By Anees Teladia
Once again, a Muslim community in Cape Town is faced with strong objections and countless hurdles in its attempt to construct a masjid – this time in the Gordons Bay area. The Gordons Bay Islamic Society has tried to establish a masjid in the area for years but has consistently been met with strong resistance from the predominantly white community.
Gordon’s Bay Islamic Society chairperson, Cassim Peer says that while the initial resistance to the establishment of the masjid by the Gordon’s Bay Residents Association has been dealt with, the Islamic Society believes that there are other individuals within the community who are appealing and objecting out of “pure malice and Islamophobia”.
“As soon as the project became public we had some resistance. We saw some letters to the local newspaper wherein one lady declared Gordons Bay a Christian town. It was absolutely ridiculous but we ignored it and had to remain focused. Our intention was not to fight anybody – our intention was to bring love and establish a place of worship for Muslims,” said Peer.
For the construction of the mosque to be approved, the land had to be rezoned for community purposes. There have been 135 formal objections to the rezoning of the land, including objections by the Gordons Bay Residents Association and the Gordons Bay Tourism Association, according to Peer.
Peer has indicated that many of the objections were what Muslims in Cape Town have come to expect when trying to establish a place of worship. He also indicated, however, that despite the objections, an independent panel found there to be no reason to deny the rezoning – granted that some concessions be made.
“They used the same kind of excuses that they have used in other areas, saying that ‘the call to prayer is a disturbance’, ‘traffic will be a problem’, ‘aesthetics are a cause for concern’ and every other conceivable excuse,” said Peer.
“In April, we had the first hearing where people who objected to the masjid had a right to voice their opposition and we as members of the Gordons Bay Islamic Society then rebutted whatever they had to say. It was a very fair and formal hearing. The panel was set up by the City of Cape Town and was chaired by a senior official of the City. There were four independent, white, Christian town planning officials who sat on the panel to decide the way forward. It was assessed at the meeting that the rezoning and establishment of the masjid has to be approved because there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be. The panel did, however, make certain recommendations, including that the azaan [the Muslim call to prayer] not be amplified on a loudspeaker.”
Those who disagreed with the findings of the initial hearing had the right to appeal and have reportedly done so. The Gordons Bay Islamic Society has submitted a response to the appeals and the next step in the process will see the Mayoral Appeals Committee deciding whether the appeals will be upheld or dismissed.
“We are appealing to the Muslim community: pray that Allah SWT guides them and gives us success. We firmly believe that this is pure malice and islamophobia from a small group of people. There’s no merit in the objections,” said Peer.
Gordons Bay Residents Association chairperson, Edwina Hadfield told VOC that while they “didn’t oppose the building of the mosque”, they did raise seven specific concerns regarding its establishment, to the City.
The concerns mentioned included: the rezoning of the property, the call to prayer being loud, parking space, the area being waterlogged and how the construction of the masjid would account for that, a traffic impact study, a visual impact study and finally concern relating to the slaughter of animals at the masjid.
Hadfield indicated, however, that their “biggest concern” as a Residents Association was the amplified azaan. She also said that she was happy with the changes to the design of the masjid – essentially making the masjid look more commercial.
“We are happy with the answers to our seven concerns…The design of the building was changed from a ‘mosque building’ to quite a commercial looking building…we’re more than happy with that,” said Hadfield.