Archive for January 2011
By Hassan Isilow
It looked liked a scene in an action movie. As people shuffled into the Al-Sunnah mosque in Bellville on the last day of 2010, an armed man whom worshippers suspected had “ill intensions”, strategically stationed himself outside the mosque’s main exit. Sources told Africa Witness there had been a disagreement inside the mosque between some members of the mosque committee and a man identified only as Umar, who is believed to be a staunch supporter of the Ahle Sunnah Wal Jamaa Muslim sect.
It is reported that after Isha prayers, the mosque leadership introduced a visiting scholar who was to address the congregation. However, in the middle of the lecture, Umar tried to ask a question to the visiting scholar, only to be prevented from doing so by the organisers. Feeling cheated, he stood up to speak out. This led to the mosque security being called in, leading to a huge scuffle. It is alleged that during the scuffle Umar was beaten and accused of planning to stab the visiting scholar.
Umar is said to have been manhandled because of his support for the Ahle Sunnah Wal Jammah sect that differs in ideology with the Durban Road based mosque, which is mainly Salafi. As the wrangling got hotter inside the mosque, Bellville SAPS arrived at the scene. Umar was searched by police who did not find a weapon on him, as had been alleged by the mosque’s security.
However, as the police descended the mosque stairs, they were tipped off about an armed man standing on the mosque corner. Police immediately searched him and found a loaded firearm. He was identified as a Somali businessman, known as Adil, who was subsequently arrested and taken to the police station. After giving a statement, Africa Witness learnt that he had been released shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile, the Somali community remains puzzled about the incident. It is still not clear if the armed man had intended to shoot someone at the mosque. Experts in the community have blamed Umar, as well as some members of the mosque committee for mishandling the situation.
“I think it was wrong for Umar to provoke members of the Durban Road mosque by disrupting their lecture in the guise of asking a question. At the same time, I think the incident outside the mosque could also have been handled better without causing any commotion,” Yusuf Gudomee told Africa Witness.
Another worshipper, local businessman Mukhtar Ali said: “I think it is wrong for Muslim issues to be taken to the police station for mediation when we have our own governing body, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC).” Other worshippers Africa witness spoke to said they were still recovering from shock. “I was inside the mosque when the whole confusion started. I was so terrified that I am only now recovering from shock,” Awale, a Somali youth related.
One community leader said if a firearm had been discharged, it could have resulted in a stampede with tragic consequences because the mosque only has two small doors. “If that man had shot in the air or even in the mosque, people would have scampered for dear life and that could have led to a stamped,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. His fear was not unfounded. On New Year’s day, 10 people died in a stampede in Ipelenge Township outside Schweizer-Reneke in the Northwest Province, after a tavern owner fired bullets in the air.
Cause of Conflict
This month Al-Bayan Islāmic Council invited three prominent Somali scholars to give lectures to the Somali community in different parts of the country. The invited sheikhs included Mohammed Abdi Umal from Kenya, Maxamud Mohammed Shibile and Mohamed idiris Ahmed who is based in both Saudi Arabia and Europe. Locals say the visit of these three alims did not make an impression on other Islāmic sects among the South African Somali community.
One of the visiting scholars is alleged to have preached against Moulood aNabi celebrations – commemmorating the birth of the Prophet (PBUH). It is also alleged that one of the visiting preachers compared the celebration of the prophet’s birth to Christmas. This greatly angered followers of the Ahle Sunnah wal Jamaa sect who have a strong passion for this tradition.
Sheikh Garyere , leader of the Ahle Sunnah Wal Jamaah sect in South Africa said the majority of Somalis in SA belong to the Ahle Sunnah wal Jamaah, as do most Muslims in South Africa. Africa witness was unable to independently verify his claim. “The Ahle Suunah wal Jamaah sect is the majority among Somali’s but we do not have a mosque. So we pray in either of the two mosques in Bellville,” the cleric revealed.
When asked if his intension was to create confusion and division among the Somali Muslim community in the area, Sheikh Garyere denied it strongly. “Whenever I go to the mosque, my intension is to only pray to the Almighty Allah,” he stressed.
Currently there are two mosques in the Bellville CBD, serving the huge number of Muslim migrants in the area. However, experts believe that as numbers of Muslims continue to swell there might be need for a third mosque. The Bellville area is mainly inhabited by migrant Muslim communities who include Somalis, a few Pakistanis and Ethiopians.
By Hassan Isilow
There has been a lot of debate relating to the integration of African migrants into the South African community. These debates have largely been conducted in the media, with participants including both South African citizens and migrant representatives. At some point, migrant organisations such as the African Diaspora Forum (ADF), and local government officials were involved in sensitizing township communities on the importance of peaceful living.
The Somali Community Board of South Africa (SCOB) has also tried to teach Somali nationals how to co-exist with the township communities where they own businesses.
However, I believe the Somali people have failed to pass the integration test, largely because of their unique culture, religion and language barrier.
Let me begin by discussing religion as a factor in the integration process. It should be noted that all Somalis are Muslims, so they find it difficult to freely associate with their township host communities who are non-Muslims. For instance, if a female customer comes to buy an item in the Somali shop, they will avoid hand contact with the customer while receiving cash.
At times, while giving the customer change, the money falls down because the Somali shopkeeper does not want to touch the female customer’s hand. Township women who are not Muslims can not understand this “Islamic” culture, so they have misinterpreted this to mean Somali shopkeepers look down on them. In the African culture, it’s very wrong for one to throw money at someone.
Perhaps these shopkeepers should write a note in their shops saying: “Dear female customers, put your money on the counter and we shall serve you, because we do not touch women’s hands”. This might go a long way to explain the situation to people who are strange to their culture. It might even get locals interested in learning more about Islam as a religion.
On the opposite end of the scale, other African migrant communities are mostly Christians, who attend church service together with their host communities. This has drawn them closer and as a result Christian migrants are more accepted in the township communities, primarily because of the religious factor.
It is also true that Muslim communities in suburbs have been very supportive of the Somali community and other Muslim migrants. For instance, Muslim suburbs of Fordsburg and Mayfair in Johannesburg have openly welcomed Muslim migrants. The examples given above add credence to my argument that religion plays a great role in the integration or assimilation process. Migrant Muslims who run businesses in predominantly Muslim suburbs of Cape Town or Johannesburg are much safer and easily accepted in the community, compared to those operating in Guguletu.
Christian African migrants living in the townships have gone a step further by intermarrying with the host communities. This has created a closer connection between the two. Since Somali’s do not intermarry with their township host communities, they have been viewed as “racist” capitalists who are out to make money from the poor communities. I think Somali’s should start marrying township women and make them Muslims. By so doing, Islam would spread in the townships and a closer connection would develop between the two communities. After all, there are so many beautiful women in the townships.
A business tycoon friend of mine, Mahad Abdi, has been trying to change perceptions about Somali’s in townships by helping several community-based organisations with money and food. Today Mahad is very popular in Khaylitesha and I wish many other Somali’s would emulate him.
Finally, let’s look at language as a factor hindering the Somali integration process. Somali’s come from a non-English speaking country. When they come to South Africa, they learn English while running their businesses, which means they can not communicate properly with customers. I think Somali business owners need to take special lessons in English, Xhosa and Afrikaans. Learning the language of the host community is the first step towards integration.
The four racist Police officers, who beat Somali refugees in the Belleville on New Year’s Eve, could face immediate suspension without pay. A senior Police officer handling complaints at the Belleville Police station has said. At the time of filling this report top Police officers were set to attend an urgent meeting to deliberate on the matter. The four bully white cops have been identified and the assaulted Somali refugee has also opened a case against them. This afternoons meeting will determine the outcome of the mater.
By Hassan Isilow
CAPETOWN-Four white Police officers, who were chasing drug dealers in Belleville, on New Year’s Eve, have been accused of turning their anger on innocent Somali refugees living in Backpackers, after failing to find the drug dealers.
It’s alleged when police failed to catch the drug dealers, they instead turned their rage on residents living in a Somali owned Backpackers in Belleville beating them and exhorting money. A 24 year old Somali refugee, Yusuf Ibrahim Hassan, had his face
badly bruised and two ribs nearly broken after the police beat him up. ‘‘I was asleep when the police men entered our Backpackers but was only woken up by kicks. I think I was beaten simply because I am not South African,” Yusuf told this reporter while obtaining treatment at the Belleville Community health center on December 31. He said he felt a lot of pain on his forehead and ribs as a result of the assault.
Ali Mahadi Mohammed, the proprietor of the Backpackers said his facility does not house drug dealers. “I’m surprised why the police came to my Lodging business and assaulted my customers, yet no one sell drugs here” he wondered. Asked if he could identify the alleged Police officers, Ali Mahadi said he only read the name of one officer, but did not want to divulge his name to the media as he prefers to take legal action against the four cops. “After consulting with my lawyers and higher authorities in the Police, I will provide you with a CCTV video tape recorded by the security camera on my premises” the upset Mahadi told Africa witness.
While another Somali resident in Belleville said the Police have made it a habit to invade Somali businesses and exhort money.
“If you do not pay them money they will frame up charges and take you to the station. So they are now making money out of this weak community” said the resident who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity fearing for his life.
When contacted for comment the Belleville Police said they were not aware of the matter. “No one has opened here a case of assault by police officers, but if they do we shall contact you” an assistant to the station commander told Africa Witness in a telephone interview. Africa Witness still follows up this matter, since it is not the first time that South African Police officers have been implicated in cases of brutality.
The issue of police brutality has been in the spotlight in South Africa particularly following the screening of a video in November 2000 on the TV programme Special Assignment depicting members of the North East Rand Dog Unit setting their dogs on, assaulting and racially abusing three alleged illegal immigrants from Mozambique .
More recently a newspaper report quoted Mary Rayner, an Amnesty International Researcher, as saying that “there are at least 20 to 30 severe cases of torture a year that are reported” in South Africa “but there are many more incidents than that are not reported”. As recently as September, she said, we received a report that the Brixton Murder and Robbery Squad – which has been involved in systematic torture for years – continues to act with impunity.