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The Ottoman Cultural Heritage in South Africa

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The Ottoman Cultural Heritage in South Africa

Though geographically distant, the Ottoman state was present even in the farthest corners of South Africa through its various activities. The economic relations initiated in 1838 were replaced educational activities over time. The relationship between the two territories began with Mudarris (Professor) Sayyid Abu Bakr Effendi’s assignment to South Africa to provide religious education for Muslims at the Cape of Good Hope in 1862. Abu Bakr Effendi's students and their children formed the new generation of intellectuals in the region. After Abu Bakr Effendi’s death in 1880, Mudarris Mahmut Fakih Effendi’s educational services in the region strengthened the Ottoman cultural presence in South Africa. Let’s take a closer look at this period and its major figures.

Abu Bakr Effendi, An Ottoman Scholar

With Abu Bakr Effendi’s arrival at Table Bay Harbor in Cape Town on January 16, 1863, a new era began for the Muslim community in South Africa. His students at the Ottoman School of Theology on Bree Street later became some of the most prominent religious leaders and politicians in South Africa. The first Muslim women’s school that opened on Buitengracht Street gave hints of his farsighted vision. He wrote a Muslim catechism titled Beyan al-Din (the Exposition of Religion) in the local language of Afrikaans but with Arabic letters, which became a milestone in South African literature. This is why the Afrikaans Museum in Paarl, Cape Town has reserved a room for records of Abu Bakr Effendi’s contribution to Afrikaans language and literature, and is still visited by many tourists every year.

Mahmud Fakih Emin Effendi

Mahmud Fakih Emin Effendi was the last appointed Ottoman Scholar in South Africa and got his salary from Ottoman Caliphate in between 1894 to 1914. Though the services of the Islamic school Nur al-Burhan al-Islam he opened on Castle Street at the Cape of Good Hope were temporarily interrupted by his death during the early years of World War I, his legacy was taken over by his son, Muhammed Dervish Effendi, at his house on Wale Street in the Muslim district Bo-Kaap until 1940.

Ahmet Ataullah Effendi and Islamic Schools

With the death of Abu Bakr Effendi, his endeavors in education were taken over by his sons, Ahmet Ataullah Effendi and Hesham Nimetullah Effendi. The Ottoman Imperial School which was established by Ahmet Ataullah Effendi in Kimberley played crucial role among young Muslim generation in terms of structuring the educational background in the territory. His brother, Hesham Nimetullah Effendi, opened an Islamic School of Theology in Port Elizabeth. Hesham Nimetullah Effendi also raised donations for the Hejaz Railway project, and had an influence on the political scene thanks to the several meetings against racist policies in South Africa at that time he held with the legendary Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi in Natal and Durban.

Ottoman Sephardi Jews

With the Ottoman Empire’s decline in the last quarter of the 19th century, Turkish Jews strived to find a new life in other countries such as South Africa. Although they emigrated, they showed their loyalty to the Ottoman Empire by sending aid from Salisbury to Istanbul during the the Battle of Tripoli, through the Ottoman Navy Forces. While presently integrated into the intellectual circles and academic life at various universities, Ottoman Sephardi Jews have kept their Ottoman heritage alive in South Africa with cultural elements such as Turkish coffee and other Ottoman customs.

The First Muslim Doctor

One of Abu Bakr Effendi’s grandchildren, Dr. Muhammed Şükrü was born in the Muslim district of Bo-Kaap in Cape Town in 1915. He graduated from the University of Cape Town's faculty of Health Sciences in 1942 and became the first Muslim medical doctor in South Africa. It was a twist of fate that he died of tuberculosis at a young age.

Mehmet Remzi Bey, The Last Ottoman Envoy in South Africa

Another important figure was Mehmet Remzi Bey. Sent to Johannesburg as the last Ottoman envoy to South Africa, Mehmet Remzi Bey changed continents with his wife, Madam Helene, a Russian diplomat, and arrived at the Cape of Good Hope by ship on May 21, 1914. One of Remzi Bey’s two children, Dr. Reginald Remzi Bey completed his medical degree at the University of Cape Town in 1937, and became a renowned figure in South Africa. Currently based in South Africa, Dr. Reginald Remzi Bey’s daughter, Helene Remzi Hanım, and Aisha Pasha, the granddaughter of Ottoman diplomat Mahmud Pasha, live in Cape Town and preserve their historical heritage with family documents they inherited from their grandfathers.

The Preservation of Ottoman Cultural Heritage

Overall, with its historical buildings such as the Nur al-Burhan al-Islam and the still-fashionable Ottoman fez, the Ottoman state has had a strong influence on the South African community. Indeed, the Ottoman Cricket Club, opened by Abu Bakr Effendi’s students, is still present. How nice it would be to display the aforementioned documents, records and pictures at an Ottoman museum in Cape Town, where the Turkish-Islamic scholars planted the seeds of knowledge and lived for years, and thus create and preserve this substantial historical heritage. The new documents and records that have surfaced as a result of the collaboration of the Municipality of Cape Town and academic research would make such an endeavor easier. The time has come to showcase and promote this heritage to all, the current generation and those to come.


Source: Skylife

Last Updated on Friday, 22 March 2019 01:09