Open Mosque attacked, sermons continue
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Cape Town - The turnout is low. A handful of people sit on the patterned carpet spread out in Wynberg’s Open Mosque. The converted warehouse is a space shared by men and women, a strange sight on the holy day celebrating the end of the Hajj pilgrimage when women traditionally stay at home.
“There are so many people who are scared to come here,” says the mosque’s founder, Muslim academic Taj Hargey, after his sermon. “They want to, but they are afraid.”
On Saturday at about 1am, the mosque in the middle of Wynberg’s industrial district was targeted in an arson attack. Hargey says the front door was burnt after a group of men doused it in petrol and set it alight.
It’s not the first attack on the fledgling Mosque, which advertises itself as being gay-friendly and open to followers of all religions. Windows have frequently been broken with sticks and rocks since it opened its doors last month, he adds.
According to Hargey, it’s a retaliation against the mosque’s teachings which he describes as Qu’ran-centric.
“I’m going back to our roots.”
He says many of the teachings in the holy text have been misappropriated and bogged down by tribal customs and “barbaric” traditions. During his sermon on Sunday, in which he celebrated the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca, he spoke about the importance of equality between men and women and respecting Muslims from all sects.
“The Open Mosque is an exact replica of Prophet Muhammad’s original mosque in Madinah where there were no female-only entrances nor any gender partitions,” he adds.
He says it was important for the mosque to remain inclusive.
“We want Christians and atheists, for example, to also walk through that door so we can start a conversation. How else will I understand them and know where they are coming from.”
The aim isn’t to convert, but rather to communicate. “For every person in this mosque today there are 10 more who want to join us.”
However, people are scared. Not only might they be attacked by what Hargey calls “hooligans within the religion” but they might be ostracised by the clergy or even their families.
Hasinoro Raja, a Christian who visited the mosque on Sunday, says she was touched by the sermon.
“It was really interesting to see an expression of Islam that didn’t instil fear.”
The police are still investigating the attack. Hargey says that CCTV footage may help the police nab the arsonists.
“We have their licence plate numbers and everything.”
No arrests have yet been made.
Political parties in the Western Cape have called for tolerance and restraint after the Open Mosque was set alight.
DA leader Ivan Meyer has expressed concern for apparent religious intolerance and hoped that Muslim religious and community leaders could resolve the issue peacefully.
“The Western Cape has relatively high levels of religious harmony with peaceful co-existence and tolerance present across the province.”
Expressing his dismay at the wanton attack, on the eve of Eid-ul-Adha celebrations, Nazier Paulsen, provincial convener of the Economic Freedom Fighters urged all peace-loving citizens in the Western Cape and the rest of the country to condemn the violence and destruction of property.
ANC provincial spokesperson Cobus Grobler said there should be more room for people to freely exercise their choice of association.
Grobler said there should be no discrimination or acts of violence against those who choose a different course, whether ideological, religious or the expression of gender.