A group of men, described as “followers of the Salafist current,” interrupted today’s Friday prayer at the Grand Mosque of Denden in Tunis’ southern suburbs.
Worshipers saw their Friday prayer prematurely ended when the intruders in question entered the mosque, interrupting the lecture being given by Imam Ghofran Hsaini. The attendees of the Friday prayer were subject to physical aggression, and three-quarters of those present were forced to leave the mosque, recounted the Imam and Ismail Shili, the mosque’s muezzin, to Tunisia Live. Only a small number of worshipers stayed to pray under the lead of the “Salafists,” they said.
Hsaini, only 28 years old, is a PhD student in religious studies and holds a master’s degree in the memorization and recitation of the Holy Koran. The imam describes his speech as moderate and scholarly, denouncing all rumors of having any political affiliation.
“I do not serve political purposes, and I do not belong to any party,” Hsaini asserted.
The intruders in question have previously issued threats to the imam. Nevertheless, the motives of the aggressors were not necessarily personal, but rather looked to take ideological control over the mosque, the imam said.
“[This group] uses expiatory speech to fuel violence for political purposes that have nothing to do with following the Prophet’s way of life,” Hsaini explained. He mentioned that the “Salafists” emphasize the necessity of Jihad in the ongoing Syrian conflict.
According to the Imam, the mosque at Denden was not the only one targeted today. The Omar Ibn Khattab and Fattouma Bourguiba mosques in the Bardo suburb of Tunis experienced similar encroachment, he claimed.
Sadok Arfaoui, councelor to the ministry of religious affairs, only confirmed the Denden attack and said that police reinforcements were sent to the mosque and that authorities are looking for the perpetrators.
“There will undoubtedly be judicial consequences,” Arfaoui said.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs conducts a long, thorough process to assign imams to mosques, and since the revolution, some people have arbitrarily taken over a few mosques without ministerial sanction, explained Najet Hammami, press attaché at the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
Hsaini suspects that today’s incident was connected to a previous bout of unrest in the nearby neighborhood of Douar Hicher where security agents clashed with described members of the Salafist movement. Arfaoui dismissed such a connection, pointing to previous attempts in recent months by Salafist groups to take over mosques across the country.