Umm Muhammed Umar
There has been a recently spate of attacks on masaajid. A masjid in Kensington, in Johannesburg was hit; armed men also entered a masjid in Mpumalanga on Jummuah; and they have also been break-ins at some of the masaajid in Lenasia. Radio Islam spoke to security expert, Director of Vision Tactical, Yaseen Theba.
Theba expressed sadness that crime was being witnessed at masaajid. He said, “We take our freedom of religion, in the same fundamental right granted for South Africa…… we look at our masaajid as sacred gathering places, but it sad that these essential bonds that connect our communities and the fabric of our society is being attacked.” Theba added, “it’s another eye opener that shows that nothing, or no one is free from crime, and even masaajid are not off limits to criminal elements.” Importantly, Theba said that the information that they had from communities and security companies in areas where the masaajid were located, indicated that the incidents were not linked. This was as the modus operandi in each incident differed.
Theba offered advice to musallees regarding how to react, should they find themselves in a situation where gunmen enter a masjid. He said it was, obviously, better to avoid such a situation. This could be done by masjid trustees’ involvement in the local security structures – the CPF. He said that Masaajid were community structures, and needed to be registered with the local police station. Theba added that the police should be informed of when the congregation would be meeting, Jummuah times, etc. He said, “Let the local police know what’s happening at the masjid; keep constant communication with the local police station, the station commander specifically, and make them aware of busy times in the masjid, especially now with Ramadan coming up.” The police could then coordinate local security companies, and station vehicles in the area, so that there was extra visibility around the masjid. He said, “Inshallah, this will also be a deterrent for suspects wanting to anything; they know that there is a presence at the masjids, of security personnel, and we can then prevent the crime at the masjids.”
Theba continued to offer advice, saying that there were procedures and implementations that individuals, of necessity, should shoulder. He said that while Muslims viewed the masjid as an open space, and welcomed everyone to the masjid, we also needed to protect our masaajid. He said, “there’s certain things that we have to make sure are secure, and once the masjids are locked in the evenings, we need to ensure that we have alarm systems, camera systems.” He added, “the more layers that we have, we make it more and more difficult for suspects.”
According to Theba, if gunmen enter the masjid while Salah was being performed, the best thing to do was to remain calm. He said, “Very few people will perform Salah with the firearms on them. And for us to react, we don’t know how many other people will get hurt.” It’s assumed that the suspects would know how many people were in the masjid, and that they would come prepared, in numbers. It was therefore beneficial to keep as much of the congregation as calm as possible. Theba said, “I suggest that people have panic buttons installed in the masjid, so that in the event there is an emergency, you’ve got an armed response company that can respond and deal with the suspects, if they get the time, or put a lookout for the vehicles, and alert other community members of what happened in the masjid, so you can get support for the Muslims that have gone through the incident.”
Regarding the lillah boxes, which masjid trustees would want placed where they were visible, so that people could contribute, inadvertently making the boxes a potential target for criminals, Theba said that it was becoming increasingly easier to open other platforms to make payments to contribute to the budget. He suggested direct deposits, EFT, QR codes, and fast pay apps. He said, “And we encourage people to go digital, so that we can avoid a risk of lillah boxes.” Theba said, “I walk into some of the masjids, and I look at this safe mounted on the wall, and that alone is a big draw card for someone that’s coming with bad intentions.”
To ensure that musallees were kept as safe and secure as possible, in the masjid, during the month of Ramadan, Theba said, “within our Muslim communities, we’ve got a good network of security companies that are very proactive, especially when it comes to the masjids. So, get in touch with the security company, take their advice……. (as to) what sort of security plan they should implement.” He said that while all were was welcome to contact his office, or even contact him directly, the local security company in any area would understand the risk analysis, and would know what sort of implementation of threat analysis plan could be put in place, to ultimately secure that community’s masaajid.