Suspected “snipper” arrested at Somali mosque in South Africa
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.