UCT academic donates extensive personal library to the Cape Town National Archives

18 June 2024 | Story Halim Gençoğlu. Photo Supplied. Read time 5 min.
Dr Halim Gençoğlu (left)
Dr Halim Gençoğlu (left)

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Dr Halim Gençoğlu donated more than 1 000 books and many documents in Arabic, English, Turkish, and Afrikaans to the National Archives of South Africa in Cape Town so that students and staff can have access to Asian sources for African studies. This forms part of his project to decolonise the archives and provide Asian archives (Arabic, Turkish, Persian but even some documents in isiXhosa) to students while being more careful about Eurocentric sources for African historiography.

A letter from the 19th-century Cape Muslim Society May, 1, 1878, a prominent imam, Muhammed Amim from Cape Town, published an article in the Cape Times and said:

“The Muslim Religion is founded by God. Those who frame their religion from their own opinions, in reality, have none.

“Abdullah Jamanie, you came to Cape Town with a large turban on your head, and because there was no other DD (Doctor of Divinity) in Cape Town, and you did not anticipate the arrival of one, you told the Cape people that when a DD comes to town, you will converse with him about religion.

“Now that a DD has arrived and shown you the books named Saraf, Night, and Elma, Montig, you are frightened like a mouse for an oat, and you say they are not good books. Oh! Abdullah, are you not afraid of God? You speak Arabic and think you know everything about Islam.

“Abubakr Effendi has now been in Europe for about 20 days; he will shortly arrive, and with him, two other DDs. It is now necessary for you to stay here until they arrive.


“Then the Cape people can see whether you are a DD or a Coolie of Mecca. Muhammed Amim can produce a certificate from the Pasha of Cairo and also from the Sultan of Turkey as a proper DD. I will stop here until the Effendi arrives. “M Amim, Cape Town.”

This interesting letter reveals the socio-religious landscape within South African Muslim society in the late 19th century and highlights issues of authority, religious knowledge, and identity.

Abdullah Jamanie is critiqued for his perceived lack of religious authenticity, with his credibility questioned due to his background and practices.

The writer, Muhammed Amim, asserts his authority as a “proper DD" and questions Abdullah Jamanie’s legitimacy as a religious leader.

References to Arabic language proficiency and attire, such as the “large turban”, indicate how cultural markers were used to validate religious authority.

From a sociological perspective, this letter also reflects the dynamics of religious authority and social hierarchy within Cape Muslim society of the late 19th century.

Effendi, mentioned in the letter, plays a significant role in this context and is portrayed as a figure of higher authority.

Effendi’s impending arrival creates anticipation and serves as a benchmark to determine Abdullah Jamanie’s credibility.

His arrival and the validation he brought were crucial for defining the religious hierarchy and social status within the community in South Africa.

Last Friday, I donated more than a thousand books and many documents in Arabic, English, Turkish, and Afrikaans to the National Archives of South Africa in Cape Town.

One of the most historical documents I donated, signed by numerous imams of the 19th-century Cape Peninsula, shows that there were plenty of educated imams who satisfied the educational services of Abubakr Effendi in South Africa.

Some of them even provided critical analyses beyond their knowledge, respecting expertise and awaiting higher authority for final decisions.

From Shaikh Yusuf of Macassar to Tuan Guru, from Abubakr Effendi to Imam Abdullah Haron, whoever contributed to South Africa, I salute them with great respect...

Incorporating these historical materials into the Cape Town National Archives not only preserves valuable documents but also inspires future donations and underscores the importance of preserving historical documents.

This article first appeared on IOL.

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