility of the clothed body – relying on connections between the local and the global – ultimately comes to shape the local landscape.