Madressa education does not exist in isolation but is part of the practice of the religion and grew and spread with the religion. Its primary objective has been to transmit knowledge of religious requirements so that Muslims are able to fulfil religious duties. The madressa of today is the result of an historical process, and knowledge of its evolution to its present form contributes to a better understanding of it. The madressa originated in Arabia, was part of Islam's spread to India and was brought to the Transvaal by Muslims who came from India. It was initially an exact reproduction of the system in India but was later adapted to suit local conditions. In this chapter there is reflection on these changes. It is also the aim of this chapter to give a brief account of the development of madressa education from its origins in Arabia to its transfer through India to the Transvaal.


Arab society was an oral society but there was also a need for written records as Mecca was an important trading centre. There were scribes who recorded details of transactions, but the large majority of people were illiterate. "Illiteracy was almost universal in Arabia before Islam" (Kaloti, 1974:12). Illiteracy was not considered a stigma or regarded as a drawback.

However, there are indications that children's schools existed before Islam. Children's schools were "... older than Islamic science, since at the very beginning of Islam, reading and writing were taught in Arabia" (Gibbs et al.1961:300). According to Baladhuri, there is a record of a person who, in pre-Islamic times, lived in Wadi al-Qura and "began to teach his fellow citizens to read and write" (Gamildien, 1984:9).

Some of the scribes were among the first converts to Islam. The revelations of the Qur’an were dictated to them and written down. Literacy began to be promoted. Only "literate preachers were sent to communities that embraced Islam" (Kaloti, 1974:11). In Medina, the teachers were not necessarily Muslims; they were often Jews but the ability to write was not as common here as in Mecca (Gibbs et al. 1961:300). Ten prisoners captured in the Battle of Badr were ransomed on condition that each of them taught ten Muslims to read and write (Al-Aroosi, 1980:123). The oral tradition remained strong but literacy became increasingly important.

During the lifetime of the prophet (P.B.U.H.), "no formal or universal provisions appear to have been made for the prerequisites of teaching the elements to children" (Kaloti, 1974:15). Teaching was informal and voluntary. Teachers were not paid. A person who knew taught a person who did not know. Teaching and learning activities took place in any convenient spot; under a palm tree, in a tent or in a house (Quraishi, 1983:12).

There is a lack of certainty about the establishment of the first school. Kaloti (1974:15) says that no formal school was established initially, but other writers express different views. Sufi (1981:2-4) maintains that as a result of an injunction in the Qur’an, it appears that elementary schools grew almost naturally, the first formal class having been opened by about 9 A.H. (630 A.D.).

It would seem that some form of organised instruction was taking place as the Caliph Umar made recommendations about the subjects that should be taught.

It is known that Dahhak b. Muzahim had a school in Kufa, with about 3 000 children, "where he used to ride up and down among his pupils on an ass" (Gibbs et al. 1961:300). Schools spread during the Umaiyad period and instruction was also given at home.

Under the Fatimids, this tendency continued. In Palermo, 300 katatib were counted by Ibn Hawkal. In Cairo, Ibn Djubair records that there was a large number of schools which were mainly for orphans. They were maintained by the sultan (Gibbs et al. 1961:300).

During the first few centuries of Islam, formal education was almost exclusively urban. In rural areas, the elements of religion were learnt informally.

Vocational training was usually provided by a system of apprenticeships or by learning the trade of a parent while assisting with the work.

Elementary education, which was designed to provide basic religious knowledge and literacy, was open to practically all children. It remained a self-sufficient unit and did not serve as a feeder system to higher levels. There were some who chose to further their education, but for the majority education ended at the completion of the elementary level (Rahman, 1979:182). Further religious education was provided informally through talks and lectures in mosques.

There was a noteworthy division in elementary education (Al-Aroosi, 1980:130) where a type of private or "palace" education existed which was designed to channel princes or the wealthy into the positions they would occupy later in life. This "palace" education provided the same general culture as ordinary elementary education, but it also included some special features.

The education was provided by private tutors in consultation with parents and usually included oratory, literature and activities designed to prepare pupils for their future roles in life (Rahman, 1979:182). Fathers played an important part in designing the curriculum.

5.2.1. Aims in Early Islamic Education

Most important was the learning of the religion, the acquisition of a rudimentary knowledge of the religion to enable Muslims to fulfil their duties. The Qur’an was the centre of elementary education (Quraishi, 1983:14). The instruction was also directed towards providing knowledge of the more important religious precepts and usages.

There was also the intention to provide basic literacy and numeracy so that the learner would be able to read, write and do some calculations. Reading the Qur’an was an important religious observance. Calculating and paying the proper poor tax was also essential.

In addition, "palace" education aimed at preparing pupils for their positions in life.

5.2.2. Content in Early Islamic Education

Early Islamic education concentrated mainly on religious education. Lessons included verses from the Qur’an, the profession of faith and other religious requirements. The Caliph Umar recommended (Sufi,1981:4) that proverbs and the appreciation of poetry form part of the instruction. Boys were also to be taught to swim and handle a bow and arrow (Dodge, 1962:17-18). The main subject, though, was often "adab" (Gibbs et al. 1961:300) which meant "respect", but was broader and could be roughly described as "proper behaviour".

The first poems taught were short with simple metres, the "rajaz". These led to the more complex "qasîdas". Only poems with suitable themes, which promoted good morals, were taught.

Along with learning and reciting the Qur’an, there was writing and simple arithmetic, and instruction in the more important religious precepts and usages such as the proper method of performing prayers. Pupils had to become familiar with the practice of congregational prayers. They were also taught the stories of the prophets and anecdotes from the lives of pious people. The Caliph Umar directed a circular (Al-Aroosi, 1979:128): "You are requested to instruct your young in swimming and the equestrian arts. You should also make them learn well-known proverbs, wise-sayings and good poetry".

Ghazzali (1107:35) felt that it was compulsory to inform the individual about certain principles of Islam "whose acquisition is deemed an ordinance from God, binding on everyone. This knowledge included faith, actions and prohibitions.

This would form the core of the knowledge". Al-Aroosi (1980:129) say that Ibn Misqaveh recommended that the child be taught the Qur’an, history, accounts, the stories of pious people, elements of arithmetic, and some principles of Arabic grammar, though Jahiz suggested that children should not be overburdened with grammar. He felt that it was more important to learn fair composition and to read the works of good writers.

In "palace" education, the father's wishes played an important part in designing the curriculum. There are some examples of the requirements by fathers (Gamildien, 1984:4 and Al-Aroosi, 1980:130-131):

Amir ibn Utbah instructed his sons' tutor: "The first thing to start with in educating my sons is to improve your own manners. My sons will be deeply influenced by you and will favour what you do and abhor what you avoid. Teach them the Qur’an but without wearying them of it, recite to them what is good in traditions and chaste in poetry, do not substitute one subject for another unless they perfectly know the former, teach them the virtues of wise men and keep them away from women's conversation”.

Instructions were also given by Harun al-Rashid who said: "O, Ahmar, I have given you the child of my blood, the fruit of my loins and given you power over him and made him obedient to you, therefore, prove worthy of this position. Teach him the Qur’an, history, poetry, traditions, appreciation of eloquence. Prevent him from laughing except on proper occasions. Accustom him to respect the Shaiks of the Hashim family and to offer a proper place to military commanders if they join the Council. Do not allow any time to pass without having some useful instruction for him but do not make him sad. Do not be too kind to him or he will take to idleness. Improve him kindly but if that will not suffice, you can treat him harshly".

5.2.3. Method

Initially, repetition and memorisation was the main method of learning religious content. Memorisation of the Qur’an was considered particularly meritorious, but writing, too, was considered important. Writing, an important part of the instruction, was practised on a tablet called a "Iuah" or a "takhti". A fine white clay was steeped in water. A wooden slate was then dipped in this mixture. When the slate was dry, the teacher traced the letters of the alphabet with a quill, a "qalam", without using any ink. The quill cut into the clay, forming letters on the slate. The pupils then traced over these letters with ink, memorising the name and sound of the letters. The child also had to learn to write to dictation. Verses of the Qur’an were dictated; when the slate was covered with writing, the student learnt the verses. Sometimes poetry was used instead of verses from the Qur’an.

At the beginning of each lesson, a student had to recite what had previously been learnt (amokhta). As the pupil advanced, this revision took place once a week, usually on a Thursday. Friday was usually a holiday (Quraishi, 1983:15).

Lessons were centred on drill and consolidation. "Consolidation, not expansion, was the basis of the lessons" (Quaraishi, 1983:16). Learning by retention (hifz) was stressed, but assimilation and grasp (malikah) came to be appreciated (Kaloti, 1974:24-25). The necessity for understanding led to intelligent reading and students felt the need to ask questions, discuss, disagree and debate. This idea of understanding was encouraged only when learners had reached the highest level. In the lower classes, thoroughness and mechanical drill were regarded as important.

Certain religious observances were learnt through practice. The prayers were practised in school, with a senior boy as leader of the prayers.

5.2.4. Teachers

In the early period of Islam, there were three classes of teachers (Kinnany, 1980:143):

  • the Prophet's companions, their successors and the ulema. They were not full-time teachers, but taught because they felt it was a religious duty. They did not expect to be paid;
  • a group that devoted the greater part of its time to teaching. This group came from among the less affluent. They did have other occupations and the learner was not expected to pay;
  • a group that often came from among the poor or from captives. They were usually paid by the public purse.

There were disputes about the permissibility of teachers being paid. The consensus was that teachers could accept payment but not demand it (Gibbs et al. 1961:308).

The teacher in an elementary school was sometimes held in low esteem, but there were also highly respected scholars teaching in schools (Gibbs et al. 1961:300). This could have been as a result of some of the teachers being slaves or because rote learning received too much emphasis. But teachers of higher intellectual ability often had great influence and were held in high honour (Quraishi, 1983:17-18).

The "palace" teacher was usually a highly respected person. Muslim attitudes expected the teacher to be married. The expectation was that the work of elementary teaching, where classes were co-educational, must not take place at the teacher's residence but in a specially appointed place, within sight of the public, so that there could be no suggestion of scandal (Quraishi, 1983:19).

At higher levels, the teacher had great individual importance (Rahman, 1979:185). At the end of a course, the teacher would give a personal certificate. The importance of the teacher was stressed by the fact that biographies of famous persons and scholars always gave the names of their teachers.

5.2.5. Educands

In elementary education boys and girls from about the age of six were taught, though girls' education did not often go beyond the elementary stage (Sufi, 1981:2).

At a higher level, where a teacher lectured to a circle of students in a mosque, anyone was free to join (GIBBS ET AL. 1961:308). There was a tradition of students travelling great distances to learn from particular teachers.

The education of girls was usually limited to moral and religious education, but this was not an Islamic injunction. Many practices in education relate to ethnic practices rather than to religion. Islam imposes the same religious duties on females and males. Women of learning have been held in high respect in Muslim history. Women played an important part in transmitting the Traditions and there have been many women of high learning. In spite of this, women’s education was not usually considered important (Quraishi,1983:23).

5.2.6. General Organisation Location of Madressas and Times

The prophet (P.B.U.H.) was often asked for guidance in mosques, as were his companions (GIBBS ET AL. 1961:301). This led to the mosque naturally becoming the place for instruction, but instruction could take place anywhere. Later, education "found its habitation in the vicinity of a fountain" (Sufi, 1981:2), but a close link remained between mosque and education.

School premises, when not in the mosque, were expected to be simple with no adornment (Quraishi, 1983:34). Pupils were seated on mats, usually of grass and walls were bare or had plain mats hung on them. There was usually no furniture, except for a wooden or stone bench for the teacher. There was no timetable. Classes began at dawn and there was a lunch break at the time of afternoon prayers. Classes then continued till the late afternoon prayers. There was usually no supervision or control over teachers. This might allow greater latitude but it could also lead to routine, stagnation and waste.

Elementary schools were not frequently situated in mosques. The reason appeared to be that small children "could not be expected to care for their cleanliness" (Al-Aroosi, 1980:127). They might not be able to "control their bodily functions". Imam Malik Ibn Abbas wrote that children were not to be taught in mosques because mosques were to be kept immaculately clean. It became customary to build classrooms adjacent to, or in the neighbourhood of, mosques. Maktabs were adjacent to mosques or completely separate. Abdul Qassim Al Bulkhi had a kuttab of 3 000 pupils that was completely independent. There was a spacious courtyard with rooms around it.

Initially mosques were used for secondary classes (Quraishi, 1983:26). Mosques usually had passages along the sides that were used for classes. There was also a compartment near the front called a maqsaria. Sometimes a part of the mosque was separated by wooden lattices. When a special room was set aside for teaching purposes, it was called a madressa. Mosques were used as madressas until the fourth century A.H. (ninth century A.D.), then a madressa was set up separately from the mosque in Nishapur. The ruling Seljuks, after the Abbasids, turned schools into public institutions. They became government institutions but after the Babars, many were assimilated into the mosque again.

When the madressa was a separate building, it usually consisted of four large halls opening out into a courtyard. Each hall was a separate section. On both sides of the halls were dwelling apartments for teachers and students. Buildings were either single or double storey. Libraries were often attached to the madressas, mainly for the students, but the public were also allowed access. Hospitals, too, were sometimes attached to the madressa buildings (Quraishi, 1983:26). Finance

Finance was usually provided by endowments, through trusts called "waqfs". Administration of the trust was in the hands of an individual or a group called "mutawallis". The first administrator was usually appointed by the founder, who also often directed that his descendants continue to be part of the trust.

The wealthy, apart from having their own young educated, often built and endowed institutions of learning as expiatory or religiously meritorious acts. Discipline and Punishment

Discipline in the maktabs was often strict, and the rod was frequently used. This was not condoned in Islam, and jurists laid down rules regarding punishment. The authorities had the legal power to protect children (Quraishi, 1983:22), but in practice they rarely interfered. Community attitudes often allowed for strict regulation.


In the beginning, Islamic education concentrated on the transmission of the requirements of Islam, but as Islam started spreading, education became more complex, owing to a demand for literate administrators. Instead of being purely religious institutions, schools had to serve material and secular purposes too. Educational institutions were created by Muslims in all countries where Muslim rule was established. Early centres were in Mecca and Medina, then in Basra, Kufa, Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, Nishapur in Iran and Cordova, Toledo and Seville in Spain (Sufi, 1981:8-9). Many madressas were destroyed during the Mongol invasion under Halaqu, but many were also built by his mother (Quraishi, 1983:30).

Many famous colleges and universities were established. The first was the Nizami University of Baghdad, which was founded by Nizam al Mulk in 1065 A.D. (Guillaume, 1965:241), though some feel that the famous Al-Azhar of Cairo was the first, being founded in 972 A.D. (Gibbs et al. 1961:303-304). As a result of the energy and enthusiasm of Nizam al-Mulk, others were inspired to follow his example. This led to a period of brilliance and growth (Gibbs et al. 1961:303-304).

It is also clear that Muslim scholars had an important influence on Western thought and learning. The universities of Europe are "junior to the Oriental universities, and the testimony of scholars in the Middle Ages abundantly justifies the thesis that Islamic learning provided them with much material for their studies" (Guillaume, 1965:243).


Islam reached India from the North and the West. With the arrival of Muslims in Sind, men of learning began "to pour in and settle in different places" (Zuberi, 1965-65:14). There was hardly a mosque that did not have a school attached to it. The system followed the pattern of other Muslim countries (Zuberi, 1965:15).

According to Islam, the state had to protect its subjects and see to it that Muslim law was upheld (Quraishi, 1983:139). This implied that the state had to ensure that there was knowledge of religious requirements. The rulers had to see to it that there were scholars who studied religious law and who devoted themselves to "the teaching and spreading of religious knowledge" (Quraishi, 1983:139). Generally, rulers in India tried to abide by this requirement, and were often interested in scholarship themselves. Mahmud of Ghazni was educated, had memorised the Qur’an and was familiar with religious law and traditions. He was a scholar and poet of some repute. A great patron of learning, he invited "any man or woman of remarkable intellectual gifts to adorn his court" (Sufi, 1981:12). His example encouraged his descendants and later rulers, and the promotion of education continued. The Moghuls continued this tradition.

5.4.1. Content

In many ways, the content of education in India was the same as in the maktabs of Arabia, but the rulers in India during this time were Persian speaking rulers (Zuberi, 1965:15). Arabic was neither a part of their culture nor essential for running the government and receded in importance. It was learnt only for the fulfilment of religious duties.

Persian was not the mother tongue of the Indian people but it was the language of the court and the government and became a necessary part of education. Gradually, a synthesis of Persian, Arabic and Indian languages led to the formation of a new language, Urdu. Urdu became the medium of instruction in Muslim education and, at all levels of education, all material used the language.

The Moghul ruler Akbar issued orders regarding schools (Sufi, 1981:52-53). Every schoolchild had to learn to trace the several forms of the letters of the alphabet. The shape and name of each letter was to be learnt in two days and the joining of letters in a week. Some poetry and prose was to be understood and memorised. Every pupil was expected to study arithmetic, geometry, ethics, agriculture, astronomy, physiognomy, economy, civics, logic and medicine.

The Moghul rulers, in addition, took great care to see to it that their young were properly educated. When their princes were five years old, they were able to read. They were then placed under the guidance of tutors to learn the "liberal and military arts" (Sufi, 1981:50). Their amusements were designed to teach them refined habits and elegant tastes. Among the subjects studied over a period were Persian, Arabic, Mathematics, Astronomy, Geography, the Qur’an, History, Poetry and Philosophy.

5.4.2. Method

In maktabs, learning was usually by rote. Letters of the alphabet were copied and memorised. Questioning by teachers and recapitulation was frequent. Corporal punishment, three to ten light strokes, was allowed as was short detention, but excess was frowned upon. Equality was stressed and the orphan received special treatment. There was no school on Fridays and Thursday was either a day off or set aside for revision. There was a holiday during the fasting month and another break during the month of Muharram.

5.4.3. Education under British Rule in India

The system of education continued until the British had taken over control in India. The Rev. WilliamAdam, a missionary educationist, wrote three comprehensive reports on Bengal, dated 1835, 1836 and 1838 (Sufi, 1981:93). He reported that there were many Muslim private schools. It was considered meritorious to teach and there was no stipulated remuneration. In these schools, children learnt the alphabet and introductory parts of Persian. The schools were attended by Hindus and Muslims. The system continued until occupation by the East India Company in 1797. Changes in Content

Sir Charles Grant, a member of the Court of Directors, recommended that English be introduced gradually. In 1823, a General Committee was formed in Calcutta, which began to set up colleges, first in Calcutta, then in Agra and Delhi (Zuberi, 1965:19). In 1837 Macauley succeeded in getting Persian replaced by English, and in 1849 English became a preferential subject for recruitment to government services. This led to the establishment of schools for teaching English (Zuberi, 1965:20-21). Religious Education under British Rule

The British system made no provision for religious education, but this deficiency was "made up, to a very great extent, by the maktab system" (Zuberi, 1965:24-25).

With state schools becoming increasingly secular schools, religious education became a private affair and had to be organised by the communities concerned. Responses to Challenges under British Rule

Muslim religious education had to adjust to a situation where it did not have the backing of the ruling group. The previous official languages, Hindi and Persian, were displaced by English.

Various responses to the changed situation were forthcoming. Two of the important ones were the Deoband and the Aligarh, so called after the names of the places where the main centres were established. There were other responses as well, such as the Barelvi and the Ahl-i-Hadith (Rahman, 1981:41), but it is not relevant to consider all of them in this study, as the madressas that form the subject of this study follow the Deoband school of thought. Aligarh

Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan felt the need to educate Muslims according to modern lines, and established the Aligarh College (later the Aligarh Muslim University) in 1877. It was patterned on the lines of the colleges of Cambridge (Rahman, 1981:56).

At Aligarh, science teachers came from Europe, particularly from England. Combined with modern education was an attempt to provide a basis of Islamic knowledge.

Aligarh had some influence in South Africa. Influential people in the Central Islamic Trust had been educated at Aligarh. The C.I.T. was among those who recommended that the madressa change the medium of instruction to English and restructure the syllabus.

At Aligarh, religious education was provided by graduates of Deoband, and for this reason the Deoband school of thought remained very influential. The Deoband Darul Uloom

Deoband was "an insignificant place" (Zuberi, 1965:27) and had no school. There was a rising against British rule in 1857, the "mutiny", and it was suppressed. The suppression resulted in the destruction and closure of many madressas, as Muslims were seen as being mainly responsible for the rising. Many maulanas were also killed during and after the rising.

There was concern about religious education and in 1867, ten years after the rising, a school was started under a pomegranate tree near a mosque known as Chhatta Wali north of Delhi. The school was started by Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanotavi (Holt, 1970:81). The school started "with Mulla Mahmud as 'teacher' and Mahmoodul Hasan, later known as Sheikul Hind, as the only student" (Zuberi, 1965:27). Later, other madressas were opened, but the centre position was always occupied by the darul uloom at Deoband (Zuberi, 1965:27).

The influence of Deoband has been immeasurable. It inspired the establishment of many other darul ulooms. These darul ulooms followed the Deoband school of thought. They produced the teachers who were active in teaching in maktabs. The majority of ulema in the Transvaal belong to the Deoband school of thought (Le Roux 1978:63-64). They exercise a powerful influence.

5.4.4. Madressa Education in India after 1947

With the end of British rule in India, education came to be controlled by state government. In many states, English has been replaced by the official language of the state. The system of government schools teaching secular subjects has meant that the maktabs and madressa have concentrated on religious instruction.

Each village, depending on its size, had a maktab. If a village had a school, the lessons of the maktab took place in the school, though this depended on the religious affiliation of the village. If the majority were Muslims, the school was used. If there was no school, or if it could not be used, classes were held in or near a mosque. In villages with no mosque, a house or even a room in a house was used (Interview: A. Akhalwaya: 1993). Aims

These maktabs concentrated on religious education. They were devoted to providing a religious culture and the knowledge necessary to satisfy religious requirements (Interview: A. Akhalwaya: 1993) Contents

First of all, children were taught the Arabic alphabet and the sounds of the letters (takti). This was followed by a combination of the letters, then words. This led to the reading of the Qur’an. The reading of the Qur’an was done systematically. First, the last section, beginning with the shortest surahs, was read. Then it was read from the beginning to the end, over a period of years. The completion of the Qur’an was an occasion for rejoicing. Short surahs from the Qur’an also had to be memorised.1

A similar pattern was followed with Urdu lessons, which began with the alphabet, then continued to words and sentences. There was one major difference. Arabic was taught to be read, not understood, while it was important to understand Urdu.

Once the child was proficient in Urdu, there was a series of Urdu textbooks to be read. These books were arranged in order of numbers, the first book being the primer. From these textbooks, the child was taught religious requirements, precepts and moral stories and some poetry. Method

The books started with simple language and became more complex. At varying stages, different books were introduced. One was "Talimul Islam", which contained information about various aspects of religious duties.

At about the secondary level the "Behesti Zewar" was introduced. This book was enormously influential. Written by Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi in the form of answers to questions, it covers a wide range of activities and gives the religious requirements for these activities. It deals with faith, prayer, fasting, birth and death, marriage, cleanliness and purity and many other aspects.

Where there were many classes, these were organised into different ability or age levels, but where there were few classes, or only one class, children were grouped into sections in the same class.

This curriculum was followed by maktabs in India and was transferred naturally to the Transvaal. Parents and teachers had attended maktabs in India and the same system was reproduced in the Transvaal. Teachers

The children were usually taught by a hafez (one who had memorised the Qur’an) or a maulana. What was taught was often influenced by the teacher's course of study.


5.5.1. The First "Indian" Muslims in the Transvaal

No definite date can be given for the arrival of the first Indians in the Transvaal. Different writers suggest different dates. "No official record of the date on which Indians entered the South African Republic" is available (Pillay, 1977:1). A specific reference is in the case of Tayob Hajee Khan Mohammed in 1898 in which the plaintive claimed to have entered the Transvaal in 1883 (Pillay, 1977:1).

The first law referring to Indians was Ordinance 5 of 1885. This means that there must have been large enough numbers to make the law necessary. They must "have been sufficiently visible to create concern" (Bhana & Brain, 1990:77). It is probable that the first Indians settled in about 1870. A Chamber of Commerce petition in 1874 stated that "... Hunne handelstasies zullen oft alle grenzen en langs alle groote wegen zijn ..." (Bhana & Brain, 1990:77).

These references are to Indians generally but in the Transvaal the majority of Indians were Gujerati Muslims (Bhana & Brain, 1990:36-41).

5.5.2. Muslim Religious Institutions in the Transvaal

It is compulsory for Muslims to perform five specified prayers a day, and performing the prayers in congregation is particularly meritorious. When a small community was established, an attempt was made to provide a place for prayers. When the place is temporary, it is termed a "jamaat khana", a place for congregational prayers. When the community seems permanently settled, a mosque may be built. It is important that serious consideration be given to building a mosque, as land used for mosques cannot be used for anything else.

The first Muslims in the Transvaal were not from India, but "Malay" Muslims from the Cape. The "Malays" were instrumental in establishing the first mosques. The first mosque in the Transvaal, according to available information, was the mosque in Kerk Street (Stand 1424) in Johannesburg (Is’haq, 1979:29).

The ground for the mosque was acquired in 1870, and prayers were performed in a marquee which was replaced by a tin building. Official documents show that the mosque, the Jooma Masjid, was acquired by a transfer dated 5 April 1888, with the certificate of transfer duty number 3524.

This information was recorded in a copy of the record of transfer duty dated 15September1915. A copy of this document was attached to an affidavit by Ahmed Moosa Mia in a case by him and others against the Church Council of the Mohammedan Church - Kerkraad van die Mohamedansche Kerk Gemeente.

Another mosque was built on Stand 227, Ferreirastown. The land was acquired by a transfer certificate dated 18 May 1893. The mosque existed until about 1930. "... up to about 1930 there was a mosque on the property which was used by members of the Muslim community and regular prayers according to the Muslim faith were held. Indeed the property was a centre of religious activities of the community". Memorandum attached to an affidavit by A.M. Mia, p. 65).

It is likely that these properties were in use well before the date of transfer and the transfer merely legalised an existing situation. A report by the Rand Townships Registrar stated that Stand 227, Ferreirastown, was registered in the name of a white man as trustee because the Mohammedan community could not, under the Gold Law, obtain a stand licence (Report by Rand Townships Registrar in a case by A.M. Mia).

The Hamidia Mosque in Newtown was another important centre. The Hamidia Islamic Society, with Ojer Ally as president, was established in July 1906 (Swan, 1985:147). Swan (1985:147) also mentions Maulvi Syed Ahmed Mukhtiar, who taught at the Hamidia Mosque.

He also preached at the Surti Mosque (Swan, 1985:30). The Hamidia Society appeared to be active in community affairs and was a driving force behind protests against the government (Bhana & Brain, 1990:152).

It is apparent that there was Islamic activity going on at the turn of the century, and these activities must have included the teaching of religion. Teaching is mentioned only by the way. However, it has been the duty of imams to teach children as well as lead prayers.

5.5.3. Madressas in Johannesburg

The system of organising and teaching in madressas was the same as in India, with times being adjusted to suit local conditions. There is no mention of any change from India. There was movement of children from India to South Africa, and in the opposite direction, and there does not appear to have been any difficulty.

Other madressas began to be established, and in Johannesburg one was established in Hope Chambers and another in Tramway Buildings on Market Street. This madressa was called the Moosa Hassen Madressa, after the founder (Is’haq, 1979:32).

5.5.4. The Jamiatul Ulema of the Transvaal

The first Ulema (religiously learned people) in the Transvaal were "Malays" from the Cape. Imam Tayob Japie, Imam Khaliel, Imam Abdul Malik, Imam Ismail and Imam Ismail Japie are mentioned by Is’haq (1979:24-25).

These Imams were joined by ulema from India. Maulana Syed Ahmed Mukhtiar has already been mentioned. Among the first ulema to come to the Transvaal were Maulana Tujammal Hussain, Maulana Bham, and Maulana Suliman Italvi (Is’haq, 1979:25). Thereafter, there were Mufti Bismilla, Maulana Ikramudeen, Maulana Ismail Italvi, MaulanaMohammed Shah and Maulana Waliullah, as well as Qari Abdus Samad Bhopali, Maulana Ismail Kafleti and Maulana Fateh Mohammed Alipori (Is’haq, 1979:25).

As mentioned earlier, the teaching of children was an important part of a Maulana’s duties. They also had to lead congregational prayers.

There was a large enough number of ulema in 1922 in Johannesburg to establish an organisation of ulema, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema (Le Roux, 1978:61). A publication of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema, a prayer manual printed in 1927, is still extant.

The Jamiat-ul-Ulema was inactive for a period and was re-established in 1933 (Le Roux, 1978:62). Since then it has played a leading role in organising madressa education in the Transvaal.

5.5.5. Organisation of Early Madressas

The madressas were established by the community and also funded by it. School buildings, which had often been built by the community, were used after school hours. The teachers, usually ulema from India, were paid by the community. Content

The teaching generally followed the pattern indicated in India, and the main trend was repeated:

  • a child was first taught the basic Arabic alphabet, the takhti;
  • this was followed by a combination of Arabic letters and sounds;
  • parts of the Qur’an were read, beginning with the short sections at the end. The memorisation of some sections was also begun, as were Urdu alphabet and combinations of letters. Basic Gujerati was also learnt;
  • After this, a number of other books were studied in Urdu. These included:
    • Taalimul Islam: expression of faith, basic rules regarding religious obligations.
    • Urdu books in sequence: religious rules, moral stories, poems.
    • Behesti Zewar: in a number of sections, giving detailed Islamic rules. This book was studied by more advanced pupils. Some rules had to be memorised.
    • Other books, as the pupil advanced, dealing with religious rules, the life of the prophet (P.B.U.H.) moral stories and other aspects.
  • At the same time of the Qur’an was systematically read until it was completed. Sections were also memorised, and there was also practical teaching of some basic practices such as the way to perform prayers. Method

Classes could have many children. They were divided into different level groups. Each group was given a lesson for the next day and had to move away from the teacher and learn their lesson for the next day. They were tested the next day and a further lesson was given.

An examination was conducted annually, usually by ulema from other madressas in the area or from other areas. Discipline and Punishment

Discipline was strict and the cane was freely used. As work was learnt by repetition, and recited aloud, there was considerable noise.


This practice still prevails in India, but in the Transvaal there were influences that necessitated change. Earlier, Gujerati or Urdu were home languages, but were gradually replaced by English. It became apparent that a radical revision was needed. Two organisations, the Jamiatul Ulema of the Transvaal (J.U.T.) and the Central Islamic Trust (C.I.T.) separately restructured the madressas under their control.

The J.U.T. convened a meeting of representatives of madressas in the Transvaal on 11August1963, and in 1964 a syllabus was prepared, a "Simplified Educational Syllabus". This was amended and modified in January1965. (Preamble to 1965 syllabus: "Revised and Simplified Islamic Educational Syllabus for the madaaris of the Transvaal).

This syllabus heralded a drastic change from the traditional madressas. The substance of instruction remained the same, but English was introduced and the organisation was changed. The pattern was based on secular schools. There were structured timetables, with subject teaching and division into periods and teaching by different teachers. There were uniform syllabuses for every aspect and there was supervision, as well as inspection and examinations.

There were later modifications to the syllabuses, but the basic format has remained to the present.


The purpose of madressa education, in any place, has remained constant throughout its history. The madressa has always sought to transmit knowledge of religious requirements so that children have knowledge of their religious duties.

It has been central to madressa education to inculcate requirements of the faith; to teach the formal affirmation of faith which expresses a belief in God, all the prophets, particularly the prophethood of Mohammed (P.B.U.H.) and the Day of Judgment.

There is no published material available about madressa education in villages in India, nor is there any published information about early madressa education in Lenasia. The information has therefore been obtained from interviews. The people interviewed were A. Akhalwaya, I. Waja, A.H. Gabru, A.K. Dockrat, S. Pandor and E. Garda.