Author: Boeta Moosa Patel (Snr)
This is a brief and incomplete historical account of the Muslim community of Paarl and its main institutions in the form of places of worship and learning. It is a pity that our predecessors have not left us with enough records to give us a clearer picture of our past. The essay has been reconstructed from oral, old minute books and correspondence and a few stray documents. It can therefore not lay claim to being either exhaustive or 100% correct. Any further input from whatever source will be welcome because it can only serve to enhance its historical authenticity. I am deeply grateful for the research work of the late Hadji AbdurRasool Vahed, my brother-in-law and past colleague, who served the Paarl Muslim community faithfully as secretary for about thirty years. I doubt whether the younger generation will ever realise what sterling work this genius has produced and left behind in his strive for justice and fairness in the community. I considered him to be my role model in organisational work, while I served the community as chairperson.
Another figure worth mentioning is the late Dr Achmat Davids of Cape Town, who was a colleague of mine at the community radio, The Voice of the Cape. This legend was a researcher of Cape Malay history and his research of archival documents which dated back to the 17th century, was of tremendous value to us in Paarl. According to his research, it is possible that the first Muslims arrived in the Drakenstein Valley as slaves and free blacks with or soon after the first white settlers around 1700. In the muster rolls of that period mention is made of free blacks, who came from Cochin and Malabar in India, from Batavia and Macassar, while the number of slaves, imported mostly from the East Indies, was very near to 100. Considering their country of origin, most of them were possibly adherents of Islam, although their Faith could only be actualised in the privacy of their homes, because statutary religious freedom was only recognised by the Batavian Republic after the first British occupation at the Cape in 1804.
By 1834, already, with the abolishment of slavery, the Domingo family became property holders in Paarl. Other families, such as the DuToits. Moerats, Latiefs ands others, first resided against the slopes of the Paarl Mountain in an area known as “Die Droë Riem”, in Oranje Street, where the wagonbuilders were situated. The reason for them moving to the area known as “Die Ou Tuin” could be ascribed to the situation of the masjieds (mosques) which became the centrepoint of the Muslims.
During the whole of the preceding century, Islam was taught and practised surreptitiously and in defiance of the law. As elsewhere in the Cape, there were no official schools and no overt scripture classes. The rudiments of the Religion were taught and the prayers and rituals performed in private homes.
Against heavy odds they have been able to maintain their identity and, after the emancipation of slaves in 1834, rapidly ascended in the social scale while establishing themselves as a district denomination. A central place of worship soon came into Oranje Street, at the slopes of the Paarl Mountain, where a number of prominent Malay families resided at the end of the 19th century. When we discuss the old Muslim families of Paarl, it will become clear about those families, who were active over the years in the cementing of the community into a prominent force. Religious education was imparted from the outset to successive generations of Muslims by private tutors at their homes. Congregational prayers, religious festivals and ceremonial gatherings reinforced the spirit of belonging and cohesion.
According to the first documentary proofs are “The Regals” (rules) of the congregation of Imam Gazan of 3 September 1885. The rules refer to the building of a church (masjid). The congregation was possibly operated as a club, and was known as the Jamaa Moslimie (Gemeente van Slamche Menschen). The place of assembly was probably a hired house, where there was worshipping (salaah) and which was known as a “Langar”. In the document it is mentioned that the congregants had to contribute 3d (three pennies) per week towards the building of a Masjid. The treasurer, known as a “Schatmeester” or “geldbewaarder”, was Hajji Badat. The keykeeper was Imam Gazan. The bookkeeper was Hajji Gaidien Moerat (Dini) and the person who recorded the receiving of money was Hajji Lula Moerat.
According to Court records it is intimated that the congregation was already driven on an organised basis by 1850. Jakoef du Toit, who already a member of the congregation since 1850, purchased the plot on the corner of Breda- and Weiss Streets for purpose of building a Mosque. He probably manufactured the bricks, was in charge as a builder and financed the completion of the Breda Street Mosque.
In 1876, one of these families, headed by Jakoef du Toit, acquired two large plots of ground from J I de Villiers. These were transferred to the “Churchwardens for the time being of the Malay Church, Paarl, and their successors in office” on 7 November 1887 for the sum of £25 (25 pounds sterling). On one of these plots was erected a place of worship, which today still forms the core structure of the Breda Street Mosque.
Building of the Mosque commenced in July 1988 with donations of material and voluntary labour and was duly completed and consecrated amidst great ceremony and fanfare in 1889 with Imam Habiel Domingo the first Minister to head this congregation. As a permanent appointment, this action apparently did not find favour with Jakoef du Toit, who was not only the Mosque’s main benefactor, but had also groomed his son, Kiamdien du Toit, for the post. After some controversy, culminating in a Supreme Court action against the Congregation, he acquired another piece of land near the banks of the Berg River, where Paarl’s second Mosque was eventually erected and where Kiamdien du Toit was duly installed as imam. Unfortunately, not much is known of the history of the second Mosque, because of the paucity of written records.
The first Mosque in Breda Street was renovated after the first World War (1919) and in 1927 an imposing minaret was added to the building, at a cost of £150 sterling. The minaret is still intact today.
The first makbara (burial grounds) of the Muslim community was in Oranje Street at the foot of the Paarl Mountain. This was used by the community until a new cemetery was obtained in 1936 in the area known as “Parys”. According to oral narrative, the first burial at “Parys” was that of a person who resided at Simondium, although there were kuboor (graves of Muslims) at Simondium. A few years ago extra space was given to the community on grounds previously designated to the Jewish community. According to the municipality, the Jewish community no longer buried in Paarl, because their congregants moved mostly to Sea Point.
Religious and Secular Instruction
It was not until 1917 that a formal school was built on the second plot which Jakoef du Toit had acquired in Weiss Street in 1887. And by 1922 the building was brought into use as a government-aided Mission School under the Cape Provincial Administration. A condition laid down was that no non-Muslim is to be enrolled, while a full-time Arabic teacher (Imam Kiemie Gamieldien) was provided and paid by the Education Department. Aziz Latief was the first and only teacher and became the first Principal when the first assistant was added around 1929. In fact, during its 72 years in existence, only three Principals served the school, namely Aziz Latief, Abdul Gamied Khan and Fouzul Latief.
In 1931 the school’s Arabic teacher reached retirement age and the department insisted that his successor should be a qualified teacher on the permanent staff. As the enrolment did not warrant the appointment of another teacher, the community itself appointed and paid a religious instructor, who taught on the premises during school hours. A third member of the staff was only allowed in 1944. By the 1970s, the staff had grown to a total of six teachers, but by then most of the parents were forced to move to Paarl East as a result of the Apartheid Government’s Group Areas Act. The act also forced the closing down of the school in 1974.
A succession of religious instruction teachers (Khalifas) followed, though at times their performance and their stipends left much to be desired. Any such shortcomings were, however, quickly remedied through private tuition by tutors favoured by concerned parents. Imam Mustapha Abrahams and Imam Gammie Moerat were two of such private tutors, who gave regular tuition after school. As a primary pupil myself, I attended afternoon classes at Imam Mustapha, where most of my friends attended, and evening classes at Imam Gammie, where my older brothers attended.
Despite occasional breaks in the continuity of formal religious classes, the Islamic atmosphere prevailed at the school where basic prayers and supplications (du’ahs) were recited and rituals followed daily. Thus the character of the school as a Muslim institution was consistently maintained.
Among the assistant teachers, who served over the years, the following names can be mentioned: Amina Richards, Lama Richards, Zubeida Khan, Mymoena Moerat, Sakkie Sahabodien, Nora Latief, Atieka Kamaldien, Yusuf Nackerdien, Nasier Abrahams, Omar Peck, Mymoena Latief, Noerie Kader, and Rashieda Gaidien. It could be that a name or two was inadvertently left out. During those years married females could not obtain permanent status, and unmarried females replaced them, after their marriage. The school continued to grow and when the spectre of the Group Areas Act reared its head, it was bursting at the seams. A truck was obtained by the community to transport the learners from Paarl east and back. One of the male teachers would take turns in driving the truck, nicknamed “Die Hoender Lorrie” by the children.
In 1961 the two Congregations were informed that the Mosques and the school were “affected properties”, meaning that they were located in an area proclaimed for white ownership and occupation, Naturally, objection and protest were lodged and the Congregation jointly liaised with the Muslim Judicial Council in opposing the threatened expropriation of these properties.
In 1963 while the fate of the school hung in the balance, application was made for additional classrooms in hired premises near to the existing school. In its reply the Department rejected this and suggested that “the renting of accommodation in the Klein Drakenstein area” be explored, this being the area set aside for “coloureds”.
With the amalgamation in 1964 of the four existing local Muslim bodies into a single organisation catering for all the needs of the community, the process of negotiating for a suitable alternate school site started in earnest.
Years of overtures and parleying followed. At one stage the authorities approved of provisional building plans for an alternate Muslim school at which secular and religious education would be integrated. All this came to naught when a sudden change in policy prompted the following official response: “In the light of changed circumstances, the Administration is of the opinion that you should not proceed with the erection of the school building”. (Extract from the Commissioner for Coloured Affairs dated 5/1/1973).
Thus the fate of the existing Muslim school was sealed and the prospect of its continued existence on another site was cut short. The Paarl Moslem School finally closed its doors during the first week of May 1974, 52 years after its initial establishment, and the entire staff together with its complement of about 200 pupils was transferred to a brand-new state institution, known as New Orleans Primary School, with Mr Fouzul Latief as Principal. Mr Latief, one of my contemporaries, was later promoted to Principal of New Orleans Secondary School, where he demised of a heart attack, while in office.
About 25 years after the closing of the Paarl Moslem School, the local community established a brand new school in the form of Al-Azhar, in the Mosque complex in Lapperts Street. The school has already reached high school status and has helped to group the Muslim children together in an Islamic environment. With the recording of present day events and the minutes of meetings being preserved, it will be easy for posterity to add onto the history that has been written to date. However, it would be incomplete if I do not mention other things, which have contributed towards the unification of the community of Paarl:
Ever since the erection of the two Mosques, each Mosque was administrated by its officials and members. This was the case until 1964, when unification of the two Jama’ats became a reality. Each Mosque had its own Imam, its own Jumu’ah and although the members of both Mosques were inter-related, some would bypass the one Mosque to attend the other.
A third organisation, consisting of all members of the Muslim public, and named the Paarl Muslim Society was established to cater for the Islamic education as well as the school requirements. Because of its nature, it was popularly known as “The Public”. The chairperson was Mr Jakoef Abrahams and the secretary was Hajji Mogamat Latief, who was at that stage also the school manager.
In 1952 a world renowned personality in the form of Moulana Adbul Aaleem Siddique, visited South Africa. The “Public” arranged a lecture in the Paarl Town Hall for the distinguished visitor. The principal, Mr AG Khan, introduced the speaker on stage and the hall was filled to capacity with people from all religions and colours. After the lecture, the visitor was entertained at the residence of Mr Ismail Herbert, where he suggested that one Jumu’ah be held with such a small community. Subsequently, a single Juma’ah was held in the Breda Street Mosque, for a few years, until it was agreed to hold Jumu’ah alternatively at both Mosques.
In 1956, after the Muslim Youth League ceased to exist, a new organisation known as the Paarl Islamic Movement was established by the younger members of the community. The Youth League was primarily an organisation to provide games and recreation for the young Muslim males and females of the town. However, the League ceased to exist when some of its organisers lost interest after their marriage. The Movement, known as P.I.M., consisted of males and females. It also consisted of members of both Jama’ats, some of whom had started to play leading roles in their respective Jama’ats, as well as in the Public. Among their ranks were professional people, office staff and businessmen, who were politically aware of the set up in the country. Even the two imams, Imam Na-aim Moerat and Sheikh Mouti Moerat, were youthful and associated themselves with the Movement.
They decided to organise themselves progressively, encouraging similar Movements in neighbouring towns. In order to raise funds, the Movement organised a festival type of bazaar annually, lasting over a weekend, complete with restaurant, trimmed stalls, sporting events, competitions in the form of cake-baking, baby show, flower decoration, etc. The official opening would include a special guest speaker from outside Paarl, while the older generation were respectably invited to sit with the guest speaker. Generous donations and sponsorships from large firms were received to cover expenses. These progressive methods received the admiration of the older generation. Soon thereafter, they flocked to join the ranks of P.I.M., which suited the youth perfectly.
At the ensuing AGM of the Movement, the founder members of P.I.M. voted many of the older generation into important positions, which had the desired effect and by 1963, the older members suggested that there be unification of all the splinter bodies to form a united Jama’at. This suited the ambitions of the younger generation, and they were prepared to do a lot of spadework to speed up proceedings towards unification. The older members became aware of the foolishness of taxing the same community with so many small fund-raising efforts, besides remaining divided.
Subsequently, it was decided by the other organisations to entrust P.I.M. with the responsibility of drawing up a constitution for a united Jama’at and to organise an inaugural meeting for unification. This culminated in a public meeting being held on 31 May 1964 (a public holiday) in the Roxy Cinema, which belonged to one of the members. Surprisingly, the older generation voted many of the younger generation into leading positions to run the affairs of the Jama’at. The two imams were retained in their position, but had to do extra-mural duties, such as marriages, burials, gajaats, etc on a rotational monthly basis to avoid competition and friction. This was the case until Imam Na-aim went to settle in Makkah, and Sheikh Mouti became the only imam, with both Mosques still being used.
The Influence of Sport on the Community
The Muslim community of Paarl was always one that was keenly interested in sport, especially the males. Some females were also actively involved in tennis and table-tennis. However, many females were keen spectators at sport such as rugby. The community was never involved in soccer.
Before 1923, Muslims practised sports with various clubs in their area. However in 1923, a club called Paarl Ottomans Cricket Club, was established, and the bulk of the Muslims joined this club, although membership was never restricted to Muslims only. The club joined the local union and played regular fixtures. The club received special dispensation during Ramadaan and fixtures were organised to allow them their byes during this month. Another dispensation was that any match of theirs would be postponed on a day when a burial of a Muslim took place, considering the relatively small community, where many of them were related to the deceased. Besides being good cricketers, many members of Ottomans were also leading administrators. The Nackerdien family members were keen cricketers. The club ceased to exist when amalgamation of clubs took place in Paarl.
In 1944, Boeta Moutie Moerat and his bother-in-law, Boeta Esa Abrahams, playing for separate teams, Violets and Riverstones, met and discussed the establishment of a club for Muslims. The moving reason was that the winning of trophies culminated in celebration parties, which involved liquor abuse, and was against Islam. The sons of Imam Gammie Moerat were playing for Violets, while their cousins, the sons of Hajji Achmat Moerat were members of Riverstones. Those living in Zuider Paarl played for Rangers and others living in Noorder Paarl played for Peoples.
The club was established, but with the proviso that they wouldn’t allow any non-Muslim members from other clubs to join their ranks. With such a clause embedded into their constitution, Vineyards became affiliated to the Country Coloured Rugby Union in 1944. Ironically the name of the Union was changed on a proposal by a Muslim some 20 years later to Paarl Rugby Union. The same name changed happened at the Cricket union by the same person, who also fought at many AGMs of Vineyards to remove the “Muslim only” clause from the constitution. Most of the members being apolitical at the time, refused to budge. Some years later, the clause was changed to accommodate a special non-Muslim player, but unfortunately not for political reasons. Vineyards is still in existence and as was the case in 1944, the majority of players belong to the Moerat family.
Even the younger boys in Paarl formed a club, Vineyards Juniors, which played matches on Sunday afternoons against junior clubs in Cape Town. In those days no sport was allowed in Paarl, so we had to travel everytime to a field in town. My eldest brother, Boeta Ebrahim, would make his truck available to convey the team. I remember our first set of jerseys were sleeved vests, which Boeta Tayeb Abrahams and his wife, Sis Legga, dyed with maroon dye, and when they were dry, the numbers 1 to 15 were stitched on at the back. The boys held their own meetings, picked their own teams and arranged their own practices and fund-raising. This was the way we learned to organise at a very young age.
A plot belonging to the Vahed family on the corner of Waterkant- and Malherbe Streets, was utilised for the erection of a tennis court, by the Malay Tennis Club. However, the court was neglected and the club ceased to exist. The few tennis players who wanted to pursue their careers in tennis joined up with other clubs in the “Ou Tuin” area.
In 1950, a carrom club was established on the banks of the Berg River at the residence of the Rhoda family. Two years later a second carrom club, known as Red Tulips, was established at the residence of Mr Sedick and Mrs Jiera Moerat, The former club affiliated to the WP Carrom Union, but the latter preferred playing friendly matches and keeping the majority of Muslim members together. Both these clubs went out of existence when the popularity of carrom disappeared.
The Paarl club was established in 1961 and the practice venue was in the former woodwork factory of Mr Achmat Richards in Malherbe Street. The Essop family played a leading role in the running affairs of the club, but it was Achmat “Broertjie” Abrahams, who reached great heights as a player.
In the days when the local community watched the annual Sports Day at the Paarl Sports Ground in Market Street, cycling, especially the 25 mile race caught the imagination of the public. A youngster by the name of Na-aim de Vos, took up the sport and if apartheid did not prevent him from becoming a Springbok cyclist, he would have reached the highest honours in the country. The local community organised and sent him to Denmark, where he could compete on an international level. Unfortunately, no other cyclists in the community followed in his footsteps.
Other Forms of Entertainment
Cinema was the main form of entertainment for the community. In the old days they were limited to only one cinema, the Paladium, in Lady Grey Street, which practised segregation in the building. This caused a local Muslim, Mr. Mogamat Richards, to show 16mm films in their backyard on Monday evenings during the summer months. The open air cinema was known as “Open Air” and charged 6d (5c) for adults and tickey (2½c) for children. Later Mr Richards erected a cinema, known as the Regent, in the Klein Drakenstein area. Another Muslim, Mr Hassan Mukaddam, opened the Roxy Cinema in Hof Steet, until he built the Planet Cinema in Klein Drakenstein.
After the war years, touring groups would entertain locals with variety shows, such as Golden City Dixies and African Jazz & Variety. In the early Sixties, local personalities started entertaining the community with stage shows in the Moslem School and later in the Town Hall. Their comedy acts were hilarious and original and had the community flocking to fill the halls.
Weddings were taken as a form of entertainment in bygone days, when “Eat and Treats” were unheard of. The Moslem School was the common place for hall weddings, and it would be decorated the previous night. The decorators would sing “Malay songs” to entertain themselves while using coloured crepe paper for decoration. The wedding itself, after the marriage ceremony in the mosque, would be a jolly affair, with the guests and the waiters entertaining themselves with Dutch and English songs.
It is with a little bit of nostalgia that one recalls the days when the Muslim community went on a picnic on the back of a truck. They would take their utensils and eatables with them, while adults as well as children mounted the backs of trucks. Whole families would prepare to spend the day together outside on old blankets. It would be to the few camping places open to the community. The swimming places would often be dangerous, but the happiness would be noticeable everywhere. There would often be singing along the journey and all kinds of humourous talk.
The picnics were often organised by the Jama’at or a sports club to raise funds. Whatever the case, the happy spirit was unmistakable and was part and parcel of a happy community. Very few people possessed their own means of transport, never mind posh cars. Sometimes families would walk along the Berg River with their goodies to camp along the river for the day.
When people were invited to a “gaadjat” or “arwhaag” on a Sunday, they would start in the morning and there would be merang (feast) at lunch time. Many a time hufaaz would come from Cape Town to recite the Qur’an from early morning, before the arwhaag starts. On specific nights the Jama’at would meet at the Mosque to celebrate Moulood. The ladies would spend the afternoon cutting orange leaves to wrap and form perfumed “rampies”. These would be dished out to all those present and even buttonhole flowers would be served.
The whole evening would be spent in salawaat and qasiedas. Late at night eatables would be served to the people who performed “Djieker”. Another form of entertainment that was often witnessed was the “Ratiep” or Khalifa display, which was often organised at the residence of a member of the Jama’at. To the modern mind all these mentioned activities might sound simple, but under the circumstances such occasions would be the means to gather and form a strong bond and brotherhood, which is often lacking nowadays.
I remember how, as children, Hajji Kamalie Kamaldien invited us to his garage to learn the contents of the Ratibul Gadaad. We would write down in books each verse to be repeated three times, until we could perform the whole Gadaad. Later on Imam Mustapha aided us, until Boeta Abbas Moerat gave regular Gadaad sessions at his residence every Thursday and Sunday evening, with his son, Sedick, leading the Gadaad.
Sunday mornings would be koesister mornings. There were a few ladies who specialised in this delicacy and sell them for 1 penny each. A very large koesister filled with coconut would cost a tickey. Their children walked with a basket full of koesisters and a fork, and one could take out the amount required. Mondays would again be fish day, and all the fishmongers would blow their trumpet to announce the arrival of fresh fish, such as maasbankers, harders, pangas, stokvis and snoek. The price of such items were shilling a bunch and shilling (10c) per snoek. Crayfish was so cheap that people hardly bought them