Howard Feldman

An attack on a mosque is an attack on us all

2018-08-15 18:00
The scene after the attack at the Malmesbury mosque. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

The scene after the attack at the Malmesbury mosque. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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The spate of attacks on mosques across South Africa in recent months is something that should worry all South Africans. It is not the concern of the Muslim community alone. Any attack on a religious place of worship needs to be viewed very seriously. 

Whether the cause is Islamophobia, or an internal issue is irrelevant. What is vital is that a place of worship remains sacrosanct in South Africa and needs to be viewed and treated as a safe haven from a very frightening world.

It is well-known that through the horrific years of the Holocaust, when the Jews of Europe were rounded up for extermination by the Nazis, many a priest stepped forward and sheltered them. They opened the church doors and allowed those in need to shelter. In doing so, they placed not only themselves in jeopardy, but also their church and community. Discovery of their deeds would have (and did in many cases) result in death.

It was not only the churches that offered a safe haven to European Jews. In the book The Grand Mosque of Paris, the authors illuminate a history otherwise unknown. The genesis of the mosque is that it was built on land that was given to the French Muslim community in gratitude for their contribution to France during World War I. The mosque, it turned out, would not only be a gift to local Muslims but also ultimately to the Jews of Paris and to those who had fled to the city hoping to be spared.

Leadership of the mosque placed themselves at significant risk. They not only provided shelter to Jews but in many cases issued false birth certificates that indicated that the Jewish refugees were Muslim, in order to save them. This was particularly the case with Algerian and other North African Jews. They worked with the French resistance and together housed, fed and smuggled many through an intricate system of tunnels, to safety. 

According to journalist Rafik Ibrahim, the authors Ruelle and DeSaix lament the fact that most of the important documents were either destroyed or lost during the Nazi invasion. After a long and laborious search, they could only find a few manuscripts that threw light on the historical facts chronicled in the book. One letter, as the authors say, "… was recently found among the old papers of a Paris café owned by a Muslim Tunisian. According to the café owner it dated from World War II."

It read: "Yesterday at dawn, the Jews of Paris were arrested. The elderly, the women and the children. In exile like ourselves, workers like ourselves. They are our brothers. Their children are like our children. Anyone who encounters one of his children must give that child shelter and protection for as long as misfortune – or sorrow – lasts."

Just as churches, mosques, synagogues and temples have provided safety to those who sought it, when those churches, mosques, synagogues and temples are threatened we need to return that favour. 

According to reports, the Hawks have been investigating the mosque attacks. No matter what it is that the priority crime unit suggests lies behind the attacks, all South Africans of all religions need to consider that an affront to a place of worship is an affront on us all. Even if our mode of worship is not the same. 

All South Africans need to stand together and make sure that our voices are heard when we say that an attack on a mosque is an attack on us all. 

- Feldman is the author of Carry on Baggage and Tightrope and the daily breakfast show presenter on Chai FM.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    attacks  |  holocaust
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