Heritage alive

Niezaar Abrahams, Eastridge

In order to know who you are, you must know where you come from.

This is so true for all of us. The early Muslims arrived in the Cape Colony as part of the Afro-Asian migration.The term Afro-Asian immigrants refer to all those groups (slaves, servants, criminals and political prisoners) who came to the Cape as involuntary immigrants.

From these groups descended the free blacks. In 1654 the first slaves were brought to the Cape and by 1808, 63 000 slaves had been imported to the Cape.

It is important to note that not all slaves were Muslim. The slaves came mostly from three regions – East Africa, Indonesia and India.

The Africans were 27%, Malays 31% and Indians 36% of the slave population. These groups became one through marriage. And later the slaves with the Khoisan heritage became known as coloureds.

Before the European colonisation, Islam was the religion of the majority in East Africa and Indonesia and the minority in India. The Shafi fiqh (law) Ash’ari aqeeda(creed) was the dominant math’hab (school of thought) in these regions except India. Islam was also strengthened by the many learned and pious scholars like Sheikh Yusuf of Macassar and others. Particularly Imam Abdullah (Tuan Guru 1712-1807), a Muslim exile from Indonesia. His Islamic scholarship and deep piety made a lasting impression on the local slave and free black population. In 1804 the Muslims gained religious freedom.

Today, the majority descendants of the early Muslims still follow the Shafi/Ash’ari school of thought. This shows clearly that we are still following our Islamic heritage. May Allah reward our forefathers who brought Islam to the Cape. Aameen.

● Niezaar Abrahams is a fourth year student at Qaasimul uloom (College of Sharia and Arabic Language). He cites from Cape Muslim History by Dr Achmat David’s and Dr Yusuf da Costa.