Islam in South Africa

Islam in South Africa

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Islam in South Africa pre-dates the colonial period, and consisted of isolated contact with Arab and East Africa traders. Many South African Muslims are described as Coloureds, notably in the Western Cape, including those whose ancestors came as slaves from the Indonesian archipelago (the Cape Malays). Others are described as Indians, notably in Kwazulu-Natal, including those whose ancestors came as traders and indentured servants from South Asia; they have been joined by others from other parts of Africa as well as white or black South African converts. However, the current Muslim tradition in the country dates from the arrival of Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah, a Malay sheikh from Sumatra, in 1668.[1][2]



Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah was exiled to Constantia, Cape Town in the Cape by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) following his resistance to the Dutch occupation of the East Indies. The sheikh used his exile to consolidate the teaching of Islam among slaves in the Cape, many of whom came from Muslim backgrounds in Malaysia and Bengal.[1]

The VOC period

During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century the Dutch continued to exile Muslim leaders from Batavia to the Cape: they included Sheikh Yusuf of Bantam, who lived at Faure in Cape Town. Probably the first imam to live in Cape Town was Said Alochie of Mocha in Yemen, who was sentenced to work on Robben Island for ten years in 1747.[citation needed] Said Alochie later moved to Cape Town where he worked as a police constable - an occupation which gave him ample opportunities for visiting slave quarters at night to teach. In 1767 Prince Abdullah Kadi Abu Salaam of Tidore was exiled to the Cape. He wrote a copy of the Quran from memory, and the volume is still preserved in Cape Town; Abdullah assumed leadership of the community in Cape Town and became known as "Tuan Guru".[citation needed] In 1799 the growth of the community encouraged Cape Town's Muslims to petition the VOC for permission to build a mosque.[citation needed] Islam was a popular religion among the slaves - its tradition of teaching enabled literate slaves to gain better positions in their masters' households, and the religion taught its followers to treat their own slaves well.

Arrival of Indian Muslims

In 1800's there were two waves of Muslims that emigrated to South Africa from India. The first began with a wave of immigration by indentured labourers from South India in 1860's. These labourers were brought to South Africa by the British. 7-10% of these labourers were Muslim. The second wave of immigrants were merchants or traders ("Passenger Indians") that arrived from North India and settled in Natal, the Transvaal and the Cape. The first mosque in Natal, Juma Masjid, was built in Grey Street in Durban in 1884. It is now the largest mosque in the Southern Hemisphere.

After apartheid

Since South Africa became a democracy in 1994, there has been a growing number of Muslim migrants from South Asia and North Africa; however, their numbers are fairly low.[citation needed] Most of the Muslims are urban dwellers and thus live in or near Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London, Kimberley, Pretoria or Johannesburg.[citation needed]

New rise in conversions

Soofie Mosque - KwaZulu-Natal

According to converts quoted by the Christian Science Monitor, their biggest reason for the dramatic rise in Islam is that the religion is a refuge from sex, AIDS, alcoholism, and domestic violence that is rampant in the black townships, where the greatest rates of conversions are seen. It is estimated that Islam is the largest religion of conversion in South Africa.[3] Islam grew by six fold in thirteen years, during the time from 1991 to 2004.[4] Even though organizations such as IPCI, the Islamic Dawah Movement of South Africa, and the Africa Muslim Agency have been eager to proselytize in the region, there have been other civic organizations such as the MYMSA and the Call of Islam who considered other approaches to weave Islam into the social fabric of South Africa as a more significant way of making the Muslims' presence conspicuous.

According Michael Mumisa, a researcher and writer on African Islam, there has been an increase in the number of black South Africans converting to Islam particularly among the women and the youth. He believes that for some of the youth and women who were schooled in the politics of South African resistance and confrontation with the security forces of the former Apartheid state, the acceptance of Islam has become part of a radical rejection of a society based on Christian principles which are seen as having been responsible for establishing and promoting the Apartheid doctrine through the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. The influence of the radical ideas espoused by Malcolm X is very evident among South African Muslims of all races. Branches of the Nation of Islam are already established in South Africa. Louis Farrakhan paid a visit to South Africa and was received by President Nelson Mandela and African Muslim communities.

Another Reason has been the presence of a growing Number of Sufi Orders and Groups.[citation needed] Amongst these is the Murabitun, a group that has a strong following in Spain.

Political parties

When the first democratic elections took place in April 1994 two Muslim parties emerged, the Africa Muslim Party and the Islamic Party. The AMP contested the National Assembly as well as the provincial legislature and the IP contested only the Western Cape provincial legislature. Neither party was able to secure seats in either legislature.

No representative Muslim party contested the 1999 elections.

The 2004 elections were contested by the AMP and the Peace and Justice Congress, again without success.[5]


Besides political parties, a number of Islamic organisations operate in South Africa, looking after various aspects of Muslim life. Major organisations include the Muslim Judicial Council, whose activities include the provision of Halaal certification of food. The South African Hajj and Umrah Council (SAHUC) looks after the needs of South Africa's pilgrims and is responsible for the issuing of Hajj permits. There exist many other local organisations that look after the interests of their communities.[who?][citation needed]

Organisations such as PAGAD have received attention for their fight against the scourge[peacock term] of gangsterism and drugs. PAGAD consisted of mainly Muslim people, but were joined by people from various religions. PAGAD, as the name suggests, was ostensibly formed to combat the rising trends of gangsterism and drug use. It became known more prominently, however, as proponents of urban terror.[6] They were implicated in over 300 acts of violence, the majority of which involved explosives. PAGAD's operations largely ceased after the arrest and prosecution of its leaders in 2000.[7]

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is also present.

Prominent Muslims

Prominent Muslims are found in many spheres of South African life, notably in politics where they are represented at all levels of government.

Members of the Cabinet have included Naledi Pandor, former Minister of Education, and current Minister of Science and Technology, as well as Enver Surty. Essop Pahad and his brother Aziz Pahad. Other former Ministers include Kader Asmal (Education) and Dullah Omar [Justice,Transport].

In addition to Cabinet ministers, there are a number of Members of Parliament as well as councillors in the various provinces.[who?] The former Western Cape premier, Ebrahim Rasool, is Muslim (Rasool is currently serving as South Africa's Ambassador to the United States of America). Imam Hassan Solomon (Raham) was a Member of Parliament from 1994 until his death in 2009. During the struggle for liberation, Imam found himself being asked by many communities to preach, even in churches! He joined the United Democratic Front, seen by many as a front for the banned African National Congress (ANC). During his years in exile in Saudi Arabia, Imam Solomon furthered his Islamic education, but was always available to enlighten people on the situation in South Africa. Imam Solomon returned to South Africa in 1992, and took up a seat in the National Assembly in Parliament following the first democratic elections in 1994. He served Parliament until his death in 2009.

Ismail Mahomed was the first post-apartheid Chief Justice of South Africa.

In sport, the most prominent South African Muslim is Test cricketer Hashim Amla. In rugby, the new talent of Ismaeel Dollie has come to the fore.

Hazrat Sheikh Ahmed Badsha Peer was a highly respected Sufi. He arrived in South Africa in 1860 as an indentured labourer and was given an honourable discharge by the colonial British authorities when he was discovered to be mystic. . His tomb is at the Badsha Peer Square/Brook Street Cemetery in Durban.[8]

Abu Bakr Effendi was a Osmanli qadi who was sent in 1862 by the Ottoman sultan Abdülmecid I at the request of the British Queen Victoria to the Cape of Good Hope, in order to teach and assist the Muslim community of the Cape Malays.

Riaadh Moosa is a popular comedian.

South African schools of Islam

Most South African Muslims are members of the Sunni branch of Islam; there are however a small number of individuals who had converted to the Shi'a school. Although they were vocal in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they seem to have become part of the silent Muslim minority at the turn of the 21st century. This could be attributed to the fact that South Africa's large Sunni oriented community have not adopted a favourable and accommodating attitude towards the Shi'is, and that Iran's influence had dwindled in the 1990s. Organizations such as the Jamiat ul-Ulama of the Transvaal (est. 1923), The Muslim Judicial Council (est. 1945)The jamaa of nepali Muslims whose leader is today Dr Jigme Rai and Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa (est. 1970) enjoyed a fair amount of moral and financial support from the Muslim community for their social welfare activities. The once strong Muslim Students Association of South Africa (est. 1974), which had branches on many tertiary campuses, became less vocal and thus lost its grip on student activities; the MSA was thus replaced by Islamic societies that were either independent or affiliates of other Muslim organizations outside these institutions. The Muslim Students Association of South Africa has recently been very active once again. The first National Muslim Students Association of South Africa Conference (first in the last 10 years) was held in Durban in January 2004. MSA representatives from all over the country met here. This was hoped to be a new future of student work in the country. There is also a recent presence of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community who established in the country in 1946,[9] and a small community of Qur'an Alone Muslims.[10][11] There is also a Sufi community.[12][13]


Sunni's make up the majority of South African Muslims.


Most of the Indian community follow the Hanafi Madhab, while the Malay, Kokni Indian & East African Communities usually follow the Sha'afi madhab, which predominates in the Western Cape[citation needed]. There is also an increasingly large number of adherents to the Maliki madhab, composed mostly of recent West African and Maghribi Migrants.

Theological differences between Sunni and Salafi Muslims is noted.[14]


The Dominant traditions of scholarship are the rival South Asian Deobandi/Barelvi schools within the Indian Community.

The Malay Community has a much more varied tradition with graduates of Al-Azhar in Egypt, Umm-al Qurra in Mecca & other universities in Saudi Arabia & South Asia. Most of the Indian scholars are graduates from Deobandi affiliated Madrassahs.

Community & Interfaith Relations

A Mosque in Wynberg, Cape Town.

The Muslim community in South Africa lives in harmony with other faith communities. This religious cohesion is most obvious in the Indian and Coloured residential areas where Muslims live amongst, work with and attend school with fellow South Africans of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, Atheist and Agnostic beliefs. South African Muslims generally do not segregate themselves from people of other faiths. As per the culture in South Africa, it is not uncommon for South African Muslims, just like their fellow non-Muslims, to shake hands, hug or even kiss (in the case of close friends and distant or close family) as a greeting- even with non-mahrams. The National Interfaith Leadership Council, which advises President Zuma, includes former Western Cape premiere, Ibrahim Rasool.[15]

The Muslim community has been affected by a rise in drug abuse, particularly in Cape Town of the drug Tik (crystal meth[16] Crime and gangsterism are also visible in the poorer Muslim communities.[17]

Qur'ans are available in libraries including the National Library. During the month of Ramadan, many retail stores, radio stations (public and private), publications and organisations send messages of goodwill to the local Muslim community. Many muslim stores are closed on Eid-ul-Fitr.

Financial services providers such as First National Bank[18], ABSA bank[19], Standard Bank and Nedbank offer Sharia compliant financial solutions and banking products. South Africa also has several branches of Albaraka Bank (of Saudi Arabia), Habib Overseas Bank Ltd and HBZ Bank Ltd, which offers only Shari'a compliant banking. Oasis Crescent Management Group is also a financial service provider to Muslims in South Africa.Halal food products, butcheries, restaurants are widely available in South Africa although gender segregation is not common within South African society.

Interfaith Marriage

Interfaith marriages are legal in South Africa and Muslim women are not prohibited by law to marry non-muslims although it is not permissible in Islam.[20]


The majority[citation needed] of South African Muslim attend mixed gender public schools, while some attend private (mostly Catholic or Anglican) schools, where they are exempt from prayer sessions and Biblical curriculum. Islamic schools also exist as well as Madrasahs. Some institutions offer short courses on Islamic teaching, while Islamic Law and Islamic finance studies are also available.[21] Qu'ran Study groups are common and Arabic studies are available through private tutoring, or universities such as Wits University and University of the Western Cape.[22]

South Africa has also been bestowed with numerous Dar al-Ulums (institutes for higher Islamic learning). These institutes attract students from around the world. One salient feature of the Dar al-Ulums is that it teaches Islam in its pristine purity.

Some famous Dar al-Ulums are: 1)Dar al-Ulum Zakariyyah, 2) Dar al-Ulum Azaadville, 3) Dar al-Ulum Benoni, 4) Dar al-Ulum Newcastle, 5) Dar al-Ulum Springs, 6) Dar al-Ulum Isipingo, 7) Dar al-Ulum Camperdown, 8) Dar al-Ulum Strand.



Every weekday public channel SABC 1 broadcasts short religious programmes before the Siswati/Ndebele news at 17h30. Each day a different religion is represented, with "Reflections on Faith" being the Islamic edition, broadcast on Fridays 17H00-17H02. An Nur-The Light is a muslim religious programme that airs on SABC 1 on Sunday mornings and interfaith programme Spirit Sundae features muslim event coverage, personal profiles and discusses issues pertaining to the community.[23] Religions of South Africa also broadcasts information about Islam.[24] Islam Channel is also available on DSTV to South African Muslims as well as other Muslim programmes on the DSTV Indian Bouqet.[25]

Cape Town also has a community TV station, called Cape Town TV, or CTV for short. Every Friday evening they broadcast a recorded Jumu'a (Friday parayer) session. During the month of Ramadan, CTV also brings viewers lectures from the days of fasting, broadcast every night between 21H30-22H30.


Muslim stations include Radio 786,[26] Radio Islam,[27][28] and The Voice of Cape Town.[29]

Print Publications

Newspapers include Islam - The Way of Life Newspaper,[30] Amani Magazine,[31] and Al Qalam Newspaper.[32]

Sharia Law in South Africa


South Africa is one of the few Muslim minority countries in the world which is considering the implementation of Muslim Personal Law or Muslim Family Law. In 2003, a draft Muslim Marriages Bill was submitted to the Department of Justice but has not yet been approved. This would allow courts to enforce regulations of sharia law to those married under sharia, with the assistance of a muslim judge and assesfors familiar with Islamic law. The bill would also protect the rights of Muslim women. An example is when a Pietermaritzburg woman, was sent back to her parents home heavily pregnant, by her abusive husband with only the clothes on her back and her mahr (dowry). Although the marriage ended, she was unable to obtain a talaaq (divorce decree) from her husband via the local Muslim judicial council who do not have the authority to do so as most Imams are not registered marriage officers, nor was she able to re-marry.[33] The marriage was not legalised in a Civil Marriage of the Civil Unions Act which give women rights to marital assets and maintenance.

Proponents of the bill such as the Coalition of Muslim Women and Women's Legal Centre Trust believe it would protect the rights of Muslim women as decisions made by legal scholars are not legally binding regarding financial settlements following a divorce. Fayruz Sattar's husband divorced her she had no opportunity to challenge him and was without any assets following the divorce.

Questions have been raised about the need for a separate marriage bill for Muslims as there is no Christian marriages bill or such for Hindus, Sikhs, ect. Constitutional Court Judge Kate O'Reagan stated that, "the question is whether it is acceptable for the state to take over the management of a particular religion," she said. Judge Albie Sachs commented that "it's asking the courts to intrude, in a very profound way, on a very sensitive issue". Furthermore, there is lack of consensus in the Muslim community on the structure and implementation of the bill and The Women's Cultural Group, which participated in the hearing as a friend of the court, said the Muslim community had gone into "hibernation" over the issue because of the "intensity of the exchanges" on the matter.[33]

Organisations such as the Muslim Women's Association opposes the bill as it would not give Sharia superiority over the constitution which gives equal rights to men and women including in the area of divorce. Yasmin Omar, an advocate with the Muslim Women's Association said such legislation would cause "unnecessary infringement with regards to the right to freedom of religion".[34]

Polygamy is legal in South Africa.

Haraam food & behaviour

There are no restrictions on the sale of alcohol or pork to Muslims and are legally free to consume such items should they wish as they have freedom of choice in South Africa.[20] Sex before marriage is not illegal and carries no criminal penalty, and marital rape is a crime.

Halal food certification

There are a number of Halal certification authorities, who certify food and restaurants as Halal. There is some disagreement between these organisations.[35] The certifications carry considerable weight amongst South African Muslims.

Islamic Extremism

Generally, the local Muslim population are known to be peaceful, tolerant and moderate. There have been cases, however, where foreign terrorists have used South Africa as a staging post and later attempted to or succeeded in carrying out attacks abroad. Critics claim widespread corruption among police and officials, including the sale of South African passports, had undermined counter-terrorism efforts.[36]

It was feared prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup that Islamist extremists may have carried out attacks during the tournament and there were reports of Somali al-Qaeda, al-Shabab and Pakistani militant run camps in neighbouring Mozambique.[36][37] Despite this, no direct threats or attacks materialised.


Mohammed cartoons

In May 2010, the local Mail & Guardian published a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed by Jonathan Shapiro (aka Zapiro) which sparked some uproar from the Muslim community. Death threats were made to Mr. Shapiro and the editor of the newspaper. An emergency court interdict was sought by The Council of Muslim Theologians (Jamiatul Ulama) to prevent the publishing of the cartoon, however the petition was denied by the presiding judge - who is herself a Muslim. The judge earlier chose not to recuse herself saying that her religious beliefs would not influence her.[38] Zapiro created the cartoon in response to international outrage over the "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day" campaign of Facebook. Zapiro depicts the prohet Mohammed on a psychologist's couch moaning that, "other prophets have followers with a sense of humour!".[39] The council stated that they feared violence in response and that the drawing may put the security of the 2010 FIFA World Cup at risk from extremists. It said that though it does not advocate violence, it would not be able to ensure that there would not be any. The editor of the paper said that, ""My view is no cartoon is as insulting to Islam as the assumption Muslims will react with violence," and said that the cartoon would not have been published if it was intended to be racist or Islamophobic.[38] Zapiro stated that his cartoon was mild and not offensive and in no way similar to the Danish cartoon depicting the prophet in a negative light. The following week, Zapiro published a cartoon of himself on a psychologists couch off-loading about the difficult week prior, and also saying, "The issue is depicting the prophet... it's that simple", and, "That's for adherents of Islam! Why should non-believers be censored? And there's the contradiction of all those ancient Iranian and Turkish Muhammad drawings... drawn by devout Muslims!". Further, "I'm sorry I'm being linked to that juvenile Islamophobic Facebook campaign. And I'm sorry if anyone's linked me to the Islamophobia of the U.S. 'war on terror'! ... Or the Burqa and minaret bans in Western Europe!", and that "making exceptions for religious censorship is hard for a cartoonist". An editorial piece opposite the cartoon stated that the paper "clearly underestimated the depth of anger ignited by the cartoon, and sincerely regret the sense of injury it caused many Muslims". Zapiro also noted the irony of being so harshly condemned by Muslims who often supported his pro-Palestinian drawing which angered his fellow jews. Local clerics stated in a meeting with Zapiro that week that while they support freedom of expression, they do not support drawings of the prophet Mohammed.[40] No violence or protests ensued after the cartoon was published and most local Muslims found it to be mild and some did not find it to be offensive and found the reaction of the council to have been exaggerated.[38]

The Council of Muslim Theologians (Jamiatul Ulama) succeeded in 2006 in preventing the Sunday Times from publishing a controversial cartoon of the prophet Mohammed by a Danish cartoonist.[38]

"International Burn A Koran Day"

In response to American pastor Terry Jones' "Burn a Koran day" the Muslim Judicial Council urged him to read the holy text and understand it first before condemning it.[41] Pastor Jones' plans were widely condemned by all communities in South Africa.

On Friday 10 September 2010, a South African Muslim law student named Mohammed Vawda attempted to organise a public Bible burning at a park in central Johannesburg in response to plans by Florida pastor Terry Jones' "International Burn a Koran Day". A Muslim organisation named Scholars of Truth was invited to the event by Mr. Vawda but instead sought a court interdict prohibiting Mr. Vawda from realising his plan, which was granted. The court paper filed referred to parts of the Qur'an calling for respect of Christian and Jewish holy books. After the court hearing, Vawda admitted that he was wrong but said that he was infuriated and enraged by pastor Jones' plans. Vawda said that his plan was not aimed at insulting Christians or the people of South Africa, where the majority of the population is Christian.

Queensburgh Mosque

In July 2010, the Sunday Times reported that Queensburgh Islamic Society was engaged in a five year long dispute with the residents of a Durban suburb who opposed the building of a mosque despite council approval. Local residents and guest-houses owners distributed pamphlets and encouraged others to lodge complaints at a hearing mediating the disputed 1562m² site which would be used by 400 Muslim families in the area.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Klein Constantia: Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah". ThinkQuest. Retrieved 2007-08-21. 
  2. ^ "Klein Constantia - History". Retrieved 2007-08-21. 
  3. ^ In South Africa, many blacks convert to Islam / The Christian Science Monitor -
  4. ^ Muslims say their faith growing fast in Africa
  5. ^ Manuel Álvarez-Rivera. "General Elections in the Republic of South Africa". Election Resources on the Internet. Retrieved 2007-08-21. 
  6. ^ The Jamestown Foundation "A case study of radical Islam in South Africa"
  7. ^ Monograph #63, July 2003 "The prime suspects? The Metamorphosis of Pagad - Fear in the City, Urban Terrorism in South Africa"
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  35. ^ [1]
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  38. ^ a b c d
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