Government perceptions of Cape Muslim exiles : 1652-1806

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This essay examines how the Cape government thought and felt about certain prominent Muslims, exiled from present day Indonesia to that colony, in the period 1652 to 1806. It has both descriptive and analytic functions. Descriptively, it seeks to find out what these thoughts and feelings were. Analytically, it seeks to explain why they came about. The essay contends that the way in which the exiles were perceived can only be understood by locating them in the wider Cape social, economic and political context. Accordingly, it describes elements of this context such as the Dutch colonial rationale, the Cape social structure, its culture and pertinent legal practices. Against this background, it then describes these perceptions. The description is general and specific. It examines perceptions of exiles in general by a study of the social class to which they belonged, namely the free blacks. It particularly focuses on the demography, the legal status and the economic position of this class. The final chapter of the essay is ties empirical backbone, being a specific and detailed examination of what the Cape government thought and felt about prominent individual exiles. As far as possible, it elicits all the evidence concerning these exiles, pertinent to the topic at hand, that is available in the prevailing historical literature. This essay's central thesis is that the exiles were peripheral to the concerns of the Cape government. Perceptions of individual exiles were nuanced and encompassed various attitudes, but at the core the exiles were not seen as important to their vital interests. The class to which the exiles belonged, the free blacks, were always at the demographic, legal, and economic margins of Cape society. The essay contends that the reason the exiles were peripheral in government perceptions was because of the general marginality of Muslims in the Cape context. They lacked numbers, and their role as a religious constituency was undermined by a society that subsumed such a constituency under various other concerns. The thesis is a departure from other studies on Cape Muslim history which this essay contends, tend to emphasise the "differentness" and centrality of the Muslim contribution.

Bibliography: pages 79-84.