The al-Zawiyah Mosque lies on the lower reaches of
Table Mountain in Cape Town, on the border between the suburbs of Walmer Estate and
Zonnebloem (the old District Six). The founder of this Mosque, and also for many years its
imam, was Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks, one of the rare Islamic scholars in South
His story began in 1871, about 37 years after the
emancipation of the slaves, when he was born to Abdullah Hendricks (also known as Imam
Haji Hiji) and his wife Aisha in the village of Swellendam.
In 1888, at the age of sixteen years, Muhammad Salih left
Swellendam to study in Mecca.The Tasawwuf tradition, which was later to be
suppressed by the Wahhabi movement, was dominant in the city. This tradition was
to leave an indelible impression on the religious philosophy and practice of Muhammad
Salih. There is little doubt that his tutors in Mecca were steeped in this tradition, and
that they passed on its teachings to the young student.
These tutors included, amongst others, Sayyid Sulayman
Shatta, Shaykh Umar ba Junayd, and Mufti al-Shafi'iyyah Said ibn Muhammad
In 1902, when he had completed about fifteen years of study, Muhammad Salih left Mecca to come home. En Route he called at the island of Zanzibar
where he stayed for about a year, acting as a tempory judge in religious affairs and
reorganising the island's Maulud al-Nabi celebrations.
Shaykh Muhammad Salih arrived home in 1903.He started
teaching religious sciences soon after he arrived in Cape Town. It was in the Palm Tree
Mosque that he launched an attack against the deculturisation of Muslim women when he
stated that they should cover their aurahs and wear hijab. Large numbers of
women heeded his call and covered up. This attempt to restore the Islamic propriety of
women met with unexpected derision and contempt, but the women stood firm and slowly
reaffirmed their dignity as Muslim women, despite the prevailing antogonism. This was a
major victory for Islam in which the dominant culture was ( and still is ) colonialist and
In 1919 he took the first steps towards building of what was
later to become known as the al-Zawiyah Mosque. The word Zawiyah has a number
of meanings. On the one hand, it means a corner of a small house or mosque used for poor
Muslims and students, while in certain special cases it can be a retreat for members of a
tasawwuf order (as in North Africa for example).
There can be little doubt that Shaykh Muhammad Salih, who
was a member of the Alawiyah Tariqah, used his classes to spread the teachings and
practices of tasawwuf. Maulud al-Nabi became, and still is a major event in
the yearly activities of the al-Zawiyah Mosque.
Shaykh Muhammad Salih also acquainted his students with
certain well-known tasawwuf liturgical practices such as the Ratib al-Haddad, the Ratib al-Attas, Nasr wa al-Falah, the Duriyyah, the Qadiriyah
and Yasin with the seven mubins.
Shaykh Muhammad Salih died in the year 1945.