30 November 2023

A powerful new book encapsulates how the foundation of Islam in South Africa was paved by Shaykh Yusuf and Imam Tuan Guru, writes

Nabeelah Shaikh.

The importance of two legendary Indonesian leaders in bringing Islam into South Africa has been published in a new captivating book that was launched recently.

The book titled: “Evaluating Shaykh Yusuf Al-Makassari and Imam Abdullah Tidore’s (aka Tuan Guru) ideational teaching: Reinforcing Indonesia – South Africa’s relations”, has been published by the Indonesian Embassy in South Africa, in collaboration with Non-Profit Organisation, Awqaf SA.

The essence of the book encapsulates how the foundation of Islam in South Africa was paved by Shaykh Yusuf also referred to as the ‘Father of Islam’ and Imam Tuan Guru known as the ‘Master Teacher’.

The book is compiled in collaboration with various contributors including Professor Suleman Dangor, Shafiq Morton and Professor Yusuf Dadoo who spoke at last Saturday’s hybrid launch. It has been edited by Muhammed Haron and Ardhya Erlangga Arby.

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Speaking at Saturday’s launch, Haron said this particular book is the first of its kind in the sense that efforts were made to bring the two iconic figures together, in one piece of work.

“When we think about Shaykh Yusuf, who was honoured by the two governments, he was indeed a personality that stood out. He was a Sufi scholar, he has written a number of manuscripts, he was a negotiator and arbitrator in different circumstances. He was respected, even by the colonial authorities.

Imam Abdullah may not have been given that stately honor, but he triggered social and religious changes that the Muslim community today has indeed benefitted from. The building of the Musjid, the formation of the madressah, the bringing together of communities – these are all important examples of his roles,” said Haron.

He highlighted the importance of strengthening relations between Indonesia and South Africa.

“I think for future scholars, we need collaboration between Indonesians and South Africans. We need to expand this between university and community level. These are ways to really cement the connection. We need to see these types of relations, strengthened in different ways,” said Haron.

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The book’s foreword was penned by Dr Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations. There she writes about how South Africa and Indonesia established diplomatic relations in August 1994.

“The historical ties and linkages between the two countries go back more than three and a half centuries. During the 16th and 17th centuries hundreds of slaves and dissidents from Indonesia were sent to the Cape of Good Hope. Colonization and anti-Islamic persecution led to the exile of adversaries. Many of them were political exiles, comprising of aristocrats, emirs, advisors, and imams who were banished from the Malay-Indonesian archipelago at the hands of the Dutch who were trying to establish hegemony in the region,” wrote Pandor.

She says the book has been written in the context of the history of colonization of Africa and Asia and the people of Indonesia who were expelled to the Cape of Good Hope.

“Both men were of royal lineage. Tuan Guru was a descendent from the royal house of Tidore who was banished to the Cape in 1780 and incarcerated twice on Robben Island from 1780-81 and 1785-89.

Many Muslim individuals across South Africa have followed in the footsteps of Shaykh Yusuf and Imam Abdullah. These include Imam Abdullah Haron, Ahmed Timol, Babla Saloojee and Abu Bakr Asvat who were imprisoned and died in the name of Freedom, Equality and Justice in South Africa,” wrote Pandor.

The book has been launched as part of Awqaf SA’s educational empowerment project called ‘Leaders and Legacies’. Under this project, Awqaf SA has commissioned the writings of biographies of various leaders and their stories to shed light on the lives of historical leaders.

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