By Anees Teladia
With increasing reports of Islamophobia, prejudice and violence against Muslims in the global media, Muslims in South Africa – and around the world – need to become more pro-active in facing challenges that arise, particularly where safety is concerned. The terror attacks on the Muslim community in Christchurch, New Zealand, are just one example of how bad things can get when we leave ourselves unguarded and do not account for the safety of our families and communities. South Africa is no exception.
South Africa recently had a masjid targeted with arson in a petrol bomb attack in Effingham Heights in Durban in February of this year. In November 2018, four men opened fire inside a masjid in Khayelitsha, killing a mussallee and wounding an imam.
In Ramadan of 2018, the Malmesbury community was rocked by a violent attack, in which two mussallees were fatally stabbed, several others wounded and the attacker killed by police. The mussallees had been sleeping inside the masjid during I’tikaaf.
Just a month earlier, at least three men attacked the Imam Hussain masjid in Ottawa, near Verulam, slitting the throat of a congregant, attacking the imam and a caretaker, and setting parts of the masjid on fire. A home-made cellphone bomb was found in the masjid as well.
Shortly after the Christchurch attacks, there was an incident of arson at a California masjid which has reportedly seen the arsonist paying homage to the New Zealand incident.
Safeguarding our prayer spaces
South Africa has no shortage of racial tension, prejudice and hate. Muslims need to heed the call to take initiative and to protect our masaajid, as many seek refuge and safety in the masaajid. Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) secretary general, Shaykh Isgaak Taliep says these areas need to be guarded and taken care of appropriately.
Based on what has happened in Christchurch, I think it is a wakeup call for all of us – especially here in South Africa, with crime already being such a huge problem.”
“We live in a democracy where the state has certain duties and responsibilities towards us as citizens of the country. One of those being to ensure our safety and security within our country, suburbs and areas wherein we reside.”
“However, nothing actually stops us from doing the necessary security maintenance… to ensure a fair amount of safety,” said Shaykh Taliep.
“What we need to be cautious of is to not sound alarmist and now make people feel that here in South Africa they need to go to mosques with guns and so forth. That is the responsibility of law enforcement in our country,” he added.
He emphasised the fact that whilst there is a need for us to ensure a fair amount of safety, the MJC maintains that they “always call for people to be law abiding citizens and to operate within the framework of the law of South Africa”.
When asked what his opinion would be on the argument that having faith in Allah (SWT) would be sufficient protection, Shaykh Taliep also cautioned against being careless.
“I would caution against us not taking caution. Our deen teaches us that we have to tie our proverbial camel, and then place our yaqeen and tawakkul, our trust in Allah (SWT).”
The need to be pro-active
Part time youth coach at a soccer school and a current honours student in sports management, Waseem Manuel raised several concerns as a young Muslim man who is also a regular mussallee.
“If you attend any masjid for a waqt, Jumuah or any programme, there’s not much security. If there is, it’s one security guard that has to patrol the entire area alone. It is important for masjids to have security measures in place for whatever reason, to prevent a situation from occurring.”
One has to feel safe attending the masjid, as it is a place of worship. However, especially with the world we are currently living in, one cannot be too certain… I would be lying if I said I feel 100% safe,” said Manuel.
“Yes Allah (SWT) protects us at all times, but as a human being your conscience still reminds you –‘am I safe here or not’.”
As a young Muslim, he would undoubtedly like to see more effort placed into safety precautions and security measures which could prevent attacks of any magnitude on the masjid or its occupants and mussallees.
“A perfect example is the attack that occurred recently in New Zealand. A tragedy that shook the world. After this, one is too afraid to attend the regular waqts and Jumuah etc.”
“All these measures need to be taken into consideration. There must be safety precautions. As much as it is a place of worship, you want to be in a calming environment and state whilst performing your regular salaahs,” said Manuel.
The Brooklyn Masjid near Paarden Eiland, Cape Town’s, trustee Mr Naim Kamish also weighed in on the question of whether we need to be more pro-active in ensuring the safety our families and those attending masjids, especially after the horrific New Zealand attacks brought to our attention the ease in which these massacres can be executed.
“We can’t be relaxed about this. We have to make a plan,” said Kamish.
“I think we must get our act together because this can happen in any country, at any masjid. We had something happen in Malmesbury not so long ago and it was only a small incident – but somebody got killed. We must get active and try to get our security up at all masjids, because anything can happen.”
…It’s our responsibility. These are our masjids. We must take the initiative to secure our masjids.”
Even in the days of the wars and the battles during the time of the Sahabah, people used to make salaah and the others used to keep watch…we mustn’t be caught off guard. We must always be on guard for these types of things.”
Kamish added that we mistakenly take things for granted and assume atrocities like the one committed in New Zealand will never occur to us.
“I think the problem is our Muslims take everything for granted. They’re too lackadaisical – they think these things won’t happen.”
“We can’t just say they won’t happen. These kinds of things happen. It’s a reality…” said Kamish.
Work within the law
Shaykh Taliep of the MJC wished to make clear that whilst these conversations around security concerns are discussions he believes we as Muslims should be having, it will always be in the framework of the law when collective decisions are made.
“Whether we should be getting armed guards to stand at the entrances at the masaajid, it could be a possibility – it’s part of the conversation I believe we should be having,” said Shaykh Taliep.
“Whatever it is we decide upon within the framework of the law, could then be a strategy that we could utilise Inshaa’Allah.”
Jamiatul Ulama South Africa’s secretary general, Moulana Ebrahim Bham provided an additional perspective.
“The scale of the massacre in Christchurch shocked everyone. We cannot be complacent that it cannot happen in South Africa. The hateful perpetrator of the hateful attack is not a New Zealander. He flew into the country and did that. All communities need to be aware and vigilant to a reasonable and practical degree.”
There are figures which also indicate a spike of crimes on congregants during Ramadan, around South Africa. At that level too, safety and precautionary measures need to be taken by jamaats and volunteers, working in coordination with relevant security authorities,” said Moulana Bham.
We do not put the protection of the Almighty to the test. The Almighty makes provision for measures of our own safety and security. It is therefore imperative on us to first, take the necessary protective measures, and then trust in Allah. This does not negate our imaan. To the contrary, it is consistent with the Prophetic tradition.”