Headstone desecration is Islamophobic says Muslim Judicial Council

Mowbray Muslim Cemetery (Jenni Evans, News24)
Mowbray Muslim Cemetery (Jenni Evans, News24)

The desecration of more than 70 headstones at Mowbray Muslim Cemetery has been labelled as Islamophobic by the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) SA, who have approached the University of Cape Town to assist in understanding who may be behind the act.

The gravestones were desecrated overnight on Tuesday. 

The tombstones were ripped out of the ground and arranged in the shape of a cross and other shapes. Most of the tombstones affected were at the top end of the cemetery, next to Groote Schuur Hospital. Some of the tombstones taken from other graves were arranged in a triangle inside freshly dug graves that are regularly prepared for burials.

On Friday, News24 reported that a local neighbourhood watch had received a tip-off and recovered some items from the graveyard. 

The MJC has requested the University of Cape Town’s Religious Department to assist in “unpacking these symbols”, to understand who the perpetrators may be, said MJC (SA) Cemetery Management Committee chairperson Shaykh Riad Fataar

He said the desecration was "deeply troubling".

“It is evident that this was not merely an act of hooliganism, but rather a coordinated attack on the sanctity of the graves of Muslims,” the organisation said in a statement on Saturday.

The “coordinated attack” is contrary to the values espoused in the South African Constitution, which guarantees religious freedom, Fataar said.

“The desecration of these headstones and the deliberate targeting of Muslim graves indicate a clear and direct provocation of the Muslim community. This was an act of religious intolerance that can only be described as Islamophobic,” he added.

“It is critical for us to work together, to stem the tide of religious intolerance, and stamp out Islamophobia in all spaces within our society.”

The MJC has also called on the City of Cape Town add safety measures to protect “these sacred spaces and the sanctity of the individuals buried there”, including added lighting and sturdier fencing.

Western Cape police spokesperson Colonel Andrè Traut previously confirmed that Woodstock police were investigating a case of malicious damage to property.

The City of Cape Town's bylaws state that a person may not "in any way damage, deface or desecrate any part of a cemetery or anything therein".

Those who do face a fine of up to R50 000, six months in jail or both if convicted.

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