Cape Malays…

and their Heritage

Ratiep in the Cape

Posted by tahirfarrath on March 26, 2015

Basheerah ID Duplessis

(From the Jassiem family collection. The “Ratieb” in Bo Kaap done by the ‘Malay’ Maloon family in their ‘Malay’ Clothing. Original photograph given to the family by I.D Du Plessis, 1939.)

Also click here to view.

SAHO : ‘Ratiep’ bench, Wellington 2002 :- A relatively old ‘bank’ or bench initially used by Galiefa Usman Hendricks of the Usmaniah ‘Rifaai’ Jaamah. When he passed away, his stepson, Mogamad Hendricks, and mentor Ghaliefa Mogamad Martin, retrieved the neglected bench from a backyard in Retreat and together formed the Moulanaa Riefaai Jamah in Claremont. Ghaliefa Mahdie. Ghaliefa Mogamad Hendricks eventually moved out to Wellington taking the bench with him. When he passed away in 1993 his youngest son Abdullah inherited the bench. The origins of Ratiep point to the era of Sheikh Abdul Kader of Baghdad whose simple set-up of a sword resting on a cushion was later elaborated in Indonesia to include an ornate ‘bench’ holding many sharpened swords, spikes and pins and decorated with coloured flags. Most sacred is the headboard, inscribed with a sacred prayer in Arabic that is recited by the Ghaliefa before the ritual may begin. Benches seldom survive a century in the townships due to their regular use and woodworms.


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Raatib-ul-Haddaad and the Rifi’i Khalifa Tradition

Posted by tahirfarrath on February 23, 2015

Fortunee Images, founded in 2013, is dedicated to make available the work of renowned photographer Sami Fortune.

Click here to view his photographs of  the Ratiep (or Khalifa) display and a Haddaad gathering.

He writes:

Traditions of the Cape Malays.

It is Important that these traditions are explained to prevent misunderstanding:

Hadat is the name of a dthikr (mantra or repetition of the names of God or phrases refecting Tawheed, (the oneness of God), the practice originates from a Yemeni Imam Hadad, who I believed lived in the 15th century in the Hadramut. It is probable that through traders going to Indonesia the dthikr practice travelled with and eventually arrived with the Cape Muslims, who were brought as Political prisoners and or slaves in the 17th century, a punishment for resisting Dutch colonialism. The Khalifa or Rifi’i also developed during the time of slavery in South Africa and had several purposes. For the untrained eye and mind one might be quick to come to horrific conclusions about its purpose. However I assure you they are completely unfounded. Rifi’i allowed the slaves to maintain there martial arts, known in S.E Asia as Silat, in a dance form. It was also a way in which Islam could be prothletised in a visual form at a time when slaves spoke different languages and conversion to Islam was illegal on pain of death (see statutes of India). Rifi’i became an entertainment but it was also a way in which participants could show that if they had enough faith in the oneness of God the participant could overcome anything, even a sharp sword or dangerous tool which when striking themselves with would draw no blood. The rythem of the drumming and “music” that was created allowed the slaves to practice there dthikr as a way of preserving part of their religion which was practiced in secret .) Disappearing quickly in some cities in South Africa there is increasing tension between newer scholars who see it as a bidah (religious innovation) and the traditionalists. The argument they present is if a bidah a practice involves verses of the Quran or a form of dthikr that was not practiced during the time of the Prophet S.A.W. True some texts of chanting during the rifi’i shown to me seemed quite questionable with regards to some Islamic principles, but there is now an effort to clean up the few but significant errors and amongst the traditionalists the Rifi’i continues as a living tradition. The Rifi’i is a testimony of the troubled times of slavery and the difficulties of preserving Islam and allowing it to survive even if the methods seemed a little unorthodox. It must be remembered that very few of the Muslims brought to South Africa hundreds of years ago understood Arabic or what they were saying during these practices and so in a way some kind of language corruption was bound to happen The traditionalists in the wake of the clean up still consider the ceremony as a tradition and not a form of worship, but a miracle and proof of belief. In fact the fact that Islam survived at all in South Africa for so long and often in secret may in fact be considered a miracle in itself.

One Imam I met during the ceremoney spoke to me and said, “when one does anything one must question yourself why are you doing something? You must consider its purpose and ask are you doing it for God, is your intention the remembrance of God.”

It should be noted however very few people have problems with the Hadat and this is general accepted across all opinions and thoughts in the Islamic community of South Africa.


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A Presentation: Matthias Greeff’s Slaves

Posted by tahirfarrath on January 28, 2015

Slave Symposium Presentation At Stellenbosch University on 1 December 2008, by Natanja Greeff.

This document is a combination of the audio-visual slides and text that the audience saw and heard simultaneously. The text that follows after a slide in this document was read out while the audience viewed the slide on screen. A copy of this PDF file can be downloaded at

The main purpose and aim of this presentation is to set out the organisational structure of Matthias Greeff so that one can see his slaves in their proper context. Ideally one would construct an organisational chart that set out the various branches of his business organisation, together with the staff members who were employed in each branch or department, while also depicting various levels of managerial staff.

I am grateful to Francois Greeff in London for his insights into the life of Matthias Greeff. Francois holds a masters degree in Corporate Governance. It is he who conceived the idea of examining Matthias’ organisational structure and he started applying the methods of accounting and financial audit to the records describing Matthias’ income, expenditure, and assets. It was Francois who saw Matthias’ slaves as assets on a balance sheet, and he tracked the path of these assets as they were described in different documents.

Comparison of the estate inventories to the opgaafrollen reveal other discrepancies too, and the result is that I have learned to check very carefully before I accept opgaaf data as truth.

Matthias bought his slaves at rock bottom prices from the importers and wholesalers, and generally paid about 50 Rix dollars for a slave. All of these slaves were between 17 and 30 years old when Matthias bought them, and cost between 50 and 113 Rixdollars. Matthias tended to buy a group of slaves at a time, as though he needed labour for some new project or business expansion. Matthias, as far as I know, never sold a slave, except in the case of Domingo, who bought his own freedom. This of course raises the question of whether Dominga was the wife of Domingo, and whether she went with him, or whether he perhaps bought his freedom in order to rid himself of an unwanted wife!

I so often wish that I knew more about the skills each slave had so that one could match the slaves to a position or job in the business structure. I regret that I know so little about these people.

I hope that I have been able to show that Matthias Greeff had very wide interests and skills, and that his organisational structure was as complex as that of a rich man in our century.

The 70 people who are known to have been part of Matthias’ team did not all work concurrently. Generally speaking the organisation
employed the family, 3 or 4 knegte and about 20 slaves at any one time. It is important to realise that any business that has 20 or 30 staff members, then or now, is a pretty big business.

I hope that I have been able to show that slaves were a part, an essential part, of AN ORGANISATION. These slaves were more than mere farm labour. Some of them must have had special skills and responsibilities so that they could, for example, drive a wagon, lead the team of people that attended the wagon, deliver goods and collect payment for goods delivered.

Above all, I hope that this view of the context in which Matthias’ slaves operated has been useful in allowing us to better understand the role of Cape slaves generally. I have a great deal of work ahead of me in the quest to learn more about my ancestors and the details of their lives, but I have very much enjoyed showing you what I have discovered so far.

Thank you.


Matthias’ slaves are also ‘hidden slaves’ because they never appear in one document, all at one go. The only way to get a picture of them is by extracting information from many separate sources and then to create a master list of slaves by amalgamating the bits thus collected. The same process applies to knegte, and it is when the knegte and slaves are viewed together that one really gets an idea of the scope of Matthias’ organisational structure.

My first insight into the scope of Matthias’ business activities came from the inventory of his deceased estate. Here is a diagram that was constructed from the inventory.


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Silat Training programme in Cape Town, South Africa

Posted by tahirfarrath on December 30, 2014


Coach Sepexx Shah from Kuala Lumpur visited Cape Town, South Africa, on a training mission. He studied Silat Lagenda and was the former national defense coach at the University Malaysia. With him are the South African Silat instructors Gielmie Hartly and Faheem Jackson of Persatuan Seni Silat Pukulan Melaka Afrika Selatan at Cape Town.


Instructor Sepexx Shahiri won the Open Belgium Championship 2014 – Pencak Silat.

Check out the following videos on Silat Lagenda:

World Pencak Silat Championship 2015

Muneeb Solomon (middle) was a competitor at the World Pencak Silat Championship 2015, Thailand


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Imam Gassan Solomon

Posted by tahirfarrath on November 25, 2014


Click on photo or here to see full video of Imam on Minbar 


The African National Congress

“Imam Solomon contributed his life to the struggle for a fairer, better, more compassionate world. He was a Muslim leader who transcended religious boundaries; a community leader who crossed geographic borders; and an ANC activist who went into exile and returned to become an MP.”

Desmond Tutu

“There was a time not so long ago when South Africans were forced to live separate lives. This institutionalised separation extended into every facet of our existence. Even our places of worship were divided.

In the mid-1980s, after my appointment as Archbishop of Cape Town, a group of us, religious leaders from the different faith groups, recognising that we had more in common than the apartheid rulers dared to concede, established an Interfaith Movement to challenge the iniquitous system.

One of our leaders was a Muslim cleric from the Claremont Main Road Mosque, an Imam who preached stridently for equal rights, justice and a more compassionate society. He was responsible for mobilising a new generation of young people to act against apartheid.

We marched together, worked together in the UDF, overcame many anxieties and shared many disappointments.

Imam Gassan Solomon was a highly principled and an inspirational human being. When he appeared at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, representing the Muslim Judicial Council, he concluded his input by quoting from the Koran: “And say truth has arrived and falsehood has perished for indeed falsehood is by its nature perishing.”

Imam Solomon understood the value of truth. One of the jewels of the Western Cape has left us for a higher place. He will be sorely missed,

May his soul rest in peace.”

Jacob Zuma

“Parliament has lost a dedicated representative of the people, we have lost a committed leader and stalwart.

“His track record in fighting for liberation and human rights is well-known, his sterling contribution will forever remain etched in our memories,”

Kgalema Motlanthe

On Wednesday 28 October 2009, Imam Gassan Solomon passed away following a protracted battle with prostate cancer. He fought his cancer as bravely as he fought apartheid and later poverty. This was the death of a struggle hero, a Muslim Imam, Member of Parliament, a cadre of the ANC, and a decent human being.

As news of his passing away spread, and his funeral arranged according to the traditions of Islam, the tributes and condolences poured in. Every message pieced together a chronicle of his life that soon was a chronicle of an entire community’s history – the story of Muslims of South Africa, and their struggle over 300 years.

And as this story of a man and the community that produced him unfolded, the mission and purpose of the African National Congress was retold and affirmed. It is correct that the ANC is a broad church because it was this distinctive combination of traits that allowed a unique cadre and his people to find rest in the ANC’s inclusivity after centuries of slavery, exile, criminalisation and oppression – as people, blacks and Muslims.

It is correct that the ANC has chosen a path of non-racism as both a goal and a method of struggle so that Imam Solomon and all Muslims, Coloured, Malays, Indians, etc could reconcile the values of justice, equality and peace with the values of the ANC that has had the historic mission of National liberation and the establishment of a non-racial democracy.

The death of Imam Solomon and the history of the Muslim community causes us to pause and reflect on why he joined the ANC as his political house. Here was a man, at the age of 19, a victim of the Apartheid Group Areas Act that removed his entire extended family in 1964 from the family land in Constantia, which had been bought by his grandfather in 1902.

His political consciousness was further shaped in 1969 when the Claremont Imam, Abdullah Haron, was murdered in detention giving direction to an entire generation of young Muslims, but effectively shocking the older generation – including the clergy – into silence, preferring a retreat into the rituals rather than the activism of Islam.

From among the younger generation of Muslims, Imam Gassan Solomon was thrust with the leadership of the Claremont Main Rd Mosque, and the Mosque became the lodestar for the politicised Muslim youth who experienced the 1976 uprisings. From the pulpit Imam Solomon interpreted the Quran in ways that simplified Muslim Liberation Theology and he quoted the chapter that declares that the true heretic is the one who prays to God but does not fight for the basic needs of the people.

This clarity of vision was allied to a practical strategy that understood that the Muslim masses needed to be mobilised and the key to this was to engender a vision and to inculcate courage into the clergy. It was this strategy that brought people like Gassan Solomon and Faried Essack into the Muslim Judicial Council.

The fruits were immediately apparent as the MJC declared in 1983, in response to attempts to co-opt minorities into the apartheid system: The MJC “…believes that it cannot divorce itself from the rest of the oppressed and those with the same ideals in the formation of a united democratic front, to oppose a system of apartheid in South Africa.”

This opened the floodgates for Muslim participation in the anti-apartheid struggle, through the United Democratic Front (UDF). Imam Solomon and others immediately understood the need for a vehicle to harness this moment, and in 1984, The Call of Islam was born with Imam Solomon as Amir (President) at a rally of 8000 people in a mosque on the Cape Flats. Imam Gassan inspired Muslims with his oratory into mass action against apartheid that was evident in the way in which mosques, schools and the streets of the Cape Flats reverberated with chants of both Amandla and Allahu Akbar!

But while at a mass level the battle was won by The Call of Islam – now a UDF affiliate – there was intense theological, intellectual and theoretical contestation within the Muslim leadership about whether a democratic state or an Islamic state should be a goal, and about whether Muslims can participate with communists and non-Muslims, and many others. Again The Call of Islam prevailed.

By 1985 the apartheid state understood the Muslim capacity for Martyrdom and sacrifice and acted to deal with the leadership by detaining, threatening, exiling and vilifying them. Imam Solomon went into exile in Saudi Arabia and returned to help build the New South Africa. But the legacy had been established as Muslims swelled the ranks of the UDF’s mass base, the ANC’s underground and Umkhonto we Sizwe, driven by the simple removal of any contradiction between Islam and the ANC as the premier Liberation organisation.

Imam Solomon understood that the ANC cadre carries many responsibilities to win the confidence of the masses. It is this that made him a driving force in the Zakaah Fund that distributes food to the destitute, the Voice of the Cape Radio Station and many other organisations of the people. He was an excellent constituency worker in Grassy Park and a committed Parliamentarian.

Imam Gassan Solomon has done his ancestor, Tuan Guru, proud. He completed a struggle started by Tuan Guru, an exile from Indonesia in Cape Town because of his fight against Dutch colonialism, one of the first prisoners on Robben Island, a man who established the first Mosque and Madrassa in South Africa, a unifier of all the oppressed: slaves from Malaya, the West Coast of Africa, and from among the indigenous people of the Cape. Today, they are all fused into one single community that produced Imam Gassan Solomon.

The ANC mourns with his family. Their loss is our loss. His legacy will not be lost. The ANC is proud that we were able to be his home. His death has shone a light on the values and principles that has made the ANC the home for all South Africans committed to an equal, democratic and non-racial society. We recommit ourselves to these.

Pick up his spear!

>> Kgalema Motlanthe is the ANC Deputy President and Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa


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Book: Regarding Muslims From slavery to post-apartheid

Posted by tahirfarrath on October 30, 2014

Regarding_MuslimsLR-180x260By Gabeba Baderoon

How do Muslims fit into South Africa’s well-known narrative of colonialism, apartheid and postapartheid?

South Africa is infamous for apartheid, but the country’s foundation was laid by 176 years of slavery from 1658 to 1834, which formed a crucible of war, genocide and systemic sexual violence that continues to haunt the country today. Enslaved people from East Africa, India and South East Asia, many of whom were Muslim, would eventually constitute the majority of the population of the Cape Colony, the first of the colonial territories that would eventually form South Africa.

Drawing on an extensive popular and official archive, Regarding Muslims analyses the role of Muslims from South Africa’s founding moments to the contemporary period and points to the resonance of these discussions beyond South Africa. It argues that the 350-year archive of images documenting the presence of Muslims in South Africa is central to understanding the formation of concepts of race, sexuality and belonging.

In contrast to the themes of extremism and alienation that dominate Western portrayals of Muslims, Regarding Muslims explores an extensive repertoire of picturesque Muslim figures in South African popular culture, which oscillates with more disquieting images that occasionally burst into prominence during moments of crisis. This pattern is illustrated through analyses of etymology, popular culture, visual art, jokes, bodily practices, oral narratives and literature. The book ends with the complex vision of Islam conveyed in the postapartheid period.

About the author: Gabeba Baderoon received a PhD in English from the University of Cape Town. She is also a poet and author of the collections The Dream in the Next Body and A hundred silences. She is an Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies and African Studies at Pennsylvania State University and is an Extraordinary Professor of English at Stellenbosch University.


Foreword Rustum Kozain

Preface Introduction Beginnings in South Africa Chapter

1. Ambiguous Visibility: Islam and the Making of a South African Visuality Chapter

2. “Kitchen Language”: Islam and the Culture of Food in South Africa Chapter

3. “The Sea Inside Us”: Parallel Universalism and Homemade Cosmopolitanism in the African Oceans Chapter

4. Sexual Geographies: Slavery, Race and Sexual Violence Chapter

5. Regarding Islam: Pagad, Masked Men and Veiled Women Chapter

6. “The Trees Sway North-North-East”: South African Visions of Islam



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Reading Ancient Tombstones: Tracing the Cape Malayu Heritage in South Africa

Posted by tahirfarrath on September 30, 2014


The Eastern Cape Malayo Cultural Society helped launch a New book in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Reading Ancient Tombstones: Tracing the Cape Malayu Heritage in South Africa and its link with South Africa

(By the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia in Cape Town, South Africa)

According to the Consul General of the Republic of Indonesia in Cape Town, Sugie Harijadi, the main purpose of the book is to assist the Cape Malayu Community/Indonesian descendants in unveiling the origin of their forefathers. She said that “Learning about our own heritage is important and valuable. It will shape our future and will allow us to know more about our identity”.


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Book: Religion and Ethical shadows – Sheikh Yusuf Al-Makassari

Posted by tahirfarrath on August 31, 2014


Author: Dr. Mustafa Mustari
Reformation of Indonesia had to face a much bigger challenge, both national issues and from abroad. Various crisis was engulfing this country. Starting from the economic crisis, politics, nationalism and morality are far more threatening the tranquility and peace of the nation and state. The tendency of ruling parties to advance personal or group needs, further increasing public distrust of the authorities. As a result, a variety of actions, even actions illegal participating public life would lead to national instability.

This condition is a major concern as well as uncertainty for Dr. Mustari Mustafa, an educator who spends himself in Makassar Alauddin State Islamic University. Lifting ideas from prominent Sheikh Yusuf Al-Makassari not be separated from its role as an ulema, preachers, Sufis, a congregation, and penjuang the master and the teachings of Islam in kafah. Kecendekiawan Shaykh Yusuf content explored more deeply, developed, and may be a new lesson for the next generation. The authors are also preachers, saw the figure Sheikh Yusuf as an exemplary figure who can not be ignored, and the role of services in the intellectual development of Islam in Indonesia, both for the past and for the future.

This book tells the story of Shaykh Yusuf (1626-1699) starting from the time before he was born, he was a period of growth and development, a period he studied, his crush Dutch colonial occupation in the country, to the days he was exiled to South Africa and spent the end of life his life there. Although Shaykh Yusuf was born and raised in the kingdom which is very convenient, but he does not necessarily accept that life. Indeed Shaykh Yusuf to work harder (gain knowledge) to enforce Islam, defend and advance their communities, as well as against the Dutch colonial time in Makassar.

Way of life Sheikh Yusuf spent most of his life abroad as in Yemen, Hijaz, Syrians, Turkey and ending in Cape Town South Africa. Sheik Yusuf also studied and traveled in Makkah and Madinah. During the long journey, he met and studied with great characters, phenomenal, the Sufis, the famous sheikh in Islam. Of all the learning that Shaykh Yusuf had produced great works that have more to do with the Shari’a. An understanding of the congregation and Sufism is also an important point that was developed by Shaikh Yusuf at the time.

Shaykh Yusuf thoughts could not be released from the fusion of ancient Greek philosophers interpreted by Islamic leaders before Sheikh Yusuf was born. The combination is even more colorful when the era of Sheikh Yusuf and after his time. Shaykh Yusuf emphasized how the position of Islam in different ages, so that the teachings of Islam are not only developed but also to grow and thrive in a pluralistic and modern society as it is today. One of them, how the teachings of Islam acceptable to the social status of people who are different from one another. Education level, income level, and residence perpengaruh greatly to the degree of understanding one’s Islam. Shaykh Yusuf looked at all of these are not mediocre, it is a big problem that could potentially lead to a tricky situation if not handled properly.

In the hands of the author, the book Religion and Ethical shadows Sheikh Yusuf Al-Makassari has become so important to understand the present condition as well as trying to find a way out (way out), which is much more meaningful and intellectual. The language is simple and easy to understand makes the book suitable as a leisure read. Happy reading!


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Tribute to Faldela Williams, author of Cape Malay Cooking

Posted by tahirfarrath on July 30, 2014






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Book: Sheikh Yusuf Al-Makassary – His Life Story

Posted by tahirfarrath on June 30, 2014

Sheikh Yusuf


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