Mosque murder: The price of taking a stand against religious extremism
A second Ethiopian critic of extremism has been murdered in Johannesburg in less than a year
The brazen execution of wealthy Ethiopian businessman Mohamed Amin, a known critic of religious extremism, outside a Johannesburg mosque has left a community reeling and wondering if his death was linked to his views.
Amin – an elder within the Ethiopian Oromo tribe – was gunned down in the parking lot of the Mayfair mosque moments after he completed his evening prayers on Tuesday.
The gunmen, according to community leaders and members of the mosque, had apparently been walking around the parking lot waiting for the prayers to end.
As Amin, who runs a clothing and shoe wholesalers shop in the city centre, approached his car, the assassins ran up to him and opened fire. The father of seven, who tried to run back into the mosque, tripped and fell, where the gunmen stood over him and shot him several times in the head and chest.
Mohamed Rashad, a close friend of Amin who has lived in SA for 18 years, claims one of the gunmen was seen taking pictures of their victim before they ran off, wounding another worshiper in the leg as they fled.
“We don’t know what to think. This was not a robbery. Nothing of Mohamed’s was taken,” said Rashad.
He said his friend was loved by all and was a peaceful and caring person.
“The poor were closest to his heart. He would provide food to those who were starving. If young couples were poor and couldn’t afford to marry, he would pay for their wedding.
“We just don’t know why someone would do this. He had no enemies that we know of. Yes, everyone has their privacy, but with Mohamed, one would always know if something was wrong."
Asked if the murder was linked to community feuds within Mayfair, Rashad said the Oromos were very close to other communities in Mayfair.
“In Mayfair, there are about 3,000 Oromos, while in South Africa there are 10,000.
“We get along with other communities, especially the Somali community, and are very close. Yes, there are differences, but never something which leads to violence.”
Abdulrahman Jibro, Oromo People’s Association of SA asylum and refugee advocator, said Amin was a known critic of religious extremism and supported those involved in programmes to educate people about the dangers of such.
“This is the second such killing in two years in Mayfair. In April 2017, Sheik Hassan was murdered in similar circumstances while walking to another mosque for morning prayer. He was killed for his religious views and criticism of religious extremism,” he claimed.
“We believe that Mohamed was perceived as a threat by those involved in religious extremism and that his death could be because of his views.”
He said people had suggested the murder could be linked to a business dispute, “but Amin was not the kind of person to get into competition with business people”.
“He had his business, which was good, and he shared his recipe for success with others. I really believe his murder is linked to his views [against religious extremism].”
Taahir Salloo, imam at the mosque, said while the motive for Amin’s murder was unknown, they doubted it had anything to do with the mosque or long-standing clashes between groups of Muslim foreign nationals in Mayfair.
“Usually I would have [been worried of clashes] erupting, but the way the community came together after the shooting showed me that there’s nothing to worry about.
“It was an isolated incident.”
He added camera footage, which had been taken by the police, showed the attackers had waited for Amin near his car and specifically shot at him.
“We believe he was specifically targeted.”
Bereje Fanna, general secretary of the Council of Muslim Theologists, said they were worried about the murder.
“This is the second big killing of a prominent Ethiopian in a year. In April last year, Gezahegn ‘Nebro’ Gebremeskel, who was outspoken about human rights abuses was killed in Johannesburg.
“We are not sure if the murders are linked but appeal to police to investigate whether they are.”
He said Gebremeskel’s killers had yet to be caught.
Ebrahim Bham, secretary-general of the Council of Muslim Theologists, said a mosque, like any other place of worship, was sacred and a place of retreat for prayers and devotions.
“It should be preserved as a protected zone that remains sanctified and safe for the community. The heinous crime of this murder within the precincts of a place of worship highlights the gravity of criminal elements and level of violence that simmers within our communities and now threatens to spill over into sacred spaces.”
He did not want to speculate on the motive. “There has been street talk that there was a feud, but it is just street talk. Speculation will unnecessarily heighten uneasiness within the community.”
Police spokesperson Colonel Lungelo Dlamini said while certain rumours had been heard about the motive, including disputes, the reason for the murder was still unknown.
“The investigation has just begun. All avenues are being looked at.
“What we know is that two shooters were involved in the killing. They shot him in the parking lot and shot another man in the leg as they fled. No arrests have been made.”