“We learn from stories”: report from Saffron book launch in Johannesburg

“We learn from stories”: report from Saffron book launch in Johannesburg


Saffron book launch enjoys a massive turnout

Last Sunday, I attended the launch of Saffron: a collection of personal narratives by Muslim women. I was invited by a friend who is also a contributor to the collection, Khaleeda Moosa.

As I made my way to the Johannesburg Fringe Theatre in Braamfontein, I didn’t know what to expect. Fifty-six women from all walks of life within the Muslim community contributed to the book, which was edited by Dr Zaheera Jina and published by African Perspectives Publishing. Yet, that knowledge did not prepare me for the massive turnout as my friend and I scrambled to find seats in the packed auditorium.

Radio journalist Ashraf Garda introduced the panel of speakers. In his introduction, Garda commended Dr Jina for bringing together a group of women, some of whom had never before written or shared their stories in a public space.

“If one of the key things of a leader is to grow other leaders, then Zaheera you’ve done that already, which I think is absolutely fantastic,” he said to thunderous applause.

“We cannot forget that extremely powerful narratives lie at the foot of our mothers.”

The contributing authors to Saffron are mothers, sisters, daughters, businesswomen, feminists, lawyers, columnists and so much more. They were represented by panelists Saffiya Ismail (columnist and contributing author to Riding the Samoosa Express), Rehana Moosajee (the Barefoot Facilitator), Fatima Kazee (attorney, blogger and web designer for Jozi Kids) and Safeera Kaka (journalist). Ayesha Kajee, executive director of the Freedom of Expression Institute and a well-known activist, Africanist and feminist, facilitated the discussion.


“Doesn’t it look absolutely amazing?” Kajee asked of the book’s striking colours and images as she held it up to the audience.

“Saffron is not only the most expensive spice in the world; it’s also one that gives texture, gives colour, and gives aroma as well as taste to our food. But more than that, saffron has this property of transmuting from these red threads, which are really by the way reproductive organs of flowers (laughter) … so transforming from these solid little red threads into pure, golden orange liquid. So, I think it’s an appropriate title for this book, because this book evokes aromas, it evokes colours, textures and tastes of so many things.

But it’s also a book in many respects of Muslim women’s transformations; how our lives have evolved over time.”

Kajee explained that the “multilayered, textured, deep book” is divided into sections about marriage, divorce, births, weddings, food and is filled with tragedies but also comedies.

”Letter to my daughter”

Rehana Moosajee’s story is called “Letter to my daughter”; a personal letter from a mother to her adult daughter sharing inter-generational experiences and life lessons. The author explained that she was in a bad space when she wrote the letter in 2016, when her daughter had just turned 20. She said the letter was a way to reflect on her own life as a Muslim woman.

“I think writing does have the ability to assist one to sort through one’s own feelings and conflicting emotions,” she said, explaining how she wrote the story at a time when she was pondering exiting a 20-year marriage. The story grapples with issues of self love. She wanted her daughter to know that “the self is a complicated being”.

“Don’t expect another human being to fill something in you that feels incomplete.”

One of the lessons she wished to share was that one should have a “relationship with Allah first, and then human relationships thereafter”.

“Beautiful lies”

Saffiya Ismail’s piece is also about a breakdown of a marriage, Kajee explained, and the ways of dealing with conflicts and trying to heal one another through relationships. Ismail said her story is emotional, raw, and deeply personal:

“I think a lot of Muslim women … we’re afraid to express what we’re going through and I think this gave me a platform to tell the rest of us that we can share our stories, that we can make a difference.”

Ismail said she experienced conflicting emotions during her short-lived marriage, such as guilt and anger, especially towards herself.

“I took my child into this with a promise that it was going to work,” she said, but when she started seeing the signs she started to worry about community and family. “The Almighty gives us the tools, he send us the signs, he basically spells it out for you,” she explained of her final decision to end the relationship.

“And today I sit here, from a victim, to a survivor, to a thriver.”

Motherhood and marriage

Fatima Kazee wrote two stories for the collection, entitled “Raising kids in the 21st century” and “It’s all about your mindset”.

Her first piece is about the challenges of raising children today. “A look in the right way doesn’t get them to settle down or keep quiet … they will challenge you in every way,” Kazee said, adding that she was looking forward to sending her children back to school after the long Easter weekend.

“Nothing can prepare you for motherhood. You try to treat them all equally, but they’re not all the same.”

Kazee’s second piece is about the expectations and emotional baggage that people bring into a marriage. “Having the right person that puts you right helps,” she said. “Marriage can also make you a better person.”

“Toasted cheese sandwiches”

Safeera Kaka’s story uses the favourite comfort food of toasted cheese sandwiches as a metaphor for milestones in her life, Kajee explained.

“It was a story swirling within me for so many years.”

“I wanted to share the ebbs and flows of my life,” she said of the intensely personal story. “It is a testimony to my life … and the person I’ve become today.” Kaka said writing the story was a very cathartic and cleansing experience.

Filled with turmoil, trauma and grief, “Toasted cheese sandwiches” is about more than just a sandwich, as captured in this description:

“A little secret about toasted cheese perfection: it has to be made at home.”

“We learn from stories”

Kajee ended the conversation by saying it’s important that the stories of people’s everyday lives are shared, especially stories from people who think they haven’t made a mark in the world … “people’s whose stories have resonance with other people”.

“We learn from stories,” she said in conclusion. “Stories stay in our psyche; and our collective psyche as South African, African, hopefully Africanist and feminist, Muslim women, are important contributions not only to the society we live in but to what we leave behind for future generations.”

Read the tweets from the Saffron book launch



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