Cape Town - A Cape Town-born Oxford academic is pressing ahead with plans to launch his Open Mosque - which is to invite women to lead prayers and welcome gay people and non-Muslims - in the face of severe criticism from some Muslims.
The Open Mosque is to open in Lester Road, Wynberg, and its first prayers are to be led on Friday.
Its founder, Taj Hargey, says it will be South Africa’s first gender-equal, non-sectarian and interracial mosque. It will be non-aligned and would welcome Sunni and Shia Muslims at the same service.
It is time for a “religious revolution” in the Western Cape, Hargey says.
News of his plan has unleashed a storm on WhatsApp and other social media, with some messages calling the mosque a “gay temple” and others decrying its founder as a “heretic” and a “non-believer”.
Hargey, a professor of Islamic Studies and African history at Oxford University, has threatened to take legal action against anyone calling him a “heretic” and a “homosexual”.
“It is all lies. It is libel and I will take legal action against those spreading these lies.”
In 2009 he won a case in a UK court against a Muslim newspaper for calling him a heretic, Hargey said.
The mosque would follow the Qur’an and promote gender equality - this meant women would enter and take part in prayers and in the running of the mosque.
“The women will no longer make samoosas - they will make the decisions,” he said.
Four out of the Open Mosque’s nine board members are women. Hargey declined to disclose their names.
The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) had no authority over him or the mosque.
“I think the reason for the strong reaction to the mosque was because the clergy like the MJC do not want to be challenged on the theological monopoly they have,” he said.
“The MJC is unelected, non-transparent and self-styled. They have no authority over me or the mosque.”
Riad Fataar, MJC deputy president, told the Voice of the Cape over the weekend the council was investigating the establishment of the mosque.
“We see and feel the anxiousness in our community. Alhamdulillah (Thank God), our community is trying to protect the integrity and purity of our deen (faith).”
He added: “Anything that goes against our deen and which rejects the primary sources such the Qur’an and Hadeeth will be condemned by the MJC. We want to make sure that our deen is protected and that the Muslim community is not fooled.”
Hargey said: “I guess the Muslim clergy is not pleased with an independent new mosque that will challenge their authority. I preach an Islam that is enlightened, erudite and egalitarian.”
Hargey was born in Wynberg. He completed his Master’s degree at the American University in Cairo and his doctorate at Oxford.
His wife, Jacqueline Woodman, sits on the board of the Manchester College Oxford Chapel Society.
“She is a Christian and I am a Muslim, but we are tolerant of each other’s religion,” he said.
Hargey said confusion about its being a “gay mosque” arose because the mosque was situated in Sussex Street - the same road as the Inner Circle, an organisation that promotes a Muslim community free from discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.
“I do not endorse homosexual living, but I do not condemn them as people. We will, however, welcome gay people and discuss topical subjects like sexuality, politics and others.”
Hargey said the mosque would also marry Muslim women who wanted to wed outside their faith.
Mansoora Africa, chairwoman of the Islamic Unity Convention, felt a woman could lead Friday prayers only if there was no “capable man” at the gathering.