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Middle East and Islamic Studies in South Africa

  • Tamara Sonn (a1)


Although muslims make up less than two percent of South Africa’s total population, they are a well-established community with high visibility. In 1994 South Africans will celebrate 300 years of Islam in South Africa. The introduction of Islam to South Africa is usually attributed to Sheikh Yusuf, a Macasser prince exiled to South Africa for leading resistance against Dutch colonization in Malaysia. But the first Muslims in South Africa were actually slaves, imported by the Dutch colonists to the Cape mainly from India, the Indonesian archipelago, Malaya and Sri Lanka beginning in 1667. The Cape Muslim community, popularly but inaccurately known as “Malays” and known under the apartheid system as “Coloureds,” therefore, is the oldest Muslim community in South Africa. The other significant Muslim community in South Africa was established over 100 years later by northern Indian indentured laborers and tradespeople, a minority of whom were Muslims. The majority of South African Indian Muslims now live in Natal and Transvaal. Indians were classified as “Asians” or “Asiatics” by the apartheid system. The third ethnically identifiable group of Muslims in South Africa were classified as “African” or “Black” by the South African government. The majority of Black Muslims are converts or descendants of converts. Of the entire Muslim population of South Africa, some 49% are “Coloureds,” nearly 47% are “Asians,” and although statistics regarding “Africans” are generally unreliable, it is estimated that they comprise less than four percent of the Muslim population. Less than one percent of the Muslim population is “White.”



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1 Haron, Muhammed, “Islamic Education in South Africa,” The Muslim Educational Quarterly 5:2 (1988), p. 41. This article includes a useful bibliography.

2 Increased organizational activity of Muslims is also evidenced in a proliferation of newspapers and newsletters, journals and community-based organizations. See Mahida, Ebrahim Mohamed, Islam in South Africa: A Bibliography (Durban: Centre for Research in Islamic Studies, University of Durban-Westville, 1993), pp. 3953.

3 Haron, Muhammed, “Theses on Islam at South African Universities,” Islam et Societies au Sud du Sahara 5 (1991), pp. 14555. The author points out that the titles listed are as submitted to the universities, not necessarily as completed.

Middle East and Islamic Studies in South Africa

  • Tamara Sonn (a1)


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