16 September 2014 | By Andrew Potts
South Africa is to get its first gender-equal, non-sectarian, LGBTI welcoming and interracial mosque, with its doors to open to the public this Friday.
The so-called ‘Open Mosque’ will see men and women worship side by side and will welcome both Sunni and Shia Muslims.
In a move that has been controversial with more traditional Muslims, the mosque will allow women to lead prayers when there are men present and marry interfaith couples without both converting to Islam.
The Open Mosque’s founder Dr Taj Hargey, an imam and professor of Islamic Studies and African history at Oxford University, has also said that openly LGBTI people will be welcome at the mosque – while stopping short of condoning same-sex activity.
‘I do not endorse homosexual living, but I do not condemn them as people,’ Dr Hargey said, according to the Cape Times.
‘We will … welcome gay people and discuss topical subjects like sexuality, politics and others.’
Dr Targey, who was raised in Cape Town and has returned to his hometown to establish the mosque, said that he hoped to spark a ‘religious revolution’ when it came to gender equality and acceptance among Muslims in the Western Cape region.
‘The women will no longer make samoosas [sic] – they will make the decisions,’ he said.
However some have accused Dr Hargey of trying to establish a ‘gay mosque.’
Hargey said this was the result of confusion because the Open Mosque is situated on the same street as the headquarters of LGBTI affirming Muslim group Inner Circle.
Hargey, who is married to a Christian woman, said he was prepared to sue anyone who labelled him a ‘heretic’ or accused him of being a ‘homosexual’ over his plans for the mosque.
‘It is all lies. It is libel and I will take legal action against those spreading these lies,’ he said.
South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) has been highly critical of the plans for the Open Mosque and has promised to launch an investigation into it to make sure it conforms with Islamic teachings.
‘I guess the Muslim clergy is not pleased with an independent new mosque that will challenge their authority,’ he said, ‘I preach an Islam that is enlightened, erudite and egalitarian.’