ANVER SEDAN, the chairperson of the Worcester Muslim Jamaa and leader of the gadat, gajaat and dhikrs in the community, writes about the two-hundred year history of a community that rose from a colonial and slave legacy.
WORCESTER is known to many, particularly those from Cape Town, as the town just over the mountain, famed for its scorching summers and its picturesque, snowy mountains during winter.
Many Capetonians visit the town’s masjid for Jumuah while at Goudini Spa but how many are aware that Islam’s official presence in the area dates as far back as 1818, two years before the town was established?
It is possible that Muslims lived in the area even before 1818.
The first European presence started in 1714 with the release of the quint-rent or loan farms. Those farmers did not settle permanently. They came for grazing their cattle.
Those farmers would have brought their slaves with them when they stayed in the area. Slaves were imported by the Dutch as early as 1657.
Since then, the trade in humans – among them Muslims from the east – continued unabated until the abolition of slavery, on December 1, 1834.
The first recorded evidence of Islam in the Worcester area came through Nassiera Jerram.
The death notice of Nassiera Jerram, who married Kammies Abdol, showed that she was born in 1818, in Worcester, before the establishment of the town.
It is not known whether Nassiera was a ‘vrye zwarte’ (free black) or if she had been born in slavery.
Many slaves bought their freedom and, in return, bought other slaves just to free them.
According to the Iziko Museum in Cape Town: ‘Some slaves were set free or manumitted while the practice of slavery continued.
‘Some slaves were set free as a reward for hard work. Some slaves, who were allowed to earn money, could save enough to buy their own freedom.
‘In a few cases, a free lover of a slave woman bought her freedom in order to marry her.
‘In other instances, the slave’s purchase price was paid by a family member who had already obtained his or her freedom.
‘Some free blacks owned slaves. In some cases, these free blacks and slaves lived together in the same household and were part of the same family. In other cases, the free blacks were part of the wealthy elite and were socially and economically removed from slavery.
‘For example, Jan van Bougies, the imam of Palm Tree Mosque, owned 16 slaves between 1816 and 1834.’
It is common knowledge that Imam Jan Bougies of Palm Tree Mosque, in Long Street, himself a freed slave, freed all his slaves.
It is possible that Nassiera Jeram and her family had been free blacks. It is also possible that they could still have been in slavery by the time Worcester was established. If so, Nassiera would have been born during the time of the amelioration laws.
This set of laws was passed since 1807 until the law that abolished slavery. Some of the amelioration laws, even though slave marriages were only recognised in 1824, made it illegal to sell slaves who were part of a family structure, separately.
In other words, ‘wives’ and ‘husbands’ could not be separated, and their children could not be sold before a certain age. Whether slave or free black, Nassiera Jerram’s death notice shows that she was officially the first Muslim born in the surroundings of Worcester, before the establishment of the town.
History of the town
The area that became known as the Breedevallei was inhabited by San and Khoi livestock farmers before the arrival of settlers. The Khoi tribes comprised Gainou, Korannas and Afrikaners. The settlers brought the smallpox virus which decimated the local people.
The settlers took occupation of farms named Waay Hoek, Bossieveld, Kleinbosch, Slanghoek, Brandvallei, Vendutiekraal, Rooye Wal and Doornrivier. Settlers brought their slaves with them, some of whom would have been Muslim.
Worcester celebrated its 200th anniversary on February 29, 2020. The town was officially founded on February 29, 1820, by Charles Somerset, the British governor at the time.
Somerset, who was probably one of the most draconian and oppressive colonial rulers in the history of the colony, named the town after his brother, the Marquis of Worcester.
During Somerset’s rule, the colony expanded rapidly. In 1818, he instructed the magistrate of Tulbagh, J H Fischer, to find a location for a new deputy magisterial district.
Fischer and his counterpart from Graaff-Reinet suggested that a new municipality between the two towns be established. One hundred and forty-four farms had been for sale at the time of the proclamation of the town’s establishment. Eight-four were sold shortly.
Another motivation for the establishment of the town was the building of a road over the Franschhoek Mountains, a road that would link Worcester with Stellenbosch.
In 1822, Tulbagh suffered extensive damage caused by winter storms. Charles Trappes was in charge of the design of Worcester and recommended that the magisterial seat be moved from Tulbagh to Worcester. His recommendation was approved.
By 1830, there were 329 farms around the town and by 1832, Worcester had become a frontier town with the Market Square (or Die Plein as it is known today) becoming a hub of trade, including the buying and selling of slaves. The original slave bell is still in existence today. It is situated opposite Die Plein.
A Cape of Good Hope Government Gazette of 1827, July 3 to September 28, had an entry for the sequestration of the estate of Thos Heatlie. Heatlie’s inventory included household furniture, glass and earthenware, culinary and agricultural implements, oxen, horses, breeding cattle, waggons and harnesses, and a slave named Tiema.
‘Tiema’ in Muslim circles is an abridged version of the name Fatima. It is highly likely that Tiema was one of the Muslims who lived in Worcester shortly after the town came into existence. Another Muslim slave who lived in the area in 1825 was Agmat Skepper. He was owned by a farmer named Dirk De Vos.
Islam in Worcester
Nassiera Jerram’s father was Jurie Jerram and her mother, Ralea Jerram. Records show that Jurie was born in 1800, in Cape Town.
It is believed that he and his wife moved to Worcester in 1818, the year that Nassiera was born.
Nassiera had at least one brother, Kamalodien Jerram. Kamalodien is listed as a male child on the death notice of Jurie Jerram. Jurie’s parents were Baderdien and Magdelena.
Jurie Jarrem died on May 30, 1877, at the age of 77. He died in Worcester and at the time of his death had movable and immovable assets. Ralea’s date and place of death is not known.
Kamalodien Jerram was born in Worcester in 1839 and died on May 5, 1914, at the age of 75. Islam was already widespread in the colony by the time Kamalodien was born.
An 1841 census of the Cape Muslim population in the Cape Colony showed that 300 Muslims had resided in Worcester.
Cape Town had the highest number (6 492), the Cape District (400), Stellenbosch (268), George (100), Uitenhage including Port Elizabeth (150), Albany (50), Swellendam (20) and Beaufort West (20).
In 1853, with the Cape Qualified Franchise, seven Muslim males in Worcester were registered to vote in the colony’s elections. Any male living in the colony qualified for the voters role if he occupied, for 12 months, property valued at 25 pounds sterling or more, if he earned an annual salary of £50, or a salary of £25, if board and lodging were provided.
The seven Muslim men who were recorded as voters on the municipal roll for the December 5, 1853, elections were Kammies Abdol, Agrodien (a tailor), Abdol Bazier, Jumat Jumaldien, Abdol Le Fleur, Azaf Sampson and Abdol Wagie.
First madrasah in Worcester
According to the Worcester Western Cape Encyclopaedia, the Muslim community already began operating a Muslim school in the 1840s.
It is unlikely that the school was secular. Instead, the school would have been a madrasah where children received religious instruction.
Such madrasahs were found all over the colony where Muslims had a substantial presence, in some parts almost a third of the population.
The students at those madrasahs were taught touheed, fiqh, the Arabic script, to read the Quran and adherence to the basic rituals of Islam.
The madrasah would have been situated on the south side of Durban Street, between Rainer and Grey Streets, where 24 plots were set aside in 1840 for development for freed slaves. Abdol Bazier was the first khalifa, according to oral tradition.
Worcester Primary School came into existence in 1928. Imam A Karriem started the process for the building of the school. An empty house in Durban Street was acquired and converted into a school to serve mainly Muslim children in Worcester.
The school was then known as the Moslem Mission School and 28 learners were registered when the school started. Mr J Schoeman was the first principal and the only teacher when the school started.
Mr E Said succeeded Mr Schoeman. Mr B Cupido was his assistant. Mr Ebrahim Moosa replaced Mr Cupido in 1933. Later that year, after the departure of Mr Said, Mr Moosa was appointed principal. He occupied that position until his retirement in 1974. The school’s premises also moved from Durban Street to Afrika Street due to the increase in learners.
Other principals since then include Essop Ismail, Rashaad Moosa, Agmad Kafaar, Ghalid Jacobs and Fuad Ismail.
Dawood Hadjie Tambe
The history of the formal madrasah started in 1942. The Ahmedia Madrasah was built by Dawood Hadjie Tambe, an Indian immigrant who settled in Worcester. Tambe’s daughter, Bibi Dawood, later became one of the Rivonia trialists with Nelson Mandela.
Tambe built the madrasah with his own funds, without any other support. He built two houses next to the madrasah, with the intention to house the khalifas or to generate income for the madrasah. The first khalifa was Masoed Andrews of Paarl. Khalifa Masoed was followed by Khalifa Abdol Rashid Kafaar (Khalifa Dol), who moved from Uitenhage.
Shaikh Ikramodien Khan, an Al-Azhar graduate who studied with the late Shaik Shakier Gamieldien of Cape Town and Shaik Jameel Jardine of Port Elizabeth, replaced Khalifa Dol. The trio was often referred to as the children of Al-Azhar.
Shaikh Khan eventually settled in Canada as an associate professor. During his tenure, the name of the madrasah was changed to Ikramia. Mohammad Shah Khan succeeded his brother.
The masjid situated in Durban Street is the auwal masjid of the town. The trades among the early Muslims in Worcester were masonry, cooping (vat makers) and tailoring, among others.
The town had a healthy population by 1841.
Following the Shaafi madhhab, it probably had the required number of adult males to perform the weekly Friday prayers yet, they travelled to Mostertbaai, as the Strand was known then, to perform Jumuah.
During their subsequent visits, Muslims from Worcester propositioned Imam Sadan Sulaiman to move to the town to perform duty as their imam and spiritual leader, a step he took in 1859, with the demise of his father, Shaikh Sulaiman Abdurragman in Bainskloof.
The Muslims, under the leadership of Imam Sadan, performed Jumuah in a room at 2 Rainier Street, then known as the Crown Grounds, currently known as Victoria Park, in the absence of a masjid.
The first application to build a masjid was made on December 22, 1859. The application was accepted on April 15, 1861. Approval was granted on May 9, 1878.
The first masjid, registered as the Moslem Shaffite Church of Worcester, officially opened its doors in 1881 with Imam Sadan Sulaiman as the spiritual leader. Oral history has it that the mosque was already in use by 1878.
The trustees were Saido Sadan Solaiman, Abdol Bazier, Oowam (progenitor of the Karriem family), Abdol Lefleur (progenitor of the Salie family), Mogamat Saman, Soleiman Jonie and Talabodien, also known as Imam Talap van die Bo-Kaap.
The name of the mosque was changed to the Worcester Moslem Jamaa more than hundred years later, in 1985.
The erf on which the original mosque was built had been registered in the name of Imam Sadan’s wife, Lylla and their daughter, Maimoena, and its purpose was for prayer and Islamic missionary work.
The original erf covered an area between Porter and Durban Streets, as well as Russel up to Adderley Street, with a property of Mr Japie Lyners situated on the erf.
The Muslims lost most of the erf area during a dispute with the government.
Masjid burnt to the ground by British soldiers
The masjid was also burnt to the ground by British soldiers in 1901, during the Anglo-Boer War. Queen Victoria committed to rebuild the mosque, a commitment she kept.
Imam Sadan Sulaiman led the congregation until 1880. He died in 1888 on a steamer while on his way to East London and is reportedly buried in Uitenhage, where his daughter Gayratie Kafaar, had resided with her husband Abdul Al.
The other imams of the of the town were Imam Mogammad Saman Sadan (1880 to 1923), Imam Mogammad Saeed Sadan (1923 to 1928), Imam Abdol Kariem Kariem (1928 to 1946), Imam Abdol Kariem Kafaar (1946 to 1960), Shaikh Moegamad Laatoe (1960 to 1996), Shaikh Abu Baker Masusa (1996 to 2001), Moulana Mohammad Towpha Antar (2004 to present) with Moulana Muneeb Shahaboedien as his assistant.
The masjid has undergone several expansions since its re-building in 1901.
A second masjid, the Worcester Islamic Society, was built in 2003, in Hex Park. It is situated in Allister Street and the jamaah is led by Moulana Mogamad Stephanus.
Jerram and Kammies lineage
Nassiera Jerram was married according to Islamic rites to Kammies Abdol. Their children were Baserodien, Atika (married to Ismail Adonis); Gaafie (married to Gamat Anthonie) and Majera Kammies (married to Frikkie Boltman).
What could be traced from Nassiera Jerram’s descendants is as follows: Gaafie Kammies was married to Gamat Anthonie and they had three children, namely, Abdol Regiem, Brahma and Asa Anthonie. Gaafie Kammies died in Kimberley in 1896, aged 31. Her death notice indicated that she inherited property from her grandfather, Jurie Jerram.
Majera Kammies was married to Frikkie Boltman and they had no children.
She died in Kimberley in 1888, at the age of 20. Her father, Kammies Abdol, was present at her death according to her death notice.
The death notice of Nassiera Jerram and all her children indicates that they had inherited land in Worcester from her father Jurie Jerram.
However, most of Nassiera’s descendants moved to Kimberley during the diamond rush.
Atika Kammies was married to Ismail Adonis and they had a son named Hammat Adonis, who was born in Johannesburg, in 1892. Hammat Adonis was a builder and he married Fatima Fisher. Hammat and Fatima’s children were Mona, Gafsa, Gamat Tape, Abdulla, Ismail, Jayawa, Atika and Janap Adonis.
Hammat Adonis died on April 13, 1939, aged 47, at 13 Balmoral Street, Cape Town.
Bassieroedien Kammies was the only son of Nassiera and Kammies. He was a builder. He continued living in Worcester.
It appears that Kammies Abdol had a second wife, Amina Bazier, the daughter of Abdol Bazier. She was born in 1835 and it is recorded that Bassierodien Kammies was her stepson.
Amiena Bazier died on May 14, 1910, at the age of 75, at 35 Durban Street, Worcester. This was the same address where Bassieroedien Kammies’s son, also Bassieroedien, died on September 3, 1910.
Bassieroedien Kammies (junior) was married to Fatima Solomon and had the following children: Abdol Salie (born April 11, 1902), Gamedoon (born June 7, 1905), Magmood (born May 14, 1906), Kalamodien (born June 13, 1908), Ahmed (born May 5, 1909) and Abdol Bassier Kammies (born May 14, 1910).
Five generations of Muslims can be traced in Worcester since Jurie Jerram arrived there in 1818 until 1939. Nassiera raised her children at the time when there was no masjid.
It is testimony to the strength of belief our elders had in Allah and His messenger, Prophet Muhammad (SAW), who raised their children with Islam, God-consciousness and Islamic values.
Despite not having a masjid until 1881, Islam thrived in Worcester.
This was based on the foundation Jurie Jerram and others created for their progeny.
It was not possible to trace the origin of Kammies Abdol.
However, the following information was found in a slave register. January of Bengal, a freed slave, bought a slave in 1823 named Kammies, who was a gardener.
His previous owner was Willem Grobbelaar, from Worcester. Kammies came from, Bugis, Indonesia. He appears to have been born around 1763 and died as a slave, in Worcester, on January 15, 1830, aged 63. It is possible that he could have been Kammies Abdol’s father.
The Muslim slave owner, January of Bengal, was a slave who then later gained his freedom and found his way to Worcester. He bought Muslim slaves and freed them.
Nassiera Jerram died in July 1878, at the age of 60. It is possible that her father, Jurie Jerram, knew the kramat (saint) Sayed Nassier and that he named his daughter after him.
It was a tradition of goodwill by some members of the community to name their children after people they knew who had good personalities, such as their imams and pious leaders.
- This article first appeared in the December 2020 print edition of Muslim Views.