For students: We hope this guide sharpens your reading skills and deepens your understanding.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from AramcoWorld, by teachers at any level.
Common Core Standards met in this lesson: RI.9-10.4, RH.11-12.2 (see details below).
—The Editors

Do you have any comments? I'd be please to hear from you at [email protected].
—Julie Weiss

The Handwritten Heritage of South Africa's Kitabs

In this article, writer Alia Yunis tells of her search for kitabs, the religious lesson books, that were owned by Malay families in Cape Town, South Africa. The books take on particular significance as Cape Malays reclaim their history, a history that includes slavery and apartheid. Yunis explores how these objects have become important historical artifacts of this once-oppressed group. In a larger sense, this is an example of how a people's culture can survive despite a history of marginalization. By the time you this article and complete the activities, you will be able to:
  • Define cultural capital.
  • Apply that definition to kitabs and explain what kitabs mean to Cape Malay families.
  • Understand kitabs in the context of history and society.
  • Identify an object in your own life that carries weight and meaning, as the kitabs do for the Cape Malays.

To start, you need to know what a kitab is. Using the written text of the article as well as the photos that accompany it, write down a definition of kitab. How are kitabs connected to Islam and Islamic education? Look specifically at Abdiyah Da Costa's kitabs. What stories does Abdiyah tell about them—and so about her family, their community and their religious and educational traditions. In other words, while her kitabs are "just" objects, their existence opens the door into the history and culture of a family and community. As a class, discuss that history and culture.

Cultural Capital

For this activity, you'll be using the concept of cultural capital to understand the significance of kitabs to the Cape Malays. This is how historian Saarah Jappie explains it in the article:
As descendants of slaves, Cape Malays had no heirlooms, so the kitabs become important in that way. ... The kitabs are a form of cultural capital for both individuals and communities. Given that many such objects have been lost or destroyed, merely owning one is significant. For people who have been dispossessed over multiple generations by slavery, apartheid and other actions, accessing, and even owning, an object of tangible heritage is very important.
See if you can define cultural capital based on the context of this quote. Discuss it with the class or a small group and write a tentative definition of the term. Then do some research to find a formal definition. As a group or class, write a definition of cultural capital and post it in the classroom. You will use it as a framework for understanding the importance of kitabs. But first, you'll need to understand some history.

The History of the Cape Malay People

To help you focus on the history the Cape Malay people, make a timeline that starts in the 1600s and comes up to the present. Now write "reclaiming their history," since according to the article that is what Cape Malays in Bo-Kapp are doing today. Then, put on your timeline key events, such as how and when Muslims came to South Africa, when power changed hands in Cape Town and what status Cape Malays had under different regimes. Use your timeline to write a statement that summariezes the history of Cape Malays.

Kitabs as Cultural Capital

Now you've got all the tools for analyzing kitabs as cultural capital. Here are some questions to guide you.
  • Given the history, why is it uncommon for Malays in Cape Town to own the kitabs of their families?
  • What does owning a kitab mean to the Cape Malays that author Alia Yunis met and interviewed?
  • How are kitabs part of the reclaiming of the history of Cape Malays?
Write a summary of your analysis of kitabs as objects of cultural capital. Compare your summary with the summaries of other students and revise yours to improve on it.

Other Objects of Cultural Capital

In your own life, what object or objects could you think of as a cultural capital? A brand of clothing, a type of car, a mobile phone? For example, what does having a mobile phone enable you to do? Or, if you don't have one, what are you inhibited from doing? Perhaps your object relates to your family's history, as the kitabs in the article do. Do you have something that belonged to your grandparents, that has special meaning for your family and or for your cultural group? Write about the object in the way that Alia Yunis writes about kitabs.
Common Core Standards met in this lesson:

RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in text, including figurative, connotative and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).

RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.