Anger over M&G Zapiro cartoon
Johannesburg – The Mail & Guardian on Friday published a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad complaining that his followers lack a sense of humour, angering Muslims and raising fear of reprisal attacks during next month's World Cup.
South Africa will host the month-long soccer tournament from June 11 and police have pledged to protect the 300 000 expected foreign visitors and the teams taking part.
The Mail & Guardian published a sketch by renowned cartoonist Zapiro after a court rejected an overnight bid by Muslim advocacy groups for an injunction to prevent the newspaper from printing the cartoon.
The cartoon depicts the prophet on a psychologist's couch saying that his followers do not have a sense of humour.
Muslims consider any depiction of the founder of Islam to be offensive. In 2005, a Danish newspaper published cartoons of Muhammad which were subsequently republished elsewhere, sparking violent protests that killed several dozen people.
The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) said it would meet to discuss the cartoon, which it deemed highly offensive to the religious sensibilities of Muslims.
"It seems to be provocative in many ways on the very eve of the World Cup in South Africa, when we need peaceful co-existence and co-operation amongst religious communities in South Africa," said MJC President Ihsaan Hendricks.
"The M&G needed to understand that offending the South African Muslim community is offending the international Muslim community," he added.
About 80% of South Africa's 50 million population is Christian and 1.5% Muslim. Muslims are well integrated in South African society and there has been little extremist violence with the exception of Muslim-led attacks on drug dealers in Cape Town several years ago.
Callers to Talk Radio 702 said the Mail & Guardian was irresponsible for printing the cartoon so close to World Cup and this could raise the possibility of a terrorist attack during the tournament.
But a few others supported the paper and its right to free speech.
An alleged al-Qaeda militant who was arrested in Iraq on Monday said he had suggested an attack on the Danish and Dutch teams at the World Cup to avenge insults against the Prophet Muhammad.
- Additional Reporting by Xola Potelwa