Kramats on Signal Hill nominated for heritage status

Kramat of Sheikh Mohamed Hassen Ghaibie Shah.

A public participation process is under way to declare the kramats of Sheikh Mohamed Hassen Ghaibie Shah and Tuan Kaape-ti-low, on Signal Hill, 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 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, Sheikh Mohamad Hassen Ghaibie Shah Al Qadri, is one of the two better known Auliyah who lies buried on the Signal Hill Ridge. The other one is Kaape-ti-low. Both of them, according to oral tradition, were followers of Sheikh Yusuf of Macassar.

They chose to remain behind following Sheikh Yusuf’s death in 1699 and the return of most his companions to Banten, in Java, Indonesia, in 1704. Both are considered to have been learned teachers of Islam and may have stayed behind to continue advocating it at the Cape.

Others buried at the Signal Hill site are Tuan Nur Ghiri Bawa (also known as Tuan Galieb), Tuan Sayed Sulaiman and Tuan Sayed Osman. It is claimed that Tuan Kaape-ti-low was a general from Java in Sheikh Yusuf’s army and was exiled to the Cape with the sheikh.

“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.

The City’s Mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, Marian Nieuwoudt, 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.

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