A Tribute to Shamima Shaikh

Celebrating the life and courage of a remarkable South African muslim feminist

2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the death of Shamima Shaikh, one of South Africa’s best- known Muslim women’s rights activist, notable Islamic feminist and journalist. An anthology of essays will be released next month at the Artscape to celebrate this remarkable woman who devoted much of her life to the struggle against apartheid and advocacy for women’s rights.

The anthology is co-edited by South American Muslim women’s rights activist, journalist and scholar Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente (Chile), Naeem Jeenah (South Africa) and Shehnaz Haqqani (United States) and celebrates Shamima Shaikh’s legacy, life and courage. The book highlights the struggles and issues that she held dear and believed were important for the transformation to a more inclusive society. International contributors include those who shared their life with Shamima, activists inspired by her struggles and scholars interested in highlighting the central tenets of her political thinking on women’s rights and social justice.

“We are delighted and inspired with the way this book has unfolded since we started with the idea. This is not a biographical book, but includes aspects of Shamima Shaikh’s life and, while it is not an academic book on Islamic feminism, it brings together some of the most relevant people in the field,” said project coordinator Rivera. “It is also not about political movements but it has summoned women activists worldwide, showing the relevance of her life in a variety of dimensions.”

Shaikh was born in Limpopo in 1960 and studied at the University of Durban-Westville where she got involved in the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO). In September 1985, she was arrested for distributing pamphlets that called for a consumer boycott of white-owned businesses in Durban. While locked up at Durban’s CR Swart Police Station (now Durban Central Police Station) she met the president of the MSA, Na’eem Jeena, who she married two years later and with whom she had two sons.

Shamima took her activism to the heart of the Islamic community. Courageously advocating for the right of Muslim women to have a voice and to participate on equal terms with men in community life, she became the first National Co-ordinator of the Muslim Youth Movement (MYM) Gender Desk, where she organised workshops, seminars and campaigns. She spearheaded the MYM’s “Campaign for a Just Muslim Personal Law”, the “Equal Access to Mosques” campaign amongst others.

In 1994, she was diagnosed with breast cancer but continued working while being treated. She was one of the founder members of the newspaper “Al-Qalam” and “The Voice Radio”.

She made the pilgrimage to Mecca with her husband and wrote a book together about that experience: “Journey of Discovery: A South African Hajj” published in 2000.

At the end of 1997, Shaikh completed her final public engagement. She delivered a paper, “Women & Islam – The Gender Struggle in South Africa: The Ideological Struggle”. During a period of remission she had decided that should the cancer return she would not undergo the chemotherapy again preferring to die with dignity and 17 days later, on the 8 January 1998 / 9 Ramadan 1418, Shamima Shaikh passed away leaving not only a great sadness among those who loved her but a valuable testimony of life for generations of South Africans and people around the world.

“We believe that each person can find a reason to be inspired by [Shaikh’s] legacy. We are humbled by [the writer’s] generosity in adding their voices to this anthology. They have embraced our vision of this book as a primordial act of love, gratitude and sisterhood towards Shamima Shaikh,” said Rivera.

You are invited to attend a celebration of Shamima Shaikh’s life, and launch of an anthology of essays in her memory to be published later this year. Hosted by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente in association with Woman Zone on Saturday 3 June (9 Ramadan) from 3 to 5pm at the Women’s Library, Ground Floor, Artscape. All are welcome and entrance is free RSVP: info@womanzonect.co.za

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