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Sheik Yusuf (1626 - 1699)

The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in

Gold
Sheik Yusuf (1626 - 1699) Awarded for:
Exceptional contribution to the struggle against colonialism.

Profile of Sheik Yusuf

Sheikh Yusuf, also known as Abadin Tadia Tjoessoep, was born in 1626 in Goa in eastern India. A devout maternal nephew of King Biset of Goa, he spent years in Arabia studying under the tutelage of several pious teachers.

At this time the area was in a state of turmoil as the Dutch and English East India Companies vied for control of the lucrative trade in spices and gold, sometimes with and at other times against the various local potentates, and when Sheikh Yusuf left Jeddah in 1664 he was unable to return home because the Dutch had captured Macassar while he was in Arabia.

Instead he sailed to Banten in Western Java, where he was welcomed by the ruler, Sultan Ageng, who gave Sheikh Yusuf his daughter's hand in marriage and made him his chief religious judge and personal advisor. Sheikh Yusuf lived in Banten for 16 years, revered throughout the East Indies for his piety and wisdom, till Sultan Ageng's son, Pangeran Hajji, rose against his father in 1680, possibly at the urgings of the Dutch East India Company.

Sultan Ageng rallied his forces and in 1683 besieged Pangeran Hajji in his fortress at Soerdesoeang. Pangeran Hajji asked for and received Dutch military aid. Sultan Ageng was defeated but managed to escape capture, along with an entourage of about 5 000, among them the 57-year-old Sheikh Yusuf, the Sultan's two sons, Purbaya and Kidul, and about 1 300 soldiers.

Sheikh Yusuf remained loyal to Sultan Ageng in the ensuing war, but was taken prisoner when the sultan was defeated. Initially he was held at Ceylon, but was a man of such influence that it was decided to exile him to a place remote from the East Indies, the small outpost at the distant Cape.

In 1694 Sheikh Yusuf arrived at the Cape on the ship Voetboog, accompanied by 49 followers, wives and children. He was housed at the DEIC's expense on the farm Zandvliet, just outside Cape Town, to minimise any influence he might exert on the DEIC's slaves, who were mostly of East Indies origin.

The plan failed. Zandvliet became a place of pilgrimage for muslim people in South Africa. Here he died in 1699, but after more than three centuries his memory and his works live on.

The Muslim community to whom he provided guidance, faith and hope flourishes in South Africa today, his name is constantly evoked, and his tomb is the jewel in a ring of kramats, or shrines. The name 'Zandvliet’ disappeared many years ago, when the area was renamed 'Macassar’, in honour of Sheikh Yusuf's place of birth.

“He was not only of noble birth but of unusual piety, a great warrior, a great prince and also a priest deep in the knowledge of holy things," the historian Ian D Colvin wrote of Sheikh Yusuf almost a century ago. “Let us hope that in his exile his faith consoled him for the outrages of fortune."

The award was collected by Ichsan Yasin Limpo.