As Ramadan begins, take time to find out the history of Islam in SA

With Thursday marking the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, Eusebius McKaiser speaks to a professor in Religious Studies at the University of Johannesburg, Farid Essack to discuss the history of Islam in South Africa.

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Essack begins by explaining the number of times that Muslims go to pray and why they do so.

They pray fives times a day. Because Muslims generally pray. There are five daily prayers, The Sunni Muslims pray at five different times and the Shia Muslims combine the evening prayers and the day prayers and both groups do the early morning prayers.

Prof Farid Essack, Professor of Religion Studies University of Johannesburg

The professor added that there are approximately about 860 000 Muslims in South Africa.

We have been around for a long time actually. We first came shortly after 1652 to South Africa about a year after Van Riebeeck had first landed. They were brought as slaves because the local Khoi weren't very cooperative. So we come from Salon, Mauritius, Madagascar, and Mozambique.

Prof Farid Essack, Professor of Religion Studies University of Johannesburg

He said there are two major streams of Islam in South Africa.

So the one arrived shortly after Van Riebeeck and they came from the east - labourers, political exiles. The Dutch were in occupation of the Cape and they were in occupation of Indonesia.

Prof Farid Essack, Professor of Religion Studies University of Johannesburg

He says the Dutch colonialists considered some of them to be troublemakers in Indonesia, and so sent off to a faraway place at the southern tip of Africa - the Cape Colony.

This stream is known as the Malay community. The other stream arrived as labourers on the eastern coast of Southern Africa, in the area now called KwaZulu Natal.

They came from India in 1860 along with some Hindus. And the descendants of that crowd, they are now in Gauteng, in North West, Mpumalanga, the Northern Province and of cause largely in KwaZulu Natal.

Prof Farid Essack, Professor of Religion Studies University of Johannesburg

The professor adds that there is one other stream that arrived between 1873 and 1880 He says these were 500 slaves that were liberated and brought to Durban.

They ended up in Durban and they were known as Zanzibaris, they were from Tanzania and Zanzibar. But they had white gowns and they had beards so culturally they didn't fit in with the local Zulu community at all. They did follow the similar cultural and religious practices of the Indian Muslims.

Prof Farid Essack, Professor of Religion Studies University of Johannesburg

So when apartheid came along, they were proclaimed Muslims.

Until today, you have a community of black Africans living in the middle of an Indian township, Chatsworth, the Zanzibari Muslims.

Prof Farid Essack, Professor of Religion Studies University of Johannesburg

He also explained the difference between the words Islam and Muslim.

The one is a social-religious community, these are Muslims. And Muslims follow the religion of Islam.

Prof Farid Essack, Professor of Religion Studies University of Johannesburg

Listen below to hear this insightful history of Islam in South Africa:


This article first appeared on 702 : As Ramadan begins, take time to find out the history of Islam in SA


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