Cape Malays…

and their Heritage

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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