South African kramats and mosques tell of the strength of faith in even the most dire circumstances. The first Muslims brought to the Cape arrived as either slaves or prisoners, among whom were holy men who kept Islam alive and were buried in shrines known as kramats.

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Islam was banned during the Dutch occupation of the Cape, forcing adherents underground.

Kramats and mosques are an important part of South African heritage as they represent the second oldest religion introduced to the country.

The first Muslims brought to the Cape arrived as Malay slaves, who practiced their faith in secret until the early 19th century. Also brought to the Cape were prisoners fighting for freedom in the Dutch East Indies.

Among these were teachers of Islam, or Auliyah. Some of these holy men were also of noble birth and those who died here were buried in shrines known as kramats or mazaars, of which there are about 30 in and around Cape Town.

Kramats in South Africa, many of which look like miniature mosques, can be found from Muizenberg to Mowbray, with four on Signal Hill alone. The most visited by pilgrims is that of Sheikh Yusuf of Macassar in the dunes near Macassar Beach. He was the first to read from the Holy Koran in South Africa, and is regarded as the father of local Islam.

Other important kramats are those of the last Malaccan sultan, Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shahnat, at the gates to Klein Constantia and of Sheikh Sayed Abdurahman Maturu of Jafet on Robben Island.

Islam now has a substantial following, with most of the mosques in South Africa located in the Western Cape, Johannesburg and Durban. The architecture of the Jumah Mosque in Durban, built in 1927, formerly the largest mosque in the southern hemisphere, is a mix of Islamic and colonial styles. Another interesting mosque is the Palm Tree Mosque, in central Cape Town, in the only surviving 18th century house built by Carel Lodewijk Schot.

North of Johannesburg, in Midrand, a beautiful, striking new multi-million rand mosque, completed in 2012, soars over the skyline. The Nizamiye Turkish Masjid, based on the design of a 16th century Ottoman Selimiye mosque, covers 10ha of ground, has four minarets, and a main dome 31m high and 24m wide. It's now the largest mosque in the southern hemisphere.

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