Cape Malays…

and their Heritage

Indian Muslims: Natal and Cape (1870 – 1890)

Posted by tahirfarrath on March 18, 2010

(History of Muslims in South Africa)

1870 – Arrival of Aboobakr Amod [Jhavery]

A notable Muslim philanthropist, Aboobakr Amod [Jhavery], [b 1850] from Porbandar, India, arrived in South Africa [probably via Delagoa Bay, now Maputo] from Mauritius in 1870 where he traded for a short while before establishing himself as the first “Arab” trader in Natal. He had settled for a short while in a small town in Lydenburg in Eastern Transvaal where his relatives had settled.

In 1871, he moved to Natal and settled in the Verulam-Tongaat area on the North Coast of Natal – dealing in new and second-hand goods. As the first Muslim merchant to arrive in Natal, he purchased a site for a masjid in Verulam. Today, the “Verulam Mohammedan Mosque” stands on this site in the centre of the town. The transfer Deeds of the masjidshow that the land was donated by Aboobakr Amod [Jhavery].

Aboobakr Amod eventually moved to Durban where he purchased a property for business in Durban Central, in the corner of West Street and Plowright Lane in 1875. He had owned a business house in Calcutta, an agency in Bombay, a company in Durban with branches in the Transvaal. Amod, with Abdullah Karim Haji Adam and Joosub Abdul Carim set up the firm Dada Abdullah and Company at 427 West Street [street numbers have since changed]. By 1890 they had 15 branches in Natal and the Transvaal and two steamers commuting between Bombay and Durban.

1881 – Land purchased for Durban masjid

Aboobakr Amod [Jhavery] and Hajee Mahomed Hajee Dada purchased a site for the construction of a masjid in Grey Street, Durban from K Moonsamy for £115.O.Od [one hundred and fifteen pounds sterling]. The sale of the property – Sub E of Block BB – was duly registered at the Deeds Office in Pietermaritzburg on August 15, 1881. The size of this masjid, a renovated brick and mortar house, in the centre of Durban was only 20 feet by 13 feet [6,1 meters by 3,96 meters] in area.

“Plans in the Durban City Corporation show the `Mosque’ as far back as 1880 when it was a small 20 feet by 13 feet brick and mortar structure”.

1882 – Arrival of Haji Sullaiman Shahmahomed

Haji Sullaiman Shahmahomed was born in the Kathiawar District in India. He emigrated from India in 1881 and settled in Cape Town in 1883, where he married Rahimah, the daughter of Imam Slemman [Sulayman] Salie in 1888.

In 1886 Shahmahomed travelled through Western Asia and Europe; in 1893 94 he journeyed through Australia, India, China, Japan and North America and then published a book in English, Journal of My Tours Round the World 1886-1887 and 1893-1895 AD, [Bombay, Duftur Ashkara Oil Engine Press, 1895, pp 3321.

In Cape Town, he purchased Lots 3 and 4, portions of Mariendal Estate, adjacent to the disused Muslim cemetery in Claremont. Upon this ground Shahmahomed wished to build a masjid and an academy for higher education [both secular and religious]. A trust was created and on June 29, 1911 and the foundation stone was laid for the new Muslim School at Claremont. In terms of the deeds of trust, Shahmahomed appointed the Mayor of Cape Town and the Cape’s Civil Commissioner [both non Muslims] as co-administrators of the academy as well as the karamat of Shaykh Yusuf. To this there was great resentment among the Muslims in the city because both of the non-Muslim appointees “were hardly competent to deliberate on matters affecting the cultural life of the Muslim community”. The masjid project in Claremont was completed but the academy did not materialise.

On August 21, 1923, Shahmahomed wrote to the University of Cape Town with regard to the founding of a chair in Eastern Philosophy and language, in which he stated: “I enclose Union Government Stock Certificate Number 12192, dated August 14, 1923, to the value of £1 000.0.0d [one thousand pounds sterling] and hope to make further additions thereto”.

Shahmahomed was a wealthy educationalist and philanthropist, well-travelled and a writer. He was instrumental in the renovations of Shaykh Yusuf’s tomb at Faure in 1927; the Park Road Masjid in Wynberg; and also Al Jamia Masjid in Claremont. He campaigned for a chair in Islamic Studies and Arabic at the University of Cape Town and placed in trust account a large sum of money for this purpose. He died in 1927.

1884 – Reconstruction of the Grey Street Masjid

Aboobakr Amod [Jhavery] and Hajee Mahomed Hajee Dada had purchased a property for the construction of a masjid in Grey Street, Durban in 1881. He thus rebuilt the simple brick and mortar structure into a masjid proper, enlarging it to some extent: the new masjid now measured 68 feet by 23 feet, OS inches [20,7 meters by 7,16 meters], enlarging the prayer area by 48 feet by 10 feet, OS inches [14,07 meters by 3,20 meters]. The plans were drawn and the construction was given to John Dales, a building contractor. The Juma Masjid in Grey Street, Durban, was the first masjid to be built in Natal. The first imam of the masjid, it is said, was Mianjee Elahi Bux.

Aboobakr Amod’s estate, seeing the necessity for further extension to the masjid, purchased the adjacent land, namely, Lot D of Block BB for £220.0.0d [two hundred and twenty pounds sterling] on February 15, 1884. The sale was only registered on April 22, 1899 as shown in the Deeds Office in Pietermaritzburg.

Aboobakr Amod [Jhavery] died in 1886 in Bombay, a victim of the cholera epidemic, aged 37. After his death, the Pretoria branch of the company was renamed Tayob Haji Khan Abdullah and Company. Aboobakr’s family trust continued to see to the interest of the Juma Masjid during the coming years.

1884 – Arrival of Esmail Mahomed Paruk

Another prominent Muslim, Esmail Mahomed Paruk, born in 1867 in Kathore, India, arrived from Mauritius and settled in Durban and soon established his first retail business in West Street. Thereafter, he went into wholesale trade; his firm becoming one of the biggest concerns in Natalamongst the Indians. As a financial giant, he extended his activities into milling and tea estates on the north coast of Natal.

The magnanimous E M Paruk had an imposing house at 383 Currie Road, Durban, where India’s first Agent-General, Srinivasan Sastri , lived at a time when White-owned hotels were open only to members of the White community. E M Paruk became a Trustee of the West Street Masjid in 1899 and served as Chairman of the Trust Board until his death in 1942.

1885 – Construction of West Street Masjid: second in 1920 Durban

The Juma Masjid Sunnat Jamat Anjuman Islam,popularly known as West Street Masjid, was built in 1885, four years after the construction of the Grey Street Masjid. There is no record to indicate why the site, where the masjid stands today, was chosen; it actually stands on two sites: one extending from the present sahn upto Saville Street, and the other upto West Street entrance. The first property was purchased a few years prior to the construction of the masjid for £1 250.O.Od [one thousand two hundred and fifty pounds sterling] and registered at the Deeds Office, Pietermaritzburg, on November 25, 1893, covering a total floor area of about 140 square feet. The marble plaque [foundation stone] now installed on the wall facing West Street records that it was built in 1885.

The first Imam was an Arab, probably from Makkah; the first mu `adhdhin being Hoosen Moolla, father of Ahmad Moolla founder of the Moollah’s Cafe in Durban. Among the first trustees of the masjid were Ahmed Mohamed Tilly and Hoosen Meeran.

Between 1895 and 1899 major changes were made to the small masjid when a second site, from thesahn to West Street, adjacent to the building, was purchased by the trustees for £2 025 [two thousand and twenty-five pounds sterling] from Hoosen Meeran and Ismail Mamoojee and Company. These extensions were very substantial as they involved large structural changes to the masjid as well as to the existing building that was purchased.

The constitution of the Juma Masjid Sunat Jamat Anjuman Islam was amended and signed on January 09, 1899. The nine new trustees wereAhmed Mohammed Tilly, Amod Ebrahim Jeewa, Dawd Hassen, Mohamed Cassim Angalia, Mahomed Essack, Mohamed Cassim, Esmail Mahoned Paruk, Suliman Ahmed Akoon and Hoosen Meeran. M A Motala and G M D Seedat served as treasurers of the West Street Masjid Building Committee.

During the renovation period, a shipping company donated £5 000.0.0d [five thousand pounds sterling] towards the building of the masjid. The `ulama’ maintained that money from other than Muslims could not be used for building a masjid. Thus, this money was used for rebuilding of shops facing West Street and madrasah buildings within themasjid area.

The following extensions were made to the West Street Masjid, Durban, in 1905:

* two floors were added at the rear of the masjid, that is, on the southern side;

* the ground floor consisted of shops, and the first floor had four apartments for occupation by the imam and his family; and

* a twenty foot minaret was also added to the masjid on the West Street side.

The total floor area of the masjid was over a thousand square feet. Chotoo Mia succeeded the `Arab’ imam; he also taught at the madrasah of the West Street Masjid.

In 1917, a new madrasah at 379 Pine Street, Durban, was established. Withing years, themadrasah was converted to a fully-fledged primary school with an integrated syllabus. By 1918, themadrasah, adjoining the masjid, was demolished enlarging the prayer area of the latter to some extent; the minaret was raised to four floors – its construction was now more a square structure, as it stands today; an entrance to the masjid was made from West Street.

1889 – More land for Grey Street Masjid

Hajee Mahomed Hajee Dada in his capacity as the only Trustee of the masjid and the Aboobakr Amod [Jhavery] family estate purchased more adjoining land to the Juma Masjid in Grey Street, Durban, because of the sharp increase in the number of musaliis [worshippers] in the Durban area. The adjoining land was purchased for £300.0.0d [three hundred pounds sterling. This sale was registered in the Deeds Office, Pietermaritzburg on January 25, 1890.

1890 – Formation of the Indian Committee Durban

By 1890 the Natal Muslim merchants who traded in and around Durban and also on the North and South Coasts of Natal were a lot to be reckoned with. To publicise the difficulties they faced in the socio-economic and political fields, they formed theIndian Committee Durban with Hajee Mahomed Hajee Dada as Chairman and Abdool Carrim Adam as Secretary of the Committee. Soon this Committee was to give birth to the Natal Indian Congress [NIC]. Many members of this society were to play a leading role in the NIC.

Among the office bearers and members of the Indian Committee Durban were: Haji Mahomed Haji Dada, Dada Abdullah, Moosa Haji Cassim, Hoosen Jeewa, Amod Danje, Essop Hoosen, Mahomed Cassim Camrooden, Amod Mahomed, Mohamed Moosajee, Peeran Mahomed, Mohamed Cassim Jeewa, Ismail Mamoojee, Ahmed Mahomed Tilly, Osman Khan, Ramant Khan, and Hoosen Meeran.

The Indian Committee Durban drew up a document, enlisting their grievances which they sent to the honourable Fazalbhai Visram of Bombay. The latter drew up a “memorial” to the document, signed it along with 80 other leading businessmen of Bombay, and sent it to the Governor of Natal. In the Petition the British Government was urged to take steps to ensure the protection and rights of the Indians in South Africa because the Indians were under British protection.


One Response to “Indian Muslims: Natal and Cape (1870 – 1890)”

  1. Jamiel Abrahams said

    I have info w.r.t. the 1st Imam, yes he was Arab, more importantly he was adire4ct descendant of our Nabi Muhammad SAW, He hailed from Morone 1889, where he had the status of a Qadi, spoke 16 languages,worked briefly in the translation dept(govt). Was the 1st Imam of Grey street mosque. I have found vaious notes and articles in his books that I have inherited, what gems!!
    082 872 1298 I think it is necessary to add this to the history of the masjiod!!
    Jamiel abrahams

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