The history of Muslim education in the east coast region of South Africa is the story of ongoing struggles by an immigrant religious minority under successive, exclusionary forms of state. Schooling Muslims in Natal traces the labours and fortunes of a set of progressive idealists who, mobilising merchant capital, transoceanic networks and informal political influence, established the Orient Islamic Educational Institute in 1943 to found schools and promote a curriculum inclusive of secular subjects and Islamic teaching. Through the story of their Durban flagship project – the Orient Islamic School – this book recounts the changing politics of religious identity, education and citizenship in South Africa.
From the late nineteenth century, Gujarati Muslim traders settling in the colony of Natal built mosques and madressas; their progeny carried on the strong traditions of community patronage and leadership. Aligned to Gandhi’s Congress initiatives for Indian civic recognition, they worked across differences of political strategy, economic class, ethnicity and religion to champion modern education for a ghettoised Indian diaspora. In common was the threat of a state that, long before the legal formation of apartheid, managed diversity in deference to white racial hysteria over ‘Indian penetration’ and an ‘Asiatic menace’.
This is the story of confrontation, cooperation and compromise by an officially marginalised but still powerful set of ‘founding fathers’ who shaped education and urban space as they integrated this region of Africa into the Indian Ocean world.