Today is Heritage Day in South Africa, and all south africans will celebrate their heritage. The Cape malay community forms part of South Africa's rich cultural, social and religious history. Despite the many facts which points to the very real existence of the Cape Malays, many historians and reseachers are adament that this community is an ímaginary'community. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the Malays (a term used to describe people originating from the malay lands i.e; indonesia, malaysia, thailand, cambodia, philippines, brunei) were responsible for establishing Islam in South Africa.
Lets revisit some happennings of the past, and see how this community has thrived due to the persistence and perseverence of the Cape malays and the rest of the Muslims at the time.
1804 Attainment of freedom of worship
By 1804, the number of the Vryezwarten or Free Blacks, majority of whom were Muslims, had reached such significant proportion that the Dutch rulers changed their policies in order to enlist their support, pending the British invasion of the Cape. They granted religious freedom to the Vryezwarten. Thus on July 25, 1804 the patience and perseverance of the Cape Muslims was rewarded when religious freedom was permitted for the first time at the Cape of Good Hope.
Prior to this, the Cape Muslims, in practising their religion, were severely restricted by the Statutes of India: a set of laws particularly aimed at restricting the religious practices of the Muslims of the Batavian Empire of which the Cape formed a part.
Commander de Mist published Ordinance 50, which declared equal legal protection to all religious societies. However, these religious societies were still required to obtain permission from the Cape Governor for the construction of places of worship.
General Janssens, also a commander at the Cape, enlisted the free Malays to serve as "soldiers" at the Cape while the British attack was imminent, and this in reality, necessitated change in social and political conditions. Thus, during 1804, two "Javaansche Artilleries" were instituted: one under the command of the Mohammedaansche Veld-Priester [Muslim lay-preacher], Frans van Bengalen, and the other under the command of a Frenchman. These artilleries were deployed at the Battle of Blauwberg in 1806, and the soldiers were well trained. Their gallantry in the Battle earned them great praise and the respect of their British adversaries. Commentators on the Battle of Blauwberg generally agree that the Cape Muslim Artillery would have won the day for General Janssens had he not retreated to the mainland. And so, when the British took over the Cape, they honoured and praised the Muslim Artillery for its bravery and courage in the Battle. Thus, General Baird, the British commander, as a special gesture to the Cape Muslims, confirmed General Janssens' promise to the Vryez-wartens of a masjid site. Islam actually took root in the Western Cape after 1800 when prayer rooms, at five respective sites, were made available.
1805 Land grant for Tana Baru: the first Muslim cemetery
The first piece of land for a Muslim cemetery - Tana Baru - was granted to Frans van Bengalen on October 02, 1805 by the Raad der Gemeente [local authority] as a burial ground for the Cape Muslims. This gesture by the Batavian Republic officials followed the granting of religious freedom in 1804, accompanied by the right to build a masjid. The purpose of the Batavian Administration in granting these privileges to the Cape Muslims was to obtain their loyalty in the event of a British invasion of the Cape. Tana Baru, presently in disuse, consists of several cemetery sites adjoining each other, at the top-end of Longmarket Street in Cape Town. It is situated opposite the site where the Cape Muslims buried their dead for years before 1805. Another site, in close proximity to that of Frans van Bengalen was given "as a present" to Paay Schaapie [Tuan Nuruman] "for him and his family as a burial ground" by General Janssen who was the Batavian Commander at the Cape during 1803 and 1806. More land was granted to the Cape Muslims by the British Governor at the Cape, Sir Thomas Napier, during the reign of Queen Victoria, in 1842. It was practice of the 19th century imams of the Cape to purchase properties, in trust, for their congregations for the purpose of either masajid sites or burial grounds. Thus extra land came to be subsequently adjoined to Tana Baru. The cemetery was officially closed on January 15, 1886 by Government decree: Section 63 to 65 of the Public Health Act of 1883.
Within its confines lie some of the earliest and most respected Muslim settlers of South Africa: Imam Abdullah ibn Kadi [Qadi] Abdus Salaam [Tuan Guru], Tuan Sa'id Aloewie [Sayyid `Alawi], Tuan Nuruman [Paay Schaapie], Abubakr Effendi and others, along with prominent Muslim women of the time, such as Saartjie van de Kaap and Saamiede van de Kaap . Despite its closure, the Tana Baru has always been regarded as the most hallowed of Muslim cemeteries in Cape Town.
1807 Death of Tuan Guru
Tuan Guru died at the ripe old age of 95 and lies buried in Tana Baru Cemetry on Signal Hill, Cape Town. He had exerted a considerable influence on the Cape Muslims, especially in the field of Islamic education. Seventeen years after his death in 1807, his madrasah had, according to the evidence of the Colebrooke and Bigge Commission of 1825, a total of 491 "Free Black and Slave Scholars". Imam Achmat van Bengalen took charge of the madrasah after Tuan Guru's death.
1807 Establishment of Palm Tree Masjid: second in the country
After a dispute with regard to succession to the imamate of the Auwal Masjid, Frans van Bengalen and Jan van Boughies together parted from the Auwal Masjid. They purchased a property in Long Street, Cape Town, initiated their own congregation and opened a prayer room which later was converted into the Palm Tree Masjid, the second oldest in South Africa.
Imam Abdolgamiet [`Abd al-Hamid] served as the first imam of this masjid from 1807 to 1808, followed by Imam Asnoon [Jan van Boughies] [180818461, Imam Abdol Logies [1846-1851], Imam Mamat [Muhammad] van de Kaap [1851-1866], Imam Isma'il [1866-1889], Imam Moliat [1889-1894], Imam Mogamat [Muhammad] Joseph [1894-?], Imam Lalie Mogamat Salie , Sheikh Mogamat Geyer, Imam Isgaak [Ishaq] Eksteen [d 1955], Imam Abas [`Abbas] Kamalie [1955-?].
1808 Appointment of Jan van Boughies as Imam of Palm Tree Masjid
Jan van Boughies, the most prominent of the slaves from Celebes to arrive at the Cape of Good Hope, had a remarkable administration as imam of the Palm Tree Masjid [also known as Jan van Boughies Masjid] during the first half of the 19th century. Jan, also known as Imam Asnoon, succeeded Imam Abdolgamiet [ `Abd al-Hamid] from 1808 to 1846. Jan, who had been manumitted by Salia van Macassar [a free Muslim woman], later married her. Jan died in 1846 at the age of 112, leaving behind his second wife, Sameda van de Kaap , who dedicated the property as a masjid in memory of her late husband and called it "De Kerk van Jan van Boughies" [The Masjid of Jan van Boughies].
1823 Abdul Ghaliel granted a burial site
The slave, Abdul Ghaliel, served the Muslim community of Simonstown, Cape, as their imam. In 1823 a land grant was made in his favour to be used as a burial site by the Muslim community of Simonstown. Abdul Ghaliel was the first slave to be granted a piece of land in Simonstown.
1828 Restrictions on Muslim life
Having attained freedom of worship, Muslims, however, faced social restrictions and political inequality which in turn became the greatest obstacles in the spread of Islam in the Colony. The South African Commercial Advertiser of December 27, 1828 states in its editorial:
"As to the public worship of Mohammedans, although it was tolerated, no Proclamation of Law, as far as we know, was issued in this Colony, by which it was sanctioned or recognised! Perfect toleration was, however, one of the few praiseworthy principles of the old system. Thus we have seen, that an industrious and peaceable class of inhabitants, whom an enlightened policy would have cherished and perfected, were up to July 3, 1828 treated with utmost harshness and ignominy. Their marriages were declared unlawful, their issues degraded. They were refused admission to the rights of Burgership. They could not hold landed property nor remain in the Colony, though born there, without special permission and ample security. They were placed under the arbitrary control of the Burger Senate and the Landdrost - compelled to perform public services gratuitously - punished at discretion with stripes and imprisonment - unable to leave their homes without a Pass - their houses entered and searched at the pleasure of the police. They were liable to arrest without a warrant - and yet they were taxed up to the lips, like the other Free inhabitants"
This is the probable reason why only 20 Cape Muslims of a total of 2 167 [of whom 1 268 were slaves] owned property in 1825.
Lets celebrate our history and not turn a blind eye to the hard efforts of the malays who has contributed much to the fabric of todays cape society.
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