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SOUTH AFRICA. The 1993 South African apartheid census figures divided the population into four categories: Africans, 32 million; Coloureds, 5 million; Indians, I million; and Whites, 5 million. The total number of Muslims is currently more than half a million, of whom 2.5 percent are Africans, 49.8 percent Coloureds, 47 percent Indians, and .7 percent Whites. By the twenty-first century Muslims will probably comprise 2 percent of the total population, as compared to I percent in 1993

Muslims came to South Africa in two groups. The first (1652-180’7), brought by the Dutch colonialists, was made up of involuntary immigrants (slaves, political prisoners, and criminals) from West and East Africa and Southeast Asia. They were classified as “Cape Malays” because many hailed from the Malay archipelago. The second group (1860-1914) was brought by the British colonialists from India as indentured laborers and free passengers to Natal and Transvaal. During 1873-1880 a large group of Zanzibaris also went to South Africa.

The Muslim population remained small from the arrival of Shaykh Yusuf (d. 1699), called “the founder of Islam at the Cape,” in 1694 as a political prisoner, until 1789 when Qadi `Abdussalam (“Tuan Guru,” d. 1807) laid the foundations for the first mosque. A sharp increase took place between 1804 and 1834, to the extent that Muslims constituted one-third of the Cape’s population (6,435); the institutions of slavery, conversion, marriage, adoption, and education had a direct bearing upon this. Many of these Muslims had Sufi affiliations, so that Sufi practices became an important part of Cape Muslim culture. Leaders of Sufi orders such as the Qadiriyah were buried around Cape Town and are locally believed to constitute a “holy circle of karamdhs.” Indian Sufis such as Ghulam Muhammad Habibi (“Sufi Sahib,” d. 1910) had by the end of the nineteenth century made valuable sociocultural contributions. Habibi’s mausoleum in Durban was declared a national monument.

By the nineteenth century the local MalayoPortuguese Creole in the Cape was replaced by Dutch as the lingua franca. Muslims, who had formerly written their texts in the Arabic script, switched to Dutch to write the Arabic-Afrikaans religious texts. One of the most famous Arabic-Afrikaans texts, Bayanuddin, was written by Shaykh Abfl Bakr Effendi (d. 1880), a Turkish Hanafi scholar, who came to the Cape in 1863 at the request of the governor to resolve theological disputes. Only recently has the importance of these texts been realized with regard to the genesis of the Afrikaans language.

In Natal the Muslims spoke English and their ancestral Indian languages, including Gujarati and Urdu. The Gujarati Muslims published a weekly religio-political newspaper, Al-Islam, between 1907 and 1910. Muslim newspapers such as Al-qlam (Durban/Johannesburg founded 1973) and Muslim News/Views (Cape Town, 1960-1986) have been important conduits through which the Muslims have expressed their sociopolitical and religious thoughts.

The Cape Muslims were generally seen as a peaceful and law-abiding community. Already in 1806 a Cape Malay artillery unit had demonstrated its loyalty to Dutch colonists in the Battle of Blaauberg, and in 1846 a conscripted “Malay Corps” had fought gallantly on the eastern frontier of the Battle of the Axe. However, Muslims did not remain subservient to the Dutch or British authorities. They protested against the enforcement of vaccination during the 1840 smallpox epidemic; they strongly voiced their opinion against the municipality that banned the Khalifah display in 1856; in 1886 they demonstrated under the leadership of Abdul Burns (d. 1898) against the 1883 Public Health Act; and in 1894 they unsuccessfully contested a seat in the Cape parliament. Shafi’i-Hanafi theological and legal battles continued unabated between 1866 and igoo in the Cape Supreme Court. Amid these protests and strife, Muslims flourished as artisans, tailors, fishmongers, and hawkers at many levels of Cape society and gradually entered all the professions.

In both the Cape and Natal, many sociocultural organizations emerged during the twentieth century to serve specific ethnic communities. Organizations such as the Cape Malay Association (established in 1920) and the South African Indian Congress (1923) were formed to maintain distinctive ethnic identities-in line with governmental policies-and to negotiate with the government for specific rights. Muhammad Arshad Gamiet (d. 1935) and `Abdullah Kajee (d. 1946) were, respectively, the leading figures of these organizations.

Clerical bodies emerged to serve the religious needs of the communities. In 1923 the Jam’iyat al -`Ulama’ of Transvaal was formed, followed by the Cape Muslim Judicial Council in 1945, and the Natal Jam’iyat al-`Ulama’ in 1952; the leading members of these groups were respectively Maulana Sanjalvi, Shaykh Behardien and Maulana Omarjee. These bodies were conservative and did not engage in any activities that might jeopordize their relations with the state. There were, however, individuals like Maulana Cachalia (b. 1919) and Imam Haron (d. 1969) who vociferously protested against such discriminatory laws as the Sabotage Bill and Group Areas Act; the latter died in detention, and the former went into exile and represented the African National Congress in India. During the 1940s and 1950s, social welfare and educational organizations were established: in Cape Town, the Hospital Welfare and Muslim Educational Movement (established in 1943) in Durban, the Arabic Study Circle (1950); and in Johannesburg, the Central Islamic Trust (1952). Numerous others followed in the 1960s and 1970s. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Dr. `Abdurahman (d. 1940), a medical doctor and educational reformer, established a number of Muslim state-aided primary schools; similar schools were later established in Durban. Independent colleges such as the Newcastle Darul’ulum (Natal), madrasahs such as the Lenasia Madaris Association (Transvaal), and Muslim private schools such as Habibiyah Islamic College (Cape) were established to meet Muslims’ educational needs.

South African society experienced dramatic sociopolitical changes during the 1970s and 1980s that also affected Muslims. During this period much literature came from the Middle East and Indian subcontinent; the works of the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, the Pakistani Mawlana Abu al-A’la Mawdudli, and the Iranian `All Shari’ati were circulated among Muslim youth, especially at the universities.

One of the organizations that played a pivotal role in disseminating these ideas was the Durban-based Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa (MYMSA, founded in 1970). The MYMSA and other Muslim organizations brought prominent Muslim scholars such as the Palestinian-American Isma’il al-Faruqi and the Pakistani Khurshid Ahmad to share their ideas and guide the Muslim leadership. They also held conventions, conferences, seminars, and camps,. and established libraries and bookshops. The MYMSA gave birth to many other organizations, including the Islamic Medical Association, South African Association of Muslim Social Scientists, Jaame, South African National Zakat Fund, Islamic Da’wah Movement of South Africa, Women’s

Islamic Movement, Muslim Students Association, and Islamic Relief Agency. Each of these organizations published a newsletter, notably the JAAME Review and IMA Bulletin. The MYMSA strengthened ties with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth. WAMY’s sister organization, the World Muslim Congress, was instrumental in forming the Islamic Council of South Africa in 1975; this body, however, disintegrated after four years because of internal conflicts and personality clashes.

Each of these organizations carved out a niche for itself after splitting off from the MYMSA. The ISRA played an active role during the 1985-1986 South African urban upheavals. It was able to draw on the resources of many other Muslim organizations that did not share MYMSA’s ideological positions. The ISRA also served the needs of the Muslims beyond the confines of South Africa, aiding Iranian earthquake victims, starving Somalians, oppressed Palestinians, and victimized Bosnians. SANZF made great strides in pooling Muslim financial resources. In 1988 and 1992 the Islamic and Al-Baraka Banks were opened to draw overseas and local investments. IDMSA has been spreading Islamic literature in indigenous tongues and has established an institute to train African da’wah (missionary) workers. A da’wah organization founded in 1957 by Ahmad Deedat, recipient of the 1986 King Faisal Award, is the Durban-based International Islamic Propagation Centre with branches in London and Abu Dhabi. On a different level, the Tablighi Jama’at has also operated under the leadership of Bhai Padia since 1962.

While some Muslims concentrated on da’wah, others felt the need to shift attention to the political arena. The MYMSA was one such organization, particularly after its transformation. Two other organizations, the Qibla Muslim Movement (established in 1980. and the Call of Islam (COI, 1984), played prominent political roles. The latter, an affiliate of the ANC, was in the early 1990s led by Ebrahim Rasool; the former, which has close ties with the Pan Africanist Congress, was then led by Ahmad Cassiem.

In South Africa at present there have been the “Charterist” Muslim groups that supported the ANC as well as the “Africanist” groups that supported the PAC. Conservative groups such as the Jam’iyat al-`Ulama’ opted to remain neutral. In 1990 a historic National Muslim Conference took place, following an initiative of the COI. Delegates from Muslim organizations throughout the country came together to consider their response to the new political situation. This resulted in the formation of the Muslim Front and formulation of the Religious Charter by the South African chapter of the World Conference on Religion and Peace in 1992. While the Muslim Front canvassed for the ANC vote for the April 1994 elections, many of the other political parties have been wooing the Muslims to vote for their respective candidates in the various provinces. Some Muslims, however, chose to form Muslim political parties, namely the Africa Muslim Party and the Islamic Party, which failed to win seats in the National Assembly. Moreover, the ANC government appointed `Abdullah Omar, a committed Muslim, and minister of justice to its cabinet.


Argyle, W. J. “Muslims in South Africa: Origins, Development, and Present Economic Status.” Journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs 3.2 (September 1981): 222-254. Excellent study of the Muslims’ economic status.

Davids, Achmat. “The Words Cape Slaves Made.” South African Journal of Linguistics. 8.2 (August r 99o): 1-35. Excellent overview of Arabic-Afrikaans literature in the Cape.

Esack, Farid. “Three Islamic Strands in the South African Struggle for Justice.” Third World Quarterly 10.2 (April 1988): 473-498. Interesting assessment of contemporary progressive Muslim movements.

Hampson, Ruth. Islam in South Africa: A Bibliography. Cape Town, 1964. Pioneering bibliographical text on Islam in South Africa. Haron, Muhammed. “Islamic Education in South Africa.” Muslim Educational Quarterly 5.2 (July 1988): 41-54. Fairly descriptive overview of South African Muslim educational developments. Haron, Muhammed. “Theses on Islam at South African Universities.” Islam et Sociitis au Sud du Sahara 5 (December 1991): 141-163. Bibliographical article reflecting upon research done in the field of Arabic and Islamic studies at South African universities.

Karim, Goolam Mohamed. “The Contribution of Muslims to South African Culture.” Bulletin far Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa 2.1 (January 1984): 1-10. Useful assessment of the Muslim contribution to South African culture.

Lubbe, Gerrie. “A Bibliography on Islam in South Africa.” Journal for Islamic Studies 5 (December 1985): 115-133. Important bibliographical essay complementing and updating Hampson’s text. Shell, Robert. “Rites and Rebellion: Islamic Conversion at the Cape, 18o8-1915.” Studies in the History of Cape Town 5 (1984): 1-45. Excellent analysis of the processes and institutions of Islamic coversion during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/south-africa/

  • writerPosted On: August 13, 2017
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