Cape Muslims as perceived by a Turkish theologian in 1878

The arrival of a Turkish scholar from Istanbul to South Africa in 1863, amid British colonial rule, presented numerous challenges.

The arrival of a Turkish scholar from Istanbul to South Africa in 1863, amid British colonial rule, presented numerous challenges.

Published Apr 4, 2024


To His Majesty the Ottoman Caliph,

I humbly present this official report detailing the admirable dedication and enthusiasm exhibited by the esteemed Cape Muslim community during the sacred month of Ramadaan. As your loyal subject and representative entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing the spiritual affairs of our fellow Muslims in Cape Town, it is with great pride and gratitude that I convey these observations to Your Majesty. During the blessed month of Ramadaan, I have had the distinct privilege of witnessing the fervent devotion and unwavering commitment of our Cape Muslim brethren to the tenets of Islam. My students Abdol Rakieb and Mohammed (Dollie) have already become experts in the recitation of the Holy Quran. Alhamdulillah the Cape Muslim community remains steadfast in its allegiance to the Ottoman Caliphate and is deeply grateful for the support and guidance provided by Your Majesty. With the utmost respect and reverence”, signed: Shaikh’ul ilm Sayed Abubakr Effendi.

The arrival of a Turkish scholar from Istanbul to South Africa in 1863, amid British colonial rule, presented numerous challenges.

Known for his humility, education, and dedication to Islamic scholarship, the Professor Abubakr Effendi played a significant role in the 19th century South African Muslim community.

With the demeanour of a Sufi scholar, Effendi embarked on a journey to Cape Town, where he committed himself to educating underprivileged children.

Originally travelling for educational purposes, Effendi chose to remain in South Africa upon witnessing the educational deficiencies within the local population.

He shared his Islamic knowledge, including insights from Sufism, enriching the understanding and practice of Islam among the Cape Muslim community.

Driven by a personal spiritual calling, Effendi was deeply moved by the poverty and lack of education among Cape Town’s children.

His altruistic dedication to educating these youth, without expectation of reward, exemplified a profound commitment to faith and societal improvement, reflecting the principles of service and compassion inherent in Sufi teachings.

As a practitioner of Naqshbandi Sufism, Effendi provided spiritual guidance to those seeking a deeper connection with Allah, fostering unity and community among Cape Town's Muslims, transcending racial and ethnic boundaries.

Effendi’s marriage to a local woman and the subsequent birth of their children facilitated cultural exchange and understanding between Turkish and South African communities, promoting tolerance and acceptance.

His integration into South African society allowed him to provide support not only to his family but also to the broader community, leaving a lasting legacy of compassion, and service.

Effendi’s sacrifice of the comforts of home, cultural familiarity, and personal safety underscored his dedication to education and service.

Despite facing language barriers, cultural differences, and bureaucratic obstacles under British colonial rule, Effendi persisted in his mission, overcoming prejudice and discrimination to enrich the social, educational and spiritual fabric of the Cape Muslim community.

And despite these challenges, Effendi’s enduring commitment to educating Cape Town’s youth for 17 years until his death, and his burial in Tana Baru Cemetery, symbolised his profound impact and lasting legacy in South Africa.


** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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