Heritage Day tour on Eid ul-Adha explores Cape Muslim history

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

The Cape’s Muslim history and culture will be the focus of a Heritage Day tour next week when the national holiday coincides with Eid ul-Adha, an annual Islamic festival.

Eid ul-Adha marks the pilgrimage that Muslims are obliged to make to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, at least once in a lifetime if they are by the financial and physical means.

And every year on September 24, which marks national Heritage Day, locals are encouraged to learn about each other’s cultures.

Heritage Day this year falls on Eid ul-Adha, an annual Islamic festival. A local tour on the day will showcase the religious and cultural highlights to non-Muslims. Picture by Craig Fraser/Quivertree

Heritage Day this year falls on Eid ul-Adha, an annual Islamic festival. A local tour on the day will showcase the religious and cultural highlights to non-Muslims. Picture by Craig Fraser/Quivertree

Kate Crane Briggs, a tour guide originally from England, has initiated a tour to explore Islamic heritage in the Cape on Eid ul-Adha.

Along with Bo-Kaap locals, she will take her tour group to a mosque and also indulge in Cape Malay cuisine.

Crane Briggs, who is married to a South African, says she has a “passion for Western Cape culture” and organising tours is her way of sharing it with others.

“I have been curating culture related experiences in Cape Town for four years. On one of my tours, I met a woman who has lived in the city for 60 years but had never been to Bo-Kaap,” says Crane Briggs.

“She said she really wanted to find out about Bo-Kaap. So I used my network to find locals that I could work with on a tour.

“I found a woman who does cooking demonstrations for tourists. There are people who come from around the world for her demonstrations.”

Crane Briggs says her Heritage Day itinerary is an example of her attempt to offer “more than just a tour”.

“We go to places that are usually inaccessible. It will be a particularly special day in Bo-Kaap,” she says.

On the day, Crain Briggs will start her tour at the Bo-Kaap museum on Wale Street. The tour will then pass through Islamic heritage sites and community projects.

A three course Cape Malay lunch at the home of Faldela Tolker will round up the tour.

Tolker’s cooking demonstrations have a five-star rating from the travel website TripAdvisor, while the Huffington Post website listed it as a ‘must-do’ when visiting Cape Town.

The Heritage Day tour guide will be Mohammed Groenewald, a Bo-Kaap activist with a “passion for promoting religious harmony”.

Groenewald will “share stories about the first political prisoners of the Cape and the location of the first Friday secret prayer meetings”.

“We’ll also hear his views on gentrification of the area, women in Islamic culture and local politics. He’ll point out features which are easy to miss, such as the murals created with Iranian artist Nasser Palangi,” says Crain Briggs.

Groenewald hopes the Heritage Day tour would “change mindsets”.

“If you look at religion from a cultural perspective, it has a great impact. This tour could have an impact on the way Muslims are looked at,” he says.

“It is important to have these events so that people are exposed to each other. Without this, people would always think negatively of others.”

Groenewald says local Muslims need to explore their heritage and culture more too.

He says usually foreign tourists visit Bo-Kaap while locals do not explore it as a site where the country’s first Muslim community was established.

“Islamic heritage dates back over 300 years in the Cape. It always has been a history of struggle. This community survived great struggles,” says Groenewald.

“We will look at the religious aspect, but also the social justice and cultural perspective. We will discuss colonisation and how Muslims fought against it even before being exiled from Indonesia to the Cape.

“We will also talk about the hajj, or pilgrimage, which is also about a struggle.”

Groenewald adds that Muslims in Cape Town have a “unique expression of Islam”.

“We have various celebrations, a unique culture and music in the Cape. Our forefathers came from the Far East and eastern Africa,” he adds.

“A lot of people are not exposed to the Islamic heritage of South Africa. Heritage Day is a good opportunity to look at each other’s cultures. How much do we know about somebody else’s heritage, even the people that we work with everyday?

“We need to start to nurture that if we want to build an inclusive South Africa. Why not greet someone in their language?”

Crain Briggs says through her tours she has learned more about the local Muslim community in Bo-Kaap.

“They have a very strong identity, even though there has been gentrification in Bo-Kaap. Some of the people who come on the tour are foreigners who have bought property in the area,” she says.

“We share with them the history and the phenomenal stories of the first Muslims in the Cape. They were political prisoners. They were extremely intelligent.

“One of them memorised the entire Qur’an. We share their stories and also those of families who still live with their traditions in Bo-Kaap.”

Crain Briggs says she has also organised tours in Bo-Kaap during Ramadaan, the Islamic month of fasting.

“That’s when we learned a lot about this community’s generosity. I have been really humbled by that,” she says.

“I love their family and community values. And this tour is a small way of bringing awareness of that.”

For more information of the Bo-Kaap tour on Heritage day contact Crain Briggs on kate@cultureconnectsa.com or 072-377-8014.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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