The Desecration of Local Mosques is the Work of Agent Provocateurs
Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar
On New Year’s Day, Facebook user Liam Christian Ferreira caused an uproar on social media when he posted derogatory remarks about Muslims on the Langebaan Facebook page. Ferreira’s post expressed frustration with “those Muslim bastards blaring their call to prayer five times a day over massive speakers.” He then went on to say that the mosque should be burned down. Ferreira later apologised for his rant and the post was subsequently removed.
On Saturday 7 January 2017, just a few days after the above-mentioned furore, a pig snout and blood was left on the entrance gate of the Noorul Islam Mosque in Simons Town. This was followed by another incident on Monday 9 January at Masjidul Jamiah in Kalk Bay where blood was found spattered on the walls and pulpit inside the mosque and copies of the Muslim sacred scripture, the Glorious Quran and other religious items were torn and scattered.
These incidents, which violate the sanctity of places of worship and displays flagrant disregard for our constitutionally enshrined rights to freedom of religion, have provoked shock, outrage and condemnation from Muslims and the greater Cape Town community.
Both mosque episodes were reported to the South African Police Service (SAPS) and are now being investigated. Furthermore, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) has lodged a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) who is seriously considering instituting an inquiry into the desecration of the mosques.
While we call on all South African citizens to condemn acts of Islamophobia and all other forms of bigotry and racism, we should guard against responding with anger and acts of revenge, and we should remain vigilant against attempts by agent provocateurs whose intent is to stoke interreligious strife between Muslims and their fellow compatriots.
It is my contention that our response to Islamophobia and bigotry should be informed by a clear ethical principle enunciated in the Glorious Qur’an. In surah al-Fussilat, chapter 41, verses 34 and 35, Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice, advises us as to how we should strive to respond to malevolent provocation:
“Good and Evil can never be equal to each other.
Repel evil with what is better; and your erstwhile enemy may
become a close friend. The latter is only attainable
by those who are forbearing in adversity and are
blessed with God’s Grace.” (Q41: 34-35)
Furthermore, I believe that the best antidote and source of healing during this challenging time is for Muslims to devote themselves to emulating the noble example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It is therefore critical that Muslims always ask themselves: How would the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) respond?
During his lifetime, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) endured insults and ridicule on a daily basis. His adversaries went as far as using physical violence to stop him from spreading his message. Despite the hatred flung at him throughout these provocations, he did not lose his temper. He instead responded with wisdom and grace by offering a prayer of forgiveness to those who showed contempt for him. Therefore, by choosing compassion as a response, Muslims are emulating the beautiful character of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who is described in the Qur’an as rahmatan lil ‘alamin, “a source of compassion, tenderness and mercy to the world.” (Q21: 107)
To this end, I believe that these incidents of bigotry should inspire Muslims to redouble their efforts to stand firmly alongside all their compatriots in the struggle for peaceful co-existence, inter-faith solidarity, and compassionate justice for all.
South Africa has been blessed with one of the most vibrant interfaith movements in the world. This great accomplishment has not come about by chance, but is the fruits of labour by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu, who planted its seeds in 1983 when he initiated the South African chapter of the World Conference on Religions for Peace (WCRP). The interfaith movement, spearheaded by many talented social justice activists, has since been instrumental in spawning a solid ethos of inter-religious solidarity in the struggle against apartheid and towards justice for all. It is contemptible that a group of agent provocateurs are attempting to undermine this by trying to sow interreligious enmity between Muslims and their fellow citizens through these provocative acts.
It is however encouraging to note the many positive messages and statements of solidarity from the interfaith community. Archbishop Stephen Brislin made one such statement on behalf of the Catholic community of the Archdiocese of Cape Town and the Catholic Church of Southern Africa. He expressed outrage and sadness at the defacement of the mosques and said that these acts of intolerance and hate speech only further damages the fabric of our already polarized society. Anglican Bishop Geoff Davies, who lives next door to the Kalk Bay mosque, has also condemned the acts. He expressed his shock and disappointment and encouraged South Africans to set good examples for the rest of the world.
The Cape Town Interfaith Initiative (CTii), Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille and a host of others have also added their voices to the strong condemnation of the defacing of mosques.
Furthermore, it is heartwarming to know that the neighbours of both the Simonstown and Kalk Bay mosques have reached out in support to the Muslim community. Ironically, just prior to the outbreak of these incidents of Islamophobia, on Thursday 29 December 2016, I was invited to the St. James Retirement Hotel to deliver a lecture on Understanding Islam. The lecture was well received by the residents and in appreciation one of the elders made a charitable donation to the Claremont Main Road Mosque for use in its social justice programmes. Since the outbreak of these provocations I have received a supportive email from the residents of the St. James Retirement Hotel expressing their regret at the vandalism that occurred at the Simons Town and Kalk Bay mosques.
On a more somber note it is alarming to note the location of these recent heinous acts, viz. Langebaan, Simons Town and Kalk Bay. These are not Cape Flats locations where large communities of Muslims and people of many different faiths live alongside each other. Simons Town and Kalk Bay are locations where the mosques are the only remnants of the Muslim communities who were displaced during Apartheid. Langebaan has always been an exclusive holiday destination reserved for those who could afford to buy houses there. So we need to consider that perhaps these provocative acts of Islamophobia are also a reflection of the festering intolerance by a few individuals who are struggling to come to terms with the slow but successful breakdown of our stubborn race and class divides. Such an explanation clearly holds for the Langebaan Facebook rant. Regardless of the motivations, these issues need to be placed firmly on the public agenda and it is critical for us to make it known that there is no room in South Africa for discrimination, whether the prejudice is based on differences in race, religion, gender or sexuality.
I encourage all South Africans not to allow the nefarious and divisive agendas of these agent provocateurs to succeed but to make a sincere commitment to work together to strive for greater harmonious relations between Muslims, Christians, people of faith and of none, and to embrace and celebrate our diversity.
During this challenging time, we pray for the good health and well being of Archbishop Tutu and for continued inspiration through his resplendent example of inter-faith relations. We also pray that wisdom will guide our local leadership in our responses to provocations. May God fill our hearts and minds with passion and determination to wipe out ignorance, racism, bigotry, xenophobia and hatred, and reunite us in bonds of love and compassion. May the Grace of God be with us, and may we be inspired to use the highest aspirations of our spiritual traditions to affirm the dignity of all human beings, no matter our differences. May we redouble our efforts to strive for even greater harmonious relations between Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, people of faith and of none.