Muslim clerics in South Africa are being threatened for speaking out against the Islamic State terrorist organisation.
One of those threatened is the principal of the Zakariyya Park madrassa, south of Johannesburg – one of the largest Muslim religious schools in South Africa.
Shabbier Ahmed Saloojee recently received threatening calls after warning congregants about IS.
Anonymous threats have also been made to other highly respected clerics across South Africa who have condemned the barbaric actions of the militants in the Middle East, including the murders of clerics and the destruction of ancient religious sites.
“It was an anonymous call,” said Saloojee. “The person, a coward, warned me to be careful. To watch my step, to stop what I am doing.
“But I won’t. I won’t be a coward. I am not afraid of these faceless people and will continue to speak out.
“I am not the only one to receive threats. There are a few [Islamic] clerics who have received these calls and messages, but none of us will be stopped from speaking out,” Saloojee said.
He revealed the threats just days after a 15-year-old Cape Town girl en route to the Middle East to allegedly join IS was removed from a plane bound for Johannesburg. She had a forwarding ticket to Saudi Arabia.
Saloojee said in all its areas of operation IS had murdered and maimed Islamic clerics.
“They see us as infidels. People who don’t deserve to live. There’s concern among the Islamic leadership that IS could be trying to extend its reach to South Africa, but if they do try something we don’t believe that they would survive for long, not like they have in Iraq and Syria.”
He said that within weeks of launching operations in Iraq, the militants had murdered the muftis [senior Islamic religious leaders] of Mosul, Kirkuk, Fallujah and Ramada, killing some as they preached .
“For IS, the clerics are the No1 target, their greatest adversaries because we are preaching that what they [IS] are doing is against Islam. They do not act in the name of Islam or any religion. No religion condones murder,” Saloojee said.
Several Islamic leaders are to meet government representatives to discuss IS and other terrorist organisations. The threats to clerics will be raised at this meeting.
Ibrahim Bham of the Jamiatul Ulama South Africa, a council of Muslim theologians, said it condemned the threats.
Bham said he did not have personal knowledge of the threats.
“We must keep in mind that the Muslim community, though largely homogeneous, has people with different opinions, as in every community. But different views do not mean you can oppress others.
“We are completely against IS and will not bow to pressure. We will continue to speak out against them. We are not afraid of threats. Why should we be?” Bham said.
He said the council had instructed members to read out its statements against IS and use them as the basis for their Friday sermon.
Yesterday, 80 Muslim clerics and scholars who met at the Muslim Judicial Council in Cape Town were encouraged to speak out against IS. Spokesman Nabeweya Malick, said: “They will take the message to their [communities] on Friday when they have the jumuah sermons.”
Professor Farid Esak, head of religious studies at the University of Johannesburg, said there was no significant support for IS among South African Muslims.
“All the religious institutions, organisations and seminaries have unequivocally condemned IS.”
Esak said he suspected the telephone threats were made by a few Muslims, “precisely to upset” the consensus against IS.