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Mosques, Mawlanas and Muharram: Indian Islam in Colonial Natal, 1860-1910

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image of Journal of Religion in Africa

This study examines the establishment of Islam in colonial Natal, attempting to fill a void in and correct the existing historiography.1 In comparison with other parts of Africa, the lack of a historiographical tradition on Islamic South Africa is conspicuous, but understandable given that traditionally the impact and consequences of racial segregation occupied the attention of most historians. Although Islam is a minority religion in South Africa, apartheid has created an impression of population density not reflected in the census figures. According to the 1996 census, there were 553,585 Muslims in a total population of forty million.2 Indian Muslims make up one of the two largest sub-groups, the other being Malay¸.3 There are 246,433 Malay and 236,315 Indian Muslims.4 The majority of Indian Muslims are confined to KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng, while most Malay Muslims live in the Western Cape. There is thus very little contact and interaction between them; indeed there are deep differences of history, culture, class and tradition. Muslims have played an important role in the social, economic and political life of the country. The many mosques that adorn the skylines of major South African cities are evidence that Islam has a living presence in South Africa, while the militant activities of the Cape-based People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad) in the post-1994 period has ensured that Islam remains in the news. This study demonstrates that, apart from obvious differences between Indian and Malay Muslims, there are deep-seated differences among Indian Muslims. The diversity of tradition, beliefs, class, practices, language, region, and experience of migration has resulted in fundamental differences that have generated conflict.

Affiliations: 1: University of Durban-Westville


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