History of Muslim in South Africa

Muslims were not represented in Parliament until the 1970’s, when the then National Party government introduced the tricameral system. The system assigned separate chambers of parliament, referred to respectively as the House of Delegates, House of Assembly, and House of Representatives to Indians, Whites, and Colored people. Africans were only allowed to exercise their political rights through their homelands or Bantustans.

The majority of Indians and Colored people rejected the tricameral system and boycotted the elections. Both Qiblah, an Islamic revolutionary movement, was established in 1981 by Achmat Cassiem who had been greatly inspired by the Iranian Revolution and Call of Islam, which was established in 1984 by Faried Essack, rejected the distinct Malay identity which distinguished the Cape Malay Association that was established in 1923 (Saunders).


Imam Haron, stalwart of the liberation struggle, inspired Muslim youth at the Cape to identify with the oppressed majority in South Africa.


Qiblah was closely associated with the Black Consciousness Movement and the Pan-African Congress, while the Call of Islam became a major role player in the United Democratic Front (UDF), an umbrella body comprising of civic, community, and church organizations which initiated a campaign of civil disobedience. The Muslim Judicial Council also aligned itself with the UDF.

The Muslim Youth Movement of South Africa, which was established in 1970 in Durban, rejected the Indian identity and strove to include African Muslims as well as women in its structure and programs. Though it was initially nonaligned and opposed to the African National Congress’ (ANC) willingness to form a government of national unity, it subsequently identified itself with the ANC and now fully supports the current regime.

The end of the apartheid regime and ushering in of the democratic era in 1994 was welcomed by the majority of South Africans, including Muslim citizens. Since then, sectors of Muslims have adopted pro-government, neutral, and anti-government positions. The Majlisul Ulama of South Africa, for instance, clearly advised Muslims against voting in the elections or participating in structures of the current regime.

The Africa Muslim Party, which was established in Durban, and the Islamic Party, which originated in Cape Town, did not gain a single seat in the 1994 elections. The Africa Moral Party, which contested the last elections, likewise gained little support. While supporters of these parties favored participation, they did not see it fit to join existing parties, they preferred a party which would primarily promote the interests of Muslims.

Today, there are a number of Muslim parliamentarians, councilors, and civil servants in South Africa, Most of who have aligned themselves with the African National Congress. A few have joined opposition parties such as the New Democratic Party and the Nationalist Party. Followers of the Islamic Unity Convention, however, have no faith in the new political dispensation, accusing it of corruption, elitism, abandoning the masses, caving in to international finance, and promoting immorality and vice.

· Education: secular and Islamic schools, madrasahs, dar al-ulums

· Social welfare: relief to the poor and needy, orphanages, old age homes

· Interest-free investment: Islamic banks, investment companies

· Bursaries and scholarships

· Islamic libraries

· Poetry recitals

Youth camps (Dangor)

Muslims have contributed to national development and social relief through establishing schools and health-care clinics for the general population in under-serviced areas, and providing financial and material contribution to the victims of flood, drought, unemployment, etc. They have donated generously to universities and technikons. More recently, Muslims have initiated skills development programs for the majority African population.

There are no less than 400 mosques and 400 Muslim organizations in South Africa.

There are no less than 400 mosques and 400 Muslim organizations in South Africa (Davids). While commercial enterprises, social welfare and relief organizations provide a valuable service to the communities in which they operate, the media and educational institutions have been the prime shapers of opinion in addition to the mosques.

The dar al-`ulum and Muslim private schools play a major role in shaping the attitudes, views, and perceptions of Muslim youth. In recent years, the media, too, has begun to impact on Muslim society on a fairly substantial scale. Newspapers range from the very traditionalist to the modernist. Two radio stations serve the Western Cape and three the Gauteng region. The Kwazulu-Natal region has no permanent Muslim radio station.

After the 1994 elections in South Africa, thousands of immigrants arrived in the country mainly from African and Asian countries. Among them is a fair proportion of Muslims from India and Pakistan, as well as from over twenty states in Africa — chiefly Senegal, Malawi, and Nigeria. The African Muslims in particular have added a new dimension to Islam in South Africa — in respect of sufi practices, e.g., the annual Magal of the followers of Shaykh Ahmad Bamba of Senegal.

Religious Disputes

The Hanafi, Shafi`i and Maliki madhhabs (schools of jurisprudence) are represented in South Africa. The first recorded dispute was that between the Hanafi and Shafi`i madhhabs at the Cape after the arrival of Abu Bakr Effendi.

His founding of the Ottoman Theological School, which propounded the teachings of the Hanafi madhhab within an almost exclusively Shafi`i population, was destined to lead to conflict between the minority followers of the Hanafi and majority followers of the Shafi`i madhhab.

In the 1980’s, the attempt by the small Qadiani community at the Cape to be recognized as Muslims culminated in a court case. This ended in a deadlock when their antagonists withdrew from the case on the grounds that a non-Muslim judge was not competent to decide on an issue involving the definition of a Muslim. The majority of South African Muslims does not accept the Qadianis as Muslims.

More recently, theological differences between followers of the Deobandi school of thought and the Barelwi school led to verbal disputes, “pamphlet wars,” and even isolated cases of violence. The former adhere to a more orthodox form of Islam; the latter indulge in innovative practices that they regard as meritorious.

Muslims ensured that their children received Islamic education by establishing madrasahs.

The advent of the Shiites in South Africa post 1994 is viewed as a new challenge mainly by the `ulama, apprehensive of Shiite influence on the Sunni majority. The fact that the Shiites have succeeded in “converting” a small number of Sunni Muslims has added to this apprehension.

has led to the formation of the United Ulama Council which includes both these groups, as well as the Cape-based Interestingly, the fact that both the Deobandi and Barelwi schools are opposed to Shiite doctrines has served to deflect their hostility to each other and unite them in their opposition to the Shiites. Their common interest in the recognition of Muslim Personal Law by the state Muslim Judicial Council.

The Hajj and Umrah Council is another forum where representatives of the two groups share common concerns in relation to the welfare of pilgrims. Nonetheless, recent disputes concerning the certification of halal products by the South African National Halal Authority are being manipulated to create division between the two groups.


The early Muslims at the Cape as well in Natal and the Transvaal were deprived of formal education. The first schools that provided education to the “non-Whites” — which included the majority of Muslims — were provided by missionaries. Later, Muslims established secular schools at their own expense. It was only in the middle of the 20th Century that the state began providing education to all its citizens.

Nonetheless, Muslims ensured that their children received Islamic education by establishing madrasahs. These exist independently of the state school system and are attended in the afternoons — after the normal schooling hours. Several dar al-`ulum have been established throughout the country, most of them for males but also a few for females. These reflect the Deobandi-Barelwi divide in their theological orientation. More recently, many private Muslim schools have been established in South Africa. While most are co-educational, a few cater for girls only. The majority of Muslim children, however, attend public or state schools.

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