Friday, August 10, 2012

The oldest mosque in Port Elizabeth won't be found somewhere on a prominent piece of land where everybody can see it, but down on Grace Street, a side street just off Govan Mbeki Road.  The Grace Street mosque or Majied-Ul-Abkbar mosque was built in 1855, making it more than 150 years old.  About halfway through construction the original members of the congregation ran out of funds and it was only through the grace of the Sultan of Turkey that the building was finished.  Doing a quick research on the history of the mosque I found an interesting article which appeared in the Herald in Sept 2011.  It included the following story.

Imam Behardien Jappie - the 12th Imam to head up the Grace Street Mosque - is a direct descendant, through his mother, of Sultan Nabier, the Kuala Lampur-born ruler of Macassar, Java and Riyah Sitta Riyah.  He remembers a story which was often told by his grandmother Ragma Davids of a Malaysian king, banished to South Africa.  The story goes back at least seven generations and more than 350 years. In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck arrived in South Africa and the Dutch East India Company brought with them slaves, political exiles and members of the royal family from Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries. Although the date of his arrival is not known,  it is said that when the Sultan and his entourage boarded ships to bring them to South Africa and were forced to leave any personal documentation, religious literature and identification in drums next to the gangplanks.  Although the Malays settled in Cape Town, which has the biggest Malay community outside Malaysia, a group later left Cape Town to settle elsewhere.   Imam Jabaarudien (Ragma's grandfather), also known as Abdul Maalick or Jan Bardien was the grandson of Sultan Nabier and arrived in Uitenhage in 1815.  He built the first mosque,  Masjid-Al-Qudama, there in the 1840s.  The Muslims that settled in Port Elizabeth had to travel through the night by ox-wagon on a Thursday to go to Friday prayers at the mosque so in 1855 the Grace Street Mosque was built in the city.  A long line of Imam Jappie‘s relatives served as Imam – six of the 12 to serve at Grace Street – , among them Jappie’s great-grandfather, grandfather, uncle and father.  This year (2012) Imam Jappie who was elected Imam in 1982 will celebrate his 30th anniversary in the position.


  1. Most interesting - especially as it is now the fasting time of Ramadan. The mosque looks so overshadowed by the other buildings.

  2. Salaams all, I am Turkish historian Halim Gencoglu from University of Cape Town. I have many Turkish documents about the Ottoman donation for Masjidul Akbar in PE. I want to contact the imam of the mosque to send him the documents.

    1. Salaam Halim. I'm doing research into the Bardien of which I'm an ancestor. Can you send me these documents too?

  3. From Radio IFM we interviewed Imam Behardien Jappie and his son Gasiep Jappie who is the acting Imam of the Masjid. The senior Imam shared the rich history of the Masjid and malay community of Port Elizabeth. A copy of the notes of the interview can be obtained from Imam Behardien 0742974960.