The history of Islam at the Cape is best read with a handkerchief in the left hand and a Koesister in the right. Not to be eaten, of course, but rather to be viewed as a symbol of a culture that has conquered impossible odds, including exile, slavery, colonialism and Apartheid, and is still standing tall nearly 350 years later. Such fortitude and bravery by our forefathers should elicit tears for which the handkerchief would be helpful, as Islam had no realistic chance of survival at the Cape.

For the contribution of culture to the preservation and protection of the Cape Muslim community should never be underestimated, and the cultural tradition of Moulood ranks high on that list. That very handkerchief that will be soaked in rose water at Moulood, should be your badge of honour at home. For Moulood is a religio-cultural phenomenon pioneered by our Sufi forefathers as a means of social cohesion, Muslim identity and da’wah, which contributed to the rebuilding of the dignity of the slave community as human beings, as well as providing future Muslim generations with a cultural platform to express their religious identity.

Along with Laylatul Mi’raj and Nish-fus-Sha’baan, Moulood-un-Nabi forms part of the triumvirate of ‘big night’ evenings during the year when Muslims at the Cape traditionally flock to the mosques in their numbers. Thus when you receive your next barakat at the end of Moulood, do not look askance at the quality of the Hertzoggies, rather pause to make a small prayer for your pioneering forefathers of Islam at the Cape whose steadfastness paved the way for your religious freedom.



The origins of Islam at the Cape is inextricably linked with the slavery trade viciously exploited by European colonial powers to gain economic control of the world. It is estimated that this dehumanising form of human trafficking uprooted 20 million people from Africa, many of whom were Muslims. Overall, 72% of immigrant slaves to the Cape were derived from Asia, especially India, Ceylon and the East Indies, 26% from Africa, and the rest from Madagascar and others. The Dutch authorities also used this outpost as a means of disposing of their political opponents, thus several pious Muslims leaders of royal descent were exiled here during the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Having had to survive the harrowing journey to the Cape of Storms, the nascent Muslim community of Sheikhs and slaves from disparate countries and cultures had to look for strengths in a sea of sharks, lest they suffer the same fate as other Muslim slaves who were taken to the Americas. Alghamdulillah, those strengths were drawn from a long line of pious and blessed exiled leaders, as well as the multiculturalism that was incorporated into their Islamic Sufi practices as a necessary innovation for survival.

The first of these heroic leaders was Sheikh Yusuf of Macassar, who arrived on the Voetboeg ship on 2 April 1694, with an entourage of 49, but was immediately banished to the farm Zandvliet about 40 kilometres outside Cape Town. Sheikh Yusuf was 68 years old at the time, had spent his entire life fighting in the service of Islam, but was now faced with his biggest battle.

Being a Sufi-Sheikh of the Khalwathia Order, he used the Hadra to evoke within his followers a commitment to Islam. The Hadra is a series of prescribed spiritual recitals, and Sheikh Yusuf utilised these as a vehicle to propagate the purity of the Shariah to the increasing number of non-Muslim slaves who flocked to his settlement. Even though the practice of Islam was outlawed and punishable by death, the thikr recitals of the Hadra formed a major part of the teaching of the slaves, especially on special occasions like Moulood-un-Nabi and Mi’raj.

Thus the Moulood, or celebration of the Prophet’s(saw) birthday, became an important event on the calendar of Cape Muslims, as the first documented recording of such an event by Thunberg’s description in 1771 shows, even down to the serving of the tea. The cultural and social matrix of the Moulood had been established by Sheikh Yusuf during his short stay of 5 years at the Cape, and the baton of the Hadra was taken up into the next century by his pious successors, including Tuan Guru and Tuan Sayed Alawie.

According to the doyen of Cape Muslim historians, Dr Achmat Davids, the first comprehensive Moulood was written by the Turk Sulaiman Chelebi in 1400, and this Moulood was initially introduced to the Cape from the mid-eighteenth Century. Davids is enchanted by Chelebi’s description of the birth in imagery of light to indicate that the Nabi(saw) was truly the lamp to light up the world.

During the latter part of the 18th Century however, the Moulood of the Allawiah Sufi Tariqah seems to have taken precedence at the Cape, probably due to the influence of Tuan Sayed Alawie, who was exiled to the Cape in 1743. Tuan Sayed was originally from Mocca in the Hadhramaut region of Yemen, where the Moulood and Qasidas of the Allawiah Tariqa originated. The Hadhramis excelled in poetry and its pleasing sounds resulted in its popularity in Cape Town, especially among the Indonesian slaves who had strong musical traditions like the gamelan and krontjong instruments.

The year 1780 is arguably the most significant in the history of Islam at the Cape, for it signalled the arrival of Imam Abdullah Kadi Abdus Salaam, or Tuan Guru , at the Cape. Though he was immediately banished to Robben Island for the next 13 years, he wrote an exact copy of the Holy Quran from memory, as well as a voluminous textbook, Ma’rifah al-Islam wa al-Iman, while being incarcerated. Upon his release in 1793, Tuan Guru played a decisive role in the affairs of Muslims at the Cape, whether spiritually, educationally or politically. The impact of his Ma’rifah was wide-ranging, not least in unleashing a torrent of literary creativity for Moulood among his students. They composed a variety of qasidas and wirds, all of which start with the Sharaful Anaam, the most popular Allawiah Tariqah Moulood.

While enjoying your koesister on Sunday morning, cast your mind back two centuries ago when the Dutch had sabbath on Sundays, attended church and thus gave their Muslim lady employees the day off. These innovative ladies, having witnessed the making of koeksisters during the week, start experimenting with new recipes that encompass their own spices. Soon many variations arise, are thoroughly enjoyed by family, friends and neighbours, and hey presto, the cultural tradition of eating koesisters on Sunday mornings is born.

This is multiculturalism, whereby early Muslims innovated by incorporating other cultures to enrich their own. Another is RAMPIE-SNY, a practice foreign to Islam but purportedly of Indonesian origin, involving the cutting of orange leaves and placing them in colourful sachets on Moulood, provided for the slaves some association with their ancestral past, one they could never experience again. In a survey conducted by Boorhaanol in 2017, about 62% of mosques at the Cape practice rampie-sny, with its social, economic and psychological benefits weighing heavily for ladies who look forward to dressing up and having the mosque to themselves.

Religious freedom was only allowed for the first time in 1804. During the ensuing half century, the Auwal Mosque was the main religious institution in the life of the Cape Muslim community. As its first cultural ecological base, the Auwal was the centre of communal activity, and saw the birth of most of the Cape Muslim traditions, including Rampie-sny and Merang. While slavery was abolished in South Africa in 1834, the social milieu dictated that occasion be created for the slaves to congregate and participate in religio-cultural activities to release them temporarily from the yoke of their masters and their slavery.

Male Moulood jamaahs started in the second half of the 19th Century, with the first jamaah reputedly the Red Crescent Moulood Jamaah( Retties ) from the Wynberg area. They were formally established in 1890. Contrary to the format adopted by male jamaahs later whereby a toekan versus jawaab sequence prevailed, during the 19th Century and early 20th, the whole congregation, host and visitors included, recited the Moulood together throughout proceedings.

The Barzanji Moulood entered the Cape Moulood lexicon early in the 20th Century, being introduced here by luminaries like Sayed Alawie al-Edroos, Sheikh Abdurahim al-Iraqi and Sheikh Muhammad Salih Hendricks.

Local Imams also wrote their own thikrs, most prominent of which was Imam Kiamdien du Toit of Paarl. With the arrival of the Qadaria Tariqah at the Cape, the Barzanji Moulood, consisting of riwaayats and Ashraqal, became popular.

The most extensive translation was written by Sheikh Ismail Ganief in Arabic-Afrikaans. His translation of the Ashraqal is considered one of the most exciting poems in the early history of Afrikaans literature.

While several male jamaahs were formed early in the century, the first female jamaah was constituted in 1928 under the leadership of Hadji Mariam Bassier-Dramat. To this day, female jamaahs recite the Sharaful Anaam Moulood, while the vast majority of mosques recite the Barzanji on Koemies Moulood. The proliferation of male and female jamaahs during the first half of the 20th Century also resulted in the Cape Moulood season being extended to between 4-6 months, while the decline in the number of male jamaahs is a cause for concern.

Nevertheless, the Koemies Moulood is still a grand event on the Cape Muslim calendar, with the preceding Rampie-sny a colourful event, the mosque being trimmed with decorations for the big night and the delivery of rose water and barakats to accompany the programme well appreciated. Thus when we are listening to the riwaayats and participating in the recitation of the Ashraqal, may it evoke in us the same spiritual elevation and ecstasy which our forefathers obtained from the Hadra, but more importantly, may it enliven in us a desire to understand and practice the Shari’ah and truly become obedient to Allah’s laws.

Prophet Muhammad's (saw)


Muslims have no drawings or pictures for Prophet Muhammad (saw) or any of the prophets before him. However, of all the leaders of the great faith traditions, Prophet Muhammad (saw) is the most recognizable historical figure. His companions recorded every aspect of his life in such detail that he is the most documented personality in human history.

The Prophet (saw) was an Arab of noble lineage with a fair complexion and a rosy tinge. He was a little taller than average and well-built with broad shoulders. His belly never protruded out from his chest. He walked briskly and firmly. His companions described him as having a prominent forehead, a shapely nose, long eyelashes, with large beautiful black eyes. His teeth were well set and straight, he often had a pleasant welcoming smile. He had slightly curly hair and a thick beard. His hair was black and shoulder length. Later in his life he had a few white hairs that his companions could count.

While he smiled often, he did not laugh loudly; and on some occasions his laugh was mostly a broad smile which revealed his molars. His cheerfulness and open personality were felt by all people. Those who saw him, indicated that he had a friendly bright face that looked like the full moon, carrying with it an aura of serenity which filled one with awe when gazing at him.

It is related from Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him) that he said: “I once saw the messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) on the night of a full moon. On that night he wore red (striped) clothing. At times I looked at the full moon and at times at the messenger of Allah. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that the messenger of Allah was more handsome, beautiful and more radiant than the full moon.”

The Prophet (saw) was always cheerful, easy going by nature, and well-mannered. His kindness extended to friend and foe alike. He never resorted to offensive speech or obscenities. He did not find fault with others and was gentle when correcting the faults of his followers, choosing silence as the sternest of reprimand. Despite the immense reverence that surrounded him, young and old felt comfortable in his company.

The companions of the Prophet (saw) related that he did not speak unnecessarily. His sayings were precise and concise having complete meaning in few words. He spoke with excellence, and there was no excess in it.

When he emphasized a point, he used to repeat it three times with a gesture. He spoke of nothing unless he hoped a reward from God for it. Of his teachings to his companions:

"I am a guarantor for a house at the outskirts of the Paradise for those who quit arguing even if they were right and I am a guarantor for a house in the middle of the Paradise for those who quit lying even if they were kidding and I am a guarantor for a house in the highest part in the Paradise for those who behave with good manners."
(Sahih Abu Dawood, 4974/4800)

The Prophet (saw) kept his feelings under firm control. He remained calm and collected in times of crises. When annoyed, he would turn aside or keep silent. When someone committed an act that violated the Divine laws, he would show his displeasure in dignified manner while offering a means of absolution to the transgressing party. Despite his gentle demeanour, he was firm in standing for the truth and protecting the rights of others.

Aisha (ra) wife of the Prophet (saw) said:

Whenever Allah's Apostle was given the choice of one of two matters, he would choose the easier of the two, if it was not sinful to do so, but if it was sinful to do so, he would not approach it. Allah's Apostle never took revenge (over anybody) for his own sake but (he did) only when Allah's Legal Bindings were outraged in which case, he would take reckoning for Allah's Sake.
(Sahih Bukhari)

The Prophet (saw) was always the first to greet others and would not withdraw his hand from a handshake until the other man withdrew his. Whoever saw him unexpectedly would admire and revere him. And whoever socialized or associated with him, loved him. He was gentle by nature. He was neither coarse nor disdainful of anyone. When he looked at the others, he looked at them full in the face. If someone called him, he didn't turn his face only, but gave full attention with his whole body.

He disliked his followers to rise on his account in his presence. He treated everyone with such affection that each of his followers felt they held a unique position in his heart.

Everything he did was in moderation, without excess or contrariness. In his eating he was always grateful for even the most basic food or drink that was prepared for him, and happily fasted on the days where none was available. Months would go by where nothing passed his lips other than a few dates and a sip of water.

He always joined in household work and would at times mend his clothes, repair his shoes, and sweep the floor. He used to be meticulous about his personal hygiene and always smelled fragrant.

When he led his followers in prayer it was of moderate length not wanting to overburden them. After dawn prayers, he preferred sitting in the mosque reciting the Quran and praises of Allah, till sunrise. He would use his mornings to engage with his community, teaching them and hearing their petitions. He rested briefly after the noon prayers and spent time with his family during the late afternoon and early evening. After the Eshaa prayer, he would sleep some hours then would rise deep in the night where he would pray long hours in tahajjud (night prayer).

He declared unlawful for himself and his family anything given by people by way of the alms (zakat given by Muslims for the welfare of those in need). He was so particular about this, that he would not appoint any member of his family as a collector of alms for the community.

His house was but a hut with walls of unbaked clay and a roof of palm leaves covered by camel skin barely large enough for three people to lay abreast.

The Prophet (saw) said: "What have I to do with worldly things? My connection with the world is like that of a traveller, only resting for a while underneath the shade of a tree and then moving on (to the next life)." (2/666- 2788, Musnad Ahmad, Narrated by Abdullah bin Abbas)

When he died, even though he had achieved what no man had before, by uniting the Arabian Peninsula under his authority, he did not leave any worldly possessions behind except his white mule and a piece of land, which he had dedicated for the good of the community of Muslims (Sahih Bukhari).

Anas ibn Malik (ra) narrated that he was a boy of 6 years old, when the Prophet (saw) entered the city of Madinah after the Hijrah, and he remembered it as being the brightest and most joyous day of his life. Then 10 years later, he recounted that it was the darkest and saddest day for everyone on the day the Prophet (saw) passed away.


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