The life of Tuan Guru, one of the South African Muslim community’s most iconic figures, has been re-visited in a fascinating new book. “From the Spice Islands to Cape Town: The Life and Times of Tuan Guru”, is written by VOC presenter and journalist Shafiq Morton and brings to fruition two years of painstaking research. Awqaf SA commissioned Morton to look deeper into the life and contribution of this famous scholar to the landscape of South Africa and some of his latest insights are thought-provoking.
Hailing from a family of scholars in the Hadhramawt, Tuan Guru’s descendants arrived in the Far East in the 14th century. His ancestor is Sunan Gunung Jati, a saint and founding father of Indonesian Islam, who became the Sultan of Banten and Cirebon in Java during the late 1400s.
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.
He spent two stints on the now famous Robben Island as a political exile and prisoner. But his legacy is far greater for the South African Muslim community, as he wrote the Qur’an and a classical text from memory that educated Muslims for over 100 years. He was known to have established the first non-racial school, and who built the country’s first mosque.
“Tuan Guru is a legend who needs to be known by all South Africans and future generations. Surely, a man who made such tremendous contributions to our history now needs the recognition of all,” said Awqaf SA in a statement.
According to Morton, his preparation for the book started with intensive reading of available resources, some dust by checking the archives, interviews with descendants in Cape Town and Tidore, the internet, academic papers, books and most importantly, Tuan Gurus own, translated writings.
Using these newly discovered sources, and by tracing his life back to the Moluccas – something never done before – Morton has woven a refreshingly new narrative of one of Cape Town’s most celebrated historical figures.
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.
Morton’s book on Tuan Guru is a welcomed contribution to the growing trend of local indigenous writing and research. It forms part of the Awqaf SA Leaders and Legacies Project, which showcases and captures in book form, the contributions and legacies of Leaders within the Muslim community who have positively contributed to the growth and development of South Africa.
To pre-order the book: https://goo.gl/C2M9da
The book will be launched on Sunday 17th March at the Centre for the Book, 62 Queen Victoria St, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town
Register now to attend: https://goo.gl/VYExZP