Bo Kaap imam’s autobiography released

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Ten years after his death the autobiography of well-known Bo-Kaap’s Imam Abdurahman Bassier, who served as a spiritual leader for 44 years, was launched recently.

Imam Abdurahman Bassier, who served as a spiritual leader for 44 years. Picture Supplied

Imam Abdurahman Bassier, who served as a spiritual leader for 44 years. Picture Supplied

Bassier played a vital role as leader of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and is also remembered for his friendship with deceased statesman Nelson Mandela.

This friendship was formed over a number of years when Bassier traveled from the mainland to Robben Island where he met regularly with prisoners to offer them Islamic guidance. When Mandela walked free in 1990, he visited his friend, who writes about their bond in his book.

Bassier served as imam, or spiritual leader, at the Boorhaanol Islam mosque in Longmarket Street, Bo-Kaap. He penned his autobiography shortly before his death, completing it in 2001. He died in 2004.

Its title is ‘Born to Serve’ and his five children have through the Boorhaanol Islam Movement finally published the autobiography.

Cover of the autobiography, Born to Serve. Picture Supplied

Cover of the autobiography, Born to Serve. Picture Supplied

Born to Serve launched at Timbuktu bookshop in Claremont at the end of June, with friends and family reminiscing about Bassier’s contribution to society.

His granddaughter Khadeeja Bassier read the book and got to know her grandfather as a “confidant, negotiator and family man”.

“We live in a time when clergy and leadership are separated from ordinary people. He was an ordinary man who lived with the same challenges we live with,” she said.

“He was true to himself. He had struggles and weighed up the options of being an imam and how he would provide for his family. And he was the type of man who brought us organic spinach long before the term organic was popular.”

Muhammad West, presently walking in Bassier’s footsteps in Longmarket Street, said he had “never met the imam but thought he must have been an amazing orator”.

“He was able to unite people. And he was liked by children and prisoners,” reflected West.

Bassier’s anecdotes and reflections reveal a man who enjoyed spending time in nature and who also grappled with the realities of leading a community.

He writes in the book about his routine after Fajr, a prayer that Muslims are meant to perform daily before sunrise.

“I would leave the masjid after Fajr and walk up the hill to the noon gun via the Tana Baru Cemetery, then on to the saddle and at times, on to the top of Lion’s Head,” he writes.

“Sometimes, I would trot down through the Glen to take a dip in the sea at Fourth Beach and return home by bus to prepare for work. Some of my friends thought I was crazy, but I enjoyed every bit of it.”

Bassier’s book details also how he became an imam.

“Although I was always interested in religious affairs, I never had any aspirations of becoming an Imam. I was merely deputising for my dear father. I was also rather revolutionary in the aspects of our religious customs and practices,” he writes.

“I now realised I was at a crossroads. Being the son of an imam, I knew the pitfalls of the position, so I begged them to give me some time to consider their request. With tears in their eyes they reminded me that the election would be held in seven days’ time, which meant I had little time to ponder.”

Later on, Bassier had to lead a larger congregation: the Western Cape’s Muslim community via the MJC. The latter is an authority that governs the affairs of Muslim public life and its members are imams that offer guidance on personal matters.

“I was approached by some members of the MJC to stand as the chairman. I was very hesitant to accept nomination because, in my own opinion, I was the least learned of them all,” writes Bassier.

“But, having consulted the constitution of the MJC on the duties of the chairman, I agreed to be nominated. It was at a special meeting of the MJC held at the Azzavia (Mosque) in 1979 that I was elected as the chairman of the MJC.”

On meeting Mandela, Bassier writes: “He really captivated me. He appeared to have the image of a very dignified man, upright in stature with a well-built physique and a charming personality.”

Born to Serve is sold for R150 and comes with a collection of Qur’anic stories on CD, a practical guide to Islam and Boeka Treats which a cook book on how to prepare treats for Ramadaan.

For more information contact 021-424-1864 or visit


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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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