Gay-friendly mosque launches quiet ‘revolution’ in South Africa
Against a global background of rising Islamist militancy a new mosque where gay people are welcome, Christians too, and women are treated equally to men opened peacefully in Cape Town on Friday despite threats of violence.
Launched by Muslim academic Taj Hargey, the South African-born director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, the first Friday prayers at the ‘Open Mosque’ drew more media crews than worshippers or protesters.
Police were on hand in case of trouble outside the newly-painted green mosque, a former panel beating workshop sandwiched between two similar motor vehicle repair operations on a backstreet in the Wynberg suburb.
While a handful of protesters told AFP they were waiting for reinforcements and would “stop this thing, no matter what”, the Friday prayers went ahead largely unhindered apart from the occasional protester’s cry of “You will go to hell”.
Hargey has described his mosque as a “religious revolution” following on from the political revolution led by late former president Nelson Mandela when democracy replaced apartheid rule in South Africa in 1994.
As revolutions go, this was a quiet one.
In his sermon Hargey condemned the increasing hatred in the world between Muslims and Christians.
He blamed this on “warped theology” from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan which he said gave rise to “fanatical” groups like the Islamic State organisation, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Boko Haram in Nigeria.
He said “contaminated Saudi money” was used to promote “toxic and intolerant manifestations of Islam”.
Hargey told reporters outside the mosque earlier that he had been subjected to physical and psychological threats since he announced his plans.
“There’s been threats about castrating me, beheading me, hanging me upside down. But South Africa has the most liberal constitution in the world — they cannot stop us opening today.”
Asked about his qualifications as a religious leader he said: “I have a PhD in Islamic studies from Oxford University, unlike my opponents who went to some donkey college in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.”
Hargey is not new to Islamic controversy — in Britain he has launched a campaign to ban the burka.
South Africa has around 737,000 Muslims, or 1.5 percent of the population, according to figures from the Pew Research Centre.