Cape Town - After more than a decade of planning and some controversy, the first Shi'a mosque in the Western Cape opened its doors this month.
The Ahlul Bait (AS) Islamic Centre bought the property from a church in Ottery in 1994, said Moulana Aftab Haider.
Before the newly built mosque was completed and officially opened on December 1, Haider said the old church building had been used for prayers and gatherings; he points out that it was never a mosque, but rather an Islamic centre.
“It has taken us years to get approval for the construction,” he said, adding that the centre had faced severe financial challenges.
After four years of construction, the mosque, which stands on 5 000m2, boasts more than 70 000 tiles crafted into mosaics across the building.
Haider said the mosque was open to the entire community and not only to Muslims or Shi'a Muslims.
He said the centre had not only Shi'a members in its congregation, but also Sunni members.
“We have a very open policy. We do not believe in sectarianism.”
He said they were committed to having compassion and love towards humanity and all other religions.
To show this commitment, he said one of the plaques displayed at the mosque had been unveiled by the Catholic Archbishop of Cape Town Stephen Brislin.
And out of respect, it has kept the original church building that was on the property before the mosque was built.
“We have done this to show that we are not denouncing the church.”
Although the Islamic centre has faced criticism from some groups, Haider said that Cape Town Muslims and people in general were very compassionate and accepting.
In Cape Town, he said, the Shi'a community is very small, about 2% of the Muslim population in the city.
“This mosque will not be used to hurt feelings or promote hate,” he said.
The vision for the mosque, he explained, is to uplift the Muslim community as well as all residents of the surrounding the community.
“Yes, we are the first mosque that caters for Shi'as in Cape Town, but our services are not exclusive for Shi'a.
"This should be a place of spiritual upliftment. A place of service to the people.”
There are plans to offer a number of courses at the mosque - for Muslims, but also for the broader community.
“We also a have a library here, although it is not fully functional yet. The library will be open to everybody. It will be available for research purposes for the community to use.”
There is also a clinic on the premises, which will offer medical support for the surrounding community through the help of medical professionals in the community.
“There are a few teachers who have also committed to offer extra classes for pupils.”
A community hall on the premises is also available for hire.
He said that the mosque is purely a community project and a reflection of the community.
“We are a rainbow nation that should work together for a common good,” said Haider.