How Cape Town Muslims saved South Africa's oldest Quran
A nearly 200-year-old Quran was saved by Cape Town Muslims after finding it in the attic of the Auwal Mosque during the mid-1980s.
An Indonesian imam who was exiled to the southern tip of Africa by Dutch colonizers over two centuries ago meticulously transcribed a Quran, and this historical manuscript now holds a place of immense pride among Cape Town's Muslim population.
Safeguarded within the Auwal Mosque in the city's historic Bo Kaap district, the Quran was discovered in the mosque's attic during renovations in the mid-1980s.
Imam Abdullah ibn Qadi Abdus Salaam, known as Tuan Guru or Master Teacher, is believed to have committed the Quran to memory after being banished to Cape Town as a political prisoner in 1780. His exile from Tidore Island in Indonesia was a punishment for his involvement in the resistance movement against Dutch colonizers.
Cassiem Abdullah, a member of the mosque committee, shared with the BBC that the attic had an air of disuse, untouched for more than a century, when builders stumbled upon the unbound Quran packed in a paper bag. Alongside this discovery were other religious texts authored by Tuan Guru.
Despite its age, the unnumbered loose pages of the Quran were in remarkable condition, except for the initial few pages that exhibited fraying along the edges. The Arabic script, penned with black and red ink, was beautifully clear and remains so even now.
The principal challenge faced by the local Muslim community was the preservation of this cherished relic, which traces its roots back to 1694. The task of arranging the more than 6,000 verses of the Quran in the proper sequence was taken on by the late Maulana Taha Karaan, the chief jurist of the Muslim Judicial Council based in Cape Town, working alongside several local scholars of the Quran. This painstaking process, culminating in the binding of the pages, spanned three years.
The Auwal Mosque, founded by Tuan Guru in 1794 as the first mosque in present-day South Africa, became the permanent home for this precious Quran. Following three unsuccessful attempts at theft, the mosque committee decided to safeguard the invaluable manuscript within a fire- and bullet-resistant enclosure at the mosque's front a decade ago.