28 June, 2011

Masjid: Mosques of Southern Africa

It is only recent that Islam was introduced to that most awesomely beautiful part of the Earth: South Africa. After the Europeans colonized the very fertile and mineral rich Southern tip of Africa, they needed labor to work in the fields; cheap labor. As fate would have it, the first European settlers who arrived there in the 17th Century, decided to bring 'slaves' - some of who were Muslims - from southern Asia. In the 19th Century when slavery had been 'abolished', the British needed cheap labor to work in their extensive sugar plantations, mainly in Natal; 'cheap labor' was brought in from India - many of whom were Muslims. It is mainly through these two groups that Islam first reached and initially spread in South Africa. In other parts of Southern Africa, especially the islands: Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion - it is due, too, mainly, to the same reason of the need for 'cheap labor' that Islam was introduced to these places by those who were imported to work in the fields. Today: there are millions of Muslims in Southern Africa. And many mosques.

Namibia
Namibia is wonderful: known for its vast, mesmerizing desert, it has, too - abundant wildlife both on land and at sea; and just like its southern neighbor, South Africa, which it shares a very close history with, Namibia is rich in minerals. Of all the African countries, Namibia, of its population percentage, has the least number of Muslims; and very few mosques. From the 13 or so indigenous tribes in this country, incredibly, almost all the Muslims in Namibia come from one tribe - the Nama. Of late, more people from other tribes have been converting to Islam.

Quba Mosque, Windhoek
Same too, in the other Southern African countries: there are very, very few Muslims in tiny mountainous, landlocked Swaziland; similarly in the totally mountainous and also landlocked Lesotho - hardly can you find Muslims or mosques here. Here, too, the number of Muslims is fast increasing. 
Masjid Nour, Gaborone
In Botswana, Islam is the third largest religion and accounts for, probably, 5% or so of the population. Here in Botswana, Islam was first introduced by Indian merchants. It spread mainly among the Tswana; and there are many Muslims in the Yao community who migrated to Botswana from Malawi.
Masjid, Antananarivo
Most archeologists now agree that Madagascar was settled by people from the Indonesian Archipelago long before Christianity. That's why there is a strong likeness between the people of the islands and Indonesians. With time, Arabs, Chinese, Indian, European and Africans from the mainland - moved and settled on the islands. With Arabs, came Islam. And mosques.
Masjid 'Al'Quds', Madagascar
Arab merchants, especially the Hadharem from Hadhramout, and Omani traders, using their dhows, knew of the many Eastern and Southern African islands long before Europeans went there. Reportedly, Arabs introduced Islam to Madagascar some times in the 8th Century; or earlier than that. But it is during the 9th and 10th Centuries that many Arabs settled in western Madagascar, and many of the islanders converted to Islam.  
Masjid, Toamasina, Madgascar
Indonesians, other Malays, and Muslims from the other East African regions who had migrated to the island - helped in spreading Islam; but it is Arabs, apart from trading and intermarrying with ethnic Madagascans, who had the most influence. To this day, Malagasy culture and traditions have a strong Arabic/Muslim influence on them.
Masjid, Moufia, Reunion
Masjid Noor-Al Islam
Few people, even tourists, bother about the remote, secluded, mountainous, volcanic, very small island of Réunion - which is a 'dot' in the sea, east of Madagascar. Even fewer people know that the island, is administered by France; thus making it the most southerly part of the European Union; it uses the Euro as its currency. Remote, secluded and exotic and, yet, the Island has many Muslims; and several neat, well maintained mosques. Masjid Noor-Al-Islam built in 1905 in the center of Saint-Denis; and rebuilt and extended several times ever since, can seat 4,000 people. The Noor-Al-Islam mosque was built much earlier than the Grand Mosque of Paris, which was built in the 1920s.

Mosque, Saint-Denis, Reunion
Descendants of the Guajarati Indians who were brought to work as 'cheap labor' by Europeans in the early 19th Century, are now the most influential and most active Muslims here. France's leadership being very much against the Burqah - aside; one has to say this: few places are as welcoming and tolerant to as a diverse and as a cosmopolitan of cultures and ideologies as places administered by France. 
Atyab-Ul-Masaajid, St. Pierre, Reunion
The Muslim community in Reunion, though small, is very active. Even in smaller towns. In Saint-Pierre, the third largest town on the Island, there is a famous, neat, well maintained mosque: Atayab-Ul-Masaajid. And a very active, Islamic center.
Masjid Al'Jamia, Port Louis, Mauritius
North-East of Réunion, there is another wonder island: Mauritius. Magical Mauritius. It has one of Africa's most successful, role model - economic and political system. And it has one of the most exemplary social harmony of people: here, Muslims, Hindus and Christians live, work and build a nation together; in harmony and in cooperation. Mosques, temples and churches can be seen standing close to each other.
Masjid, Mauritius
Arabs, including the Hadharem, knew of these islands long before Europeans; the Dutch established a settlement here in 1638 and abandoned it in 1710 only for the French to colonize it in 1715. In 1810, after the Napoleonic Wars, the British took over Mauritius and ruled it until its independence in 1968. Today, it is 'French' and 'South Asian' which has the most influence and impression here. At the same time, of all the southern African countries, Islam is most vibrant and active here.
Masjid Juma'a, Port Louis
Officially, now, of the about 1.3 million Mauritians of whom almost half are Hindus, about 17% are Muslims; almost all are of Indian origin. Reportedly, the first mosque to have been built here was in 1805. One of the most popular and most known mosques on the Island, is the above, which even has a Web-site.
Masjid, Mauritius
In almost all the suburbs of the Island, there can be found mosques; and can be heard the sound of the adhaan. Since its humble beginnings on these idyllic islands, Islam has come a very long way and has become very much a part of this country.
Masjid, Mauritius
Mosques in Mauritius are neat and very well maintained. As for Muslims living here: today, the Mauritian Muslim community can count to have, in its midst, some of the best professionals, be they doctors, barristers or engineers.

Masjid, Sydenham
It has been described as: 'extraordinary', 'breathtaking', 'most unforgettable', 'magnificent', 'the most beautiful country in the world', 'the best travel destination' and in many other superlatives. It is the home of the world's greatest, most popular and most iconic living leader and statesman - Nelson Mandela. It is the Republic of South Africa. And it is home to some of the most active and most well organized Muslims in Africa.
Masjid, Lady Smith
The number of Muslims in South Africa is relatively very small: of the 49 or so million of its population, only about 1 million, about 2%, are Muslims. But this very small size has not hindered Muslims here from being very active, vocal and having some of the most impressive mosques on the Continent.
Masjid, Laudium, Gauteng
Arab traders had contact with South Africa long before the arrival of Europeans; but, they, the Arabs, although they might have introduced Islam here, did not spread it much. Reportedly, in 1652, the Dutch brought in a few Malays of Batavia (present day: Jakarata) into the Cape and it is they, who most likely were the first to actively introduce Islam to South Africa. The first recorded arrival of Muslims into the country was in the 1660s when some Indonesians from Amboyna Island were brought in to defend settlements; but, they, were not allowed to practice Islam publicly or propagate it. Throughout history, small seemingly irrelevant events - can lead to greater happenings: and that's what happened in January, 1667. On the 24th January 1667, a Dutch ship left Batavia Jakarta and arrived at the Cape on the 13th of May 1668, with three prisoners in chains. They were Malays from the West Coast of Sumatra, brought here after their defeat following their resistance to the Dutch occupation of the East Indies. One of them was incarcerated on Robben Island, while the other two were sent to the Company's forest at Constantia, Cape Town. One of the two exiled on the Cape was: Shaikh Abdul'Rahmaan Matebe Shah. It is this Shaikh Abdul'Rahmaan, who preached Islam to the 'slaves' and prisoners and laid the foundation for what Islam has become in South Africa, especially on the Cape, today.
Juma'a Mosque, Durban
In the 19th Century Indians arrived in South Africa: first,  South Indian laborers, of whom some were Muslims, migrated to the country; then merchants from Northern India arrived and most settled in Natal, the Transvaal and the Cape - some of whom too, were Muslims. In 1884, the first mosque in Natal was built in Durban; that mosque, the Juma'a Mosque, is now one of the largest - if not the largest - in the Southern Hemisphere.
Masjid, Durban
Natal, and Durban in particular, is also the home of one of the most gifted and one of the most well traveled contemporary Muslim preachers: the late Ahmad Deedat. Today, Durban hosts some of the most vibrant Muslim communities and educational agencies  in Africa.
Masjid, Johannesburg
In Johannesburg, there are very few Muslims; but, even here - there are a number of mosques. Twenty years ago, especially in Jo'burg, it was was very hard to find indigenous South African Muslims; today, even in Soweto where - before the country's independence - you could hardly find a Muslim, there are now thousands of Muslims and many Islamic schools. And their number is rapidly growing. 
Masjid, South Africa
Many Afrikaners too, are converting to Islam. It has to be stated: in-spite of the very few numbers of Muslims in South Africa, the country has allowed Muslims to enforce many Muslims laws; and has allowed many Muslims to rise to prominence.
Masjid, South Africa
Nowhere else in South Africa are Muslims as many and as visible as along the Cape, especially in Cape Town. In scenic Bo-Kaap, in particular. Almost all the Muslims here are of Malay origin; descendants of those long ago imported 'slaves' and 'cheap labor'.
Bo-Kaap, Cape Town
Bo-Kaap is not far from three of the most known and popular landmarks of Cape Town: the Table Mountain, Lion's Head and Signal Hill. Nowhere else in South Africa, are  there as many mosques close to each other as here.
Masjid, Bo-Kaap
Mosques in Bo-Kaap are in many shapes and colors; all neat and very well attended to and maintained.
Masjid, Bo-Kaap
Where else can you find such a spectacular mosque as this one, above, in Bo-Kaap?
Masjid, Cape Town
It is amazing: how can a population of Muslims of only 2% of the whole country's have such magnificent and very well maintained mosques? This is very much unlike in other parts of Africa; in Eastern Africa, Muslims form a large majority of the population but have not done even half as much as the South Africans.
Masjid, Cape Town
Not only do the very few South African Muslims have such very impressive mosques; they do too, have very well organized Islamic centers and many superb, informative Websites.
Masjid Al'Quds, Cape Town
To mention just a few of their Websites: Muslim Directory, Muslim Judicial Council and Radio Islam. Unlike other African Muslims, South African Muslims are using that most potent of our modern technology - the Internet, very well.
Masjid, Cape Town
It is not how large a community is that matters most; it is not how fast an organization is growing that weighs most; it is how vibrant and defining it is that is most important. South African Muslims, very small in numbers, have proven to be an exemplary Muslim community.
Palm Tree Mosque, Cape Town
Not only with their neat, well maintained mosques; or their very well organized centers and libraries; or their superb and informative Websites; but by being active, proactive and creative.
Mosque and Church, Cape Town
Islam, like all religions and ideologies, thrives and flourishes best in free and democratic societies; in Africa, that is what the southern part is, more than the rest of the continent. Islam was introduced to Southern Africa, by 'slaves' and 'laborers'. Today, it is the religion of some of the most well organized, most educated and best businessmen of this part of Africa; southern-Africa, too, today, has some of the most magnificent and most impressive mosques on the Continent. Muslims, not only in other parts of Africa, but also in other parts of the world - can learn much from them. 

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