Mogamat Zain Benjamin, better known as Hadji Bucks, presides over a small island of Islam in the suburbs of Cape Town in a house shiny with peach tiles and illuminated Koranic scripts which he fires up with a remote. It is full of women in hajibs, who pad about with bare feet, bringing refreshments, some curtly dismissed as not being quite right. He has 10 children, five daughters and five sons and, after much deliberation and the aid of a calculator, it is estimated that there are 31 grandchildren.
Are all the children from one mother? The answer: not exactly. But they were all brought up as one family.
In his 70s, Bucks is a ladies’ man, smelling of sweet cologne. He says: “I just love girls,” as his wife sits benignly by, engrossed in a hospital drama on an oversized plasma screen.
The image of the lascivious Arab, opulent in his capacity for violence and decadence is promulgated by Western media, blurring the lines in the minds of Westerners between Arabs and Muslims. The rapaciousness of Arab men for women, have fuelled many a film, book and opinion about Arab culture. Orientalism is the term used to describe the blurriness between what is ascribed to Arabs and Muslims in Western media. In the extract above, Bucks is a Muslim man living in Cape Town. Far, far from the Middle East and the usual haunts of Arab men wielding swords and spitting out women like used bubblegum, Bucks is a South African Muslim. He’s typecast here as a man of decadence with harem like sensibilities.
Lin Sampson is one of the most talented writers in the country. Her features on the more colourful facets of Cape Town life are witty and informative without pandering to the banal. She is one of those rare writers who brings forth the sort of objectivity that charms one side of the coin while mocking at it for the other. Her characterisation of Bucks though, I find unfortunately Orientalist and irrelevant. The reader is left puzzled about there being ‘barefooted women in hijab padding about his house, bringing refreshments, some curtly dismissed as not being quite right.’ What is being dismissed for being not right, the women or the drinks? Is the ambiguity accidental?
Sampson simply regurgitates the women are chattel theme of Orientalist discourse. The assumed powerlessness of a Muslim woman is conveyed by describing Benjamin’s wife as ‘benign’. Sampson only sees these women against the image of Bucks, not as people in their own right. Bucks’ life, however fraught with a bevy of women at his beck and call should not be relegated to a scene from the Arabian Nights. Granted, Bucks is a rather interesting character but why then not compare Bucks to Hugh Hefner? His deepfreeze jam-packed with crayfish and the mammoth plasma screens would compare well with the toys of the Playboy mansion. But instead his Muslimness, conveyed by his frequent trips to Mecca and the remote-controlled Koranic scripts qualifies him to be seen as a randy, old Arab.
While issues of integration have come to dominate discourse about Muslims living in Europe, South African Muslims conversely are well established in mainstream society. To suggest however that Bucks presides over an ‘island of Islam’ is rather perplexing. It further entrenches misconceptions of Muslims relegating them to a league of otherliness. And Bucks? Well, he’s just trying to win a singing competition, by any means necessary.