Al Jeem or ‘Ahli Junūb’ means the “People of the South”.
This term has major historic and iconic meaning for us as Muslims in South Africa because we have inherited a unique cultural identity born out of a 300-year-long legacy. How did Islam come to life in South Africa? How did the Almighty Allah SWT show HIS mercy by not only blessing us to receive Islam, but with it a rich cultural heritage? Who were the first people to impart Islamic teaching and wisdom on us all those years ago? More importantly, what is OUR story, as Muslims and as the People of the South?
Long ago, our cultural pioneers were living in homelands of Indonesia, Malaysia, India and other parts of the world. Growing up, they were raised with a strong Islamic ethos, together with a customary lifestyle with foundational traditions in every aspect of daily life.
Despite being strong-rooted and highly learned, our cultural pioneers such as Sheikh Yusuf of Macassar and others became known for standing up for justice and speaking truth to power in their homelands of origin. This was not tolerated by their political powers at that time, who devised ways to silence the voices of dissent and obliterate their efforts. To this end, their oppressors banished our cultural pioneers to the southernmost tip of the civilized world as political exiles, in order to extinguish the light of Islam which emanated from their lives. But Allah SWT had chosen for it to live on through the efforts of these iconic cultural pioneers.
They landed on the shores of South Africa, as considered as slaves and prisoners to be overthrown and forgotten. Instead, they were showed resilience and drew strength from their heritage and the memory of a thriving Islam. Reviving their own cultures and using whatever scarce resources at their disposal, they re-cultivated a way of life conforming to Islamic teaching and ethos. Every aspect of their lives was dotted traditions stemming from predominantly Indonesian, Malaysian and Indian upbringing. Against all odds, these extraordinary cultural pioneers preserved Islamic values which became embedded in the hearts and lives of the People of the South with a unique mixture of Islam, culture, traditions and most importantly, the love of Allah SWT and His messenger sallā Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam.
This was the legacy that was passed down from generation to generation in the Cape and South Africa in general. We have long-standing traditions that are still practised today for different life events – weddings, funerals, the birth of children, “rampies sny” at Mawloud and many more.
Of them all, the most transformative cultural aspect that we have inherited is the auspicious life experience of Hajj and Umrah. This unique blend of culture and Islam is witnessed in traditions linked to Hajj and Umrah, which the People of the South enjoy till this day.
We should not forget 300-years of Islamic cultural foundations that were laid down for us as a People of the South. Today, we honour our cultural pioneers, as we prepare for our departure on Hajj and Umrah and taking on the legacy as Al Jeem ….