Academic journal article Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

Selected Sufi Texts of Shaykh Yusuf: Translations and Commentaries

Academic journal article Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

Selected Sufi Texts of Shaykh Yusuf: Translations and Commentaries

Article excerpt

Selected Sufi texts of Shaykh Yusuf

Shaykh Yusuf Al-Khalwati Al-Maqassari has made his mark in Southeast Asia as a heroic figure who fought valiantly against the Dutch. However, it was his position as a Sufi shaykh that catapulted him into prominence. Before and during his period of exile, the shaykh wrote a number of important texts on tasawwuf (Sufism) that have circulated among and influenced many of his companions and students. In this article we have translated three short treatises that had been attributed to him. Although none of them was written whilst he was in exile at the Cape of Good Hope between the time of his arrival there in1694 and the time of his death in 1699, he was able to disseminate its contents to members of the nascent Cape Muslim community who had come into contact with him. Key words: Shaykh Yusuf, Sufi Literature, Islam in South Africa, Melayu Archipelago.


During 1994 the South African Muslims celebrated what they deemed to have been the tercentenary of the presence of Islam on the southern tip of the African continent (Jeppie 1996: 72-91). One of the heroic figures whose name has been associated with the nascent Muslim community at the Cape during the late seventeenth century was that of Shaykh Yusuf Al-Khalwati Al-Maqassari (d. 1699). The shaykh, a Muslim cleric, who was brought by the Dutch to Ceylon from the Melayu archipelago as a political prisoner after having languished in prison on that Island for many years, was one of the most prominent Muslim figures to be exiled to the Cape of Good Hope. The shaykh was part of a coterie of Muslims who were enslaved by the Dutch and who formed the nucleus of the nascent Cape Muslim community.

The shaykh was no ordinary political prisoner. When he was apprehended and taken to Ceylon where he was held for almost a decade, he had already been well known as a Melayu Sufi shaykh. As a shaykh he was someone who wrote about and taught the Shari'ah (Islamic law) alongside the dissemination of the basic teachings of the tariqas (Sufi brotherhoods) to their members. The socio-psychological impact that his presence had had on this early Muslim community as well as later generations was inestimable; even though the shaykh was not the founder of Islam at the Cape as some earlier scholars tried to argue, he no doubt was one of its leading pioneers. Many South African Muslims particularly at the Cape continuously draw inspiration from his legacy; even though they are generally unfamiliar with his Sufi writings, some of them who are members of contemporary Sufi orders such the Qadriyyah and Naqshbandiyyah see themselves connected to him via their allegiance towards the orders' leadership (see Haron 2005: 261-286). However, since the shaykh's manuscripts have become readily available through the translations and commentaries that have been produced by contemporary scholars such as Dangor (1990), Abu Hamid (1994b) and Azra (2006), they have made it their duty to read and imbibe some of his ideas. Sufi literature, as a matter of information, is a genre of literature located within the broad field of Arabo-Islamic literature. The shaykh's Sufi texts, which falls within this category of literature and mainly written in Arabic, have enriched not only the growing body of literature in Southeast Asia but have also added substantially to the understanding of early Cape Muslim socio-theological thought; it may therefore be safely assumed that the shaykh's ideas along with the works of other Southeast Asian scholars have penetrated and filtered down into the fabric of South Africa's Cape Muslims over the centuries.

This article is based on a lengthier study entitled "Selected Writings of Shaykh Yusuf al-Khalwati" (1994) completed by Mustapha Keraan towards the fulfillment of his B. A. Honours degree in the Department of Arabic Studies at the University of the Western Cape. The article therefore focuses on some of the shaykh's writings. …

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