Unveiling the legacy of Arabic calligraphy in the Cape

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Achmat Davids (left) explains the history of the Tana Baru to Nelson Mandela in 1990. Mandela visited the cemetary and grave of Tuan Guru. Left of Mandela is Reverend Allan Boesak and Tahir Salie. To the right of Mandela are Shaykh Nazeem Mohamed, former President of the Muslim Judicial Council and Imam Gasan Solomon.  (Photo: Shafiq Morton/ Supplied)
Achmat Davids (left) explains the history of the Tana Baru to Nelson Mandela in 1990. Mandela visited the cemetary and grave of Tuan Guru. Left of Mandela is Reverend Allan Boesak and Tahir Salie. To the right of Mandela are Shaykh Nazeem Mohamed, former President of the Muslim Judicial Council and Imam Gasan Solomon. (Photo: Shafiq Morton/ Supplied)

Resting at the foothills of Signal Hill overlooking the vast Atlantic at Cape Town Harbour, the city centre to the east and Table Mountain to the west, is the modest Tana Baru cemetery - an ancient burial ground that carries a rich memory of politics, culture and spirituality.

Enlightening codes that rewrite theories of decolonisation lie within its neglected and forgotten walls. The cemetery houses one of the Cape’s most unsung heroes from the 18th century, the tomb of Abdullah ibn Qadi Abdus Salaam, commonly known as Tuan Guru (the Master Teacher).

To protect this marginalised legacy, a young calligrapher from the Bo-Kaap, Faheem Rhoda Jackson, is revisiting the manuscripts of Tuan Guru to unearth new narratives around heritage. A recent book, titled From the Spice Island to Cape Town: The life and times of Tuan Guru, by Shafiq Morton also sheds new light on this important figure.

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