Saturday, August 8, 2015




1. Establishment of Islam at the Cape: 1652-1800
2. The Growth of lslam in the 19th Century
3. Cape Islamic Expansion in the 20th Century
4. Regional Islamic Increase in the 21st Century


In this booklet I limit myself to the establishment and the expansion of Islam in the Western Cape. The former would then refer to the period up to approximately 1800 and the expansion thereafter up to the present. The Indian Muslims, who came to the Cape mainly as traders, are not discussed here. Likewise, the Ahmediyya Sect, which had some influence in the Cape between 1946 and 1965, has not been researched. The latter group has to be regarded as peripheral for the Western Cape.

Globally, the spread of Islam could be attributed to some extent to the failure of the Church. Right from the pristine beginnings of the religion there was the combination of doctrinal hair-splitting and the lack of committed Christians, who could show Muhammad the way to a living faith in Jesus. In general, these factors also played some role. In addition to that, there were also other growth factors at the Cape.

Ashley D.I. Cloete
July 2015

Contents in more Detail


Probably the first Muslims who arrived at the Cape were the Mardyckers. The word Mardycka implies freedom.[1] The Mardyckers were free people from Amboyna, a south Moluccan island of the Indonesian Archipelago. They were brought to the Cape to protect the newly established settlement against the indigenous people and to provide a labour force in the same way as they had been employed first by the Portuguese and later by the Dutch colonial government in Amboyna. The Mardyckers arrived at the Cape in 1658.

Islam was introduced to the Indonesian Archipelago by trade, via the sea and not by conquest. The Islamization gathered momentum in the East after 1450 when Muslim traders from India began to settle in their ports of call and married the local Indonesians. The penetration of Islam in the region was accelerated initially as a reaction to the Portuguese and later by fear of the growth of Dutch power, described as‘a reaction to the militant Roman Catholicism that was propagated by the Portuguese and the Calvinism of the Dutch’ (Boxer, The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 1966:143). This induced the Indonesian rulers to strengthen their ties with the Muslim rulers of lndia and with the holy city of Mecca. Their religious practices and activities - in terms of Dutch colonial policy - had been severely restricted. Already in 1642 it was found necessary to issue a 'Piacaat' (decree) which prohibited them on pain of death from practising their religion or converting heathens or Christians, though they were allowed to practise in private. To allow for the practice or their religion at the Cape of Good Hope, Johan Maetsuycker, the Batavian Governor, re-issued the following placaat:
'No one shall trouble the Amboinese about their religion or annoy them;
so long as they do not practise in public or venture to propagate it amongst Christian and Heathen ... ' (Cited by Aspeling, The Malays of Cape Town, 1883:17).

Religious Exiles

The great influx of easterners to the Cape of Good Hope began in 1667. The year 1667 also saw the arrival of the first religious exiles banished to the Cape. A plaque at the tomb on 'Islam Hill' in Constantia commemorate these men:
' .. .They were rulers 'Orang Cayen', men of wealth and influence .. .Two were sent to the Company's forest and one to Robben Island.'

Because of their isolation by the Dutch East India Company (DETC) or VOC (Vereenigde Oost  Indische Compagnie) - to minimise their chances of escape - the prominent exiles hardly had any influence on the establishment and spread of Islam at the Cape (Davids, The Mosques of Bo-Kaap, 1980:37). Probably the best known of the Orang Cayen is Shaykh Yusuf of Macassar. His real name was Abidin Tadia Tjoessoep.
After his noble resistance against the Dutch, Tjoessoep was regarded as a 'kramat'- a saint. As a political convict he was exiled to the Cape of Good Hope in I694, coming here on board of the Voetboog. Tjoessoep and his 49 followers were housed on the farm Zandvliet, near the mouth of the Eerste River.
Here Tjoessoep's settlement soon became a sanctuary for fugitive slaves. In financing this project, the Dutch authorities made a noteworthy contribution  - albeit unintentionally of course - to the establishment of Islam at the Cape (Davids, Imams and conflict Resolution Practices among the Cape Muslim in the Nineteenth Century, Kronos 22, Journal of Cape History, 1992:85). It was here that the first cohesive Muslim community in South Africa was established. But almost the entire community was shipped to Indonesia after the death of Tjoessoep in May, 1699.

The Cape was officially made a place of confinement for high-ranking prisoners in 1681. Many slaves came from Ternate, a flourishing sultanate in the Moluccas, some from Macassar in the Celebes. Of all the Indonesian political exiles brought to the Cape Shaykh Yussuf (Tjoessoep) is regarded by some scholars as the most important. Another exile sent to an outlying area was the Rajah (King) of Tambora. He lived at Vergelegen, Willem Adriaan van der Stel's country residence. While at Vergelegen, he wrote the Qur‘ran from memory. His isolation was very effective. Thus he hardly had contact with other easterners who were at the Cape at the time. Throughout his banishment at the Cape there is no evidence that the Rajah of Tambora assisted to spread Islam in any way (Shell, 1974:24). Some regents, kings, princes and more radical freedom fighters such as Achmat, Prince of Ternate and the Rajah (= King) of Madura, were sent to Robben Island.

The Slaves

In the years after Van Riebeeck's arrival in 1652, the greatest problem for the new colonists was labour. After 1717 slave labour was favoured and immigration discouraged. The result was that in 1756 there were 5123 freemen and 6387 slaves, the majority of whom were Indonesian - many of these were Muslim (Townsend, Bokaap Faces and Fačades 1977:9). By 1767 there were so many slaves that the Company forbade further import. Achmat Davids (1980:40) gives much credit to the slaves for establishing Islam at the southern tip of the African continent. The spread of lslam in Indonesia had been slow. When the Dutch took over, many areas still practised animistic forms of worship. To avoid costly wars, the Dutch avoided those areas in the Archipelago where Islam had taken root. The islands of Bali, Timor, Buton, Java and the Celebes, which were barely affected by Islam in the early 1600s, were the places from which the Dutch obtained their slaves. Although most Indonesians who arrived at the Cape were slaves, 'Islam did not arrive as an established way of living but developed into one' (Townsend, 1977:11). They were either recent converts or pagan on arrival.

With the exception of a few former soldiers from Europe, the Indonesian slaves were the only artisans in the town. Some slaves, on payment of a fee to their owners, lived independently of them and worked wherever they wished in the town. This freedom enabled them to attend or hold religious meetings, a practice which kept the slaves in contact with one another. Rochlin (Aspects of Islam in the nineteenth century, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies,1939:214) cites from the records of George Foster of 1777 that already in the 1770s a few of these slaves met weekly in a private house belonging to a free Muslim 'in order to read, or rather chant, several prayers and chapters of the Koran'.

The religious element was added predominantly by the slaves from Bengal, the Malabar Coast and the mainland of India. From a numerical analysis of the origin of the slaves who came to the Cape, Frank Bradlow deduced that 'a larger proportion came from India' than from the 'Malay Archipelago' (Bradlow and Cairns, The Early Cape Muslims,1978:83). The contribution of these slaves on the religious front was however all-important.

Unlike the Indonesians, these slaves had a long tradition of Islam. In the 18th century they were assisted by the slaves of the Celebes, namely the Boughies albeit - with regard to the latter - 'we can be very sceptical about their knowledge of and commitment to the new religion (Islam)' (Shell, 1974:11). But the Bugies were among the most advanced people of the Archipelago. The most prominent of the slaves from the Celebes was the slave imam Jan van Boughies.

The Convicts

Rob Shell (1974:50) concludes that the biggest credit for establishing Islam at the Cape belongs to the convicts. For many years the Cape was used as a convict station. The first convict who was sent to the Cape arrived in 1654. Thereafter many convicts were brought to the Cape. Some in chains were required to work 'zonder loon' (without pay) for periods ranging from ten years to life. After the smallpox epidemic of 1713, the surviving convicts were set free. In 1743 more convicts were brought to the Cape as cheap labour to build a new breakwater.

When the sentences of the convicts expired, some returned to Indonesia, but the majority stayed on at the Cape. When freed, these convicts formed part of the 'Vrijezwarten' community. They were the people greatly responsible for the consolidation of Islam at the Cape of Good Hope (Davids, 1980:42).

Together with slaves they met in homes for Islamic prayer meetings. Several of them possessed property and were financially independent and formed a small Muslim clergy class.

The 'ulema' (clergy), consisted of imams (priests) and shaykhs (learned men) was led by the Tuans (Malay word for teacher). Davids (1980:43) highlighted their contribution ' ... the verve and enthusiasm, with which they propagandised the religion ... their patience, perseverance and hope in adverse conditions and at a time when only the Dutch Reformed Church was officially allowed to propagate and worship freely.' The religion was spread by word of mouth despite harsh DEIC laws which included confiscation of the slaves plus a stiff fine 'on all who suffered their .. slaves to embrace the tenets of Mohammedanism' (Shell, 1997:269) citing from Theal 's Records…Vol. 9:13lf). Cape Islam might have faded out - after the start given by Shaykh Yusuf - if it were not for the new politico-religious exiles who arrived in the 18th century. The most prominent of these Cape Muslims were Said Aloewie of Mocca in Yemen and Imam Abdullah Abdus Salaam. They are known respectively as Tuan Said and Tuan Guru in the oral traditions.

Tuan Said was brought to the Cape in 1744, listed as a Mohammedaanse priest who was sentenced to life in chains. He served a sentence of 11 years on Robben Island before being brought to Cape Town where he became a policeman. It was this job which allowed him to visit the slave quarters and propagandise Islam.

Tuan Guru was brought to the Cape as a State prisoner in 1780 from Tidore, which was a flourishing Muslim Sultanate in the Moluccas. Tuan Guru had a thorough understanding of Islam, in contrast to other Cape Indonesians. One of his first accomplishments was the writing of the Qur‘ran from memory for the use of the Cape Muslims (Zwemer, Islam at Cape Town, The Muslim World, Volume XV: 1925:564). Tuan Guru also wrote M'arifatul lslami wali mani (Manifestations of Islam and faith) in 1781 while he was imprisoned on Robben Island.

The occult Element

The religious convicts added the occult element well before their graves were turned into shrines through Sufism. Dangor (1994:55) highlighted that Shaykh Yusuf, who is generally regarded as the founder of Islam at the Cape, belonged to the Khalwatiyyah Sufi order. He was also regarded as a ' wali Allah' (friend of God) by the people of Maccasar from where he hailed. There they bestowed on him the nickname of Toewang Salamah (the blessed Master). Da Costa (in Da Costa and Davids, Pages from Cape Muslim History, 1994:22) notes 'There can be little doubt that as the paramount spiritual director of the Khalwatiyyah order, Shaykh Yusuf must have used the practices of that order as the social glue with which to keep these structures intact.' Lubbe (Robben Island: The early years of Muslim Resistance, Kronos, 12, 1987:51) pointed out that South African Muslims commemorate the Rajah (King) whose grave on Robben Island was turned into a shrine at quite an early stage - not with his Javanese title, but as Shaykh Madura. This denotes that he was one of the Sufi leaders. Lubbe claimed (1987:54) that 'it is today commonly acknowledged that it was mainly due to the presence of the Sheiks of Tasawwuw' (Sufism) that Islam was initially established.' The Sufi orders have had a vital role in the establishment and spread of Islam through the centuries, as Da Costa (Islam in Greater Cape Town (Doctoral thesis), 1989:50) says: 'The orders, binding together individuals under a supernatural bond, were themselves a social power.' The mystical practice of the commemorating days after the death of Cape Muslims is today so common that local Muslims would possibly regard this as belonging to orthodox Islam. Occult elements were linked to the graves of the saints on the authority of no less than the Holy Prophet of Islam himself, e.g, that 'the grave of a Wali is unlike that of an ordinary person. their bodies do not decay or perish, but remain intact and fresh' (Guide to the Kramats ... , 1996:12). About a saint buried in the Muizenberg mountain it is reported that 'the grave was discovered by a lady who was directed to it in a dream' (Guide to the Kramats ..., 1996:12). In general, Cape Muslims never doubted that supernatural powers were operating at the shrines. However, the Islamic community is divided on the value of prayers at these shrines.[2] Yusuf da Costa, has showed quite conclusively (e.g. his contribution The influence of Tasawwuf on Islamic Practices at the Cape, Da Costa and Davids, 1994:129) how Sufism influenced Capetonian Islam extensively. Like possibly no other Muslims, Sufis believe in the love of God.  “The earliest Sufis... saw that obedience to God must be a heart response rather than mere observance... They laid great stress on a personal experience of God”, responding to Him with love. (NazirAli, Islam: a Christian Perspective, 1983:61).   An occult element became part and parcel of Folk Islam at the Cape, e.g. with the commemoration of the deceased - 7, 40 and 100 days after their death.

Ancestor Worship and Witchcraft

Since times immemorial ancestor worship had been practised in primal religions, and still is being done all over the world. It is said that an early Cape imam foresaw prophetically that a 'holy circle' of shrines would come about. That imam is reputed to have stated that all Muslims who live within a holy circle of tombs 'will be free of fire, famine, plague, earthquake and tidal wave'. Witchcraft is part of such a setting. Islamic talismans were added. The link between Cape Islam and the occult is typified by one of their great pioneers, Paay Schaapje (Shaykh Nuruman), who was banished to the Cape. It was asserted that Shaykh Nuruman, sent to Robben Island in 1770, gave talismans in Malay script to runaway slaves. The Islamic clergyman acquired the reputation that he not only gave advice to slaves, but that he could prophesy the future and protect the Cape Muslims from evil. Islam profited in I785 when two slaves ran away from Cape Town with an Islamic talisman, which they said they had obtained from a 'Mohammedan priest' to protect them from capture. Shaykh Nuruman was possibly the Muslim clergyman referred to.

The contribution of Shaykh Nuruman to the establishment and initial spread of Islam, has generally been grossly underrated. The combination of being a Sufi priest with occult powers of witchcraft, as well as being a champion for the human rights of the oppressed, must have made him immensely popular among the slaves (Lubbe, Robben Island: The early years of Muslim Resistance, 1987:54). Davids (1985:39 ) wrote about Shaykh Nuruman: 'He went about teaching Islam, instilling hope in his community while they were suffering.' No wonder that he became a thorn in the flesh of the authorities and was therefore promptly despatched to Robben Island. It was on this foundation on which Tuan Guru's Marifatul Islami wal Iman. (Manifestations of Islam and faith) could build, adding the philosophical element and including in his treatise a discussion of amulets and sacred cures. Islam became even more popular among slaves, a religion where they could overcome the class barriers and be equal with others.

In Christian circles there has been general indifference until today - possibly due to Western rationalism  - to the idea that the shrines worked in coalition with other forces for the protection of Islam. Dr LD. Du Plessis was an exception. He mentioned as a matter of course the supernatural power of water which had been left at the Kramat of Shaykh Yusuf in Macassar. He was evidently also aware of the demonic origins of the special powers of the doekoems - Muslim sorcerers. Already in his book of 1939 Die Maleise Samelewing aan die Kaap, Dr. I.D. Du Plessis remarked casually - not critically at all - how the doekoem received 'bonatuurlike kragte in ruil vir sy siel om middernag op die kerkhof'[3] (Du Plessis, 1939:22). The uncritical stance of Du Plessis is not completely surprising. The apartheid ideology flourished in the Afrikaner circles from which Du Plessis originated. He was a member of the Afrikaner Broederbond. Devout Christians in the three Afrikaans churches were uneasy about the secretive aspects of this organisation and Freemasonry, but the demonic roots of the latter movement had not been generally recognized.

The Colonists

In the 18th century, the Dutch colonists contributed to quite an extent to the spread of Islam through their rejection of slaves. The increase of Muslims was a matter of concern for the Dutch authorities who now tried to control their numbers through legislation. Among the decrees which had been issued was one which prohibited the sale of baptised Christian slaves and the circumcision of male slaves. In the Chapter on 'Slaves' in the Statutes of lndia of 10 April 1770, Article nine, states:
The Christians are held bound to instruct their slaves ... without compulsion in the Christian Religion, and have them baptized, ... and such as may have been confirmed in the Christian Religion, shall never be sold ...
The application of the decree proved to be counterproductive. Many slave owners at the Cape interpreted this as a threat to their property, believing that their slaves would become free if they were Christianized. These slave owners thereafter neglected every form of Christian instruction for their slaves. Percival (An Account of the Cape of Good Hope, London, 1804:275) gathered the same information from hearsay as the chief motive to deny baptism. The total registered population at the Cape in 1775 was 12,000. Approximately half of this number was slaves, many of whom had become Muslim. By 1800, the pews in the Groote Kerk of Cape Town, which had been reserved traditionally for the use of slaves, were empty Sunday after Sunday (Marais, 1939:168). To be fair to the colonists we have to mention that Marais said in the same context: 'At this very time the new interest in missionary work began to make itself felt on behalf of the slaves'. The South African Missionary Society (SAMS), which was formed in 1799, from its beginnings concentrated on the slaves. Rochlin (Aspects of Islam in the nineteenth century, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies,1939:216) points to another reason: 'The proprietors do not in general discourage the embracing of Mohammedanism. They probably prefer to have slaves of this persuasion in their wine-sellers, from the sobriety which their religion inculcates.' In the same context he shows that the colonists, fearing the loss of their property, even encouraged the spread of Islam among them, claiming that a sober slave is an asset around the house.


In 1812 the tragic clause around the baptism of slves was repealed by the governor, John Cradock, but other legislation reinforced the slave-owners' belief that Christianising their slaves was another way of emancipating them. In 1817 legislation was modified to provide elementary education for Christian slave children, but this remained burdensome to the owners. By 1823 it was decreed that Christian slave children should be sent to government free schools, but this was not observed by the owners.

Objection to Baptism as a Growth Factor
The Christian education of the slaves in the colony was high on the agenda of the South African Missionary Society (SAMS). When objection to baptism became known to them, they had to act. Despairingly Rev. Vos of Tulbagh, its leader and spokesman, wrote to the authorities on the 9th of March 1812:
Sir! Exclusive of the false prejudice of the so-called Christians ... there is another obstacle in this country to the progress of Christianity ... 'tis, namely that a slave who is baptized may not be sold. This circumstance is the occasion that the proprietors of slaves, who may possess truly Christian hearts ... object to their being baptized
(Cited from Theal's Records of the Cape Colony by Shell, 1974:43).

Neglect of religious Instruction
The neglect of religious instruction was also extended by the slave owners to the slave children, 'for fear of them being lost to them on their becoming Christians' (cited by Shell, 1974:43). The slave-owners offered many explanations why slaves were not receiving Christian education. The most important one was that there were no suitable buildings for this purpose. The sincerity of these excuses has to be doubted. The suggestion of Aspeling (The Malays of Cape Town, 1883:3) about the slave-owners seems to be more to the point: 'studying their own intents, (they) preferred their slaves embracing the Mohometan faith, in which case they would remain in bondage.' Bird, a colonial official, came to the same conclusion. Writing in 1822, he notes that whenever one asked a slave why he had become Muslim, the reply was: 'some religion he must have and he is not allowed to tum Christian ' (Bird, State of the Colony, 1822:349).

Obstacles as a rallying Point for the Muslims

In the very early years of the Cape of Good Hope, racial prejudice was less common amongst the colonists. 'Multi-racial marriages were common occurrences, land grants to people of colour were made adjacent to land granted to Whites, the first secular school had a distinctive multi-racial character, and at least the Governor, Simon van der Stel, had eastern blood mixed in his veins' (Davids, 1987:60). Perceptions were however changing fast. Already after the wedding of Krotoa, who became Eva after her baptism to Pieter van Meerhoff in 1664, it was deemed a disgrace for colonists to marry someone of colour.

The Cape, as part of the Indian Empire of the Dutch East India Company, was governed in terms of the Statutes of India. The latter were quite severe on Islam. The religion was only tolerated at the Cape, but great difficulties were placed in the way of Muslims. They were denied citizen rights, their marriages were declared unlawful and they needed special permission to remain in the Cape Colony. This facilitated the separation of mothers from children -another reason for Christian slave owners to encourage their slaves to embrace Islam (Shell, 1997:273). Their homes were entered and searched by the police at their discretion and without warrants.
A side effect of these measures was that it cemented the common Islamic bond as repressive measures through the ages have always done.

Differences in worship distanced the Muslim slaves from the White colonists at the dawn of the nineteenth century. Racial discrimination was soon added to religious prejudice. The colonists came to regard their white skin as a symbol of supremacy and a dark pigmentation spelled inferiority. The roots of this racial discrimination can be found in the class differentiation which had developed in Western Europe. At the Cape the economic differences were compounded by racial differences, with the Cape Muslims doubly disadvantaged. But their economic deprivation aligned them with the other disadvantaged of the society at the time - the other slaves and the Free Blacks. They shared with them a similar bondage, racial oppression and a similar social background.

The unifying factor of oppression aided the founding of the first Cape Muslim religious school in 1793 (Davids, 1987:62). The school - more than any other factor at this time - was the major contributor to slaves being converted to Islam. By 1807 the school had an enrolment of 372 slave and free Black students. This number increased to 491 in 1825 (Davids, 1987:62).

Things improved for the underprivileged especially in the period after the promulgation of Ordonnance 1828, which put everybody on equal footing before the law. This was followed by the municipal franchise in 1839 and parliamentary vote in terms of the new constitution of 1853. But these measures were still qualified. Thus of the 6435 Muslims in Cape Town at the time, 830 qualified to vote in 1842, a little less than 50% of the total registered number of voters (Davids, 1937:62). The Cape Muslims were initially disinterested in the political structures, perhaps because they were pre-occupied with the consolidation of Islam in the region. 'From their perception, the granting of religious freedom was not a right but a privilege, granted by the infidel authority and liable to be withdrawn at his whim and fancy' (Davids, 1987:62).

They realised in due course that it was only in terms of numbers that they could make an impact on the society at the Cape. This called for active propagation of Islam among the section of the community where they could expect the most appeal, among the slaves and the Free Blacks.

The Behaviour and Attitude of Cape Christians

The majority of the materialistic colonists rejected the slaves, even in the Groote Kerk and the Lutheran Church. Towards the end of the 18th century the Dutch Reformed minister of Stellenbosch, Meent Borcherds, made no secret of his opposition to mission work. Du Plessis referred to the growing negativity between the colonists and missionaries, which became 'a mighty barrier of suspicion and hatred' (Du Plessis, 1911:78).

But there were also exceptions to the rule. Rev. Michiel Vos of Caledon, after his return from a missionary stint in Ceylon, reported about the celebration of the Lord's Supper with baptized slaves in his congregation: 'some slave-owners even chose to sit at the same table as their slaves.' That was quite revolutionary for the time.

Unfortunately occasions like these were very isolated. Thus Rev. Sanders could write in a letter, (cited in Lightfoot, 1900:33) ' ... the black man has no desire to enter into the Christian faith, whose gates have been long shut against them .. .The black man ... prefers joining with those who have been his friends in distress ... ' The separation of families must surely have been one of the factors towards this attitude. Where family ties could be broken at the mere whim of the slave-owner, the family as an institution had little chance to get a positive image.

Indicative of the attitude of colonists - which continued long after slave emancipation - was an example how the wife of a company official, the Fiscal Johannes Truter (who became the Chief Justice) used her house slaves. They had to 'carry her holy book and footstool to the door of God's house, but when they arrive, their load is taken from them, the door is shut upon them, and they are bound to wait in the street until the service is concluded: then they bear back the proud mistress' stool and the blessed book .. .' (Theal, Records of the Cape Colony, XXIX:221-222). The case of Truter is especially very sad if one considers that he had close links to the evangelical Z.A. Gesticht. The SAMS was indirectly implicated in a criminal case which can be regarded as a macabre precursor of the Steve Biko death in custody of 1977. Spadille, a Muslim slave, was sent to prison. He had been accused of stealing some of Chief Judge Truter's shirts. The slave was flogged so terribly that he died in police custody. Truter abused his authority to influence the jail surgeon to declare that Spadille died a natural death. Thereafter the unfortunate Spadille was buried ' in the darkness of the night, and silently put into the ground' (Theal, Records of the Cape Colony, XXIX:222).

If the condescending and negative attitude of White Christians could be regarded as the rule at the end of the 19th century, there were however also exceptions. Eric Aspeling, a Cape Colonist, wrote for instance: ‘Care should be taken not to excite or wound the Malays by using harsh or satirical expressions in discussing religious questions with them’ (Aspeling,1883:18).

Efforts by the Early Muslim Community

In the light of the repressive Statutes of India, the remarkable courage and dedication of the early Cape Muslims need to be appreciated. Men like Tuan Guru, Tuan Said and the other imams of the time not only used their homes for worship, but also instructed others. They propagandised Islam at great peril to their lives and their limited freedom.

The 19th century dawned with great hope for the Muslim community at the Cape. After !50 years of intense struggle to establish their religion in this region, they were now on the verge of a breakthrough. In an atmosphere of partial tolerance and racial prejudice, Islam started to emerge as the religion of the slaves in Cape Town. The first step in this direction was the establishment of the Dorp Street Madressa (Koran School) in 1793 (Davids, 1992:87), linked to the release of Tuan Guru. This religious school was established with very few students, but the number increased so rapidly that soon - in 1794 - a mosque was required.

From the first British occupation in 1795, things were beginning to turn favourably towards them. They approached the British commander for permission to erect a mosque, because 'the obstruction to the free exercise of their religion was prejudicial to the conduct of the lower classes' (Davids, 1987:59). General Craig readily agreed to their request. When Batavian rule came in 1803, they could fall back on this commitment, which finally led to the second Muslim sanctuary, the Palm Tree Mosque in Long Street (1807).

The school and the mosques were the first religious institutions of the Cape Muslims. The accommodation in the same premises 'made this joint institution a convenient vehicle and cultural ecological base for the transmission of Islamic socio-cultural ideas in the slave community' (Davids, 1992:87).

The phenomenal success of these institutions can be attributed to the efforts and philosophy of the founder, Imam Abdullah ibn Kadi Abdus Salaam, who is much better known by the name Tuan Guru. His philosophical theology united the slaves and free Blacks. It also provided a possibility of social mobility as well as a fair degree of protection for the slaves from the possible harsh treatment of their Free Black slave-masters (Davids, 1992:87). Tuan Guru's M'arifatul lslami wali mani (Manifestations of Islam and faith) had become the main text book of the school and also became the main reference book of the Cape Muslim community during the nineteenth century (Davids, 1992:88). Rochlin (Aspects of Islam in the nineteenth century, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies,1959:50) points out that Qur'ans were already available for local religious purposes before 1806.

A system of social relations evolved through Tuan Guru's writings and efforts. The slaves and Free Black slave-owners co-existed harmoniously. In terms of this system, it was possible for a slave to be appointed as imam. Evidence exists which shows that slaves this happened (Davids, 1992:88). Davids's proposition in this context that this was ‘certainly more than what Christianity had to offer the slaves during the same period of our history,' must be termed an understatement. The nearest the Christians came to this was the intention of the Dutch missionary Johannes van der Kemp. He was eager to train African missionaries to be used on a par with Whites, and even to put them in charge of mission stations. But this attitude was reversed early in the 19th century. The Moravians and the Wesleyans (Methodists) appeared to have been the exception, to make consistent use of indigenous people to spread the Gospel.
The Muslim slaves themselves also played a role in the spread of Islam. Owners of domestic slaves preferred them because of their sober habits. Another factor for the owners to encourage Islam was the fact that the best artisans in Cape Town were Muslim: 'the artisans set an example of industry which the owners wished their slaves would follow' (Shell, 1974:47). The adoption of destitute White children by charitable Malay women and the direct addition of 'renegade white men and women' (Lightfoot, 1900:30) also accounted for the swelling of the numbers of Muslims.

Shell (1983) categorized the conversion of slaves. He distinguishes between domestic and extrinsic conversion. Under the former group..., there are the adoption of orphans, the purchase of slaves who later adopted Islam and then there was marriage. Extrinsic conversion occured when someone adopted the dress of Muslims or claimed to have been a Malay to obtain a favoured job or to send his children to the madressa schools. Shell (1983:34) also refers to the elaborate display of the Cape Muslim burial as a factor for conversion for 'many potential converts who contemplated both the Christian and Muslim modes of internment... Unlike the Calvinist burial, the Muslim ceremony was never a private affair; no one was excluded ... dignity and care were bestowed on the dead of their flock.'

On the other hand, there were also reports by word of mouth which were not favourable. As early as 1804, Percival (1804:288) reports with some substantiation: ' The slaves of the Malay race ... are extremely vindictive, treacherous and ferocious; ... They are indeed a scourge to the people they come amongst.' Even if this prejudicial judgement appears to have been quite common, it does not seem to have affected the spread of Islam negatively. In fact, if this was the opinion of many colonists, it might even have become counterproductive, in terms of missionary prowess. Many representatives of African tribes were willingly received into the Islamic brotherhood, with a saying going around that 'De Slamse kerk is de zwarte mans Kerk' (Lightfoot, 1900:30). Bird (1822:349) reported that ‘more converts among Negroes and Blacks of every description’ are made from Paganism to the Muslim faith than to the Christian religion.

It is generally agreed that the period of most rapid growth of Islam at the Cape was the period between 1800 and the final emancipation of slaves in 1838 (Shell, 1974:36). From a relatively small community in the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Cape Muslim community grew to a third of the population of Cape Town, about 6435 persons in 1842.

Liberalism at the Cape

Changes in Cape Town were bound to come with the advent of the 19th century. As a result of the French Revolution, a spirit of liberalism had emerged in Europe which the Cape administration could no longer ignore.

Janssens and de Mist, the new Governors on behalf of the Batavian Republic in 1803, had been greatly influenced by the spirit of liberalism. During their short rule, they introduced liberal measures, among which was the granting of religious freedom on 25th July, 1804.

The Cape Muslim community was riding on the crest of the wave. 'With the availability of five prayer rooms, a burial ground having been granted to Frans van Bengalen in 1805 by the authorities, and an active Muslim school together with freedom of worship and conversion without concealment, Islam in the Western Cape really took root' (Davids,1980:47).

The spirit of liberalism, started by Janssens and De Mist, was continued by the British rulers. In 1828, with the promulgation of Ordinance 50, the Hottentots' Liberties Ordinance, a process was set in motion that augured well for all people of colour even though it hardly influenced racial and religious prejudice. At the time of the emancipation of slaves in 1834, Islam was a flourishing religion in the Western Cape. Even in the country districts - notably :n Worcester and Paarl, their numbers were increasing (Shell, 1974:46).

The Role of Malayu as a unifying Language

Davids shows quite conclusively that the use of a common language was a major factor in the spread of Islam at the Cape. The language spoken by the Indonesians was Malayu. This language contributed to the growth and unity of the slave culture, which was very religious, and attracted non-Muslims as well. It provided a bond for the Indonesians and a spur for the growth of Muslim Culture at the Cape.

Furthermore, as Shell (1974:39) points out, 'The language certainly acted as a bar to the Christian religion being propagated among these Indonesians ... ' He quotes a colonial official in 1828 from Theal's Records (35:370): 'the slaves should be assembled in a separate place of worship and ... a preacher, who understood the Malay language, be appointed by the government in the same manner as is observed at Batavia, for their special instruction.' There was however not reacted upon this advice. This might have been influenced by the disappointment of William Elliot, who at least knew Arabic. It seems that Elliot was not able to win the trust of the Muslims. The Mission to Muhammedans stopped with his resignation in 1828. Furthermore, hereafter 'all arriving missionaries leap-frogged the heavily Islamized town to go to more successful and frontier missions among the indigenous peoples' (Shell, 1997:275).

The Cape Muslim community used the common slave language Malayu to its full potential at the expense of the Christian churches, who did not grasp the importance of conveying religious ideas in a language easily understood by the slaves. After Petrus Kalden and Georg Schmidt - respectively in the 1690s and 1737 - the new Moravian missionaries at Genadendal seemed to have been the exception at the Cape to realise the importance of language sufficiently as a vehicle of communication to impart religious values and tenets at the turn of the century.[4]

Malayu was spoken and written in Arabic script at the religious school. The slaves who were brought from South-East Asia to the Cape, could speak Malayu. This was already the religious language of the eastern slaves in South-East Asia, prior to the Dutch invasion of the islands.

However, Malayu did not remain the prime language very long. The slaves were required to communicate in Dutch. This Dutch became creolised to form the spoken Afrikaans of the Cape Muslim community, and started to replace Malayu - possibly already from 1815 - as the language of instruction at the Muslim religious school. Soon it also became the written language, albeit in Arabic script. The development of the new language in the circles of the other disadvantaged of the society at the time aided Islam. Their early use of Afrikaans gave the Cape Muslim community a distinct advantage over the other religious groups in Cape Town during the nineteenth century. The spoken language at home was the same language used in the mosque. This helped considerably to attract converts who were not comfortable in High Dutch or English (Davids, 1987:70). By 1823 there was already another mosque and a large religious school in Long Street in use for some time, as well as several smaller madaris or religious schools (Imperial Blue Book, 1835:210). By 1832 there were at least 12 madaris conducted from the homes of imams in Cape Town (Cape Almanac, 1832).

[1] According to Bỏeseken, Slaves and Free Blacks at the Cape, 1977:77 they were called ' vrije zwarten of mardijkers'

[2] Satanists also have their strongholds on the heights, e.g. at the fittingly named Devil's Peak and at Rhodes

[3] Translation: that the witch doctor received supernatural powers on the cemetery at midnight in exchange for
his soul.

[4] Ds. Frans Lion Cachet took over at the Ebenhaezer Church in Rose Street after the sudden death of Rev. Vogelgezang.  This parish was at this time linked to the Congregational Church (Cachet, 1875:82).Ds. Frans Lion Cachet initiated the remarkable innovation of teaching Arabic to the pupils. This was a display of keen insight since the Arabic script was common at the time among the Muslim slaves. He also had evening classes with the intention of enabling the children and adult pupils to read and understand the Qur’an and to judge for themselves.  Furthermore, two of the recruited Dutch teachers, Arnoldus Pannevis and Cornelis P. Hoogenhout, became staunch fighters for the Bible in the vernacular of the poor that would ultimately become the language Afrikaans.


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