Abu Bakr Effendi

Sheikh Abu Bakr Effendi (1814–1880) was a qadi of Kurdish descent who was sent in 1862 by the Ottoman sultan Abdulaziz at the request of the British Queen Victoria to the Cape of Good Hope, in order to teach and assist the Muslim community of the Cape Malays. His year of birth has often been mistaken to be 1835.


Abu Bakr Effendi
Bayānu ddīn by Abu Bakr Effendi, published 1869 was one of the first books translated into Afrikaans
Bayānu ddīn by Abu Bakr Effendi, published 1869 was one of the first books translated into Afrikaans
Bornc. 1814

Effendi was from a Kurdish/Arab Sayyid family which originated from Mecca and migrated into Abbasid then Sejuk territory. Abubakr was born in the Ottoman Province of Shehrizur. He is a Sayyid, direct descendant of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad through Zayd ibn Ali, son of Imam Zayn al-Abidin. Other imams in the Cape were mostly teaching the Shafi`i school of Islamic jurisprudence; he was a follower and the first teacher of Hanafi school, for which he also established a madrassa in Cape Town. He gained notoriety in 1869 after ruling that rock lobster and snoek, two staple foods in the Cape, were sinful (haraam). He has often been mistaken for being a Shafi'i on the basis of him being a Scholar of the 4 schools of Sunni Islam, and being able to issue religious edicts according to each one. His ancestors and children practised the Hanafi school of thought.

He died after contracting malaria from reportedly travelling to Dera Mozambique, after having made several major contributions to Islam in South Africa. He introduced the fez for men,[citation needed] as well as reinstating the hijab for women[citation needed]. More importantly, besides his role as teacher he also published the Arabic Afrikaans "Uiteensetting van die godsdiens" ("Bayan ad-Din", or "The Exposition of the Religion") in 1877.

Early Life and times in South AfricaEdit

Abu Bakr was born in Ottoman province Shehrizur. His father Molla Omar Al-Baghdadi an Ottoman Governor, was killed by local tribesmen uprising against the authority. He studied at the Madrassa originally set up by his ancestor Abu Nasr Al-Amiyr Sulaymaan Al-Qurashiy Al-Amjadiy (c. 1060 - c.1134) for any who wish to learn. Not much is known of Abu Nasr Al-Amiyr Sulaymaan from Abubakrs personal documents. He is however a contemporary of Suleyman Ghazi, the founder of the Ottoman Empire and Suleyman Sultan of Rum who lived at similar times. Further studies and teachings of Abubakr were in Erzurum, Istanbul and Makkah.

According to the Travelogue of Omar Lutfi Effendi, while he and Abu Bakr travelled by sea. At a later age Omar Lutfi returned to Turkey where his descendants still reside. His Travelogue was translated into English from Ottoman Turkish by Turkish/American Islamic Scholar Yusuf Kavakci.

Many of Abu Bakr Effendi's descendants originate from his marriage to Tohora Saban Cook whom he married after renouncing the "perfectly white" first wife, Rukea Maker. He had 5 sons, Ahmad Ataullah, Hisham Nimatullah, Omar Jalaluddin, Muhammad Alauddin, and Hussain Fowzy. Fahimah his daughter was Abu Bakr's eldest child from his marriage to Rukea. The family continues to reside in South Africa, some under the surname Emjedi, some returning to Turkey and some migrating to Australia. Some of Abubakr's sons continued in his footsteps of serving far and wide[clarification needed], with one son, Ahmed, being involved in Cape politics. He became a member of the Cemetery Committee because the cemetery where his father's grave was situated was threatened with closure by the Cape Administration. He stood for the legislature of the Cape but failed to get the required votes for a seat due to a change in the system for cumulative votes, amended especially to keep him out of the lCape legislature. Some also served in the Ottoman Army and fought in the Hejaz against the Anglo and Arab nationalist uprising against the Ottoman Empire. In Singapore is the grave of Abu Bakrs son, Ahmed, who was the Ottoman Turkish Ambassador to Singapore.

Struggle of acceptance by the Cape Malay populaceEdit

Abu Bakr's life in South Africa was not easy. It is clear that the Cape Malay Muslims had suffered and lost some of their religious identity[citation needed] as a result of their deportation by the Dutch from their home countries in Southern India and Maritime Southeast Asia. Historical documents talk of his influence of introducing the Islamic hijab and fez on the Cape Muslims[citation needed], although many other Islamic scholars had come to South Africa. He also attempted to break the Cape Muslim 'Clerical Order' which existed.[citation needed] Only those related to the previous imam were allowed to become the next in line,[citation needed] holding knowledge to themselves and wielding power over the common people. This is further related in the 1866 Disputes;

Over the years the Cape Muslim `clerical' order developed with the imams wielding appreciable power. The status of the imams, together with economic security and in many cases prosperity was due to the generous monetary donations and gifts by the congregation. Between 1866 and 1900, over twenty cases pertaining to masjid in the Cape peninsula were heard in the Supreme Court with regard to the positions of imams and their succession. Practically every masjid at the Cape in the 19th century faced this problem.[1]

This would have thrown him into further dispute with the Cape Malay population. It is also related in the Travelogue of Omar Lutfi, that the Malay people although they had held onto their Islamic heritage where not able to correctly pronounce the Arabic words and text, and it had been "corrupted" (as Abu Bakr would have seen it) with some Malay words.[citation needed] Their practices also involved non Islamic traditional and tribal Malay practices which originated from their ancestral homes on the Indonesian and Malay islands. These practices still exist in Indonesia where some of the population generally practice Islam but also practice spirit worship.

One of the main reasons for Abu Bakr's unpopularity was his declaration that crayfish, a staple item of the diet of the Muslims of the Cape, was "khabahith" or "evil food". The matter was taken to court by the "kreef (crayfish) party" in 1863. Magistrate Hill found in favour of the "kreef party" and against Abu Bakr. After this and his evidence in the 1869 imam succession trial, a petition was drawn up by some Muslims to have him removed from the Cape. He left his residence in Cape Town and moved 12 km away to Newlands to a spacious house, "Stony Place".

Abu Bakr also seemingly followed and practiced according to the Hanafi school of thought.[citation needed] He swore in the Supreme Court in 1869, when he was the prime witness in the abovementioned affair relating to the succession of the imam of the Buitengracht St mosque, that he had always been a Shafi'i.[citation needed] But because he used hanafi texts, many doubted his word. He also taught and wrote the book the 'Bayan-al-din' which is written on Abu Bakrs own rulings since he was a fiqh scholar, but has many similarities to the Multaqa.[citation needed] Abu Bakr's statements made in court meant it was difficult to associate him with one school or the other. His title was 'Mufti of the 4 Schools' so one could argue he was of the Hanafi, Shafi'i, Malaki or Hanbali School.[citation needed]

Analysis of the religious and linguistic impact of Abubakr EffendiEdit

From 1862 to 1869 Effendi had studied the local language use and then proceeded to compile the book "Bayan-al-Din". Printed by the Turkish Ministry of Education in Istanbul, it is an interesting and significant part of South Africa's history, and serves as a valuable reference of the Afrikaans usage during that era in the Islamic neighbourhoods of Cape Town. It gives an invaluable insight into the use of Afrikaans in the so-called "Slams" (slang for Islamic) neighbourhoods of Cape Town in that period. It is also significant, since this community did not have Dutch as mother tongue and were therefore mostly unaffected by its orthography. As such this was the first substantial book ever written and published in Afrikaans, although written in a modified Arabic script where the diacritic signs are used to indicate the pronunciation of Afrikaans. It bears testimony to the slave origins of the language which was not accredited by the White Afrikaners, especially during the Apartheid Era.

The book, totalling 254 pages, appears to follow the Hanafite law-school. It was divided into 8 parts, each dealing with a specific part of Islamic law:

  1. ritual cleansing (pp. 2–66)
  2. ritual prayer (pp. 66–219)
  3. religious tax (pp. 219–258)
  4. fasting (pp. 258–284)
  5. slaughtering of livestock (pp. 284–302)
  6. religious prohibitions (pp. 302–344)
  7. drink (pp. 344–349)
  8. hunting (pp. 349–354)

Adrianus van Selms [nl], a Dutch scholar and Semitic researcher, published a transliteration in Latin Script of Abu Bakr Effendi's work in 1979. Since the original work presented spoken Afrikaans without using vowels, van Selms's biggest task was to decipher which Afrikaans words were being referred to. Effendi had also innovated new Arabic characters for several Afrikaans letters not found in the Arabic alphabet, the letter 'P' for example. What is interesting is that these innovated letters had to be unique, yet still recognisable by the population who were already schooled in traditional Arabic. Since this was a local modification to the language, used only amongst the Cape Muslim Community, it may have proved illegible for those familiar with traditional Arabic.

References and Further readingEdit

  1. ^ "History of Muslims in South Africa: A Chronology". 9 June 2009. Archived from the original on 9 June 2009.