Cape Malays…

and their Heritage

The Reclamation: Cape (1791 -1800)

Posted by tahirfarrath on January 1, 2010

(History of Muslims in South Africa)

Keeping the fires burning for the next generation…

1793 – First Madrasah and the unsuccessful application for a Masjid site under the Dutch

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 byCoridon 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 Imaam Abdullah, led the Cape Muslims in the Solaah.

1794 – Awwal Masjid: the first in South Africa on inherited property

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 Mihraab [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 Awwal 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 byImam `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] [1878 1912], 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 ofCorridon 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.

1795 – (When the British arrived, the VOC had supplied slaves to the colony to ensure its economic success. The British, however, were turning against the practice of slavery. William Wilberforce spoke with moral vigour against slavery and persuaded the influential William Pitt to support his cause and it was finally outlawed by act of parliament in 1806.)

1797 – Second unsuccessful application for a Masjid site under the Dutch

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.

Imaam 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.

Imaam 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

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”.

The estimated Muslim and Muslim slave populations at the Cape in 1800 was:

Total number of slaves were 6730 of which 3037 (45.13%) were Muslim.


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