Cape Malays…

and their Heritage

Archive for June, 2010

Silat Fighting Arts

Posted by tahirfarrath on June 5, 2010

Guru besar, Toyer Farrath, demonstrating a hybrid form of Bersilat or Silat Melayu in the late 1970s. Little interest was shown for it in the Eastern Cape, and he instead continued to teach Kyokushin karate as the Branch Chief of the area and chairman of the region until the urge to impart Islamic knowledge and Qiraat grew stronger.

Sensei Toyer Farrath at the dojo

Japanese authorised Branch Chief, Toyer Farrath, was photographed with some students. From left: Farouk Jephta, Hafiz Majedie Abader and Naazim de Maar. J. Gerald and N. Hollander are slightly out of view at the back.



The Malaysian Martial Arts known as Silat was officialy demonstrated to the South African community only during the mid 1990s when the Malaysian government brought a Silat group from Melaka to show us our lost culture.

A member of the Budi Suci Sejati non-contact School.

Silat takes off in Cape Town under Hj Mukhtar. Those who trained directly under Hj Mukhtar are: Tuan M Hilmy Hartley, Nabeel and Faheem Jackson, Yusuf and Muhammad Dawood, Zahid and Zain Richards, Yazeed Waggie and Ierfaan Cassiem. M. G. Hartley is the only student to have trained in Melaka. He was the 1st teacher in Cape town. Tuan M G Hartley introduced Pukulan Melaka and was the first South African to train under Hj Mukhtar in Melaka.  Mogamat Hartly can be reached in the Cape at Tel.: 021 402 6911.

Tuan Haj Mokhtar from Melaka with his team in Cape Town

Then in the month of September and October 2009, the Indonesian Pencak Silat was promoted massively and run on a big scale. Promotions ran through 3 cities, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town. According to Moegamat Gielmie Hartley (Hilmy) of Cape Town, it is believed that Pencak Silat was the first martial arts to have existed in the Cape, along with the arrival of Indonesian fighters as prisoners, among them is Syaikh Yusuf Al-Makassar in 16th century. Pentjak Silat has not flourished in the Cape and this is also the opinion of H. Muhammad Henriko, Betawians pencak silat master in Pretoria. According to him, it is not easy to develop Pencak Silat in South Africa.

The Cape Malay Corps in the 1800s

General Janssens enlisted the free Malays to serve as soldiers in 1804 in exchange for a Mosque site. Two Javaansche Artilleries were instituted; one under the command of the Mohamedaansche Veld-Priester, Frans van Bengalen; and a light Javaansche Artillerie on foot under the command of a Frenchman, J. Madlener. They were extremely well trained when they were deployed at the Battle of Blaauwberg in 1806 and there was agreement that the Cape Muslim Artilleries would have won the day for General Janssens had he not retreated to the Mainland. Many were injured and some killed in the battle. Mamat van de Kaap who was among the injured soldiers later became one of the Imaams of the Long Street Masjid after some community dispute. Their gallantry in battle earned them great praise and respect from their British adversaries.

As for the Battle of the Axe, Abdol Kaliel was the only survivor of the Cape Muslims band on the Eastern Frontier in 1846. Once again, a Mosque at Chiappini Street was granted. After some dispute in the community, land was acquired in Longmarket Street to construct a Masjid. (Achmat Davids: Mosques of the BoKaap)

Panglima (commander) Hilmy fires the cannon dressed in the replica Cape Malay Artillery Corps uniform

The Panglima Hilmy at the Military Tattoo 2009 event with Gloria Madienya of SANDF Medical corps. His outfit, especially the jacket resembles the Javaansche Artillery Corps that worked on canons (lantaka) and he wears the hat (toedong) with a Melayu dagger (kriss) at his side.

Yazeed Waggie (center), Faheem and Nabeel Jackson Rhode

In memory of the Cape Malay Artillery Corps

Muslim Brigade Drummers


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Posted in vi. Martial Arts | 4 Comments »

Defining the Cape Malay Identity

Posted by tahirfarrath on June 3, 2010

Like many South Africans, people described in some situations as “Cape Malay” are often the descendants of people from many continents and religions. As much as the Cape Malay identity is a definition of an ethnic group, it can be considered as the product of a set of histories and communities. Since many Cape Malay people have found their Muslim identity to be more salient than their “Malay” ancestry, people in one situation have been described as “Cape Malay”, and in another as “Cape Muslim” by people both inside and outside of the community.

The “Cape Malay” identity was also a subcategory of the “Coloured” category, in the terms of the apartheid-era government’s classifications of ethnicity. From the early 1970s to the present, some members of this community – particularly those with a political allegiance to broader liberation movements in South Africa – have identified as “black” in the terms of the Black Consciousness Movement.


People in the Cape Malay community generally speak mostly Afrikaans but also English, or a local dialect of both. They no longer speak the Malay languages and other languages which their ancestors used, although various Malay words and phrases are still employed in daily usage.

Dress code

(Cape Malay women wear some version of the Muslim headscarf for religious reasons, which is mostly observed with long skirts or Middle Eastern attire at Muslim gatherings. Men often wear skull caps or turbans and don Arabian-style robes when going to the mosque. Red fezzes worn with suit and ties for certain occasions were the fashion among the elders. Fezzes have been replaced by high white Kufiyas. The fashion has evolved to Western forms of casual wear making it harder to distinguish the Cape Malays from non-Muslims. Some Cape Malay women, however, have adopted a variation of the knee length top and long pants, resembling the Pakistanis and Indians, rather than the long skirts worn by Malaysians and Indonesians.)

(M. Tahir Farrath in the 1980s)


The community’s strict culture and traditions of Halaal food have also left an impact that is still felt to this day. Adaptations of traditional foods such as bredie, bobotie, sosaties and koeksisters are staples in many South African homes. Muslims will generally not attend any function where alcohol is present.


(A Cape Malay engagement would mark a private ceremony where the prospective in-laws come to ask the father of the girl for [pre-marital] visiting rights before a marriage date is set.

On the day of the wedding the bridegroom and the respective fathers, accompanied by other male relatives, head to mosque where the bridegroom now asks to be married upon an agreed dowry [which may include some of the prized contents of the bride’s living quarters]. The father of the bride will accept the arrangement in the presence of witnesses before the ritual begins. While this is happening, the bride and her wedding party will get ready for the groom’s arrival and the placing of the wedding band on her finger.

From left: Hadji Abdullah Abader, M. Tahir Farrath and Shaykh Shamiel Pandie witnessing the Wedding ceremony at Masjid-ut-Taqwa (P.E.).

The groom heads home and sends a party to the bride’s home with food and gifts. At a typical Cape Malay wedding thereafter, which is never small, the bride’s family traditionally presents the bridal couple with a lavish wedding feast at a communal hall. Indiscriminate intermingling of sexes is frowned upon among Muslims. Other  than for the headgear (Medora), the bride and groom’s attire are very Westernised. A few older ladies (dressed in Moroccan styled gear) would then prepare the bride for her new abode where she is received and supplications made.)

(al-Ustaath) Toyer Farrath conducting a Doepmal

A Doepmaal or Doopmal (name-giving ceremony and Feast) isusually held in the parents’ home seven days after the birth of each child. Boys are often circumcised before the Doepmal.


This cultural group developed a characteristic ‘Cape Malay’ music. An interesting secular folk song type, of Dutch origin, is termed the nederlandslied. The language and musical style of this genre reflects the history of South African slavery; it is often described and perceived as ‘sad’ and ’emotional’ in content and context. The nederlandslied shows the influence of the Arabesque (ornamented) style of singing. This style (sometimes sung along with the banjo, percussion drums [Gomma], tamborines [Rebanna] and flute, etc.) is unique in South Africa, Africa and probably in the world. Active dancing to musical beats is frowned upon in Islam. Qasidas and Solawaat songs are also very popular.

Artefacts and Symbols

Islamic decorative art is mainly expressed in geometric forms in calligraphy, architecture and textile art, as the depiction of human and animal figures is forbidden in Islam. (Other than these, there are barely any artefacts and symbols remaining to cherish.)

Straw hat (toering) and Kaparang (wooden slipper)


Images of decorative art in mosques around South Africa all form part of oneness of the Divine. Islamic art reflects unity and the perfection of the proportion and symmetry of God’s creation. With contemplation and understanding, these elements all reveal deeper meaning according to the Islamic way of life. Qur’anic calligraphy is regarded as the highest form of Islamic art, and as such, the patterns that illuminate the text carry a high standard of aesthetic harmony and discipline, balance and stability. (Cape Malays being strict adherents of the pillars of Islam, also gather for Hajat, Arwag, Hadad, Sufi Thikr, Mawlud, Ratiep, Batcha and Qirat.)

M. Tahir Farrath delivering a talk at a religious occasion

The Hājah is one of the names given to a customary religious ceremony whereby specific chapters of the holy Qur’ān are recited, praises of Allah and His messenger, Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) are rendered, the Riwāyāt (historical narrations) of ‘al-Barzanjī and the ‘Ashraqal are recited and concluded with a supplication for mercy and forgiveness (Du`ā’ Khatam ‘al-Qur’ān).Some of the other names given to this ceremony are the werk – the Afrikaans translation of the Arabic word `amal which means good deeds and ‘arwāḥ meaning spirits (of the deceased persons). This probably pertains to the fact that in the final supplication, special emphasis is made upon supplicating on behalf of deceased persons.

The Hājah has especially been associated with the 7th, 40th and 100th day commemoration of a deceased person. The tradition may have been inherited from the pioneering Indonesian slaves and political exiles, such as Shaykh Yūsuf of the Khalwatiy-yah Sūfi order, who were strong adherents of their tradition and culture. There is the short form or long form that includes Sūrah Yaasiin and Sūrah Mulk, The compilation, in detail, includes:

– the recitation of Sūrahs Yāsīn, ‘al-Mulk, ‘al-‘Ikhlās, ‘al-Falaq, ‘an-Nās, al-Fātihah

– the first and last part of ‘al-Baqarah including ‘āyāt ‘al-Kursi,

– the recitation of the 99 names of Allah (‘Asmā ‘al-Husnā),

– salutations on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), his family and companions.

Part 1: Haajaat – Arwaah by M. Tahir Farrath – YouTube Video.

In some cases, it can be a unique handpicked compilation of various sections of the Riwāyāt Sūrāt.

– a part of the Qasīdat ‘al-Burdah referred to locally as the “Yā ‘Akraman” or the “Dhikr Jalālī”,

– a part of the Maulūd of ‘al-Barzanjī,

– finally the ‘Ashraqal and concluded with a supplication (du`ā’).

M. Tahir Farrath in Qiraat.

Imaam Zahid Farrath (left) with Imaam Behardien Jappie (right) and Imaam Sadaka Abader slightly in view

The Hājah has its textual origins in the Riwāyat Sūrat. It played an important role in the cultural practices of local Muslims in the Cape. The Riwāyat Sūrat is comprised of variety of texts written by different authors. The texts include:

Maulid Sharaf ‘al-‘Anām : The Maulid Sharaf ‘al-‘Anām is a text with narrations and poetry about the birth and life of the Prophet of Islām. The poetry was written by an `Irāqi scholar by the name of al-Bukhārī (not to be confused with the famous eighth century Hadīth scholar). In the Cape, Maulid Sharaf al-‘Anām has been reserved by local Muslims for the commemoration of the birthday (Maulūd) of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and will be recited in the month of Rabī` al-Auw-wal. Rampie-sny is also set aside by the Muslim women for this day.

Maulid al-Barzanji : This text is also about the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) written by ‘Abū Ja`far ‘al-Barzanji, a fourteenth century Islamic poet who hailed from the island of Zanzibar.

Qasīdat ‘al-Burdah : The Qasīdah Burdah was written in the 13th century by the well-known scholar and poet, Sharāf ‘al-Dīn al-Busīrī who hails from Mamluke, Egypt.

Du`ā’ Khatam ‘al-Qur’ān : This translates as the supplication for concluding the recitation of the entire Qur’ān and forms the first and last part of the Riwāyat Sūrat. The religious ceremony includes the recitation of specific verses from the Holy Qur’ān, the recitation of the ‘Asmā al-Husnā (99 names of Allāh), salutations on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), his family and his companions, a part of the Qasīdat al-Burdah, a part of the Maulūd of Barzanji, finally the ‘Ashraqal and concluded with Du`ā’.

`Aqīdat ‘al-`awām : The `Aqīdat ‘al-`awām translates as the belief system of the general public. This text summarizes the basic tenets of Islāmic belief in poetry form.

New Zealand: The Farrath family hosting the monthly pengajian (study circle) of a mixed group of South African, Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian, Fijian, Egyptian and Somali Muslims

‘At-tadhkīr li shahr-Ramadān : Besides Maulūd, Dhikr and `Aqīdah the Riwāyat Sūrat also consists of specific ‘adhkār (remembrance of Allah) for the month of Ramadān.

Rātib ‘al-Haddād : The Rātib ‘al-Had-dād is literally translated as the ompilations of the blacksmith. This is a set of ‘adhkār (remembrance of Allah) compiled from authentic sources by the Sūfi Shaykh`Abd Al-lāh ibn `Alawiyy ‘al-Had-dād . The Shaykh is from the `Alawiy-yah Sūfi order and hails from Hadramaut in Yemen.

The Rātib ‘al-Had-dād or Ḥad-dād as it is sometimes referred to, is not the same as a Ḥājah even though specific sections of the Ḥājah have been incorporated into it, especially the first part.

The first part of the Ḥājah has locally been incorporated into most forms of dhikr, be it a Maulūd, Qādarī or even a Rātib ‘ar-Rifā`ī (locally known as “Ratiep”). This is locally referred to as a voor-werk (lead-in), which serves as an introduction to the actual dhikr. This is probably the reason why some of the local Muslims have used the word Ḥaddād synonymous with the word Hājah.

(Talieb Baker, former lecturer at ICOSA)

(al-Ustaath) Toyer Farrath concluding the burial rites for the Van Weiring family

The Haajah (Arwaah/Thikr/Tahliil)

From left: Eri Ansya (Phd student), Muneeb Farrath, M. Tahir Farrath 

‘Ratiep’ is a ritual performed by certain Muslim sects to demonstrate the faith in the patron saint to unbelievers by striking their body with swords and other sharp instruments. The letting of blood is rare, and quickly attended to by the officiating ‘Galiefa’, the head of the Ratiep troupe who closes the wound and stops the blood whilst reciting verses from the Koran. Here participants perform under the watchful eye of the presiding Galiefa at a family function in a backyard. The performance is accompanied by ‘labana’ drumming and the singing in chorus by the audience of verses sung by the Galiefa. Annually, on Easter weekends, thousands of Muslim families gather in the vicinity of Sheikh Yusuf’s tomb and the graves of his followers at Faure to pray (which is frowned by other Muslims) and be entertained by performances by different ‘Riefaai Jama’as’ Retieb groups.

Eid Day: M. Tahir Farrath and Muneeb Farrath

Dukums or “Doekoem werk” can be traced back to the days of slavery. When people are unable to make sense of their circumstances, they seek spiritual assistance. The words ‘dukum’ or ‘doekum’ is in fact a mispronunciation of a word and tradition, ‘Dukun’, which is still a major undercurrent of life in a number of islands in the Indonesian archipelago, writes local researcher, Yusuf Kamedien. Furthermore, a common treatment is to chant a prayer over a glass of water that is then given to the client to drink. Sometimes a rajah (a mystical script) is written on paper to wear or dissolved in a bottle for consumption or burnt. Some Dukoems believe that their spiritual powers are a gift from God while others say their skills were taught to them by spirits whom they continue to consult for advice on the diagnosis and treatment. Dukuns live modestly and are neither rich nor poor but have enough with which to survive.

Muslim faith-healers apply Islamic aspects to healing that do not warrant it being categorised as shamanism or resembling the sangoma of Africa. The use of traditional remedies and herbs is the practice of herbalism as alternative medication, which is far from being magical. These are often labels given to suit by people who are  not familiar with a culture other than their own.


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