Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Kadi [Qadri] Abdus Salaam, known as Tuan Guru, the son of a qadi, born in 1712, was a Prince from Tidore in the Ternate Islands [of Indonesia]. He traces his geneology to the Sultan of Morocco and his ancestry to that of the holy Prophet Muhammad [salla Allahu’alayhi wa sallam]. He was brought to the Cape on April 06, 1780 as a “state prisoner” along with Callie Abdol Rauf, Badroedin [Badr al-DinJ and Noro Iman [Nur al-Iman]; they were incarcerated on Robben Island. Their registration in the “Bandieten Rollen” for 1780 reveals that they conspired politically with the English in the East against the Dutch.
While imprisoned on Robben Island, Imam ‘Abdullah [Tuan Guru], being a hafiz al-Qur’an, wrote several copies of the holy Qur’an from memory. He also authored Ma’rifatul Islami wa’1 Imani, a work on Islamic jurisprudence, which also deals with ‘ilm al-kalam [Asharite principles of theology] which he completed in 1781. The manuscripts on Islamic jurisprudence, in the Malayu tongue and in Arabic, became the primary reference work of the Cape Muslims during the 19th century, and are at present in the possession of his descendants in Cape Town. His handwritten copy of the holy Qur’an has been preserved and is presently in the possession of one of his descendants, Sheikh Cassiem Abduraouf of Cape Town. Later, when printed copies of the holy Qur’an were imported, it was found that Tuan Guru’s hand-written copy contained very few errors.
On his release from Robben Island in 1793, he went to live in Dorp Street, Cape Town. Here he met and married the free woman, Kaija van de Kaap , with whose family he took up residence. From this marriage he had two sons: Abdol Rakiep and Abdol Rauf , both of whom came to play an important role in Cape Muslim society, and both lie buried adjacent to their father, Tuan Guru, at Tana Baru. Imam ‘Abdullah’s first concern on being released from prison was the establishment of a madrasah [religious school] at the Cape. He also agitated for a masjid site and relaxation of the hard official attitude of the Cape authorities towards Islam. Such a madrasah was soon established and operated from a warehouse attached to the home of Coridon of Ceylon in Dorp Street. This was the first madrasah to be established in this country and proved extremely popular among the slaves and the Free Black community where they were taught precepts from the holy Qur’an and to read and write the Arabic language. It played an important role in converting many slaves to Islam. It was also at this madrasah that the literary teaching of Arabic-Afrikaans emerged. It was through his work at the madrasah that he gained the appellation Tuan Guru, meaning mister teacher.
When the Cape was overtaken by the British for the first time in 1795, the British Governor, General Craig, was more favourably disposed towards the Muslims and granted them permission to build a masjid. Tuan Guru wasted no time, he converted the warehouse, attached to Coridon’s house and used it as a madrasah and later into a masjid which is now known as the Auwal Masjid, the first masjid to be established in South Africa.