DURBAN - It was sad to see worshippers unable to use their holy place of prayer this week following the bloody attack on the Imam Hussain Mosque at Verulam, the only Shia mosque in the province.
As a Christian, I cannot imagine not celebrating Christmas in a church. On Thursday, it was day two of Ramadaan - 29 days of special prayers to commemorate the first revelation of the Qur’an.
I drove out to the Imam Hussain Mosque to get a sense of how people were dealing with the aftermath of the gruesome attack, in which 34-year-old Abbas Essop had his throat slit while saving the caretaker, Muhammad Ali, who had been stabbed in the stomach.
The place was deserted. A banner hung on the gate in memory of Essop. I went to a nearby house where last week’s Friday prayer (Jummah) had taken place, as the mosque was then still a crime scene bustling with detectives and forensic investigators. The gate was locked.
I called Ali Hussain Haidery, a worshipper I had met last week. He told me people could not hold prayers at the mosque because cleansing was being undertaken there. The neighbourhood was eerily quiet. Only people working in the scrapyards were out and about.
When I met Haidery he talked about people’s fears and speculation about the motive of the attack. He believed it was an act of terrorism. He thought it possible that al-Qaeda was involved.
“This is dangerous for us. Look what these kind of people have done in Syria, and what they have done in Iraq. Once they start they can go very far,” said Haidery.
“As Shia we are a soft target. They (extreme Sunnis) don’t like us, and they have got a network in South Africa.”
Haidery believes that security will have to be upgraded at the mosque - an unfortunate but possibly inevitable outcome of the attack, in a country which prides itself on freedom of speech and religion.
“It’s sad that we have to take that route. A mosque is a worship place where we welcome everybody, but after what’s happened we now have to check people who are coming in,” said Haidery.
And for now, Haidery and other Shia worshippers are feeling the pain of not attending Ramadaan prayers in the Imam Hussain Mosque - their chosen place of worship.
I can grasp that pain.