On the 2 April 1694, Sheikh Yusuf of Makassar, the Nephew of the King of Gowa arrived in the Cape Colony to serve his political banishment at the hands of the Dutch East India Company. Sheikh Yusuf’s home became a sanctuary for the slaves of the Cape, and it was from these slaves and political exiles that the first cohesive Muslim community in South Africa emerged. In 2005, Sheikh Yusuf was Posthumously Awarded the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in Gold, by the President of the Republic of South Africa, for his contribution to the struggle against colonialism.
In 1794, the first Mosque in South Africa was established. Named the Auwal Masjid and based in Dorp Street, Cape Town, this mosque was established during the continuing era of slavery, and established its roots during this era of social and political prejudice at the hands of the Dutch, then British Colonialists, with the Muslim community struggling for social and political rights in a time when the practice of Islam was a criminal offence. This Muslim Community was lead by Imam Abdullah, also known as Tuan Guru, who was one of the first political prisoners on Robben Island, having spent thirteen years imprisoned on the Island by the Dutch from 1780 to 1793.
Similarly, for the past 300 years, many Muslim individuals and institutions across South Africa have followed in the footsteps of Sheikh Yusuf and Imam Abdullah, and played significant roles in the struggle for Justice, Equality and Freedom in South Africa, with some paying the ultimate price.
The Hamidia Islamic Society in Johannesburg was established in July 1906. The Society was opposed to all forms of injustice and racial laws of the country, and was the most effective institution in the then Transvaal for mobilising merchants and workers. The Hamidia Islamic Society’s support and funding became the backbone of resistance movements during the early stage of the people’s struggle in the country.
Individuals such as Imam Haron, Ahmed Timol, Babla Saloojee and Abu Bakr Asvat, all died for freedom in our country. But there were many more. There were Muslims who provided funding, Muslims who provided sanctuary, Muslims who provided safe haven, and those who gave themselves for the freedoms we take for granted today.
After liberation was achieved in 1994, Muslims were represented at all levels of government, the legislatures and the judiciary; as Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Premiers, MEC’s, MP’s; as Ambassadors, and as Constitutional Court Justices; able to actively contribute to the reconstruction and development of our Nation.
The Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute; ASRI; or ASR Institute; embraces and continues this legacy of Muslims in South Africa through working side by side and partnering with individuals, communities and organisations from all sectors of South African society, regardless of race, religion, class, gender, ideology or political affiliation to further the values of pluralism, equality, and justice in public policy.
The acronym ASRI, makes reference to the Chapter Al Asr, ‘The Time’, from the Quran:
In The Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Verily by time Man is at a loss, except those who believe and do good deeds, and encourage each other to truth and perseverance’.