“Where there are ten Muslims, there will be a mosque or a madressa.”
Udayshanker in “Conversation between Two Friends”,
a twenty-one-part novel reproduced in Indian Opinion, 1911
All Muslims observe the five basic principles central to Islam. They recite Kalma to profess faith in Allah, Prophet Mahomed, His angels, and the Koran; they perform namaz (prayers) five times a day; they observe roza (fast) during the holy month of Ramadan; they give zakaat (alms); and undertake Haj (pilgrimage) to Mecca in the twelfth month of the Hijri (Muslim) calendar. These five principles guided the lives of Muslims in India, who were predominantly Sunni.1 Majda Asad identified five major Muslim festivals: Ramadan, the month of fasting; Eid-ul-fitr which comes at the end of the fasting; Eid-ul-Zuha or Bakri-id on the tenth day of the twelfth month in the Muslim calendar to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his own son to God; Milad-ul-Nabi honoring Prophet Mahomed’s birthday; and Mohhuram commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, grandson of Prophet Mahomed, in 680 ACE.2
As M. Mujeeb points out, there was great diversity of beliefs among Indian Muslims. In many parts of India, Muslims retained some Hindu practices since the "vast majority" were converts. The descendants of small groups of them such as the Khojas, Bohras, and Memons came to South Africa. The Gujarat region was “a melting-pot of races and beliefs.” Sufism developed by the twelfth century, and “took root immediately in the life of the people, and was more Indian in its character and expression than orthodoxy could ever become.” It brought Hindus and Muslims closer more than anything else.3
Muslim immigrants brought many of these traditions to South Africa. The sufi order known as Qadiri accepted the idea of Pir (Guide) who acts as the preceptor between Allah and His followers, and one of its earliest proponents was Shaikh Ahmed who came to Natal on the Truro in 1860, the first ship conveying indentured Indians. He became known as Badsha Pir (King of Guides) and was popular among indentured Indians. He was followed by Mahomed Ebrahim Soofie, also known as Soofie Saheb, who arrived in 1895 as a missionary and propagated the ideas associated with sufism until his death in 1910. Soofie Saheb built a shrine in memory of Badsha Pir. Annually, Badsha Pir's sainthood was commemorated with a recital of qawwali (devotional songs), communal dinner, and a procession through the city accompanied by raathie players doing bodily penitence with spears and swords. In addition to propagating the faith, Soofie Saheb built mosques, madressas, schools where children are taught to read the Koran in Arabic, orphanages, and guest houses all over southern Africa.
Yet another tradition emerged around the Mohurram festival. All sections of the Muslim community participated in this most popular event that lasted ten days. It was broadly tolerant and allowed Hindu participation, and Hindus themselves were drawn to it for its mystical quality. Indeed, in India, sufi saints incorporated some of the culture and imagery of Hindus. Mohurram ended on the tenth day with a colorful procession that involved pulling several tajjias, decorated miniature mausoleums made of wood, through the streets to end up on the banks of the Umgeni river where the final ceremonies took place. Those who participated engaged through music, dancing, and singing. In some families, women recounted over nine days the tragedy of Hussain's death. Annually, the Mohurram festivals required permits from city and town authorities for their processions. Invariably White residents complained bitterly about the noise, especially the repeated beating of drums, and sought to restrict them.4
At the Mohurram festival described in Indian Opinion in October 1904, there were as many as 3000 people some coming from as far as Johannesburg, Charlestown, and Dundee. They were all greeted by Soofie Saheb. The procession of people carried tajjias with the accompaniment of music and dancing.5 In 1905, the Raboobee tajjia went along Victoria and Grey Streets before it joined others already assembled in Umgeni Street.6 In 1907, 3000 individuals at the lower Umgeni River took part in the annual event to honor the patron saint, Khajwa Saheb, on Saturday and Sunday.7 Such events also took place in Tongaat, Dannhauser, and Hattingspruit. The Mohurram festival in the region attracted many people from places like Ladysmith and Igogo.8
Muslims regularly honored Prophet Mahomed’s birthday in Durban.9 During the Bakri-id festival in 1907, Indian Opinion alerted Mulsims about local laws relating to kurbani, that is the slaughter of goats that accompany this event. Muslim shops were closed in the Grey Street area and elsewhere on that day.10 Indeed, there was pressure on Muslim shop owners in many parts of South Africa to observe Eid-ul-fitr by closing their businesses.11 In 1908, Bakri-id celebration included a performance by the Star Dramatic company in Durban's Victoria Street Theater. Durban's Point Mahomedan Society gave out prizes to its outstanding madressa students on Eid-ul-fitr in 1911.12
When Estcourt and Dannhauser celebrated Prophet Mahomed’s birthday, Muslims came to the function from nearby towns like Newcastle, Dundee, and Hatingspruit.13 In Port Elizabeth, 250 Muslims, among them Malays, were present when Akoob Saheb Barber Aliporwala celebrated molud sharif (holy celebration) in honor of Prophet Mahomed, and ended with a traditional fateha (prayers).14 At Amerspoort, Dawjee Suliman Bomat's daughter, Hawabibi, completed Koran sharif (holy Koran). She read one chapter from the Koran. Other children who read from the Holy Book were given silk handkerchiefs as gifts.15 Another Islamic festival was celebrated in Greytown, Volksrust, Standerton, and Durban.16
For Muslims a mosque, referred to as masjid in Gujarati, is the center of religious activity. In the absence of one—as was the case of early Muslims who came mainly from Malabar and Hyderabad as indentured immigrants—shrines served the purpose. The first mosque was built in Grey Street in Durban in 1881. Another was constructed in 1885 in nearby West Street. The mosques incorporated architectural features common to all such structures. Additional features were introduced in the Durban mosques that represented the traditions of Muslims who came from the western parts of India with regional variations. The Grey Street mosque served the needs mainly of Gujarati-speaking Sunni Vohras from Surat, while the other in West Street was for Memons from Kathiawad and Kutch, each showing ethnic distinctions of the Muslim traders who built them. Soofie Saheb, referred to earlier, built nine mosques all over South Africa from 1895 to the time of his death in 1911, thanks to the generous help, among others, of Parsee Rustomjee, a rich merchant in Durban.
Muslims considered it their sacred duty to build mosques wherever they resided. A mosque was built in Allendale near Pietermaritzburg in 1908 even though there were only three Muslim shop owners in the area.17 Dannhauser Muslims built a mosque in 1905, and a madressa was started in September 1906. They had previously shared facilities in Ladysmith, Dundee, and Newcastle.18 Cape Town's Hajee Suliman Shahmahomed gave one-half of his land to a trust for the purpose of building a mosque and madressa.10
Weddings were happy occasions at which donations were showered on favored mosques, usually ones that had personal or ancestral connection. Such was the case when a double wedding took place in Pietermaritzburg. Hajee Hoosen Mahomed Badat's two daughters were married to the son of Ebrahim Shah of Ladysmith and the nephew of Ismail Dowjee Mia of Kearsney. Donations were given to masjids in Pietermaritzburg, Newcastle (Kathor Mehfil and Kathor Mehfil Zintol), and Ladysmith.20 Another such social event was marked by generous donations for mosques. On the occasion of the marriage of Hajee Ahmed Mehter to Kathor's Hajee Cassimjee Mahomed in the Umgeni's Habibia Jooma, Amjee Sulliman Kadwa (Cassim Mahomed's brother) donated £1 each to Kathor Mehfil Ronkul Islam, Kathor Zintol Islam, Umgeni Madressa Habibia, and a Verulam masjid; and £2 to Durban's Madressa Anjuman Islam.21
Fund raising for building or improving mosques and madressas was frequent. Most of the appeals came through individuals. Moot Vali was entrusted, for example, with the task of collecting funds for the Greytown mosque which had run out of money.22 From Port Elizabeth, Shah Panday and Ismail Ahmed Dhabelia set out for Kimberley, Mafeking, Vryberg, and Winterton to collect funds for a masjid.23 Others also went out on similar collection drives.24
Muslim South Africans helped to finance mosques and madressas in their ancestral villages in India. Thus, various organizations regularly sponsored the building of mosques and madressas in villages and towns like Kathor, Kholvad, Ranavav, Rander, to name a few. Occasionally, the appeals were made through paid announcements signed by the official British administrator in the district. When the Panoli Shoktul Islam madressa had its meeting at West Street in Durban in 1912, seventy-five persons who represented villages like Diwa, Daddar, Panoli, Kharach, Karod, Pirmani, Hathuman, and Kosamdi attended.25 Other funds, including the Ranavav Madressa Fund were created;26 and activities of Rander Anjuman Islam in India were reported.27 The Kholvad Mehfil Saiful Islam supported religious activities in Kholvad. It published a long report detailing contributions and expenses that suggest that those who had migrated to South Africa still desired to contribute to the religious welfare of the village from which they came.28
Similarly, Anjuman Islam from Bodania in India gave a financial account of how South African donors' money was spent on the mosque and madressa classes in quarterly, annual, bi-annual, and even tri-annual reports.29 Kathor Anjuman Islam ran a boarding house for twenty students, a library, and a masjid. Rs. 7889 were received and Rs. 6494 were expended.30 Ranavav Anjuman Islam gave a two-year account.31 Kadod's jamat (Muslim congregation) wrote a letter signed by Osman Goolam Rasool and fifty-four others appealing for funds to undertake repairs to a mosque that was fifteen years old. The total amount requested was Rs. 7000.32 Johannesburg's Ebrahim Suliman Mankada, himself a resident of Dhabel, inquired into the financial affairs of the Dhabel madressa. A report informed that Farsi, Arabic, Urdu, Gujarati, and English were being taught at the madressa, and that there were hostel facilities.33 The Kathor Madressa Anjuman Islam, established in 1889, announced its school enrollment at 204 pupils in 1911 up to standard six. Subject matter included Gujarati, English, Arabic and Farsi.34
There are countless references to Muslims in South Africa who were engaged in promoting the building and maintenance of mosques and madressa or of bridges and walls in villages in India. A former resident of Alipor writing from Johannesburg argued that Muslims who lavished on weddings should cut back so as to make donations for masjids and madressas.35 He was not the only one to suggest this. One who described himself as “Kathor Sunni Vohra” wrote in a similar vein.36 A meeting was held on January 14, 1912, in Durban regarding a masjid in Diwa, Kosamdi, and Datal in India.37 Alipor, Bodana, Gandev, Panoli, Kantolia and many other Indian villages similarly appear as places where Muslims wished to build or maintain mosques and madressas for which funds were collected. Many protest cables were sent in response to A.D. Vahed's request to voice opposition to the Gaekwad state's announced intention of taking over the management of the karbastan (cemetery) in Kathor. A committee was established in October 1912, and in the end the Gaekwad administrators backed down.38
Differences among mosque committees arose from time to time over a variety of issues and showed how vibrant the communities were. There was disagreement among members in the Kranskop masjid.39 In Kimberley, Imam Mahomed and others were forcibly ejected from the mosque by Abraham Hoosen. The Court ruled that the ejection was legally improper.40 Similar disagreements were in evidence among Muslims in Port Elizabeth. Here the presence of a Malay mosque added to the complications.41 Heidelberg's Cassim Suliman Kajee complained that the masjid built seventy-eight years ago was badly in need of repair;42 and Essop Moosajee, a Durban resident from Kathor wanted to know what had happened to the money raised ten years ago to build a masjid there.43 In Cape Town, the managing committee of the Loop Street Indian masjid had not met in three years, hence a meeting was called to return power to the trustees. Muslims met on July 3, 1910, about paying off a debt on the masjid. Since it was built in 1892, more Muslims, especially Kanemias and Pathans, had moved to Cape Town. The members hoped to establish efficient management of mosque affairs.44 To help resolve a conflict in the Richmond masjid, people came from Pietermaritzburg and Durban. Whatever the source of the disagreement, the mediators determined differentiated membership dues for shopkeepers and others.45 A man calling himself "Democrat" wrote several letters complaining about the high-handed behavior of the Kathor Mehfil Ronkul Islam officials.46 There are numerous instances of people disagreeing about what should be taught, how the classes should be run, and at what age children should start receiving madressa education. Standerton's Muslims argued that children should start receiving ilm (Islamic knowledge) as early as seven or eight years of age in Kholvad. They moved to recommend this change to the Kholvad jamat in India, and also suggested a fine of Rs 50 for any student who stopped classes before the age of fifteen.47 S.I. Patel writing from Vereeninging talked about incorporating untouchables in the educational program.48 From Barkeley West, Ebrahim Asmal Bhamla argued for instruction in mother tongue languages like Gujarati and Urdu.49
Hundreds of organizations catered for Muslim religious needs. Each city or town usually had more than one body with strong organizational and religious ties to the ancestral homes of its members. Committees or trusts were put in place to manage their activities on a day to day basis. On the whole, they succeeded in their primary function of preserving and maintaining Islamic values. Many of them were run by merchants who knew how to turn profits from investments in buildings with rent-paying tenants. Such was the case of Kathor Mehfil Ronkul Islam which bought its third building in July 1911 for £350 in Durban’s Umbilo Road with a monthly rental income of £4.50 They often combined religious, educational, recreational, and sporting functions.
Among the bodies that called themselves Anjuman (Association) Islam, a few were very active. In Durban, Abdul Kadir managed the needs of Anjuman Islam and its members, while at the same time supporting a madressa in Porbandar in India.51 The Durban Anjuman Islam ran a madressa school for 126 pupils in May 1909, and taught subjects like English, Gujarati, Arabic, and Urdu. The school thought about hiring a Gujarati teacher in May 1909.52 Its school in Saville Street was established after Indian children over age fourteen were barred from government schools. At its first anniversary in 1910, some 400 adults were present to see awards made to those among the 150 students who did well in English, Gujarati, and Arabic. Among those present were Dawad Mahomed (NIC president), Ismail Gora (vice president of the Durban Anjuman Islam and chairman of the school committee), Ismail Moosa (Gujarati teacher), and non-Muslim teachers like Michael Lazarus (English), H.L. Paul, Vincent Lawrence, and R. Bughwan.53 The school was planning to collect money from Muslims living on the north and south coasts.54 It also addressed the issue of upkeep and maintenance of its school building. At one of its meeting, the discussion was about namaz, and the topic slated for the next session was competition and rivalry.55 The school had a sports day festival for its 200 pupils.56 Occasionally it met to honor community leaders. Such was the case in January 1910, when M.C. Anglia who had just returned from England where he was part of a delegation was recognized for his role as a delegation member. Anglia’s message for the 300 who had gathered was that Indians should rise above their parochialism.57
Pretoria’s Anjuman Islam looked into anti-Muslim practices while Muslims satyagrahis were in jail.58 But it was largely devoted to routine community work. Its meeting on July 26, 1908, dealt with such issues as appointing a new managing board, treasurer’s report, and honoring members going to India.59 It publicized examination results of eighteen students.60 This body spoke about collecting funds for its English classes on January 5, 1910.61 Suliman Ismail Suj, chairman of Pretoria masjid, reported that the imam's salary had been increased by ten shillings, and the muezzin's by one shilling.62 Johannesburg’s Anjuman Fejeh, established in 1895, had fifteen members in April 1910. It honored twelve persons who did majlis molud sharif (gathering for holy celebration). Meals served on this occasion were prepared by volunteer cooks.63
The Anjuman Esha-Etul Islam in Depot Road, Durban, represented Muslims from Calcutta and its aim was to help the children of the poor.64 In Pietermaritzburg, the Anjuman Himayatul Islam met on May 1 with 150 in attendance to discuss changes in teaching at its madressa school.65 Anjuman Islam in Somerset Strand in the Cape was established in January 1910.66 In December 1910, it gave out prizes to students for Koran sharif and ilm.67 The South African Janjira Anjuman reached out to befriend Louis Botha when this Boer leader visited Durban in July 1910. Botha was not available, and so S. Ismail Seepye of Pietermaritzburg sent an address to him in Pretoria.68
There were Muslim organizations that had "mehfil" or “mehafil” (organization) in their names. The Kathor Mehfil Zintol (or) Shintul Islam had a balance of £200 in May 1909.69 In June 1910, it issued a two-year report of its activities. It had collected Rs 5828 and spent Rs 5237. Among the donors were Moossajee Ahmed Co., Hassen Mamoojee, Cassim Essop Moolla, and Ebrahim Mahomed Timol.70 The Kholvad Mehfil Saiful Islam published a long report detailing financial contributions for the religious welfare of the village from which their South African members came. In 1913, it suggested raising matching funds to help the Gaekwad government provide compulsory education.71 Motavarachia Mehfil Islam honored Ahmed Bhayat of Pietermaritzburg and E.M. Haffejee of Estcourt who were going to Mecca for haj. Three hundred were present at the meeting, among them Maulvi Fateh Mahomed and M.C. Anglia. Sheik Mehtab recited poetry, and Bhyat and Haffejee donated £15 and £5-10-0 respectively to the organization.72 Other organizations included the Kathor Mehfil Islam, Kathor Mehfil Ronkul Islam, and the Surtee Mahomedan Mehfil Islam.
Hamidia Islamic Society (HIS) was an important Johannesburg-based Muslim organization that played a leading role in the first four years of the satyagraha campaign. Its founding member was H.O. Ally, who together with his fellow HIS members supported BIA initiatives. The famous mass meeting of September 11, 1906, in the Empire Theater at which the satyagraha resolution was taken, took place under its aegis.73 It played a dual role, however, that of serving the needs of Muslims and of linking it with issues that were politically important to them. For example, when Imam Abdul Kadar Bawazeer was arrested in October 1908, HIS organized a protest meeting.74 At the HIS hall, madressa school awards were made to students by M. P. Fancy, one of the officials.75 In a first of its kind, HIS organized celebration for Imam Hoosain in Johannesburg on January 30, 1910. The Hall was decorated, and many, including Malays, took part in the festivities.76 HIS cabled £60 to the Muslim Educational Conference in Deobund, Punjab which lasted for three days in April, and attracted as many as 30,000 Muslims.77 Many South African maulvis had studied at Deobund.78 Hamidia Madressa's managing committee met to discuss the secretary's report. It resolved to call a meeting on June 16 for those who wanted to take imtihaan (examination).79 In 1910, HIS discussed the request for financial help by Al Islam, a newspaper based in Cape Town.80 On another occasion, the maulvi presented students with gifts.81
The Mahomedan Debating Society (MDS) combined religious and secular issues. Its chairman, Mahomed Ahmed Meer, who had links with the Hamidia Islamic Society in Johannesburg and the Pan Islamic Society in the United Kingdom, played a leading role.82 It was active in supporting Indians in trade license appeals. M.A. Goga was congratulated on his successful trade licence appeal and encouraged the NIC to take steps.83 The MDM ran a library and accepted donations of newspapers, books, furniture, and the like.84 At one of its meetings in 1907, Hindus were invited to discuss the Transvaal satyagraha struggle.85 At its meeting on May 31, 1910, the group read passages from the Koran’s third kitab, and from a historical novel (not named).86 The MDS met on July 30 under chairman Ismail Allarakha to deal with routine matters such as the acknowledgment of its letter of sympathy written on the occasion of the emperor's death, new books in the library, and “Unity” as the focus of discussion for its next meeting.87 Sayed Adbul Kadir read passages from Lord Chesterfield's Advice to His Son at another meeting.88 The group congratulated Sir Carimbhai Ebrahim on his attaining the Baronet's title in England. Members sent letters to Sir Carim from among those submitted by members. They also made a decision about feeding a destitute Muslim boy during Ramzan. Five shillings were donated by Cassim Meer, and Osman Allarakha donated a bag of rice.89 Eid-ul-fitr prizes were distributed, and farewell was said to Fakir Ismail Loonat who was going to India.90
In Durban, the Point Road Mahomedan Society was established on May 15, 1910. Sheik Imam was the chairman who worked with committee members like Sayed Chhaboo Mia, Sheik Mahomed Ebrahim, Sheik Ismail, and Abdul Hakim. The aim was to promote unity and peace among Muslims. It had at least one sitar and qawwali recital. Its madressa had an enrollment of sixteen pupils all of whom received ilm. At another of its regular meetings, members resolved to meet twice a month and thereafter read from Koran, and they retired after cha-pani (refreshments) at 7:30 p.m. At its monthly meeting, students received prizes. At its October 30 meeting, Deobund and Mehfil maddressas were cited as good examples to follow.91
Other Muslim organizations thrived. The Haripura Gujamwadi Masjid Fund was established in Ladysmith.92 The Ladysmith Islamic Society, founded in 1907, honored maulanas (Islamic religious scholars) from India and elsewhere.93 The Mahomedan Club in Marburg, the British Indian Mahomedan Association in Mafeking, the Natal Memon Community, the Alipur Islamic Committee in Johannesburg, the Surtee Masjid School in Durban, the Rander Jalse Habibia in Ladysmith, Cape Town's Habibia Muslim Society, Mahomedan Charity Club in Simonstown were regionally and locally active bodies that promoted Islam broadly. Bloemhof established the Islamic Society in 1911.94 Some like the Union Mahomedan Society, which had prominent leaders like Moulana Maulvi Ahmed Mukhtiar and Abdul Gani, were thinking nationally about Muslim interests.95 In Stanger, the Mehfil Islam was established in 1912 with 31 members. Moosa Tootla was named the president. Durban Anjuman Islam's president, Ismail Gora was happy to donate twenty-one shillings to the new body.96
Some organizations focused on youth. The Young Muslim Society (YMS) promoted Islam through membership drives and by publishing articles.97 In Durban, the YMS opened a library in Pine Street that was open from four p.m. until nine in the evening.98 The Mahomedan Young Men's Society was active in Pretoria,99 and in Pietermaritzburg, a body with the same name met, and was attended by some fifty individuals on December 10, 1910 to give speeches, garland honored persons, and sing ghazals (lyric poems).100
Young South African Muslims were often sent abroad for education. Some went to England, others to Aligarh College in India. Greytown's Moosa Mamoojee Omarjee sent his son to Aligarh to learn ilm. Omarjee was from Kathor, and the writer (A.D. Vahed) said that in spite of his impoverished status, Omarjee was the first and had thus made all Kathor residents feel proud.101 Muslims were never slow to support good causes. Thus, several bodies donated to the Muslim University and the London Masjid Fund.102 Many attended a conference on December 24, 1911, in Cape Town to talk about the religious and general education for young Muslim boys and girls. Dr Abdurahman was the guest speaker. A Muslim Education Committee was created.103 Pietermaritzburg's Ahmed Bhayat pointed to the need for a boarding school at which ilm should be taught. Four donors had already come forward with £1500.104 Zeerust's Ebrahim Haji Mahomed talked about the need for classes in industrial skills at the Kholvad madressa.105 Even in general educational matters, Muslims took great interest. Thus N.M. Kader of the Durban Anjuman Islam donated £101 to the Natal Educational Institute.106 Zakat (charity) was an important Islamic tenet, and many Muslims took it seriously. Durban's Anjuman Islam set up a committee to collect funds for needy shop assistants and hawkers on an annual basis.107 At a function organized by the Durban Esha-Etul Islam, M.C. Anglia provided two dozen readers for students, and Maulvi Bashir donated 1000 labels, and alphabetical charts in Arabic and Urdu.108 E.H.M. Moolla from Zeerust referred to a Penny Fund that had been created in 1910 for madressa work.109
There were strong Pan-Islamic sentiments among the Muslims. They rallied to the support of the Turks during the Balkans wars, 1911-13. They boycotted goods from Greece and Italy and made substantial cash donations to Turkey. Members of the South African Moslem League, South African Moslem Association, and Habibia Moslem Society were among those gathered at a meeting of 3000 in Cape Town to show support for Turkey. The Red Crescent fund was established.110 Durban's Mahomedan Mastik Society was among the bodies that collected money.111 An earthquake in Turkey led Gardee in Johannesburg to create the Hamadard (Sympathy) Islam Fund. Over £60 was collected. Washbank in Natal also established a fund October 1912. The Mahomedan Theatrical Group performed in 1912 on the night of Eid-ul-fitr in Durban to raise money. Merchants contributed substantially, but workers also joined in the endeavor.112 Newcastle cabled nearly £271 to Constantinople. Ladysmith sent £425, and of this a sum of £30 came from the Muslim Labour Association. Dundee District gave £500. Durban donated £1000 bringing the total in January 1913 to £4000. Vryburg’s Muslims donated £34.113 Johannesburg's Red Crescent Fund, together with the Hamdard Islam Fund, collected £2756. Hamdard Islam announced in April 1913 that the total donation was £23,000 for all South Africa. Of this £11,000 was for the Tripoli War, and £12,000 for the Balkan War.114
The South African Muslims, like those in India, were connected to the Middle East through regular pilgrimages to Mecca. Some broadened their interests as they traveled. Such was the case of NIC's Dawad Mahomed’s son, Hoosen, who wrote about his travels to India, Mecca, and other places in the Middle East. He talked about Khalifana (Caliphate), which, a few years later from 1919-1923 was to become known in India as the Khilafat, to which Gandhi would lend his support.115
Muslims played an important role in the experience of the South African Gandhi. From the time he came to help sort out a legal dispute between two wealthy merchants in 1893, he plunged himself into South African affairs substantially with their help and encouragement. He was to learn much about the Muslims, and came to trust them. His own moral and political development was based on interfaith tolerance, which became the hallmark of his stay in South Africa. Gandhi said in 1908, “I have only one duty: to bring the Hindus and the Muslims together to serve them as a single community."116 Indian Opinion was an important tool in shaping Hindu-Muslim amity. When the Hindu Shravan (a holy Hindu month dedicated to Lord Shiva) and Muslim Ramzan months coincided in 1913, the newspaper was quick to point to the unique opportunity for Hindus and Muslims in some form mutually to cleanse themselves through their respective festivals.117
Gandhi was careful to work with Muslim organizations like HIS. His religious and political world view allowed him to treat Muslims with respect. Muslims themselves felt pride in being able to come forward to support satyagraha. In some instances, this pride took on narrow ethnic proportions. Thus the Memons in Umsinga were proud that one of their numbers had gone to jail. Yet Konkans and Kanemias often came to blows in 1908 about their differences in spite of repeated calls for unity by Muslim leaders.118
While Gandhi worked tirelessly to create good relationship with the Muslims in South Africa, his comments about aspects of the history of Muslims in a series of speeches he gave in 1905 to the Theosophical Society in Johannesburg created some uneasiness. Specifically the comments that upset many Muslims related to Gandhi’s assertion that the Islamic tenet of equality had made a such favorable impact on "lower classes" of Hindus that hundred of thousands accepted Islam.119 There was nothing transparently offensive about Gandhi’s statement. Indeed, he portrayed all religions, including Islam, in a favorable light. He seemed to stress the common ancestry of Hindus and Muslims, if only to unite them in their political struggle.
Muslims took offense, however, at his implication that those Hindus who converted to Islam came primarily from the lower classes and castes. The Indian Opinion received many letters. All of them were likely not reproduced. Those that were published presented their arguments in well-constructed letters. A.E. Vawda pointed out that there were many converts who came from high classes and castes.120 Gandhi did not deny that this was so. In very conciliatory language, he reassured his Muslim readers that he did not in any way seek to degrade Islam. Indeed, he repeated the positive aspects of Islam and argued that it was his intention to bring out the "special excellences" of all the religions so as to make a favorable impression on his White audience. But he remained firm in his conclusion that the majority of the converts came from the lower classes. It was a historical fact, and he did not therefore think less of those who converted. On the contrary, it showed “excellence." After all, he did not make a "distinction between a Brahmin and a bhangi (scavenger)."121 "Muslim"122 and Mahomed Seedat123 continued to be critical about Gandhi's position, however. They did not have much faith in the Encyclopedia Britannica and Hunter's Indian Empire from which Gandhi had drawn his information.124 Gandhi did not wish to prolong discussion on the subject although the question continued to dog him.125
All of this must have been awkward for Gandhi. He was mindful of the communal ill-feelings that were being aroused by the British imperial government’s decision to partition Bengal.126 Gandhi wished to make amends especially as he needed Muslim support for the Indian Opinion, which was then experiencing financial difficulties. The journal seemed to make an extra effort to report on events relating to Muslims in Durban. Thus there were regular reports of the Mahomedan Young Men's Society (MYMS) recently established, and the Mahomedan Association.127 Gandhi was particularly encouraging to the Muslim youth organization.128
Despite his conciliatory efforts, the issue came up at a MYMS meeting towards the end of April 1906. Goolam Ahmed Loharia referred to Gandhi’s controversial statement. "We must not forget it," he advised. He seemed to imply that Muslims were not getting fair coverage in the journal, suggesting perhaps that all the correspondence on the subject had not been published by Indian Opinion. There was a veiled suggestion that a separate newspaper run by Muslims was necessary. Gandhi asked for forgiveness without admitting to any wrong-doing, and appealed for amity between Hindus and Muslims in the interests of the Indian community as a whole.129
As for the newspaper’s financial crisis, Gandhi met with a group of individuals at a meeting chaired and hosted by Omar Hajee Amod Zaveri. Almost all of the people named were Muslims. He reassured those present that it was "necessary for every Indian to look upon the journal as belonging to him, not as something mine." He apparently got the support of those present.130
Over a year later, Indian Opinion translated in Gujarati parts from Washington Irvine’s Life of the Prophet.131 Muslim readers were offended by the part that dealt with idol worship and superstition in Arabia before the Prophet’s time. Some readers were also pained to read accounts of Mahomed’s marriage in chapter 5. They suggested that the newspaper should stop serializing from the book. Indian Opinion heeded the advice.132
The general feeling among Hindus and Muslims was for cooperation. When, for example, Bhana Jagjivana died in Dundee, Hindus and Muslims worked together to deal with the local town officials to process quickly a death certificate and crematorium arrangements.133 There were, no doubt, many other similar instances when Hindus and Muslims worked together. But there were also underlying tensions. The colonial-born Hindus in Pietermaritzburg applied for licenses in part because they resented Muslim traders in the city. Indian Opinion deplored their action.134 As we pointed out in chapter 3, the Indian Farmers’ Association in 1909 boycotted the Grey Street Mosque Indian market because it was dominated by Muslim traders.
Gandhi’s second London trip played an important role in crystalizing his views on Hindu-Muslim unity, and found expression in Hind Swaraj. Gandhi embraced Syed Ali Imam’s idea expressed at the Bihar branch of the All-India Muslim, namely that where there were Muslim majorities in India, they should work to protect the rights of the Hindu minority, and vice versa. Gandhi said, "... it was in South Africa that the Indian nation was being formed."135 In a letter to the Indian Review he said that the Hindu-Muslim problem was solved in South Africa. He gave some indication of what "Indian nation" meant for him when he spoke in London at the Dassera festival that celebrated the victory of Rama over Ravana. He said that Rama should be honored by all, Muslims and Hindus alike, because they all belonged to a country that produced such a hero.136 He expected Hindus and Muslims to accept each other to the point of embracing each other's religious icons.137
The highest point of Hindu-Muslim amity was reached around the time Gopak K. Gokhale visited South Africa. Soon after the Indian nationalist leader’s visit to South Africa was announced in January 1912, Gandhi wanted Hindus and Muslims to unite to honor him. No one should raise differences between the two groups.138 Yet there was a tendency for groups to break up along religious and sectional lines. For example, Hindus gathered on August 14, 1912, at Victoria Theater to discuss how they should honor Gokhale.139 When Gandhi spoke at the Kimberley banquet he wished people would work together as well as the machinery he had seen do. "What a happy family" they would be then.140
At the end of October, committees came into place to welcome Gokhale. The Johannesburg committee had thirty-six members. Imam Abdul Kader Bawazeer was the chairperson. Except for Sonja Schlesin, Gandhi’s trusted assistant, all the others were Muslims and Hindus who were about even in numbers. Such committees came into being for Pietermaritzburg, Durban, and Cape Town. The Durban Reception Committee consisted of ninety-six members. Gokhale arrived in Cape Town on October 26 and left via Johannesburg to Delagoa Bay on November 17. A special train took him all over South Africa. He visited Cape Town, Kimberley, Potchefstroom, Klerksdorp, Krugersdorp, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Pietermaritzburg, and Durban.141
Imam Abdul Kader Bawazeer was perhaps the only Muslim leader to join Gandhi in his experimentation of communal harmony. He, his wife, and their two children came to stay in Phoenix. As president of HIS, Imam Bawazeer took a leading part in the political campaign. In addition, he led prayers at the Jumma Masjid in Johannesburg. At Phoenix, he read from the Koran, and sang Gandhi's favorite composition, "Vaishnava Jana," except in place of "Vaishnava" he substituted "Muslim". The imam followed Gandhi to India and stayed at the Sabarmati ashram (commune).142 As Gandhi reported him saying, “I have put my faith in God. You do not know Haji Sahiba [his wife]. She will, of course, be ready to live where I live. She will also be ready to share whatever is my life. I have, therefore, decided to go to Phoenix. Nobody can say when the satyagraha struggle will end. But I can no longer return to my old business or any other. Like you, I have realized that a satyagrahi should give up love of money and wealth ...”143
Some of the latent differences between Hindus and Muslims, apparent since 1908, would resurface in the last ten months of Gandhi’s South African stay when he effected a settlement with Smuts. A group of his vocal critics insisted that he had no the right to speak on behalf of Muslims.
It is not clear how many local Hindus and Muslims shared the views expressed in Hind Swaraj that Hindus and Muslims could make up one praja (nation). He was drawing from his understanding of ancient India which had the capacity to accommodate all people of different languages and religions. As Parel points out, Gandhi recognized the differences between Hindus and Muslims, but his "normative approach to them disposed him to consider them to be not serious enough to prevent the growth of a composite nationalism." Muslims did not oppose his ecumenical approach. Hence, he was confident that Muslims in India would make a "creative adaptation of Islam to the ethos of Indian civilization."144 He expected no less from Hindus.