Intense divisions among Muslim clerics in SA highlighted in wake of Malmesbury mosque attack

2018-06-14 15:40
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 deadly attack on a mosque in Malmesbury on Thursday has highlighted intense divisions among Muslim clerics around the country, that apparently stems from an accord signed in Cape Town earlier this month, which was meant to foster peace.

Early on Thursday, two worshippers were killed and others wounded in the attack on the mosque in the small Western Cape town.

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The attacker was shot dead by police.

At this stage, however, there is no established proof that the attack is related to the Cape Accord. 

READ: 2 killed, attacker shot dead in stabbing attack at Malmesbury mosque

This attack comes five weeks after another one at a Shia mosque in Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal.

Earlier this month, the Cape Accord - a document meant to encourage peace and unity - was signed in Cape Town by several Islamic leaders.

An online invitation to sign the accord outlined what it was about.

'Promote unity'

"With the current climate of intra-faith hostility and increasing attacks on foremost figures within our faith community, it befits leading institutions and organisations in our societies to synergistically ally with one another to proactively engage each other in promoting understanding, tolerance, harmony and fraternal union," it read.

However, the Cape Accord has not been welcomed by all, and differing opinions about it have caused divisions.

President Cyril Ramaphosa referenced the Cape Accord on May 30 during a speech in Cape Town. He was speaking as a guest of the Muslim community for the Ramadan iftar programme, headed by Muslim Judicial Council president Shaykh Irfaan Abrahams.

In his speech, he said South Africa did not merely tolerate Muslims, but embraced their religion.

READ MORE'We must, as the ANC, admit that we may have disappointed the country', Ramaphosa tells Muslim leaders

Ramaphosa commended Cape Accord

"We will never be a country that allows discrimination of any sort. In this regard, I commend the speedy response from both the Muslim Judicial Council and the Cape Accord in condemning any possible sectarian motives that may have been behind the gruesome attack at the Verulam Shia Mosque, just as we were welcoming this holy month of Ramadan," an excerpt of his speech, tweeted on Ramaphosa's official account, said.

But more extreme views of the Cape Accord have been shared.

Last week, a voice note did the rounds of a man, believed to be a well-known Muslim cleric, saying: "Anybody who signs the Cape Accord is a Kafir (unbeliever)."

On Wednesday, the Muslim Judicial Council of South Africa issued a statement on its Facebook page headed: "A call for tolerance and unity in our dialogue."

It said the month of Ramadan had been extremely difficult for Muslims in the country.

'Defamation, slander and disrespect'

"It was plagued by much controversy, discord and disunity, from defamation and slander, to blatant disrespect and takfirism (excommunication).

"This discord had a direct impact on our reputation as a tolerant and dignified community, who pride ourselves on our Din (religion) in our beautiful land," it said.

"Whilst the Muslim Judicial Council (SA) has NOT endorsed the Cape Accord, we reject the declaration of Kufr (disbelieve) on our Úlama, individuals, and organisations associated with the Accord."

'They don't deserve the vitriol'

The statement referenced two organisations, saying these did "not deserve the vitriol that has been levelled at them – which is unbecoming of Muslims".

The South African National Zakáh Fund (Sanzaf) - a faith-based organisation, and one of those referenced by the Muslim Judicial Council - initially appeared to support the Cape Accord.

However, the publication The Majlis ran an article on June 9 criticising this move.

"Sanzaf, by joining the haraam 'Cape Accord', has displayed its true colours which it has hitherto concealed from Muslim contributors. Now that it has clambered aboard the Shiah 'Cape Accord' wagon, it has denuded itself from the cover under which it has for decades concealed its religion. But people of intelligence had not been befooled by this modernist entity," this article said.

On Tuesday, Sanzaf then issued a statement saying it had withdrawn from the Cape Accord.

It said in offering support to the Cape Accord, it had wanted to uphold the dignity of people, as well as project a positive image of Islam.

Dissenting views

"Whilst these factors are instrumental to social cohesion and are aligned to the organisation’s values, the Cape Accord itself, was met with dissenting views from various communities and Ulama fraternities," the press release said.

It quoted Sanzaf national chairperson Shauket Fakie as saying: "After a wider consultation and, due to consideration, we are withdrawing our support of the Cape Accord.

"We are doing so for the very principles that we supported and the document initially - to promote peace, harmony, tolerance, mutual respect and compassion."

The Jamiatul Ulama KwaZulu-Natal also issued a statement on the Cape Accord on Tuesday, saying it was committed to educating its constituency about the "dangers of the Shia religion", but doing this within legal parameters and without inciting violence.

It said these commitments had existed before the Cape Accord.

Accord vs discord

"Even if we had to sign the Accord, it would not approve or enhance the above two commitments in the least. Our non-signing of the Accord and distancing ourselves from it will not diminish these two commitments even by an iota...

"This is apart from the fact [that] the Accord is already achieving one of its major and ominous objectives of splitting the Muslim Ummah. It has earned itself the title of 'Cape Discord'."

On Monday, the United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA) issued a statement headed "Has the Cape Accord led to greater discord?", which argued that it had "achieved exactly the opposite of its intended purpose".

"We find it strange that the drafters of the Accord did not find it necessary to consult important stakeholders, nor the need for any inclusive public participation," it said.

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