Sunday Times STLive By TASCHICA PILLAY, 2010-12-11

Mosque brawl was racial, says scholar

A muslim scholar from Verulam is seeking legal advice after an alleged racial brawl at a mosque last week.

Tensions erupted at the Verulam Sunni Mosque last Sunday during a special general meeting, where a large group of Malawian Muslims were allegedly physically and verbally attacked. However, mosque officials have denied that the brawl was racially motivated.

Cassim Mtambo, a Muslim scholar and businessman, said he and his colleagues had attended the general meeting where a new board of trustees was to be elected and amendments to the constitution made.

The meeting followed an out-of-court settlement reached last year with the trustees, who had been in office for 12 years. It was resolved that a new board of trustees would be elected to serve for only five years.

"There was a dispute over the eligibility of some members of the congregation, namely the black Muslims residing in Verulam. They argued that some of the black Muslims were foreigners ... and said the Malawians could not vote."

According to the constitution, said Mtambo, any Muslim male over 18 living in Verulam who attended the mosque was eligible to vote.

Mtambo, a law student, was born in SA to Malawian parents and has attended prayer at the mosque for about seven years.

He said pandemonium broke out and some members were assaulted and intimidated.

"The Malawians were threatened that, if they continued to sit in the meeting, they would not return home alive."

He said the members decided to walk out of the meeting as it was "not fair and peaceful". He added that other congregants also left the meeting in disgust.

"The walkout by the Africans and Indians who disputed the decision that prevented Malawians from voting, made it possible for the outgoing trustees to be re-elected."

He said the Malawians regu-larly attended prayer and added that he intended lodging an application in the Equality Court and the high court to oppose the outcome of the meeting.

Chairman of the mosque trust Imranne Bux said the meeting terminated well under an independent chairman. "There was a bit of an uproar when cer-tain people were unhappy but it subsided eventually. There was no racial tension."

Bux said it seemed that some people had been bussed in and these congregants were not regular members.

He said owing to the trust the community had in the trustees, they had been re-elected.

Abdul Haq Bharoochi, an applicant in last year's high court application, said the "uncultured behaviour of the few who appeared to be dominating the meeting, was boorish and unrefined. This type of behaviour is unacceptable in the Islamic faith. The screaming, threats to the Malawians and those who wanted change in the trusteeship ... were disgraceful," he said.

Bharoochi said there should be no discrimination in Islam on the grounds of race or colour.