Meet the Mus­lim san­goma

Sunday Times - - Front Page - By KGAUGELO MASWENENG

● When Shahyda Mdo­dana con­verted to Is­lam at the age of 14, she tried to ig­nore the dreams she had of her late grand­mother in­struct­ing her to make umqom­bothi (tra­di­tional beer).

What would her Mus­lim com­mu­nity think if she heeded the call from her an­ces­tors to un­dergo the African tra­di­tion of ukuth­wasa to be­come a san­goma?

The idea of mix­ing God, or Al­lah, with herbs, umqom­bothi, im­pepho (in­cense) and talk­ing to an­ces­tors is an out­ra­geous con­cept to staunch fol­low­ers of var­i­ous reli­gions.

It was only years later when Mdo­dana fi­nally suc­cumbed to her call­ing — with the sup­port of her imam — that she re­alised the two could com­ple­ment each other.

Mthandazo “Mkhondo” Khu­malo from the Tra­di­tional Heal­ers’ Or­gan­i­sa­tion says he has ini­ti­ated many peo­ple who be­long to re­li­gious groups. “Some peo­ple were born with dou­ble spir­i­tu­al­ity, and it’s okay. It be­comes their bur­den to marry the two or else they will con­tinue to at­tack each other,” he said.

At the age of 10, East Lon­don-born Mdo­dana started hav­ing dreams. They in­volved her late grand­mother in­struct­ing her to make umqom­bothi, wan­der­ing alone in moun­tains, drown­ing in deep wa­ters and see­ing a holy man sit­ting in an open field.

She ig­nored them for years, but in 2010 she was in de­spair af­ter two failed mar­riages, health prob­lems and dis­ap­point­ments in her ed­u­ca­tion and ca­reer.

Her friends stepped in to help.

A rit­ual to re­pel evil spir­its, called Ruqya Shar’iyah, was per­formed for her. “They re­cited verses of the Ko­ran, put me into wa­ter and washed me to re­lease bad en­ergy and cleanse my aura. When I came to my senses I had a feel­ing I have never had in my life, it touched my soul. I wanted to know more.”

The ex­pe­ri­ence prompted her to be ini­ti­ated into Su­fism, a process sim­i­lar to ukuth­wasa. “The imam was so help­ful, he told me to call the names of my an­ces­tors … and in­structed me to use im­pepho when I talk to them. Af­ter I did, things started chang­ing in my life. I felt at ease, I was pray­ing more and get­ting more of my dreams clearly,” Mdo­dana, 35, said. “I fi­nally made umqom­bothi as in­structed in my dreams. I lit a can­dle, burned im­pepho and started talk­ing. I felt their love around me. And some of my tele­pathic skills were am­pli­fied.”

In an ef­fort to marry the two spir­i­tual realms, she per­formed a rit­ual. “I went to the sea at night and called their [the an­ces­tors’] names and then I could em­brace them through Is­lam.”

But al­though the process had lib­er­ated her, she said many fel­low wor­ship­pers os­tracised her. “Peo­ple started say­ing [hurt­ful] things. I was la­belled ‘dan­ger­ous’, told I was go­ing to hell and that I have gone astray. It af­fected me a lot; I started los­ing peo­ple, plat­forms and po­si­tions,” said Mdo­dana.

Mus­lim Ju­di­cial Coun­cil spokesper­son Is­mail Gqa­mane said the coun­cil did not have a prob­lem with peo­ple who had a call­ing. How­ever, he ac­knowl­edged that many Mus­lims could not re­late to the con­cept of a spir­i­tual call­ing.

“We do not re­ject such mem­bers. We in­stead di­rect them to fo­cus on the heal­ing side of it. We, how­ever, dis­cour­age them from be­ing for­tune tellers. We un­der­stand that herbs are there to heal and that is a good thing,” Gqa­mane said.

Pic­ture: Esa Alexan­der

East Lon­don-born Shahyda Mdo­dana em­braced Is­lam when she was 14.

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