Possible heritage status for kramats

Sayed Moegsien bin Alawie’s kramat.

A public participation process is under way to declare the kramats of Sayed Moegsien bin Alawie and Sheikh A bin Muhammad Allraqi, in Mowbray, National Heritage Sites.

The kramats are part of the Circle of Islam or Circle of Tombs, which are 10 shrines of Islamic saints and some of South Africa’s most influential spiritual leaders.

The other kramats are located in Macassar, Simon’s Town, Mowbray, Oudekraal, Signal Hill and Constantia.

Once declared a National Heritage Site by the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), the Circle of Tombs will be protected in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA).

In terms of the NHRA, no person may destroy, damage, deface, excavate, alter, remove from its original position, subdivide or change the planning status of any heritage site without a permit from the SAHRA.

The kramats are also referred to as mazaars, and are sacred places that represent the advent of Islam to Southern Africa.

The Cape Mazaar Society and Vida Memoria Heritage Consultant initiated the nomination of the Circle of Tombs as National Heritage Sites.

Nominations were submitted to SAHRA and were discussed at SAHRA grading committee meetings held in August and September.

In their nomination submission, they stated that more than 250 years ago a prophecy was made that there would be a “Circle of Islam’ around the Cape.

“According to local beliefs the circle is complete, comprising the tombs of Auliyah (friends of the Almighty) who were brought as slaves to the Cape,” they said.

They said the kramats are not only places of spirituality but are tangible signs of the emergence and spread of the Islamic faith throughout the Western Cape and the rest of South Africa.

“The saints resting in these holy shrines played a significant role in developing contemporary South Africa,” they said.

According to Cape Mazaar Society, the history of Wali Allah Sayed Moegsien (RA) can be traced to the beginning of the 20th century to a mountain hamlet, Hadratul Mout near Aden in Yemen. As denoted by the title Sayed, Sheikh Moegsien (RA) was a direct descendent of the supreme prophet Nabi Muhammed Mustafa (SAW).

In 1909, Sayed Moegsien took up the reigns of what was to be characterised as his life’s work.

He actively pursued his missionary calling and departed for Cape Town where he stayed for a period of ten years after which he briefly returned to Mombassa. In 1927, he again journeyed to Cape Town to continue his missionary work.

Sheikh Abdurahmaan bin Muhammed Allraqi was an emigrant to the Cape of Good Hope. Sheikh Abdurahmaan hailed from the old Persian city of Basra in Iraq, the very same city that gave to the world the great lady spiritualist and saint, Rabiah al Basri (RA). The Sheikh was most noted for his great piety, his spirituality and wealth of theological knowledge. He is also accredited with the authorship of numerous volumes on the teachings of Islam scribed in the most unusual fashion of Afrikaans using Arabic lexicon.

“Heritage sites reflect the legacy that will be reflected in the formal record and provides an opportunity for communities to take pride in their heritage, their stories and their identity,” they said in their submission.

The City has supported and welcomed the submission, saying the recognition of the cultural significance of the Circle of Tombs was long overdue.

Marian Nieuwoudt, the City’s mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said: “By declaring the Circle of Tombs a National Heritage Site, we acknowledge the unique legacy associated with the history of Islam in South Africa, and the struggle for religious tolerance.

“Cape Town is home to a diverse, unique and rich culture and every community contributes and adds to this richness. Our diversity should be celebrated and honoured.”

Bo-Kaap historian Mohammed Groenewald said it was about time these kramats and people buried there were recognised because they were not only part of the Muslim heritage but the broader South African heritage.

“The kramats and people buried there deserve recognition because they were some of the first people who fought against colonialism. Muslim people have always regarded them as sacred people who fought for our liberation.

Look at where they were buried, right at the top of the mountain because they were hiding and were not allowed to practise their religion, it’s great news that they are being recognised,” he said.

Comments can be submitted via email to kramats@vidamemoria.co.za or at http://www.vidamemoria.co.za by Tuesday December 15.