Police are investigating a case of malicious damage to property following the desecration of about 80 tombstones of Muslim graves at the Mowbray cemetery.
Cemetery workers found the tombstones some positioned in cult-like symbols last Wednesday October 30, while others were used to shape a large cross over the graves.
The Mowbray Muslim Cemetery, traditionally known as Gamediya Cemetrey, is the sacred burial site of prominent Islamic leaders, scholars, and activists, including Judge Essa Moosa, Dr Abdullah Abrahams and Imam Abdullah Haron.
The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) condemned the incident saying it was a coordinated attack that violated the sacred space and contradicted the constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom.
“The formation of a cross and other symbols with these headstones is deeply troubling.
“It is evident that this was not merely an act of hooliganism, but rather a coordinated attack on the sanctity of the graves of Muslims,” said Riad Fataar, chairman of the MJC’s cemetery management committee.
News of the desecration sent shock waves through communities, with many family and friends flocking to the site last week.
Nurdien Parker came all the way from Stellenbosch to check whether his family’s graves were still intact. He said the act had been unfortunate but called on the community not to let the incident divide but rather unite.
“This is something that affects all, regardless of race, religion or culture. We are an inclusive society,” said Mr Parker.
The Observatory Civic Association condemned the desecration of the graves.
“We wish to express our shared pain and support with the Islamic community and call on all our community – including religious organisations, NGO’s, and community-based organisations in the area – to join our response in peaceful solidarity,” said chairman Tauriq Jenkins.
They urged the police to bring the culprits swiftly to book, and Mr Jenkins said all available camera footage should be checked.
Mr Fataar said the MJC had asked UCT’s Department of Religious Studies to analyse the symbols used by the culprits.
“The desecration of these headstones, and the deliberate targeting of Muslim graves, indicates a clear and direct provocation of the Muslim community. This was an act of religious intolerance that can only be described as Islamophobic. Therefore, it is critical not to merely reduce this incident to hooliganism or the destruction of property,” he said.
Mr Fataar said religious intolerance was unacceptable in a society that prided itself on religious freedom and tolerance.
“Therefore, it is critical for us to work together, to stem the tide of religious intolerance, and stamp out Islamophobia in all spaces within our society. We call on the City of Cape Town to more actively put safety measures in place to protect these sacred spaces and the sanctity of the individuals buried there.
“We call for more lighting and a sturdier perimeter fence to be erected to make it difficult for vandals to access the cemetery,” he said.