President Cyril Ramaphosa carries the child of slain Abbas Essop while Moulana Syed Aftab Haider looks on.

Durban - Two months after being stabbed in his shoulders during a gruesome attack that left one person dead and another badly wounded, the imam of a Verulam mosque has no plans to return to duty.

In May, three men entered the Imam Hussain Mosque in Ottawa and stabbed Moulana Ali Nchinyane, 28, who jumped from the first floor of the building in a bold bid to escape further attack and likely death.

Caretaker and muezzin Mohamed Ali, 28, was also stabbed - his stomach was slit open - but survived and is on the road to a full recovery.

Father of two Abbas Essop, 35, who worked across the road from the mosque, was, however, killed when he came to assist after hearing Nchinyane and Ali’s screams.

His throat was slit.

Before fleeing, the attackers petrol bombed a portion of the mosque.

They have not yet been arrested although police know who they are.

At the weekend, President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the mosque in a show of sympathy and support to the victims and their families.

Among those at the mosque were Nchinyane.

He had left for Gauteng after the attack and told POST he had no plans to return “anytime soon”.

“There is a moulana filling in while I recuperate and find my feet again.”

He said while his wounds had healed, he was still having counselling to deal with the trauma.

Nchinyane said he was grateful for Ramaphosa’s visit to the mosque.

“We appreciate the support for us and for the families of our martyred brother, Abbas Essop.

“We hope he can make use of his influence and position to ensure that the culprits are apprehended. We are in dire need of a stronger police force and better justice system.”

Ramaphosa said the pain the local community was feeling was also being felt by the government.

He condemned the attacks in Verulam and at another mosque in Malmesbury, north of Cape Town, where two worshippers were stabbed to death and another two wounded last month.

“We never want to see something like this happen again. We are a country that embraces freedom, tolerance and harmony,” he said.

Race or religion should not define a person or the rights they should have, the president said.

“I want to show you a South Africa where all religions are respected and protected. It is for this reason we strongly condemn the attack on this mosque.

“We will not accept this. This should be a place of refuge and worship to God, to get comfort and protection.

“I want to promise you that our criminal justice system will continue to investigate the matter and seek those responsible. We want to assure you that your faith will be protected. Our constitution should defend you Every one of us should enjoy their lives fully.”

Ramaphosa said he wanted South Africa to be a country where people saw themselves as South Africans first before anything else.

Essop’s father closed the meeting in prayer with Ramaphosa embracing his family and offering words of comfort to them.

Earlier, the national spokesperson for the Shia community in South Africa, Moulana Syed Aftab Haider, said the Shia community had become a target because of their “theological stance and belief in interfaith harmony”.

Haider believed the Shias were living in fear following the attack on the mosque.

“We have tried our best to have the best relationship with our brothers and sisters. Our first loyalty belongs to our land and that is what we teach,” he said.

“You should treat everyone equal, regardless of their background. Respect for every soul of humanity.

“Unfortunately, this mosque two months ago witnessed a very sad moment in history. South Africa is an example of harmony but unfortunately we don’t have it in this mosque.

“They burnt down the mosque and killed one young man who resisted and who did not give up in not allowing this mosque to be burnt to the ground.

“His throat was slit. His family sits before us today. His wife is now a widow. His mother and father are without a son.”

He also referred to the other men who were attacked, saying it was a shock to the community, but brought South Africans together.

He spoke of extremists within the Muslim faith. “There are elements of extremism. People who are promoting hate and seeds of discord. The fact that they have not been caught yet is very concerning.”

He added that people across the country are living in fear because of this.

“There is no security in our mosques and we hope this will not be repeated.”

Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said the Verulam mosque attack suspects had been identified but police were still busy with their investigations.

POST