By Thandile Kona
Prominent community leaders from various organisations across South Africa met at Masjidul Quds in Gatesville, Cape Town, recently to embrace the Cape Accord – a set of documents meant to encourage a culture of respect for differing views – and to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims.
The theme of the Cape Accord was “People United Against Hate Speech and Discord.’
The constitution of the Cape Accord is modelled on a similar document called the “Amman Accord” of 2005 which promotes cohesion and unity amongst the Ummah.
The event was also aimed at sounding a warning bell about sectarian tensions in South Africa and the rising temperatures fuelled by hate speech and intolerance emanating from some quarters within the Muslim community.
These tensions, which may have led to the brutal attack against the Imam and two congregants at the Imam Hussein Mosque in Verulam, KwaZulu Natal, had been bubbling under the surface for a while.
Speaking at the event, former Western Cape premier and South African ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool said: “The Cape Accord recognises that we live in a world of diverse faiths and diverse cultures and it calls on us to learn to co-exist with others. But how can we co-exist with the rest of the world, when we cannot co-exist with those who pray like us, who fast like us, go to Makkah like us and so forth?”
He went to say that, “if we do not stand up against this sectarianism, (then) we do not do the work of Allah. I want to say to you that we have seen this movie in history. All of us celebrate the great civilisation in Andalusia where its golden age produced religious tolerance, where we saw the flourishing of scientific and cultural expansion.
Where we saw knowledge unbound…that was almost the case for almost four centuries, until a group came along that styled themselves as the people who came to purify tauhid. They burnt books and reserved for themselves the right to decide who was Muslim and who was not.”
Amongst the organisations that have endorsed the Cape Accord, were congregations like the Claremont Main Road Mosque, Masjidul Quds, Abu Bakr Siddique Mosque, Juma Masjid in Durban; civil society organisations like the Media Review Network, SA Muslims Network (SAMNET), Auwal Socio-economic Research Institute (ASRI); educational institutions like Islamia College, International Peace College of SA, Al Ghazali College. Many other organisations like the Muslim Youth Movement, Awqaf South Africa and Sanzaf also pledged their support for the accord.
Also speaking at the event, Imam Rashied Omar of the Claremont Main Road Mosque, issued a word of caution about spreading “malicious rumours” about the identity of the perpetrators of the violence in Verulam and warned about agent provocateurs that may be operating from within the community in order to cause instability and create suspicion. He went on to express concern that, three weeks after the attacks, there has been no arrest, and called for the law enforcement agencies to act swiftly in apprehending whoever was responsible.
However, not everyone seems to be pleased about the Cape Accord and its mission as the event was preceded by a circulation of anonymous social media messages calling for Muslims not to attend the event and not to embrace the accord. Also, the ulama organisations were conspicuous by their absence, but it was reported that they are still going through their own internal consultation processes before deciding on whether to support the initiative or not.
According to the co-ordinators of the Cape Accord, the next step is to take the initiative to other parts of the country and to spread its message in order to stem the tide of hate speech and sectarianism that has the potential to lead to further intra-faith violence.
The call will go out for more organisations and institutions to embrace the document and promote the values it espouses. The target is to have the text of the accord hanging on the wall in every masjid, madressa, business and organisation so as to ensure that its message remains alive and prevents a repeat of the callous act of cruelty that happened in Verulam.