A part of Cape Town's Sayed Mahmud Mazaar in Constantia was set alight by arsonists on Tuesday morning, the chairperson of the shrine's trust said.
"It's terrible," said Fadiel Essop.
The shrine is under the control of the Shahmahomed Trust of which Essop is a trustee.
"It was established by my late great-grandfather, Hajee Sullaiman Shahmahomed, to preserve the historical legacy of the pioneers of the Muslim community in the Cape," explained Essop.
He said that the caretaker let two people who arrived in a car for prayers in at about 6:10, and went to shower.
"He heard footsteps running and he quickly went to check what was going on.
"Basically they tried to set the place alight," said Essop.
Site accessible to all visitors
The caretaker put the fire out quickly so the damage was contained.
But Essop was shocked that someone could target the shrine, considering all the work that had been put into making it a peaceful retreat for visitors.
"The site has always been accessible to all visitors, irrespective of their beliefs and visitors [are] expected to act in a dignified manner as indicated on the notice boards at the kramat (shrine)," he added.
The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) explained that the mazaar, otherwise known as a kramat, is among other graves of influential Muslims who spread Islam "under the yoke of oppression and torture".
"The blatant disrespect shown toward Muslim burial sites – especially those that we revere – and to the dead is a cause of great concern," said head of the Muslim Cemetery Board and second deputy president of the MJC, Shaykh Riad Fataar.
"In the past, there seemed to have been attempts at the same thing, and it stopped. We hope this is not a resurgence of the same."
Circle of shrines
The MJC asked that anybody with information on who was behind the fire report it to the police, or the Cape Mazaar Society.
The society explained on its web page that the mazaars it oversees honour the Muslim slaves – who included religious thinkers – who were brought to the Cape to work on the garrison being established by Jan van Riebeeck.
The mazaars form a circle, comprising the tombs of Auliyah (friends of Allah) who were brought as slaves to the Cape.
"It starts at the old cemetery on the slopes of Signal Hill, just above the quarry in Strand Street, where two saintly men lie buried, the circle continues to two graves on top of Signal Hill. The circle then continues at a grave much revered, situated above Oudekraal beyond Camps Bay, and sweeps around the mountain to a kramat at Constantia, on Tokai Road.
The circle proceeds to the most important and widely known of all tombs, the kramat of Sheikh Yusuf at Faure, on the farm Zandvleit. The circle is completed by an old tomb on Robben Island.
The society says modern pilgrims can visit all, except the Island Tomb, in a single day.