In the Name of Almighty Allah
Most Gracious Most Merciful
1873: Arrival of the Zanzibaris
The British Consul-General of Zanzibar, John Kerk, suggested in a letter to the
Lieutenant-Governor of Natal, that a temporary arrangement could be made
whereby the emancipated slaves from Zanzibar could be brought to Natal and be
apprenticed to the White sugar planters. Thus, the first group of freed Zanzibaris
arrived at Port Natal [later, Durban] on board H.M.S. Briton from Zanzibar on the
4th of August 1873.
They numbered 113, a large majority of whom were Muslims.
A year later, the H.M.S. Kaffir landed at Port Natal with 81 more freed Zanzibaris.
According to a Government Notice No. 142 of 1873 all the freed slaves were to be
employed in Public Works. However, owing to intervention of the White settlers, it
was decided to divide them equally between Public Works and private individuals
as indentured labourers. These Zanzibaris, being Muslims, erected a wood and iron
room that they used for the five daily prayers. This room was constructed into a
proper Masjid in 1899.
1874 Arrival of Ismail Kajee and
other businessmen from Gujarat.
Another batch of Gujarati-speaking Muslims arrived in Natal. Amongst them was
Ismail Kajee, father of the notable A.I.Kajee [d 1948, aged 52], who arrived from
Mauritius where he was in business, and Cassim Paruk of the present Nu-Shop
group of retail business outlets. After 1875 more experienced "Arab" traders began
to dominate the retail trade and even entered the wholesale business. The statistics
show the following:
* 1870 two free Indian stores
* 1875 ten free Indian and one "Arab" stores
* 1880 thirty free India and seven "Arab" stores.
* 1875 there were as much as 40 "Arab" stores in and around
1875 Muslim Population Statistics
The 1875 census reported:-
*13,930 Muslims [10,817 "Malay"] in the Colony;
8,948 Muslims in Cape Town]
Distribution of Muslims at the Cape .
Place: Total Population No. of Muslims. %
Cape Town 17,004 6,772 76.54%
Green Point 796 61 0.69%
Papendorp 624 108 1.22%
Rondebosch 1,019 180 2.03%
Newlands 2,363 775 8.76%
Wynberg 1,308 310 3.50%
Klassenbosch 612 157 1.77%
Simonstown 1,002 292 3.0%
Noordhoek 432 57 0.6%
1875 Abdol Burns and the Cemetery dispute
Abdol Burns an educated man, a superb letter writer and taxi driver by profession,
was a member of the Auwal Masjid in Cape Town. He was at the same time an
astute 'politician' and negotiator and played an important role on behalf of the Cape
Muslims in their dispute with the authorities on the cemetery issue from 1875 to
1886. Burns was indefatigable in his efforts to right what he conceived to be an
injustice inflicted upon the Cape Muslim community by the authorities when the
Government policy was implemented to close down the urban cemeteries -
including Tana Baru - "for health reasons".
As early as 1875 he had indicated to the authorities that to the Cape Muslims "their
religion of Islam was superior to the law" and would resist Section 65 of the Public
Health Act No. 4 of 1883. He worked enthusiastically for ten long years in this
regard to avoid open confrontation with the authorities. The promulgation of the
Act left Abdol Burns no alternative but to organize protest meetings and solidify
Muslim unity on this issue. This he achieved through the establishment of the
Malay Cemetery Committee on which he served as the secretary, under the
chairmanship of Imaam Gamja [Hamza] of the Auwal Masjid, and later under
Imaam Shahibo of the Jamia Masjid.
With the Cape Government implementing the Cemetery Bill, Friday, January 15th,
1886 was set as the final day for burials in the municipal areas of Cape Town.
Thereafter the dead were to be interred at the Maitland Cemetery which was
administered by the Maitland Cemetery Board. There was not a single Muslim
representative on this Board - a fact which Abdol Burns came to criticise with great
bitterness, pointing out that the Cape Muslims constituted one third of the total
population of Cape Town but had no representatives on this important Board.
On the 12th of June 1885, Abdol Burns chaired a historic protest meeting in the
Council Chamber of the Town House which was attended by about 500 Muslims.
The meeting appointed Imaam Gamja, Imaam Shahibo, Imaam Abdol Kariem and
others, with full powers to act on behalf of the Cape Muslims on the cemetery issue.
This was indeed a great event in the history of Cape for it was the first time that a
community group was allowed the privilege of using the Council Chamber of the
Town House for a communal meeting.
When the Maitland Cemetery Board refused to grant the Muslim any concessions,
Abdol Burns arranged an interview with the Colonial Secretary on November 13th,
1885 to intervene on their behalf, requesting for an extension to the closing date of
the cemeteries. This was also refused. On January 8th, 1886 Muslims elected a
delegation at the Auwal Masjid to see the Premier regarding the issue. On the
evening of January 15th, 1886, the Cape Muslims were left without a burial ground,
their existing cemeteries having been officially closed by a Government decree. On
the 17th of January, 1886 a child of a Muslim fisherman, Amaldien ['Amal-al-Din]
More than three thousand Muslims walked to Tana Baru cemetery and buried the
child. The twelve policemen who were sent there on duty to take down the names
of the offenders were pelted with stones and were forced to flee. Cape Town had
never experienced anything like this. A tense atmosphere, in anticipation of rioting,
prevailed. On January 20th, 1886 the authorities stationed the corps of Volunteers at
Ten Muslim leaders were arrested and charged with contravening Section 65 of the
Public Health Act No 4 of 1886, and for causing a riot. The arrest did not curb the
defiance of the Cape Muslims for they buried another Muslim at Tana Baru. On
January 21st, 1886 Abdol Burns was immediately released on bail. Burns
approached the British commanding officer, General D'Ogley, stationed at the Cape
to intervene on behalf of the Muslims but the request was refused. Burns was
eventually found guilty and sentenced to two months imprisonment with hard
labour and a fine of ten pounds sterling.
Meanwhile, the Muslims were still without a cemetery. The Malay Cemetery
Committee, founded and excellently organised by Abdol Burns for ten years was
dissolved. A Muslim Cemetery Board with Hadjie Ozier Ali [ Haji Uzayr Ali] as
secretary was established, and purchased a burial ground at Observatory, from the
authorities. Abdol Burns had previously refused this ground and it was probably
because of this that he did not become a member of the Muslim Cemetery Board.
1876 Arrival of more freed slaves from Zanzibar
Another 226 freed slaves arrived at Port Natal from Zanzibar to work in the sugar
plantations in Natal owned by White farmers. Sporadic shiploads of ex-slaves from
Zanzibar continued to arrive at Port Natal until 1880. However, by the end of that
year importation of slaves from Zanzibar came to and end.
1881 Land purchased for Durban Masjid.
Aboobakr Ahmod [Jhavery] and Hajee Mahomed Hajee Dada purchased a site for
the construction of a Masjid in Grey Street, Durban from K. Moonsamy for 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 August 15th, 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 3,69 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.
1881 Establishment of the Hanafee Masjid
The Seventh Masjid in Cape Town.
Unlike the other Masaajid which were constructed in the periphery of residential
areas, the two Hanafee Masjids were constructed in Long and Loop Streets where
the greatest concentration of Muslims resided. The Hanafee Masjid, at the corner of
Long and Dorp Streets is the seventh oldest Masjid in Bo Kaap, Cape Town This
was the first Masjid constructed by the Cape Muslims of the Hanafee School in 1881
in the Cape Colony.
This Masjid came into being through the influence of Abubakr Effendi; while the
second Hanafi Masjid in Loop Street was established as a result of the influx of
"Indian" Muslims at Cape Town from 1870 onwards. The Hanafi Masjid was also
called the Jami Masjid.
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 Imaam Slemman [Sulayman] Salie in 1888. In 1886
Sahamahomed travelled through Western Asia and Europe; in 1893 - 1894 he
journed 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 332].
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 29th, 1911 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 21st, 1923 Shahmohamed wrote to the University of Cape
Town with regard to the founding of a chair in Eastern Plilosoiphy and language, in
which he stated: "I enclose Union Government Stock Certificate Number 12192,
dated August 14th, 1923, to the value of 1,000.0.0d [One Thousand Pounds Sterling]
and hope to make further additions thereto."
Shahmohamed 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 a large sum of money in trust for this purpose. He died in 1927.
1883 Public Health Act No. 4 of 1883
The Public Health Act No. 4 of 1883 dealt with the closure of the Muslim cemetery
in Cape Town called Tana Baru, The closure of Tana Baru was against the wishes of
the Cape Muslim community. When the Act became law on January 15th, 1886, the
Cape Muslims did not have an alternate burial ground. Their sustained and tireless
efforts in negotiations with the Cape authorities over a period of ten years were to
no avail. The Cape Muslims refused to accept the burial site granted to them at the
Maitlan Cemetery saying that it was too far to carry their dead.
The Muslim community was totally united in their opposition to the Cape
Government's policy of closing Tana Baru. They did not recognise the Public Health
Act No. 4 of 1883 as a measure in the interest of public health, especially since [ they
argued] that their cemetery was well maintained, relatively empty and that they
buried their dead six feet deep. The Muslim cemetery constituted no danger to
public health - this view was supported by the evidence of Dr. Ebdon, Medical
Officer of Health to the Cape Municipal Cemetery Commission of 1859.
To be continued - Insha'Allah
Was Salamualaykum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuhu.
Abdul Hamid Lachporia
(1) "The Mosques of Bo-Kaap"
A social history of Islam at the Cape 1980
by Achmat Davids
Director of Social Services
Muslim Assembly (Cape).
(2) "History of Muslims in South Africa"
A Chronology 1993.
by Ebrahim Mahomed Mahida