Anti-Shia sectarianism, peaked in with reopening of the Ahlul Bait Islamic Centre in Ottery, have continued with the attack on a mosque in the small Western Cape town of Malmesbury in South Africa on Thursday in which two worshippers and an attacker were killed.
Shia Muslims make up 3% of the South African population. With over 200 non-Shia Muslims religious centers in the area, the targeting of the only Shia center and the extent of the violence used by the assailants note extreme anti-Shiism.
South African Shia note that anti-Shia sentiment in the area is not new but is exhibited prevalently. Local sources report entities announcing to boycott Shia lead businesses. Postings such as “If you kill a Shia you go straight to heaven” are put on Facebook accounts and aired on local radio talk shows, Shia Rights Watch reported.
Early on Thursday, two worshippers were killed and others wounded in the attack on the mosque in Malmesbury. The attacker was shot dead by police, according to News24.
The tenth of May, two individuals attacked Imam Hussain Mosque close to Durban, South Africa with a machete killing the religious leader of the mosque and injuring two others. Four days later, a bomb was found underneath the religious speaker’s chair. The device was a phone attached to a “capsule via two cables.” The device was neutralized before its detonation.
Recent events in South Africa point to a lack of preventative measures for anti-Shiism. Hate-driven sentiment such that of media posting calling for the identification of Shia Muslims creates fertile grounds for direct violence against this community.
The Cape Accord
Earlier this month, the Cape Accord – a document meant to encourage peace and unity and eradicate extremism – was signed in Cape Town by several Islamic leaders.
Included in this accord is a section which appealed to communities “to be tolerant of the differences between Muslims and not escalate intra-faith hostilities”.
It said this included Sunni and Shia.
At an event, Embracing the Cape Accord, in Cape Town earlier this month, Rashied Omar, the imam of the Claremont Main Road Mosque, said it had for five years been sounding the alarm “about the growing threat of sectarianism creeping into the Muslim community”.
It was on this backdrop that the Cape Accord, which was founded by 17 Muslim clerics, was created at the end of last year.
However, the Cape Accord has not been welcomed by all, and differing opinions about it have caused divisions.
Among those who support the Cape Accord are former Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool and several mosques in cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban.
But the faith-based organisation the South African National Zakáh Fund on Tuesday issued a statement saying it was withdrawing from the Cape Accord “for the very principles that we supported the document initially”.
The United Ulama Council of South Africa on Monday also said it neither supported nor endorsed the accord.
Worries after mosque attacks
Haider told News24 that following the December incident, tensions seemed to have calmed, but the attack in Malmesbury meant these could possibly flare again.
“We strongly believe places of worship should be kept sacred. We believe in interfaith, intrafaith, respect and tolerance,” he said.
In a statement which Haider issued, he said: “We are all duty bound to protect the mosques and all places of worship and must unite to prevent the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad (saw), who is a Mercy unto all the world’s, from very fast sliding down this slippery slope into an abyss.”
“It is now most important and urgent for Muslims in South Africa to take a stand and speak out loudly against sectarianism, specifically anti-Shia sectarianism,” it said.
“South African Muslims can in no way allow themselves to go down the path of hatred, intolerance, violence, and brutal attacks on Shia Muslims as has been the case in several other parts of the world.
“We must recognise that the fomenting of anti-Shia sectarianism has fuelled the many geo-political conflicts we see in the Middle East today. Let us stop this now, and never allow such sectarianism to blight our local community”.