Heritage nod for city’s Muslim shrines

The kramat of Sayed Mahmud lies on privately owned ground at the end of Summit Road in Constantia

Three kramats in Constantia are among the ten across the city, known as the Circle of Tombs, that have been declared national heritage sites.

A formal announcement was made on Friday by the Cape Mazaar Society, a non-profit organisation, and Vidamemoria Heritage consultants, at the Sayed Abdul Malik Kramat, in Vredehoek.

The kramats, or mazaars, are holy shrines that mark the graves of influential Muslims. The others granted national heritage status by the SA Heritage Resources Agency’s (Sahra) are located at Signal Hill, Oudekraal, Simon’s Town, Mowbray and Macassar.

The Cape Mazaar Society, Vidamemoria, Sahra and the Shahmahomed Trust have campaigned since the 1980s for the holy sites to receive national heritage status in the province.

The three in Constantia are the Sheikh Abdul Mutalib Kramat, in Constantia Forest; the Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah Kramat, off Klein Constantia Road and the Sayed Mahmud Kramat, in Summit Road.

According to SA History Online, the graves of Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah and Sayed Mahmud are probably the oldest known sites of deceased Auliyah, or “Friends of Allah”, as they both arrived at the Cape in 1667.

Sheikh Abdurahman was the last of the Malaccan Sultans, whose ancestors established the first Malaysian Empire.

SA History Online notes that the history of the kramats has its roots in the Dutch invasion of places such as India, Ceylon and Java. The leaders of those who resisted were banished to the Cape. Citizens of Malay, Indian, Javanese, Bengalese and Arabian origins were also sold into slavery during this time, and these slaves and sultans started the first Muslim communities in the Cape.

The kramat of Sayed Mahmud lies on privately owned ground at the end of Summit Road in Constantia.

Faizel Bassier, who cares for this kramat and the beautiful grounds, said Sayed Mahmud was one of the slaves brought to Constantia and Newlands by the Dutch East India Company to plant trees which were then harvested and shipped to their homeland.

Sayed Mahmud was a hafez, a man who had memorised the Qur’an down to the commas and full stops, and he used to preach at the site of the kramat in the mornings, according to Mr Bassier. He was later buried there, and his shrine was protected by a wooden shack.

In 1927, Muslim philanthropist Haji Sullaiman Shahmohammed commissioned the shrine, according to Mr Bassier. When he died, his work was continued by his great grandson Faadiel Essop, who is a professor of medical physiology at Stellenbosch University.

Now Sayed Mahmud lies in the kramat designed by the late architect, Gawie Fagan. The garden layout was designed by his wife, Gwen Fagan. The words inscribed on the plaque in the shrine read: “Man is but a shadow, and life a dream.”

Some years ago, two men set fire to the kramat (“Kramat site torched,” Bulletin August 9, 2018), but Mr Bassier said that not one letter in the Qur’ans stored in cupboards there were burnt, despite the cupboards themselves burning. “It is karama, a miracle,” he smiled.

Professor Essop told the Bulletin he was excited that the kramats had been granted heritage status. “They should be celebrated nationally and internationally,” he said.

Cape Mazaar Society spokesman Yusuf Khan Dalwai said: “The recognition of the heritage significance of the circle honours the Auliyah. 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 president of the Cape Mazaar Society, Shaykh Abduraghman Alexander, said it was a significant day, not only for the Muslim community of the Cape but for all South Africans.

Anyone is welcome to visit a kramat. If you do so, you should remove your shoes before entering, be quiet and respectful, turn off your cellphone, cover up (women should wear a scarf) and do not smoke or use alcohol.

The grave of Sheikh Abdul Mutalib is located on the slopes of Constantiaberg.
The kramat of Sayed Mahmud was designed by the late architect, Gawie Fagan
Faizel Bassier cares for the Sayed Mahmud Kramat and the beautiful grounds.
Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah was one of the last of the Malaccan Sultans, spiritual and religious leaders banished to the Cape.