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The transformation of the Cape’s hajj traditions

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By Yaseen Kippie

Through its deep spiritual traditions, Capetonian Muslims have long been a close knit community despite years of oppression and subjugation during the apartheid era.  The emergence of Muslims joining ship routes around Africa to the sacred lands of Makkah, brought with it the manifestation of centuries of yearning for the fulfilment of the fifth pillar of Islam, in the form of the sacred pilgrimage, known as the Hajj.

Founded upon the wisdoms of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and later spiritual leaders from Indonesia, the Cape hajj tradition provides a truly unique experience for pilgrims and community alike. Here follows the development of pre and post Hajj rituals in Cape Town over the years.

Pre-Hajj Rituals
• Greeting and the ‘Slavat’

It was a fascination of Capetonian Muslims going around with a greeting card that spurred on the interest of Dr Hoosain Ebrahim in documenting the Cape Hajj Tradition.

“They would go around, reminding people when they are leaving and to make dua (pray) for them. They will go to people they have not been in contact with for years. Those same people will then visit the Hujjaj (pilgrims) the day they leave. That is unique to Cape Town,” says Dr Ebrahim.

Muslims in Cape Town know the meanings of words such as ‘slavat’ and ‘kramat’, as a continuation of a legacy to spiritualize the community in its conception of the Divine.

The ‘slavat’ is money coupled with a prayer given to the Hujjaj by friends and family. With the advent of modernisation and an increase in wealth, ‘slavats’ are seen by some as unnecessary.

Commenting on the importance to uphold this tradition, Hajji Muhammad Zain Waggie, who himself had journeyed to the Hajj numerous times over the decades, says it is an imperative to continue these customs.

“Our children need to inculcate these traditions. They are ‘modern’ and they think ‘modern’. When people greet you, it’s an honour. The ‘slavat’, which the children do not want to take, is not about the money, it is a ‘dua’ they make for you, and you must make it for them too. It is the love, the mahabbah that matters.”

Hajjah Alawiyah Waggie, the wife of Hajji Muhammad Zain Waggie echoed this point.

“The youth must go greet, they don’t greet, they just Whatsapp you. It’s a great ibadah, you’ve been chosen by Allah, yet you don’t want to greet your family.”

• Announcing the Hajj:
The announcement of the Hajj itself is another Cape Tradition, drawing from the sunnah (practice of the Prophet Muhammad) of the Hajj being announced in the city of Madina in the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

• Leaving the Home, Walking and the Departure from Cape Town
The Departure from the home would be coupled with the adhan being rendered, dua and nasiha.
There would also be a strong sense of presence at departure times, shown by large crowds at harbours, train stations and airports.

Walking to the point of departure, the father, or husband would walk with the men, and his wife would walk with the females.

“There was no closed walkway to the airplane, so all the families would wave at you,” recalls Hajji Muhammad Zain Waggie.

• Visiting Kramats
The ‘kramat’ is the resting place of a great saint in Cape Muslim heritage, visited before embarking on the Hajj.  Visiting the kramats is a long standing tradition throughout the year in Cape Town, but particularly before the Hujjaj depart for Hajj.

Visiting saintly pioneers of Islam at the Cape, such as Tuan Yusuf, Tuan Guru, Sayyid Abdurahman Matura, Sayyid Abdurahman Matebe, Sayyid Hasan Shah, and others situated around the Cape, is a whole day affair, with the entire family. This is another tradition lacking proliferation.

“It is because of these traditions that Cape Town is one of the strongest places where you find Islam,” asserts Dr Ebrahim .

A karamat on the slopes of the mountain

• Hajj Classes

Hajj Classes have always been a major part of the Hajj tradition.

“Hajj classes have increased in other parts of South Africa between the 19th and 20th centuries. There were never as many classes as in Cape Town,” explains the academic.

Dr Ebrahim also referenced one particular person, named Boeta Dollie, who allegedly taught over a thousand people the Hajj per week.

“When Boeta Dollie, a student of the late Imam Abu Bakr Simon, came back from Hajj, he asked his Ustadh (teacher) for permission to teach. Within 2 years he taught more than a thousand a week, at community halls and Mosques.”

Other Hajj classes were taught by Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks, Shaykh Ahmad Behardien, Shaykh Ismail Ganief, whose students were Imam Abdullah Haron, Shaykh Abdurahman Da Costa and Shaykh Yusuf Da Costa.

Most Hajj classes took place at the homes of the teachers, but with the advent of travelling agencies in the 1930s, more formalised classes started.

• Dress

Archives show many photographs of Cape Muslim Hujjaj draped in special clothing prior to their departure for the sacred pilgrimage of Hajj. The Thawb, Scarf and Midora, were designed in a unique way for the Hujjaj.

“The way they would dress, including the youngsters wearing fezzes, was manufactured largely by Shaykh Jassiem. There was also a man named ‘Bukhari’ in Makkah who would sew clothes for the Hujjaj. He spoke Afrikaans, which he would learn from the many Capetonians who would visit him. I met him in 1984. Today, very few people have maintained this practice of the dress,” says Dr Ebrahim.

The beautiful garb of the ‘kuifies’

Post-Hajj Rituals
• The Welcome Home
Airports and homes were crowded for many days when the Hujjaj would return home, with the intention that they share their experiences in the sacred lands.

“This is very important. By people listening to them, they make the niyyah (intention) to perform the Hajj too,” affirms Mr Waggie.

• Perception of the Hujjaj by the Community

Mrs Waggie recalled the perception of the community on the Hujjaj.

“People call me ‘Hajjah’ (female pilgrim) at the shops, because I made a promise to Allah that I will uphold my Hajj through my actions. We would also be honoured by wearing special clothing to shown as Hujjaj every Friday. Another thing back in the day, going to the cinema as a Hajji is a bad thing. Today, it does not matter.”

Spirituality in contemporary society

Due to technological advancement, business, and transport, a number of questions have been raised on the quality of Hajj today as compared to that of yesteryear. In the mid-1900’s, average pricing would be R354 for flights and six months in Makkah, with no Visa required, according to Thomas Cooke Agencies.

Dr Hoosain Ebrahim, whose grandfather worked for Thomas Cooke, says modern Muslim society has transformed.

“Today you can have breakfast in Cape Town and dinner in Jeddah. With all of these advancements, we have lost direct contact with Hujjaj. Changes happen all the time. We cannot live in the past, fortunately and unfortunately. But we need to maintain certain things when it comes to Hajj. Other things, with modern commitments, are difficult.”

“Today, Hujjaj have to work up till the last day or two days before they go on hajj. Previously, the Hujjaj would be at home for a month before they went back to work, but now they have to go back to work immediately.”

An old photo of how the Mas’aa looked before it became part of the Haram. This is where pilgrims perform the Sa‘ī. [Photo: Hajj and Umrah Info]
Saving for Hajj is another custom that inculcated spirituality and purity in action. Dr Ebrahim recalled one person contacting the late Shaykh Yusuf Karaan, and showing him a brick opening in his kitchen where he would store money for the Hajj, while others would keep it under their beds. Many would bake cakes and koeksisters to save for Hajj.

“When you make your intention, and then you save your money, you must make sure your money is pure. Today, with all the financial institutions, we cannot always guarantee that.”

But can spirituality still be inculcated into the Hajj amidst the increased speed we experience today?
Dr Hoosain Ebrahim certainly believes so.

“Hajj is between you and your Rabb (Lord). Nobody interferes with the spirituality. We can’t say your Hajj was accepted or not. You will know whether you did a good job or not, if you didn’t waste your time. We don’t know about the duas you made. You followed the strict guidelines of the Hajj. You shouldn’t worry about things, you must be positive.”

This is how Marwa looked before it became part of the Haram.
[Photo: Hajj and Umrah info]
Drawing inspiration to continue the Capetonian Hajj Tradition, based on the wisdoms of the Sunnah, there is still hope for the spirit of the Cape Muslim community to flourish as it always has. Hajji Muhammad Zain Waggie believes youth should hold onto the Cape Malay traditions firmly.

“The spirit was high, but if the customs disappear, no one will know us anymore and we will be ordinary. We won’t stand out as a Muslim community anymore. We must not lose our customs.”

To download the entire series of interviews, find the links here:


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