Durban - When worshippers at the Masjid Aziez gathered for prayer on Thursday evening, they found anti-Islamic words on the walls near the entrance.
The 120-year-old mosque is situated in Port Elizabeth and is one of the oldest mosques in the city.
Moulana Salmaan Fredericks, a member of the mosque committee, said the slogans were messages of hate that denigrated Islam and Allah.
"During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. In the afternoon, before breaking our fast, a group of mostly men attend prayer at the mosque. When the group of worshippers arrived at the mosque on Thursday afternoon, they found the hateful words scribbled at the entrance of the mosque. They were shattered to read such hateful things about Islam."
Frederick said he believed it was designed to create fear and keep worshippers away.
"I initially thought nothing of it. But after speaking to my wife and sister I realised the incident made parts of our congregation feel uncomfortable and not safe at the masjid. Then I realised that this act of vandalism was planned with the purpose of creating fear within us. It was intended to make us think twice before bringing our children and wives to a sacred space."
He said the matter was reported to the police and the municipality.
"We are also lobbying for the mosque to be fenced off to prevent further attacks. We need to protect the house of Allah because it is a monument to our past and the vehicle to our future."
Fredericks said the mosque represented a symbol of resistance against the apartheid government.
"The mosque was built in 1901 and has links to the Turkish Ottoman Empire. It is a heritage site in Port Elizabeth as well as the third oldest mosque in the City. It is the fourth oldest mosque in the Eastern Cape. During the apartheid era, the local authorities wanted to demolish the masjid in favour of building a highway. But South African Ulama across the country lobbied against the demolition and won."
Dr Fasial Suleman, from the South African Muslim Network (Samnet), said police needed to intensify their investigations into finding out who was responsible. He said such action had the potential to sow divisions.
"This is clearly the work of people who are ignorant. The slogans reflect their ignorance. Whoever did this, did not bother to learn anything about Islamic faith. It is for these reasons that for the past four years were have been hosting a national mosque open day programme. This allows people of all faiths to come to the mosque and learn about our faith and practices."
Moulana Yusuf Patel, the secretary-general at the United Ulama Council of South Africa (UUCSA) said the desecration of the mosque was “appalling and disgusting”.
"It demonstrates ignorance of Islamic values and is nothing less than a hate crime aimed at fermenting social and religious hostility. The Muslim community is disheartened but certainly not cowed by such acts of crudity. It will not react in a lawless manner nor will it allow such provocation to compromise peaceful co-existence with adherents of other faiths."
Patel said the South African police need to do whatever it takes to apprehend the criminals less religious bigotry takes root in South African simply because of inaction from the authorities.
Priscilla Naidu, the police spokesperson in Port Elizabeth, confirmed the incident.
"We have advised the complainant to open a case of malicious damage to property. We have also advised the complainant that in terms of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act 4/2000, hate speech does not constitute a criminal offense. However it allows the aggrieved person the option of laying a criminal complaint with the SAPS and the proceeding in terms of the Act are civil proceedings. The contravention of the said Act will be referred to the Equality court."
Mthubanzi Mniki, the spokesperson for the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, said they were working with police to curb vandalism.
"This is a problem. We are trying to catch the culprits responsible for vandalising our buildings. We condemn the vandalism at the mosque. The City has no space for hate speech and discrimination against religious groups or people."