Cape Town – The desecration of 80 Muslim graves could have been a religious act by a Christian cult, according to analysis by a religious expert from UCT.
On Wednesday last week, Cape Town’s Muslim community was stunned to its core to find dozens of graves in the Mowbray Cemetery had been desecrated. The tombstones were removed and placed in the shape of a giant cross, spanning the top section of the burial ground.
In addition, strange symbols had been etched into some of the empty graves which had been prepared for funerals later that day. Shaykh Riad Fataar, second deputy president of the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) and chair of its cemetery management committee, said the act was far more sinister than mere vandalism.
“This was an act of religious intolerance that can only be described as Islamophobic. This was a co-ordinated attack on a sacred place and must be condemned in the strongest terms,” he said.
The MJC sought out the analysis of UCT’s experts in interpreting the signs that had been left in the area, in the hope that it might lead to the identification of the perpetrator or perpetrators.
Professor Asonzeh Ukah, head of the Department of Religious Studies at UCT, examined the symbology left on the graves, and could find no clear references to existing religions, aside from the giant cross.
“I have taken some time to examine these photos and, beyond a clearly discernible cross, it’s difficult to make out any symbols, religious or ‘cultish’ or social or political,” he said.
Ukah said the fact that tombstones were removed from Muslim graves and arranged in the shape of a cross gave the impression that the perpetrators had a religious motive for their act.
“The largeness of the ‘cross’ could be interpreted as claiming the physical space for Christians and Christianity,” he said.
“However, caution needs to be exercised in following this sort of interpretation because it could be that the perpetrators constructed their cross sign just to throw off their scent and emplace a Christian motive to disguise their identity and ideology.
“Likely, and because of the ‘cross’, it is more likely a Christian cult playout.”
The attack occurred the day before Halloween, but Ukah could find no clear link to groups who may celebrate Halloween.
“As far as Halloween goes, local Wiccans and other pagan groups, along with all others in the southern hemisphere, do not celebrate this event. They celebrate Samhain/Halloween on April 30th,” he wrote.
While the investigation is ongoing to find the perpetrators of the grave attack, Fataar and the MJC have called on the City of Cape Town to improve security at the cemetery.
“We call for more lighting and a sturdier perimeter fence to be erected, to make it difficult for vandals to access the cemetery.”