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Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

On-line version ISSN 2309-9070
Print version ISSN 0041-476X

Tydskr. letterkd. vol.45 n.1 Pretoria Jan. 2008


Arabic-Afrikaans literature at the Cape



Suleman Essop Dangor

Suleman Essop Dangor is Professor of Islamic Studies, School of Religion and Theology, University of KwaZulu Natal, Durban, South Africa. E-mail:




Tuan Guru - the first official imam at the Cape - used Malayu as the medium of instruction in the Dorp Street madrasah (Muslim religious school) which he established at the end of the 18th century. This changed in the middle of the 19th century when Cape Dutch was adopted as the language of instruction. While the children were familiar with this language they could not read the Latin script since they were barred from attending the public schools. Cape Muslims could, however, read the Arabic script which they had to learn for liturgical purposes - though they could not speak Arabic. To overcome this conundrum, numerous scholars and teachers began to translate Arabic texts into Cape Dutch and then transcribing these in the Latin script. These "readers" came to serve as official textbooks in the madrasahsat the Cape. This article traces the development of this genre of literature which came to be known as Arabic-Afrikaans, comments on manuscripts that were identified by Adrianus van Selms, Achmat Davids and Hans Kähler and highlights the daunting challenge of transcribing Afrikaans phonetically in the Arabic script.

Key words: Arabic, Arabic-Afrikaans, Afrikaans Literature, Cape-Dutch, Cape Muslim history



Full text available only in PDF format.




1. It appears that the ability to read and write the Arabic script was widespread in the Cape Muslim community (see Davids 1989: 1).

2. Mujtahid refers to a scholar who is qualified to formulate independent decisions in theological and legal matters. Rawafid (lit.: "those who refuse") - historically the term is applied by Sunnis to the Shi'ah; it refers to the refusal by the Shi'ah to accept the legitimacy of the caliphate of Abu Bakr, "Umar and 'Uthman. The Wahhabis are members of an 18th century reformist movement founded by Muhammad ibn "Abdul al-Wahhab, a Hanbali scholar, in Arabia.

3Mawlid (birth) refers to commemoration of the Prophef s birthday. Ja'far ibn Hasan al-Barzanji was a 14th century Islamic poet who wrote an epic poem called "Ruwayats" which expounds the heroic deeds of the Prophet of Islam. This poem is often referred to as "Maulid Barzanji".

4al-Hadramiyyah is derived from Hadramawt, a region south of the Arabian peninsula.

5. This term refers to a popular invocation in praise of God.

6. This term refers to signs of the Day of Judgement.

7. Davids (1991c: 2) claims that the author of this work was Sheikh Abu Bakr Abdurauf.

8Tawhid (lit.: the oneness of God) is the defining doctrine of Islam. It means the unity and uniqueness of God as Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

9Ratib al-Haddad refers to the litanies or spiritual hymns compiled by Abdallah ibn Alawi al-Haddad; al-Hisn al-Hasin (lit.: the invulnerable fort).

10Koplesboeke were handwritten readers containing sections of Islamic books or texts compiled for the learners.

11. There are four major Sunni schools (madhahib,sing.: madhhab) of Islamic law. The overwhelming majority of Cape Muslims belonged to the Shafi'ite school. However, Abu Bakr Effendi belonged to the Hanafite school, so he established the Ottoman theological school where he would be free to promulgate his teachings.


Works cited

Da Costa, Yusuf. 1994. The influence of tasawwuf on Islamic practices at the Cape. In Yusuf da Costa & Achmat Davids (eds.). Pages from Cape Muslim History. Pietermaritzburg: Shuter & Shooter, 129-141.         [ Links ]

Dangor, Suleman E. 1994. Shaykh Yusuf of Macassar. Durban: Iqra.         [ Links ]

Davids, Achmat. 1980. The Mosques of Bo-Kaap, Cape Town: The South African Institute of Arabic & Islamic Research.         [ Links ]

_____. 1989. The words the slaves made. Studies in the History of Cape Town. Cape Town: University of Cape Town.         [ Links ]

_____. 1991a. The Afrikaans of the Cape Muslim Community from examples taken from various manuscripts, books and lithographs produced between 1860 and 1928. Unpublished paper presented at the seminar on "Approaches to the Study of Islam and Muslim Societies". Cape Town: University of Cape Town, 17-19 July.         [ Links ]

_____. 1991b. Abubakr Effendi: His creation of the Afrikaans letter e in Arabic script. South African Journal of Linguistics 19(1): 1-30.         [ Links ]

_____. 1991c. The Afrikaans of the Cape Muslims from 1815-1915. A Socio-Linguistic Study. Unpublished M. A. thesis. Durban: University of Natal.         [ Links ]

Ebrahim, Mogamat H. 2004. Shaykh Ismail Hanif Edwards - His Life and Works. Cape Town.         [ Links ]

Kahler, Hans. 1971. Studien äber die Kultur, die Sprache und die Arabisch-Afrikaansche Literatur der Kap-Malaien. Berlin: Verlag von Dietrich Reimer.         [ Links ]

Muller, Piet J. 1960. Afrikaanse Geskrifte in Arabiese Karakters. Bulletin of the South African Library 15.         [ Links ]

Van Selms, Adrianus. 1951a. Arabies-Afrikaansche Studies -'n tweetalige (Arabies en Afrikaans) kategismus. Leiden: N.V Noord Hollandsche Uitgewers & Royal Netherlands Academy for Sciences (Literature Division).         [ Links ]

_____. 1951b. Ubersicht über die Arabisch-Afrikaansche Literatur (Survey of Arabic-Afrikaans Literature).         [ Links ]

_____. 1953.2 Die Oudste Boek in Afrikaans: Isjmoeni se "Betroubare Woord". Hertzog Annale van die Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap and Kuns, 61-103.         [ Links ]

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