Tuan Guru

by Shafiq Morton

Hailing from a family of scholars in the Hadhramawt, Tuan Guru’s descendants arrived in the Far East in the 14th century. His ancestor is Sunan Gunung Jati, a saint and founding father of Indonesian Islam, who became the Sultan of Banten and Cirebon in Java during the late 1400s.

It is from Cirebon that Tuan Guru’s grandfather, Habib ‘Umar Rahmat al-Faruq, travelled to the Moluccan chain in 1646 to spread Islam. He settled on the island of Tidore, becoming a member of the Sultan’s royal household.

Tuan Guru, or Imam ‘Abdullah bin Qadi ‘Abd al-Salam, was born in 1712. As a member of the royal family, Tuan Guru soon became the focus of the Dutch East India Company, who fearful of rebellion, detained him in Batavia, and finally exiled him to the Cape in 1780.

Upon arrival, Tuan Guru and his travelling companions, Qadi Abd al-Rauf, Nur ul-Iman and Badr al-Din, were sent straight to Robben Island. They were there for a year until the Dutch, fearing an English invasion, sent them with the Dutch fleet to hide at Saldanah Bay.

When the English invaded, Qadi Abd al-Rauf and Nur al-Iman escaped to a British ship. Tuan Guru and Badr al-Din had to walk back to Cape Town. Tuan Guru was sent again to Robben Island in 1786 when the Dutch feared an uprising, and he was only freed in 1791. It was while on Robben Island that he wrote the Qur’an from memory. He also penned his famous Ma’rifat, which became a text book, whilst in the city.

In 1793 Tuan Guru founded the first madrasah in South Africa in the warehouse of Coridon of Ceylon. Later on, this building would be converted into South Africa’s first mosque, the Awwal mosque, in Dorp Street. He led the first jumu’ah, in defiance of the authorities, in the Chiappini Street quarry in 1797.

Tuan Guru married Keijda (Khadija) van de Kaap at the age of 79 years, fathering two sons, ‘Abd al-Rakiep and ‘Abd al-Rauf. Without doubt, Tuan Guru, a pioneer of education, is a great hero who taught all the slaves of Cape Town not only about dignity, but about Islam.

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