Between Islam and the spirits of ancestors: one woman's journey

14 October 2018 - 00:00 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 worshipers 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.

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