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350 years of Islam in South Africa- Part 5

 

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 [1875].

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

1886

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]

Rhode, died.

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

Green Point.

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

Toronto. Canada.

July/August 2004

Source:

(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

 

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