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Roll out the harem, the Muslim cometh

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.

(Full Article here)

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.

6 replies on “Roll out the harem, the Muslim cometh”

>The article itself is not factually inaccurate, its presentation however is intentionally made to reflect a certain bias which you correctly identified as an orientalist mentality.
I liked your comparison of hadji bucks and hugh hefner. Which of the two is more reprehensible? A man married to several women under the same roof or a womanizing pornographic publisher?

While I'm certainly not an advocate for polygamy I think the whole initial paragraph of bucks's personal life was highly unnecessary considering the context of the article.

>Intriguing article from Lin Sampson, like you I wonder about the reference to "Island of Islam" surely she knows 1 in 4 CT residents are Muslim?

However the article is much more about the Malay Choir, which is pretty cool in and of itself.

I don't necessarily like the way in which he's portrayed but you have to admit the first paragraph is an excellent hook

>K – I agree with W, good post!

W – I am 1 of 9 kids, same mother and father:) Wana see a superwoman, come to my house.

But as a Muslim, I'm weary of jumping to defend polygamy – after all, the Quran is the only religious scripture that says marrying one woman is better!

>Well spotted Waseem! Maybe it's a typo that managed to escape subbing? Or has it escaped subbing because it looks otherly enough?

>Great post kay!

Tell me why it is ok for men to not be married and have sexual relationships with 12 girlfriends at the same time but morally reprehensible for a man to be married to more than one woman. Is 10 children (within wedlock) all that much? Is some woman giving birth to octopulets (however you spell that) on a whim (out of wedlock) something worth celebrity status in comparison.

I also find the spelling errors in the article insulting. 'Koranic' and 'Hajibs', if you are a journalist should you not research your topic enough to know the spelling of the stuff you write or am I being pedantic?

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