The Arabic-Afrikaans manuscript tradition: Its material production and theological impact on South Africa's Muslims

ERI Building, First floor, room G54
Tuesday 10 December 2013 (14:00-16:00)

For information, please contact Haifaa Jawad at:

The Arabic-Afrikaans manuscript tradition: Its material production and theological impact on South Africa's Muslims

  • Professor Muhammed Haron (University of Botswana and University of Johannesburg)


South Africa’s Cape Muslim community is considered to be the most well established community in the Greater Cape Town area formerly known as the Cape of Good Hope. Despite the trials and tribulations that the community encountered over the three centuries, they carved out an interesting niche for themselves; this was as a result of the creative religious leadership of individuals such as ‘Abdullah Qadi ‘Abdus-Salam (aka Tuan Guru d.1807). Soon after the latter was released from Robben Island he laid the foundations of a mosques and madrasa; institutions that came to play a critical role in the lives of this emerging community and ones that assisted in affirming their religious identity amidst a predominantly Christian society at the Cape of Good Hope. These institutions were, of course, staffed by imams and khaliphas (i.e. madrasa teachers) who disseminated and taught Islam’s rudimentary aspects such as the concept of Tawhid with an emphasis on God’s twenty sifats (i.e. attributes).

One of the challenges that they faced was the absence of useful texts and as a consequence some of them wrote foundational theological texts for these institutions. They interestingly did not employ the Latin script as expected to write these texts but the Arabic script and these they penned in the Afrikaans language; a language that they helped to unconsciously ‘invent’. The outcome of these texts between the 1850s and 1950s led to a plethora of jurisprudential and theological texts; texts that contributed towards the formation of the Cape Muslim identity.

This presentation thus intends to basically do two things: the first is to provide an overview of the production of these theological texts and the second is to demonstrate to what extent these texts impacted upon the theological and jurisprudential thinking of the Cape Muslims.

Muhammed Haron is an associate professor in Religious Studies at the University of Botswana and is an associate researcher in the ‘Study of Islam’ at the University of Johannesburg as well as an executive member of the Centre for Contemporary Islam at the University of Cape Town. He was educated in Cape Town, Riyadh, Amsterdam and elsewhere. He authored The Dynamics of Christian-Muslim Relations in South Africa (ca 1960-2000) [Stockholm: Alqmvist, 2006); edited Going Forward: South Africa-Malaysia Relations Cementing South-South Connections (Kuala Lumpur: LKWUCT Press, 2008); compiled South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (circa 1993-2008): An Annotated Bibliography (New York:Nova Science 2009) as well as Muslims in South Africa: An Annotated Bibliography (Cape Town: South African Library 1997); co-authored First Steps in Arabic Grammar and Second Steps in Arabic Grammar (Chicago: Iqra International Publishers 1997 & 2009); edited two issues of the Journal for Islamic Studies (1997 & 1998/9); and he guest edited a Tydskrif vir Letterkunde (University of Pretoria) special issue that focused on Arabo-Islamic Literature (March 2008) as well as a special BOLESWA: Journal of Theology, Religion and Philosophy (Universities of Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana,) that looked at ‘Muslims in Southern Africa’ (December 2012).

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