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11:42, 25 June 2017 Sunday
Update: 04:06, 09 March 2017 Thursday

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The man who brought Islam to South Africa - Sheikh Yusuf
The man who brought Islam to South Africa - Sheikh Yusuf

The story of Sheikh Yusuf, who went to Arabia at a tender young age never to return to his homeland, turning these far lands into his 'own Macassar', has a lot of deep wisdom

World Bulletin / News Desk

"Sheikh Yusuf is commonly known in South Africa as the founder of Islam". This is the first sentence that will appear in any references when someone reads regarding the sheikh. When it is mentioned that he is the founder of Islam, I think the meaning is obvious that he is the first person to take Islam to that region. The purpose being to point out Sheikh Yusuf as the forefather of Muslms in the region.  Well who is the person named Sheikh Yusuf that has been seen fit for this honor, what is the adventure and life story that has taken Islam's voice to a totally different geography?

For this answer, we need to go back to the year 1626 according to the Gregorian Calendar.

From Tjoessoep To Sheikh Yusuf

Abadin Tadia Tjoessoep... This is the name of a person, who was born in 1626 in the eastern city of India named Goa.  Tjoessoep being the nephew of Biset the king of Goa, is the young man who went for years to work and get educated on Islam in Arabia.  How weird is it that he went to far lands to get educated in Islam and even went to further lands to educate in Islam. Hence while he was in Arabia, his homeland Macassar was occupied by Holland, which was one of the colonial powers fighting for the natural resources of this area.  Young Tjoessoep who was unable to return to his homeland was able to go to Banten which is in the west of the island of Java (the island which the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta is situated today).  There the Sultan at the time Ageng, greets this young educated man and assigns him to the post of Kadi and personal consultant.  Even so he must have loved him truly as he gave him his daughter's hand.  That I believe is the time this young man became Sheikh Yusuf.  I could not find concrete evidence regarding the time when Tjoessoep was first referred to as Sheikh Yusuf.  However I believe that if we mention of him as Sheikh Yusuf there would not be anything lacking.

Hence Sheikh Yusuf who was able to go to Banten after the occupation of his motherland by Holland, was able to achieve for himself a respectable position and he stayed there for exactly 16 years.  Until the time the son of the Banten Sultan Ageng revolted against him, as the Sultan cherished him.  Hence it was possibly his destiny to somehow  be affected by the occupiers of his homeland as according to the sources it was the Dutch East India Company which belonged to Holland, who provoked the son of the Sultan for their own benefits in the region.

Hence the quarrel between father and son came to a climax and after a period of ups and downs it was the son who won, with the help of the Dutch.  Sultan Ageng had to run away together with the hundreds of people with him.  Amongst those people was Sheikh Yusuf.  At one point of this running away was to be the pain of the losing and Sheikh Yusuf would be captured.  After being captured, Yusuf was detained in Ceylon ( today known as Sri Lanka) and the decision to exile him would be a turning point in history.

Exiled to a region where he 'would not be of a hindrance to anyone'

Even though the years of the 1680s started with war for Yusuf, at the end of this period there was vision of far lands.  He was exiled to the most southern region of Africa, long words short, to a region where he 'would not be of a hindrance to anyone'.  It was seen fit by the ruling powers of the area, the dutch, that Yusuf who was a respected religious figure and opinion leader, be sent to far lands instead of being kept as a captive in his own area.  However it would be very clear soon that this plan did not work.

When the calender showed 1694, Yusuf together with his family and some of his followers, in total 49 people arrived in Cape ( The region of Cape Town which is the capital of South Africa today ).  He is greeted by the Dutch governor of the region Smon van der Stel.  He would be accommodated in  a  region called Zandvliet, which is outside town.  The purpose being that they cannot make to much contact with the people of that region.  For most of  the inhabitants are the slaves of the Dutch East India Company, i.e they are also the slaves of the occupational Dutch company who has occupied his far away homeland.

 However the 'occupational powers' were in the right to see Yusuf and Islam as a threat to their control over their slaves.  However the idea to keep Yusuf isolated in a far residential area did not work and in a short period of time there began a religious group gathering around Yusuf.  The slaves in Cape had been effected by the message of Islam which had reached them and Yusuf's residential area turned into a place of worship even in fact a temple.  Hence the group in that residential area, which was comprised mainly of slave labor were to be the forefathers of moslems in South Africa.

The death of Sheikh Yusuf and his heritage

Yusuf, who had tried to propagate Islam to the best of his ability, in Zandvliet where he resided in 1694, with the group he gathered around him in 5 years, without even realizing, was to be the leader of a big change in the lands which were in the south of the continent.  As he left a heritage of a few hundred moslems in South Africa, when he passed away after 5 years.  In the century that followed , the members of this group of predominantly slaves who married local woman, would achieve their freedom and be the seeds of the group which carried Sheikh Yusuf's heritage to this day.

Sheikh Yusuf is still respectfully remembered today as 'the man who brought Islam to South Africa'.  It is an irony of destiny that Zandvliet, which was the place he was exiled so that he would be isolated, is known today as 'Macassar', hence it became known as the name of Yusuf's hometown.  The story of Yusuf, who went at a tender young age to Arabia for Islamic education, who was never to return to his homeland Macassar, who was able to turn the far lands that he was exiled into his 'own Macassar', is definitely a story which contains deep wisdom without doubt...

Today, the shrine of Sheikh Yusuf which is regularly visited, is also known by the name 'Tuan Guru' by the locals.  According to one article I read, one of the most important services of Yusuf at the time he lived, was to write a copy of the holy Quran from his memory which was to be the first book of the Quran in the region.  This must be a true revelation as  this original copy is displayed in a museum called Bookap in Cape Town today.  

The Sufi side of Sheikh Yusuf

As far as what I can see from what I have read, one of the important factors which gives Yusuf a leader role in Islam was his relationship with mysticism.  According to one of the sources, it has been written that he has been accepted and included into Sufi orders by a name known as Imam Abdullah, including the order of Kadiri, Halveti and a few other Sufi orders.  According to another source it is specified that while he was in Yemen, he met Sheikh Abdulbaki Mizjaji who was to be his master and he was informed about the Sufi order of Naksibendi.

Although it is not possible to clearly establish his relation with mysticism, it is a commonly accepted saying that Sheikh Yusuf performed miracles.  We can say that this is one of the reasons behind the fact that his shrine is regularly visited today.  One of the stories told is that while he was traveling by ship to Cape on his exile journey, drinking water had run out on the ship and Yusuf put his foot into the ocean and asked those near him to extract water from the point where he put his foot into the ocean.  Those who pulled up the water in buckets were able to see that the water in the bucket was drinking water.

Sheikh Yusuf who left a heritage which lasted from hundreds of years ago until today, was seen worthy of a prize named as ' The Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in Gold' in 2005.  The purpose of this prize was to mention and appreciate Yusuf's contributions to the resistance against colonialism.

Deniz Baran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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