From the book: History of Muslims in South Africa by Ebrahim Mahomed Mahida
1700 Number and origin of slaves at the Cape
The Dutch East India Company brought slaves, political exiles and convicts from Indonesia and India, including Bengal and the Malabar coast. These Easterners, who had a long tradition of Islam behind them, were responsible for the introduction, establishment and spread of Islam at the Cape of Good Hope.
Dr A J Boeseken 10in a list extracted from transactions pertaining to slaves compiled from documents in the Deeds Office at the Cape for the period 1658 to 1700 shows the following:
|Cape of Good Hope
|This list indicates that over fifty percent [50%] of the total slaves were brought to the Cape from India.
1713 Outbreak of smallpox epidemic
In 1713 a smallpox epidemic broke out at the Cape of Good Hope and killed 200 of the 570 convicts. The rest of the convicts were subsequently given freedom. Muslims who died of smallpox were denied Islamic burial rights with the accompanying ritual ablutions. The regulations also ensured that Muslim smallpox victims were to be buried in coffins.
1743 Emergence of De Vryezwarten and their role in spread of Islam 12
More convicts were brought to the Cape in 1743 to serve as a cheap labour in the construction of a new break-water for the Company. Some of these convicts returned to Indonesia but the majority remained in the Colony on completion of their sentences, and formed the nucleus of what became known as De Vyezwarten or the Free Black Community. This Free Black Community soon became a threat to the economic security of the poor White colonists.
The Vryezwarten were controlled by civic restrictions such as landownership rights, and had to render services to the municipality gratutiously. Despite these controls, they became skilful artisans and craftsmen, and fairly prosperous at that.
De Vryezwarten's role in establishing Islam at the Cape was observed by George Foster in 1770 in his book, A Voyage Round the World, [London, 1977]: he observed that a few slaves were meeting weekly in the house of a “ free Mohammodan in order to read, or rather chant, several prayers and chapters of the Qur'adn".
The period between 1770 and 1800 proved extremely fertile for the spread of Islam in the Cape Colony. There were at this time, in the Colony, many freed convicts and ex-slaves who were well-schooled in Islam, and were only too eager to convert other slaves to Islam. They were assisted by the prevailing attitude of White settlers who argued that a Muslim slave, being of sober habits, made a better domestic servant.
The total registered population at the Cape in 1775 was 12 000; approximately one-half of this population constituted slaves. This became a matter for concern for the Dutch authorities who then legislated to control the slave numbers at the Cape. Among the placaaten [statutes] which were issued was one which prohibited the sale of baptised Christian slaves. The colonists, who feared the loss of their slaves, should they become Christians, indirectly encouraged the spread of Islam among the convicts and slaves; so, by 1800 the benches in the Groote Kerk [Church] of Cape Town which were traditionally reserved for use by slaves, had become virtually empty.
1744 Arrival of Tuan Sa‘id [Sayyid] and ?Hadjie [Hajil Matarim 13
Sa‘id Alowie [Sayyid ‘Alawi], popularly known as Tuan [meaning: sir/master] Sa‘id, of Mocca in Yemen, Arabia, arrived at the Cape in 1744 with Hadjie Matarim. "Mohammedaan.sche Priesters" ["Mohammedan priests" - Muslim 'ulama'] banished to the Cape by the Dutch were to be kept in chains for the rest of their lives. They were incarcerated on Robben Island. Hadjie Matarim died in 1755 and lies buried in a tomb on the island. The karamat [tomb] stands at the far corner of Robben Island. It is a simple square building built from local 'leiklip' [clay-stones] with a green dome and four miniature domes at the corners. Tuan Sa‘id served a prison sentence of eleven years. On his release from Robben Island he settled at the Cape. Tuan Sa‘id is known for his active da'wah [missionary] work amongst the slaves in the Slave Lodge. Oral traditions attribute tremendous mystical powers to him: he is said to have entered the locked and guarded Slave Lodge with the Qu'ran under his right arm, without being seen by the guards. History records that Tuan Sa‘id became a policeman at the Cape and so had access to the Slave Lodge. He is generally regarded as the first official imam of the Cape Muslims. He was buried at the Tana Baru cemetery in Cape Town.
1750- Estimated Muslim and Muslim slave populations at 1830 the Cape 14
|No. of Slaves
|No. of Muslims
1770 Tuan Nuruman banished to the Cape 15
Paay Schaapie popularly known as Tuan Nuruman was banished to the Cape from Batavia in 1770. He was a manumitted slave and resided in the Slave Lodge in Cape Town. Tuan Nuruman acquired the reputation as a spiritual advisor to slaves and Free Blacks. He was also known for the power of his "azeemats" (ta'wiz, talisman] and his spiritual services were widely sought after. It was this reputation which brought Paay Schaapie into conflict with the Cape authorities. In 1786 he assisted a group of runaway slaves by giving them an azeemat for protection. These slaves were unfortunately recaptured and Paay Schaapie was considered dangerous enough to be put away on Robben Island by the Cape authorities.
On his release from Robben Island, Tuan Nuruman again became involved in the affairs of the Cape Muslim community, officiating at all religious functions and soon became the official imam.
During the rule of the Batavian Republic at the Cape, Tuan Nuruman befriended the Governor of the Cape, General Janssen, and as a token of this friendship, the Governor gave him a piece of land in Tana Baru as a burial ground for him and his family. It was about this time that Tuan Nuruman dug a small well, on his piece of land in Tana Baru, which became a drinking well for animals grazing in the area. Remains of this well can still be seen in Tana Baru. Tuan Nuruman lies buried in Tana Baru, and, in accordance with his request,‘ no wall was ever to be erected on his grave'.
1780- Arrival and stay of Tuan Guru at the Cape 161807
Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Kadi [Qadri] Abdus Salaam, known as Tuan Guru, the son of a qadi, born in 1712, was a Prince from Tidore in the Ternate Islands [of Indonesia]. He traces his geneology to the Sultan of Morocco and his ancestry to that of the holy Prophet Muhammad [salla Allahu‘alayhi wa sallam]. He was brought to the Cape on April 06, 1780 as a "state prisoner" along with Callie Abdol Rauf, Badroedin [Badr al-DinJ and Noro Iman [Nur al-Iman]; they were incarcarated on Robben Island. Their registration in the "Bandieten Rollen" for 1780 reveals that they conspired politically with the English in the East against the Dutch.
While imprisoned on Robben Island, Imam ‘Abdullah [Tuan Guru], being a hafiz al-Qur‘an, wrote several copies of the holy Qur'dn from memory. He also authored Ma‘rifatul Islami wa‘1 Imani, a work on Islamic jurisprudence, which also deals with 'ilm al-kalam [Asharite principles of theology] which he completed in 1781. The manuscripts on Islamic jurisprudence, in the Malayu tongue and in Arabic, became the primary reference work of the Cape Muslims during the 19th century, and is at present in the possession of his descendants in Cape Town. His handÂwritten copy of the holy Qu‘ran has been preserved and is presently in the possession of one of his descendants, Sheikh Cassiem Abduraouf of Cape Town. Later, when printed copies of the holy Qu‘ran were imported, it was found that Tuan Guru‘s hand-written copy contained very few errors.
On his release from Robben Island in 1793, he went to live in Dorp Street, Cape Town. Here he met and married the free woman, Kaija van de Kaap , with whose family he took up residence. From this marriage he had two sons: Abdol Rakiep and Abdol Rauf , both of whom came to play an important role in Cape Muslim society, and both lie buried adjacent to their father, Tuan Guru, at Tana Baru Imam 'Abdullah's first concern on being released from prison was the establishment of a madrasah [religious school] at the Cape. He also agitated for a masjid site and relaxation of the hard official attitude of the Cape authorities towards Islam. Such a madrasah was soon established and operated from a warehouse attached to the home of Coridon of Ceylon in Dorp Street. This was the first madrasah to be established in this country and proved extremely popular among the slaves and the Free Black community. It played an important role in converting many slaves to Islam. It was also at this madrasah that the literary teaching of Arabic-Afrikaans emerged. It was through his work at the madrasah that he gained the appellation Tuan Guru, meaning mister teacher.
At this religious school students were taught precepts from the holy Qu‘ran and to read and write the Arabic language. It was from this madrasah that prominent imams such as Abdol Bazier, Abdol Barrie, Achmat [Ahmad] van Bengalen, Imam Hadjie and others received their Islamic education. The presence of such a strong Muslim educational institution became a cause for concern to the Cape authorities. This concern was clearly seen when the British Governor of the Cape, the Earl of Caledon, declared that "he was convinced that if the slaves were left in a state of ignorance, they would fall prey to the zeal of the Mohammedan priests, who were conductÂing a school in Cape Town that was attended by 375 slave children".
When the Cape was overtaken by the British for the first time in 1795, the British Governor, General Craig, was more favourably disposed towards the Muslims and granted them permission to build a masjid. Tuan Guru wasted no time, he converted the warehouse, attached to Coridon's house and used as a madrasah, into a masjid which is known as Auwal Masjid, the first masjid to be established in South Africa.
Imam ‘Abdullah was a pioneer among the Cape 'ulama' [Islamic scholar], he being the first qadi to settle at the Cape of Good Hope.
1780- Achmat [Ahmad] Van Bengalen brought to the 1843 Cape 17
Achmat van Bengalen [Ahmad of Bengal] was brought to the Cape from Chinsura, one of the upper provinces of Bengal, during the 1780s. He was said to be the son of Roosje and 'Abdur Rahman.
He married Saartjie van de Kaap, daughter of Coridon of Ceylon and Trijn van de Kaap. On Tuan Guru's release from prison in 1793, Achmat became his trusted friend and student. It was on Achmat's insistence that Coridon of Ceylon made the warehouse of his home available as the first madrasah in this country. Tuan Guru, on his death-bed, appointed Achmat as his spiritual successor and assistant iman of the Auwal Masjid, though he was yet a slave.
By 1825 the madrasah under Achmat van Bengalen prospered and the student number had increased to 491. Achmat, as qadi, in his evidence to the Colebrooke and Bigge Commission [instituted to investigate the conditions and treatment of people of colour in the Cape Colony] did not confine himself to the regulations governing slaves, marriages and masajid. He used this official platform to complain about the privileges of the fiscal officers to "break into our boxes in search of stolen goods, from the general impression existing with the police authorities of our dishonesty".
It was also Achmat's effort which secured the land granted by the authorities to Frans van Bengalen at Tana Baru as a burial site in 1805. In 1830 Achmat wrote a memorandum demanding that the burial ground be registered in the name of the Muslims of Cape Town.Achmat was sensitive to the social and political conditions of his people. As a qadi, he complained to the authorities about the unjust treatment of his people. Achmat van Bengalen, who was largely influenced by Tuan Guru, laid down strict rules with regard to slaves. He said: "No Mahometan can or ought to sell a Mahometan as a slave. If he buys a slave from a Christian and that slave becomes a Mahometan, he is entitled to sit down as an equal in the family, and cannot be sold afterwards. He is allowed to earn the means of redeeming his freedom if he chooses, or remain connected with the family of the original owner".
For the first 25 years Achmat served the Cape Muslims as a teacher and a qadi and thereafter, as an imam as well, until his death on October 09, 1843 at the age of 95.
1780- Jan van Boughies or Imam Asnun brought as slave 181846
Jan van Boughies was brought to the Cape as a slave during the latter part of the 18th century. He was an educated man, proficient in both Arabic and Buganese. Jan was born in 1734 in the southern part of Celebes, known as Boughies.
At the Cape he was purchased by a free Muslim woman, Salia van Macassar, who married him according to Muslim rites. Jan, now a free man, became established tradesman: a candle-maker.
When Tuan Guru settled at the Cape, Jan joined his madrasah as an Arabic teacher. He was also active in the establishment of the Auwal Masjid. A very ambitious man, he hoped to succeed Tuan Guru as qadi and imam of the Auwal Masjid. When he did not succeed in this, he left the congregaÂtion and together with Frans van Bengalen purchased a property in Long Street, Cape Town. On Tuan Guru's death, Jan and Frans converted the upper storey of the house into a prayer room and appointed Abdolgamiet ['Abd al-Hamid] as the imam. It became Jan's property in 1811 and he became the imam in 1820. The Palm Tree Masjid is today situated on this property.
On Salia's death, Jan, who was then over 60, inherited her fortune. He married Samida van de Kaap aged 15. Thereafter, he utilised his money to purchase slaves, convert them and set them free. The records show that between 1800 and 1820 he had set free a considerable number of slaves. Jan died at the age of 112 on November 12, 1846. He lies buried in Tana Baru where his grave has been obliterated but his memory is cherished as the founder of the "Jan van Boughies Masjid" or the Palm Tree Masjid.
1793 First application for a masjid site in the Cape 19
In 1793 Tuan Guru was released from Robben Island, having served a prison sentence of thirteen years. When he established his first madrasah in 1793, the property, a warehouse, was rented by Coridon of Ceylon, the freed slave of Salie van de Kaap. He then made an application to the Cape authorities for a site in Cape Town for the construction of a masjid but it was refused. An open-air Jumu 'ah Saldh [Friday congregational prayers] was then held in a disused quarry in Chiappini Street in Cape Town. Tuan Guru, also known as Imam Abdullah, led the Cape Muslims in the Salah.
1794 Auwal Masjid: the first in South Africa 20
On September 26, 1794, a Vryezwarten [Free Black Muslim], Coridon of Ceylon by name, purchased two properties in Dorp Street, Cape Town. Coridon was the first Muslim to own properties in Cape Town. On his death, his wife, Trijn van de Kaap, inherited the properties, as he had willed. In 1809 Trijn sold the properties to her daughter, Saartjie van die Kaap. In this regard, Saartjie, a remarkable woman, made land available for the building of a masjid which was first constructed in 1794 with additions in 1807. A structural change - the construction of a mihrab [niche] indicating the direction of the qiblah - was made in order to convert the warehouse into a masjid. This masjid was established during the era of slavery, and established its roots in a climate of social and political prejudice.
According to Achmat van Bengalen the construction of the Auwal Masjid was made possible through General Craig who, for the first time, permitted Muslim to pray in public in the Cape Colony. The Auwal Masjid, situated in Dorp Street, Cape Town, became the first to be established and is still functioning as the noble founders had intended. It became a centre of Muslim communal activity, regulating and patterning their social and religious life.
The first imam of the Auwal Masjid was Tuan Guru [Imam Abdullah] from 1797 to 1800, followed by Imam 'Abdul 'Alim [1800-18101, Imam Sourdeen [1810-1822], Imam Achmat van Bengalen [1822-1843], Imam Abdol Barrie [1843-1851 ], Imam Mochamat Achmat [Muhammad Ahmad] [1851-1872], Imam Saddik Achmat [Sadiq Ahmad] [1872-1878], Imam Gamja Mochamat Achmat [Hamza Muhammad Ahmad] [1878Â1912], Imam Amienodien Gamja [Amin al-D7n Hamzah] [1936-1955], Imam Gasant Achmat Gamja [Hasan Ahmad Hamzah] [1955-1980]. The second site [adjacent to Auwal Masjid] is presently occupied by the family of the late imam of Auwal Masjid , Imam Gasant Achmat Gamja [Hasan Ahmad Hamzah] [d 1981], a descendant of Corridon of Ceylon. Prior to the construction of the "Saartjie's Masjid", the construction of masajid [sing masjid] and open freedom of worship were strictly prohibited in the Cape. The only "Kerk" [Church] permitted in the Colony was that of the Dutch Reformed Church. It was only in 1936 that extensive renovations were made to the Auwat Masjid.
1797 Second application for a masjid site 21
An application for another masjid site was made towards the end of 1790s. John Barrow, writing about religion at the Cape in 1797, comments that the "Malay-Mohammedans not being able to obtain permission to build a Mosque, perform their public services in the stone quarries at the head of the town". This initial place of public worship of the Cape Muslims is today a derelict piece of land situated just off Chiappini Street in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town.
Imam Achmat van Bengalen in his evidence to the Bigge and Colebrooke Commission of 1825 said that although it had been the policy of the Dutch not to permit the construction of any masjid, General Janssens had earlier given authority for one at the Cape when Janssens had enlisted the Free Malays to serve as soldiers to fight against the British.
Imam Achmat, however, was unable to tender proof of his assertion. He maintained that the papers given to him by Craig and Janssens were lost as a result of the privilege the fiscal authorities had of breaking and searching their homes and properties and harrassing them without warrant.
1799 Visit of Mirza Abu Talib Khan 22
In 1799, Mirza Abu Talib Khan visited the Cape of Good Hope. He came from a feudal background in India and had contacts with the court of Awdah [Oudh]. He was of Persian lineage, hence the title 'Mirza'. He recorded his impressions of travel in Europe during 1799-1803 in Masir-i Talibi fi Biladi Afranji, which is one of the first introductions to modern western civilization written by a Muslim. The Mirza states that while he was at the Cape, he "had met with many pious, good Mussalmans, several of whom possessed properties".