Respected Ottoman scholar Ebubekir Efendi inspires Erzurum, Cape Town ties

The tomb of Ebubekir Efendi in Cape Town.
The tomb of Ebubekir Efendi in Cape Town.

In the late 1800s, Ottoman scholar Ebubekir Efendi, who lived in the eastern Erzurum province, was sent to Cape Town by the sultan and left his mark as a visionary man who improved the lives of Muslims there. His descendants continued to live there for years and recently one of his great grandsons visited Erzurum for the first time

More than a century and a half ago, an Ottoman scholar, Ebubekir al-Emcedi al-Kureyshi Effendi, traveled from Erzurum to Istanbul after he was summoned by Sultan Abdülaziz. He worked at the ministry of foreign affairs for a while, before the sultan handed him the responsibility to resolve intra-faith discords in South Africa's Cape Town following a British request.

In 1863, he started his journey for Cape Town in a bid to help the city's Muslim community, who were mostly brought as slaves by the colonial Dutch and British from different south and southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Java and India.

Upon Ebubekir Effendi's arrival, the lives of Muslims in Cape Town changed for the better as he established schools to educate them and started working as a judge to solve intra-community issues.

Ebubekir Effendi's family made Cape Town their home and stayed there ever since and to this day, his descendants live in the South African city.

One of his great grandsons, Hisham Nimetullah Effendi and his wife Fatima Effendi paid a visit to Erzurum last week, invited by the Erzurum Municipality. He was the first descendant of Ebubekir Effendi to visit Erzurum.

Erzurum Mayor Mehmet Sekmen, head of Cultural Affairs Ergün Engin and founders of the Crescent Africa Star group, Ebuzer Demirci, Ahmet Kasan and Selçuk Gör welcomed the family, who was accompanied by Halim Gençoğlu, a researcher at Cape Town University, who has conducted a comprehensive research on the family's history, revealing Ebubekir Effendi's works, letters, relations with the British and the Ottoman states and his importance in South African history.

Gençoğlu held a conference on the scholar's life and reintroduced him to the people of Erzurum. Hundreds of people attended the program and was amazed to hear Gençoğlu's findings. Ebubekir Effendi's great grandson Hisham Nimetullah Effendi also talked about his family history and his great grandfather's memoirs.

Ebubekir Efendi's house in Cape Town serves as a museum.

Talking about the family's significance, Gençoğlu said, "It is very important to pursue the Ottoman Empire's traces in Africa. The family has played a crucial role in South African Muslims' Islamic education as well as their struggle against the apartheid regime. Ebubekir Effendi wrote Islamic books in Afrikaans after he learned the language within a short time. He also established schools not only for boys, but also for girls. He was a visionary man, guiding the Muslims and advising them to get educated to preserve their culture and religion."

Revealing the fact that his family members were amongst the most educated ones in the country, he said, "Many of his family members have grown up to become philologists, ambassadors, engineers, doctors and Islamic scholars. In fact, one of his descendants became South Africa's first female doctor. Ebubekir Effendi always emphasized the importance of educating girls."

"Due to his efforts he received several medals from the Ottoman Empire and was also put under the protection of the British Queen, as he was a respected scholar," Gençoğlu said.

Ebubekir Effendi's descendant, Hisham Nimetullah Effendi thanked the mayor of Erzurum, organizers of the program, people of Erzurum and the Turkish government, for their efforts to keep the family's history alive.

He said he loves Turkey and Erzurum and visits every year although the family has been living in South Africa more than 150 years.

He said, "I have many materials that I inherited from my great grandfather, including books, medals, letters et cetera. Our family has always been appreciated by the South African people, even by the colonizers. Nelson Mandela and several members of the current government have praised our efforts for improving the situation of non-white people during the apartheid era."

Stating the importance of preserving Ebubekir Effendi's heritage, he said, "A museum in his name should be established and I am ready to donate everything I have."

Upon the request, the Erzurum mayor also showed his interest and said, "We will make some efforts for founding a museum in Cape Town. We are holding talks with the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) to buy back Ebubekir Effendi's mansion in Cape Town, which is currently owned by someone else. We will also pay a visit to the Cape Town municipality soon to discuss the issue."

Researcher Gençoğlu on this issue said he had met the Cape Town mayor who promised to do her best to found the museum.

Ergün Engin, head of Erzurum's Cultural Affairs, also said the municipality was looking up ways to take such an initiative. He added that the Erzurum municipality was building a mansion, which will be named Ebubekir Effendi.

Heads of the Crescent Africa Star group, Ebuzer Demirci and Ahmet Kasan said their aim was to provide accurate, unbiased information to African people and they are planning to open an office in Cape Town next summer.

The Erzurum mayor said Erzurum and Cape Town could become sister municipalities to increase cooperation, as he believed Turkey and South Africa should improve their relations in terms of culture and trade.

The mayor further said that Erzurum has many opportunities on offer for investors and tourists and establishing ties through a common figure like Ebubekir Effendi will lead to mutual benefits for the two cities.

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