From Is­tan­bul with love: a fresh me­mo­rial

Cape Argus - - COMMENT - Jackie Loos

IT IS eight years since I last wrote about the Ot­toman scholar Abu Bakr Ef­fendi (1814-1880), who came to Cape Town un­der the aus­pices of the Turk­ish govern­ment in Jan­uary, 1863. He spent 17 stress­ful years at the Cape – years dur­ing which he was of­ten lonely and mis­un­der­stood – but he re­mained stead­fast to his call­ing.

I have al­ways hoped that some­one would ex­pand the story to in­clude an anal­y­sis of the Ef­fendi’s re­li­gious ac­tiv­i­ties and the im­pact they had on Is­lam in Cape Town.

I was there­fore de­lighted when I was con­tacted by Halim Gencoglu, a Turk­ish post­grad­u­ate stu­dent at UCT, who had taken that very topic for his Mas­ter’s dis­ser­ta­tion.

Gencoglu started his aca­demic ca­reer with Bach­e­lor’s and Mas­ter’s de­grees in mu­si­col­ogy in Turkey and then took a fur­ther de­gree in the his­tory of the Ot­toman Em­pire. This sparked his in­ter­est in coloni­sa­tion and he de­cided to come to South Africa to study the his­tory of the colo­nial pow­ers on the con­ti­nent.

His next aca­demic chal­lenge will be a PhD on Turk­ish-South African re­la­tions, based on pri­mary re­search con­ducted in the Bri­tish, Cape and Ot­toman Ar­chives.

Ac­cord­ing to Gencoglu, Is­lam in north Africa had been ad­min­is­tered from Is­tan­bul since 1517, but the Cape had been left to its own de­vices and was in dis­ar­ray ow­ing to lack of guid­ance and proper lead­er­ship.

Con­gre­ga­tions were of­ten in dis­pute about con­flict­ing and in­ac­cu­rate re­li­gious prac­tices, and cor­rupt lead­ers ex­ploited their fol­low­ers’ ig­no­rance to en­hance their own so­cial po­si­tions. Fol­low­ing an ap­peal by con­cerned Cape Mus­lims, the Turk­ish cleric Abu Bakr Ef­fendi ar­rived to ed­u­cate them about the true rules of Is­lam.

He im­me­di­ately es­tab­lished an Ot­toman the­o­log­i­cal school in a build­ing which still stands on the cor­ner of Wale and Bree streets.

The Ef­fendi died in 1880 and was buried in the Tana Baru ceme­tery in the Bo-Kaap.

Dur­ing the course of his re­search Gencoglu dis­cov­ered de­tails of the orig­i­nal tomb­stone in a file in the Western Cape Ar­chives, and this in­spired him to com­mis­sion a new one to com­mem­o­rate the ded­i­cated teacher’s legacy and mark his grave in an ap­pro­pri­ate man­ner.

With the sup­port of the Ef­fendi’s South African descen­dants, he de­cided to or­der a sim­i­lar one from Is­tan­bul. The im­pres­sive tomb­stone was in­au­gu­rated last Tues­day with a re­li­gious cer­e­mony at the Nu­rul Is­lam Mosque on Buiten­gracht Street.

Shortly af­ter the Ef­fendi’s death an anony­mous Cape Town Mus­lim wrote: “Since his first visit to South Africa we have en­joyed the in­es­timable ben­e­fits of his learn­ing and teach­ing.

“He made the youth­ful mem­bers of his wor­ship his espe­cial charge, he has taught them in such a man­ner that they now sur­pass in learn­ing many grey-haired old men. The good he has done amongst us will bear fruit long af­ter his name has passed away.”

PIC­TURE: COURTESY OF HALIM GENCOGLU

LEGACY The re­place­ment tomb­stone, which in­cludes a Turk­ish in­scrip­tion on the far side

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