the Malay Quarter of Simon’s Town.[i]

The Noorul Islam Mosque looks down majestically from Thomas Street, Simon’s Town in the Western Cape. Passers-by, especially Tourists, gaze up in wonder at its fine Architecture, curved lines and intricate Detail. From the Entrance of the Mosque one looks down Alfred Lane, onto the bustle at Jubilee Square and the sea beyond, where yachts sail serenely by. The Mosque is situated in a quaint Area of Simon’s Town, steeped in the History of a bygone ere, when it was known as the Malay Quarter. A National Monument today, what many of its admirers do not know is that when it was established in 1888, it was a nondescript Building that was Rented by the Simon’s Town Muslim Community, to serve as their place of worship. Creating the fine Building we see today took Years of hard work and fundraising by the old Simon’s Town Muslim Community. The Purchase Price and subsequent Alterations and Extensions of the mosque was co-ordinated by Imam Mogamit Saleh Saban. By 1911 enough funds were raised for the Purchase of the Building and Adjacent Ground. Besides being a place of Worship, it was also the place where important Meetings were held and where disputes were settled. For a time a Dr Boyd also administered vaccinations at the mosque, until the Authorities intervened.
Fundraising was ongoing and funds were generated by means of street collections, Khalifa shows (a religious ceremony accompanied by the beat of tambourines and the chanting of prayers) and Community Concerts that were held at the Masonic Hall. Members of the Simon’s Town Mosque were sent as far afield as Paarl, where donations were collected from the local Communities. Even at times when funds were at their lowest, enthusiasm was always high and it was this enthusiasm that moved many non Muslim Residents of Simon’s Town to offer their assistance and / or give donations to this project. Mr Runciman, the Mayor of Simon’s Town, donated 20 pounds to the Building project. By 1922, eleven Years after the initial Purchase, the Building of the New Moslem School was commenced. Completed a Year later, the School was officially opened amid great fanfare on Thursday 12 July 1923 at 1.00pm, by Mr Runciman. It was a festive affair and trays of piping hot samoosas, syrupy koeksusters and melktert were passed around to the many guests who came to honour the occasion, not least of whom were the Councillors of the Municipality of Simon’s Town, the Captain of the Royal Navy Dockyard and other invited guests.
The first Principal of the Moslem school was a Saleh Berdien, the son of the late Imam A Rakieb Berdien of Wynberg. Mr Sarief Arlie, a local Resident and member of the Mosque Committee, was engaged by the School Board to teach, Arabic. Soon, fresh-faced young Pupils came trudging up Thomas Lane to be Registered at the School and it was not long before the empty Halls became filled with the din and laughter of little children. On 2 August 1923, the 100th child had been registered.
Happy with the successful development of the School, the Imam and his Committee now turned their attention to the needs of the Mosque itself, and on 3 August 1924, Alterations on the Mosque was Recommenced. In his diary Imam Saban writes simply: “Alterations commenced on Masjiet. They started breaking down walls”. Like any good Manager, the Imam kept strict records of all income and expenditure. In an entry in his diary titled “material bought for the masjiet”, he records: ‘1 drum cement 8 pence, a parcel of bolts 7 pence, one bag of cement and one bag of lime 1/6.’
From his diary it appears that the alterations were a painstakingly slow process, but the Imam Saban remained optimistic that, even though sometimes funds trickled in slowly, this would eventually flow abundantly so that finally the Alterations to the Mosque would be complete. It was this optimism that so moved a Javanese Crew; of the S S Edinburgh, whom the Imam befriended when they Arrived in the Simon’s Town Dockyard in 1925, to donate funds to the project. By 13 June 1926 the trickle of funds began to flow more steadily. This allowed the Building project to pick up momentum and thus an old Building that used to be situated next to the Mosque was Demolished and a Staircase Built, alongside the Mosque. Much later, this Staircase would be linked to the second Schoolroom, which was Erected in 1930. The addition of the beautiful Minaret, which catches the viewer’s eye from the bottom of Alfred Lane, was erected in 1927 and the Imam recorded the purchase of 500 bricks for this purpose.
Their funds seemed to have dried up once again, as it was another Year, before the next phase of Building began. This was in 1928, when an Old Tank that was situated in Thomas Street was taken down and the ground cleared for the anticipated erection of the new schoolroom. All efforts were made to keep costs down and Imam Saban, by then aged 75, helped in to collecting sand from the beach which he then carted up to the Building Site. This is a chore he records doing up until close to the time of his death on 3 October 1928. In 1930, two Years after the Death of Imam Saban, the Building of the second Schoolroom at the Mosque, was completed. The project was finally complete.

Simon’s Town today is very different, to the vibrant Simon’s Town of Imam Saban’s time in that, today there are very few Muslim people resident in the Town. The Thomas Lane of Imam Saban’s time would have been filled with the sound of children’s laughter as they romped to and from their School. Today, there is only the silence to fill its place. However, the Mosque stands as a powerful reminder of the once strong Muslim Community, who resided in this most picturesque area,  The first three Imam’s of the Noorul Islam Mosque in Simon’s Town

Imam Abdul Karriem (Abdul-Karriem Jarley) 1881 - 1904

Imam Abdul Karriem was born in Simon’s Town in 1842 and became the first Imam of the Noorul Islam Mosque from the late 1880’s until his death in 1904.[ii] He was highly respected by his community, and noted for his promotion of the practice of Khalifa, a religious ceremony accompanied by the beat of tambourines and the chanting of prayers.[iii] Imam Karriem is buried in the Malay Burial Ground in Runciman Drive, Simon’s Town, which was granted to the Muslim community of Simon’s Town by the British colonial officer Christopher Bird on 19 September in 1823. This grant was given in response to a petition by a group of Muslim people in Simon’s Town dated 1822; led by Abdolgaviel, an enslaved Muslim man who was also the imam of Simon’s Town at the time. During this period Muslim people worshipped in private homes.[1]

Imam Saban: 1904 - 1928

Imam Mogamit Saleh Saban (1853 – 1928) lived in Hospital Lane and became the second Imam of the Noorul Islam Mosque in 1904. A family man, the Imam divided his time between his family, his community, his job at Albertyn’s Stables and his duties at the mosque. From the inception of his appointment as imam he kept a diary of everyday events which gives an illuminating insight of Simon’s Town in the period 1904 to 1928, when he died.

He was instrumental in forming the Helpmekaar Society and the Muslim Burial Society in Simon’s Town and he worked tirelessly to raise funds for the building of the Noorul Islam Mosque and later the Moslem School, which was situated next to the Mosque.

His first wife, Momentie, with whom he had numerous children, died in 1906 and a year later the Imam remarried a young lady by the name of Marriyam Dollie, who was originally from Bo-Kaap and with whom he had further children. In addition to this, the Imam also adopted a few children from needy families who were raised in his home.

Although the house that Imam Saban lived in has since been demolished, the fig tree that was part of his backyard still stands in the wide open courtyard where his house once stood, in Hospital Lane.[iv]

Imam Armien Baker - 1928 – 1965 “A man can be subjected to such disintegration that he will lose his spirit”

“My father, and his father and his father’s father were born and bred in Simon’s Town. You see, we have been there for 200 years. “I will lose my birthright – my ancestors were the first people to settle in the area. If I move to Bonteheuwel I will become nothing, merely a number. They have no hospitals, no police station, no church, no school. A man can be subjected to such disintegration that he will lose his spirit”. [v] (Imam Baker addressing the Group Areas Board in 1959).

Born in 1910, Imam Baker was the firstborn child of Imam Achmad and Fatima Baker. His father, Achmad, was one of the many fishermen who resided on the slopes of the mountain in this quaint little town.

Being the eldest of 12 children, Armien learnt to share with and care for others from a young age and to this end he became a dynamic leader and carer within his community. After obtaining his teacher’s Diploma at Zonnebloem College in District Six, he became the principal of the Simon’s Town Muslim Mission School at the age of 20!

Highly valued by his Community whom he served as Imam, of the Noorul Islam Mosque- in Simon’s Town, the most notable of Imam Baker’s achievements was to translate the Koran into Afrikaans from Arabic. This endeavour took him 5 years to achieve, having started in 1956 and completing this task in 1961, when the first Edition was Published. At the time he was living in Devon Street, Simon’s Town with his first wife, Tayba Appleby with whom he had 8 children, two sons and 6 daughters. On her death he remarried a lady by the name of Jane Solomon with whom he had a further two children, a son and a daughter.

In 1965 Imam Baker retired from teaching and he and his second wife went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. On his return from Mecca he took up employment as an attorney’s clerk and was later employed as a welfare clerk by what was then known as the old ‘Department of Coloured Affairs’ in Wynberg, where he had relocated after the implementation of the Group Area Acts in Simon’s Town. Once Imam Baker had re-settled in Wynberg, he served as Imam at the Park Road Mosque in Wynberg.

Imam Baker lived to the age of 72, when he died at his home in Essex Road, Wynberg, however, visitors will easily find his first home in Devon Street, Simon’s Town, as it bears a plaque outside with the name of Imam Baker, informing visitors that it was in this house that Imam Baker translated the Koran into Afrikaans.[vi]

End Notes

[1] Cape Archives,  CTD 20, Simon’s Town Quitrent leases 1814 – 1825, p. 47, 1823.

[i] All Information for this section was derived from the unpublished diary of Imam Saleh Saban 1851 – 1928, courtesy the Heritage Museum in Simon’s Town.

[ii] See Mansoor Jaffer (Ed.)  Guide to the Kramats of the Western Cape Tuan (Cape Town: Cape Mazaar Society, 1996).

[iii] Ibid, p. 41.

[iv] Information for this section is derived from the unpublished diary of Imam Saleh Saban 1851 – 1928.

[v] The Cape Times, 21.01.1965, quoting Imam Baker in his address to the Group Areas Board Committee.

[vi] Information Courtesy the Heritage Museum in Simon’s Town.

References
https://www.simonstown.com/museum/index.html
https://www.iol.co.za/travel/south-africa/western-cape/complex-heritage-behind-tourist-facade-1582102
https://citizen.co.za/news/south-africa/.../defacing-of-simons-town-mosque-condemne...
Further Reading
https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/cape-malay
https://www.sahistory.org.za/.../history-muslims-south-africa-1804-1899- ebrahim-mahomed-mahida
https://www.sahistory.org.za/.../history-muslims-south-africa-1700-1799- ebrahim-mahomed-mahida
https://www.sahistory.org.za/.../history-muslims-south-africa-1903-1923- ebrahim-mahomed-mahida
https://www.sahistory.org.za/.../history-muslims-south-africa-1960-1969- ebrahim-mahomed-mahida
https://www.sahistory.org.za/.../history-muslims-south-africa-1950-1959- ebrahim-mahomed-mahida
https://www.sahistory.org.za/place/cape-town
https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/cape-town-segregated-city
https://www.sahistory.org.za/.../how-group-areas-act-shaped-spaces-memories -and-identities-cape-town
https://www.sahistory.org.za/places/simonstown

The Simon's Town Mosque