The Holy Circle of Karamats: Cape Town, South Africa



The Holy Circle consists of 23 karamats, or tombs of Sufi Muslim Shaykhs, which surround the city of Cape Town.  The geographic location of the karamats forms a sacred belt around the city.  According to local tradition, the ‘Holy Circle’ brings blessings and protects the city of Cape Town against natural disasters.


The tombs are considered places of baraka or blessings and are visited regularly by the Muslim community for prayer and remembrance.  A beautiful tradition in Cape Town is the ‘greeting’ of the tombs before the departure of the pilgrims for hajj, the prescribed pilgrimage to Mecca. The pilgrims visit the karamats and ask for blessing for their journey, while at the same time they thank the forefathers who brought Islam to the Cape for their sacrifices and legacy.


All the karamats are located in beautiful natural sanctuaries, from the foothills of Table Mountain to Robben Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The indigenous vegetation surrounding the tombs forms part of the fynbos family, the smallest in size but most varied floral kingdom in the world, only found in the Cape region of South Africa. 


Some of the karamats, like the one of Shaykh Yusuf in Faurie, are categorised as National Heritage Sites, and are thus protected by the heritage legislation.  Others, such as the karamat of Lion’s Head, fall within the borders of the Table Mountain National Park and in a manner they gain protection.  Nevertheless, the majority of the karamats are situated on private land and are subjected to the proprietors’ will.  For example, the karamat of Shaykh Nur ul-Mubeen in Ouderkraal, one of the most revered, is located in a prime spot in the foothills of the Twelve Apostles mountain range and faces the Atlantic Ocean.  The owner of the land has tried to develop the lucrative area on several occasions, causing uproar in the local community, which took to the streets to protest and has had to fight several legal battles to preserve both the religious and natural heritage of the karamat.



Responsible: T. Johardien