With South Africans four weeks into the national lockdown implemented to stop the spread of COVID-19, 41 congregants were arrested at the weekend in separate parts of the country for apparently disobeying lockdown regulations.
On Saturday, in a video that has gone viral, police intruded on a group of Muslim congregants that had gathered to pray in Mpumalanga, while 17 worshippers were handcuffed inside a building in Pretoria west on Friday. During the first incident, a police officer made derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), as he shouted ‘Is your Muhammed bigger than our president?”.
However, South African Muslim Network’s (SAMNET) founder Dr Faisal Suliman said the comments say little about the police officer but more so about the education that is received during the training of officials.
“We could analyse it in a couple of ways, the first is anger that people were breaking the law and secondly is the perception that Muslims worship the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). We can’t say for certain that it was an intention to insult but it certainly is a reflection of ignorance,” said Suliman.
However, Suliman said there might be a more sinister agenda behind the misconception that police officers have to endure during training.
“Post 9/11 the USA sent aides all over the world to run courses on anti-terrorism, so the question begs, are our police officials using their [American] manuals in training colleges. Maybe without even realizing it. they are having the war on terror mentality being indoctrinated to them and could that blasphemous statement be a result of taught Islamophobia?” questioned Suliman.
Suliman said that this case, much like the Majlis inciting that they have the right to pray in congregation amid the president’s call for a national lockdown, may have caused Islamophobia across the board.
“On social media we have seen comments that accuse Muslims of being self-centred, superior and self-righteous. It is unfortunate that one rotten apple per se has cast a bad light on the whole lot,” stated Suliman.
Suliman suggested that Muslims around the country use this opportunity to teach other faiths about their religion.
“We need to spend more time with our policemen or inviting them to the mosque and running courses on Islam that they and everybody else may be duly informed to counter the type of ignorance that was seen in the video” said Suliman.
Suliman said that SAMNET will be taking the matter further to probe where exactly the comment was derived from and how the police officer came to that conclusion in the first place.
“Was it taught in church or was it something that emanated from watching television or the main stream news or even worse something a thing that they learn in their training camps,” said Suliman.
Suliman in no way detracted from the fact that responsibility needed to be taken by the congregation and that the rightful consequences be faced for both congregants and the police officer.
Police Minister Bheki Cele has apologised to the Muslim community for the “blasphemous” remarks. National police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo has described the comments as “unfortunate and unacceptable.” Naidoo said SAPS management has directed that this matter be investigated and the person/s who made the comment about the Prophet (PBUH) be identified and brought to book.