Jonathan Jansen, who attended an interfaith wedding condemned as a “debacle” by the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), says it was a “groundbreaking” ceremony.
The respected academic and commentator told TimesLIVE on Wednesday that the MJC’s condemnation of former Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool, the bride’s father, was “not unexpected”.
“I grew up in a fundamentalist evangelical family, so I know how these things work,” said Jansen, former vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State and a columnist for Times Select.
All emotional now. Attending a Muslim-Hindu wedding, a beautiful show of integration of culture, identity and love. Love this about Cape Town culture
— Jonathan Jansen (@JJ_Stellies) December 28, 2018
On December 28, when Tahrir Rasool married Sanjay Nanran at Kelvin Grove in Cape Town, Jansen tweeted that it was “a beautiful show of integration of culture, identity and love”.
But in a statement on Tuesday, MJC president Sheikh Irafaan Abrahams called for “atonement and a public apology” from Rasool for allowing the “seven steps” Hindu ritual to be incorporated into the ceremony.
It said the two senior MJC members at the wedding “were as surprised as anyone else” by the inclusion of the seven steps, and said the controversy had even led to pronouncements of excommunication for those at the wedding.
“It is hoped that an infraction of sharia [Islamic law] is acknowledged by our two senior members whose presence has been the topic of much anxiety and that it will help to assuage the indignation,” said Abrahams.
Dennis Cruywagen, the ANC spokesman in the Western Cape — where Rasool is one of the frontrunners to be named as premier if the party wins this year’s provincial election — said neither he nor Rasool would comment on the matter.
In a statement last week, Rasool said wedding guests “would have witnessed the careful preservation of the maqasid [honour, chastity and faith]”, adding: “May Allah guide us all through this world where our children will encounter diversity, and give us wisdom to remain true to our fundamentals, but open to traditions and customs which constitute universal and shared values.”
Jansen said Rasool went out of his way, in a speech at the start of the wedding ceremony, to give an “absolutely brilliant” speech explaining the inclusion of Western, Malay and Vedic rituals.
In his Times Select column on January 3, he said Rasool knew he had to make a public case for his daughter marrying a Hindu.
“In one of the best speeches about interfaith community I have ever heard, the father spoke not about the elaborate symbols and sacraments of their ancient faiths but about what he observed about the shared values of the couple: care, compassion, trust, commitment, respect and responsibility,” he wrote.
“I sat entranced by the powerful meanings embedded in this public witness of how we can and should be as South Africans.”
Abrahams, however, said while Islam recognised the need for harmonious co-existence, “there are areas of recognised sanctity in which the inclusion of extraneous religious rituals must be acknowledged to be controversial and divisive rather than cohesive and inclusive”.
One of these was the nikah (wedding), and Rasool’s failure to have “broader consultations” about the format of the ceremony meant atonement “would be apposite”.
Abrahams also condemned those who had called for takfir (excommunication), “based upon the flimsiest rumour that flies brazenly in the face of the Quranic imperative to verify”.
He said: “We advise those who pronounced takfir on those who were present at the Rasool wedding to atone for what they articulated and make a public apology.
“We can declare with confidence that no kufr [denial of the truth] has been committed.
“The MJC appeals to the community to allow the young couple to begin their married life in peace and harmony. Let not the consequences of this unfortunate furore plague them any more than they already have.”