JOHANNESBURG – A Muslim man was beaten to death in South Africa over wearing a beard, sparking a storm of outrage over the latest sign of Islamophobia in the country.
"Two white people... they called him [Osama] bin Laden in Afrikaans because of his beard,” Anser Mahmood, a friend of the deceased man, told Sapa news agency, referring to the slain Al-Qaeda leader.
“...and then they called us kaffirs.”
Mahmood and his friend Mohammed Fayaaz Kazi, 27, were attacked by two white men at a chicken outlet in Magaliesburg, a small town in Gauteng province which is a stronghold of Afrikaner supremacists.
“I asked why they were troubling him and he punched me,” Mahmood, 33, said.
Kazi was hit over his head by the attackers and died later at hospital.
“I don't know what he hit me with. I was unconscious,” Mahmood recalled.
"Nobody helped us. They wanted me dead also, but I survived.”
Police have launched an investigation into the killing of the Muslim man.
"After purchasing food from a fast food outlet an argument allegedly broke out between Kazi and two unknown Afrikaner males," police spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane said.
"It is further alleged that the two suspects were mocking Kazi about his long beard."
Muslims make up some 1.5 percent of South Africa’s 49 million-strong population, according to the CIA fact book.
The grisly murder has sparked widespread condemnations as a sign of Islamophobia in the African country.
"We strongly urge all members of our community to exercise restraint and patience and to allow the normal process of the law to take its course," Muslim researcher Ibrahim Vawda told the BBC.
The Muslim advocacy group, the Media Review Network, called on Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa to ensure a speedy investigation into the killing.
Religious leaders and officials were also quick to condemn the killing.
“There is no place in our diverse society for those who harbor racism and religious intolerance," North West Premier Thandi Modise said in a statement.
Kasrils, prominent Jewish member of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, also denounced the murder.
"My heartfelt condolences and solidarity to the family of Fayaaz Kazi whose brutal killers must be hunted down and brought to justice," he said.
"May all South Africans unite to stop in its tracks the evil of racist and religious intolerance which is a threat to every South African regardless of creed, culture and color.”
White minority rule ended in South Africa in 1994, with the election of the ANC government.Race relations are strained, but violence between different race groups is rarely reported.
Related Links:‘Halal Pork’ Enrages South Africa Muslims
South Africa Hajj Turmoil
S. Africa Muslims Want Marriage Recognition
S.Africa Muslims Urged to Fight AIDS