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Islam Around the WorldRepublic of South Africa

Islam in South Africa in 5 Questions

What country has 3 capitals? When you hear “Apartheid,” what comes to mind? Maybe Nelson Mandela? Now, let’s explore our next destination in the World of Islam series: South Africa.

How many Muslims live in South Africa?

Cape Town Guney Afrika
Cape Town, South Africa

The number of Muslims in South Africa’s minority group varies according to different sources and studies. Estimates suggest Muslims make up 1.5% to 2% of the total population. Numerically, some researchers (Christoph Haferburg, 2000) mention a figure of 553,717 Muslims. They mainly reside in Western Cape, Natal, and Transvaal regions. Western Cape has Indonesian and Malaysian-origin Muslims, while Natal and Transvaal have a majority of Indian and Indian-Pakistani Muslims. Recently, Islam has been the fastest-growing religion in South Africa.

When and how did Islam reach South Africa?

World map

The exact arrival of Muslims in South Africa is not known. Islam’s spread can be examined in three stages. The first stage, from around 1652 to the mid-1800s, saw exiled slaves and political prisoners coming from Africa, Central Asia, (the Indonesian Archipelago), and Madagascar. The second stage involved Muslims brought from India to work in the sugar cane fields of Natal during British colonial rule in South Africa. These Indian laborers comprised around 7% to 10% Muslims. The third stage occurred after the end of the racist Apartheid regime in 1994, with Muslims arriving from North African countries and Zanzibar, influencing the Muslim population in the region.

What are the most famous mosques in South Africa?

Masjidut Taqwa Islamic Centre
Masjidut Taqwa Islamic Centre

The “Auwal (Evvel) Mosque,” founded by prominent Muslim leader “Abdullah Qadi’ Abd as-Salam” in 1794, is considered the first mosque in South Africa. Today, the mosque symbolizes the struggle for worship freedom among Cape Muslims. Another mosque is the Juma Mosque, the oldest mosque in Durban and the second-largest mosque in South Africa, built in 1881. Other mosques include the West Street Mosque-Durban, Soofie Mosque-Ladysmith, and Habibia Soofie Mosque-Cape Town.

Who are the significant figures working for Islam in South Africa?

Imam Abdullah Harun
Imam Abdullah Harun

Amid the Dutch-driven population displacement, Muslim leaders resisted colonization. Tuan Guru (Imam ‘Abdullah Qadi’ Abd as-Salam, 1712-1807) from Tidore and Sheikh Yusuf (Macassar Abidin Tadia Tjoessoep 1629-1699) from Macassar had a significant impact on Cape Muslim communities. Imam Abdullah Harun was a 20th-century influential Muslim leader who stood against the “Apartheid” regime and was martyred on September 27, 1969.

What challenges do South African Muslims face?

South Africa

The biggest challenge for South African Muslims is their lack of unified representation. After the Apartheid era, people built an open-minded society embracing various ideas. Consequently, Muslims of different views reside in the region. Lingering traces of past segregation still impact racial and religious divisions. Muslims tend to cluster in neighborhoods based on their backgrounds, contributing to a fragmented political unity among various groups.


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