From the Spice Islands of Cape Town - The Life and Times of Tuan Guru by Shafiq Morton
About Tuan Guru
Tuan Guru, which means “Master Teacher”, is the popular name of a hero of Cape Islam. His full name is Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Qadi ‘Abd al-Salam, which means that he was the son of a religious judge, Qadi ‘Abd al-Salam.
Qadi ‘Abd al-Salam hailed from the royal house of Tidore, which was one of the famous Spice Islands in Indonesia. The spice for which Tidore was famous was the clove. Tuan Guru’s mother was Boki, or Princess, Nuriniyah. Tuan Guru had five brothers and two sisters.
Tuan Guru was born in Tidore in 1712. He died in Cape Town in 1807 aged 95 years. He arrived at the Cape on the Dutch East India Company sailing ship, the Zeepard, in 1780 when he was 68 years old. He was sent to Robben Island. The Dutch sent him to the Cape because they were afraid he would make friends with the English, a Dutch enemy.
Tuan Guru was a religious teacher who cared for the slave community. He established our first madrasah (or school) in 1793, and shortly after that, the first mosque in South Africa.
Tuan Guru, who was imprisoned on Robben Island twice, was a Hafiz ul-Qur’an and wrote out the Holy Book there from memory.
He also wrote another work called the “Ma’rifat wal Iman wal Islam” (the Knowledge of Faith and Deen) a book of 613 pages, from which he taught the Muslims of Cape Town about Islam.
Tuan Guru’s mosque and madrasah were established in Dorp Street in the Bo Kaap on the property of Saartjie van de Kaap, daughter of Coridon of Ceylon, who was one of the first black land owners in the Bo-Kaap.
The mosque is called “Masjid ul-Awwal” (the First Mosque), and is still standing today, though it has been rebuilt several times over the last 200 years. Many tourists, and important world leaders such as Nelson Mandela, have enjoyed visiting this historical mosque.
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.
Not only did Tuan Guru write the Qur’an from memory whilst imprisoned on Robben Island, but he also penned a 613-page textbook of Islamic belief, prayers and advice, which was used to teach Muslims at the Cape for over 100 years. He established South Africa’s first madrasah in 1793, and later on, its first mosque in Dorp Street, Cape Town.
About the author – Shafiq Morton
SHAFIQ MORTON is an award-winning Cape Town-based photo-journalist, editor, surfer and radio-TV presenter with decades’ experience.
He has covered South African stories such as the anti-apartheid campaign, the release of Nelson Mandela, the 1994 elections and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He has been on assignment in places such as Palestine, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Namibia and Niger.
In 2008 he won the National Vodacom Award in the community media section and the regional award in 2010.
He is the author of four books, Notebooks from Makkah and Madinah (a Saudi Arabian travelogue), Surfing behind the Wall, My Palestinian Journey and Imtiaz Sooliman and the Gift of the Givers, A Mercy to All and From the Spice Islands to Cape Town: the Life and Times of Tuan Guru.