South Africa’s “first open mosque” held its inaugural prayer session on Friday afternoon amid criticism of its representation as a Muslim institution.
Dr Taj Hargey welcomed around 50 men and women, of different races and cultures, in his warehouse space in Wynberg, Cape Town.
“This is a most auspicious day, witnessing the launch of this groundbreaking mosque. Despite threats, intimidation, sabotage and all dirty tricks, we have opened this mosque which is unfortunately not entirely complete,” he said.
He was referring to the inside of the building, which had a fresh lick of mint green paint and an emerald green carpet with prayer spots laid across half the cement floor.
Bags of cement and building material were piled to the side and the odour of carpet glue wafted across the room.
Hargey said his building had distinct features — it was gender-equal, based purely on the Qur’an, and was open to all types of Muslims, religions, and cultures.
Despite what official Islamic organisations claimed, the building was a mosque, he said.
“This is a fully-fledged Islamic house of God that will always welcome everyone who enters the doors in peace and friendship.”
Around 10 women, most in headscarves, sat on the carpet with the men instead of being separated by partitions or walls.
A group of young and old men stood in the doorway, heckling Hargey at intervals and videotaping the proceedings with their cellphones.
He told them to leave and interrupt their own Imams [religious leaders].
Earlier, there was a heated argument outside the mosque between those for and against Hargey’s building.
A small group of Muslim men in religious robes stood in front of the gate, refusing to let people in.
A man who did not identify himself wanted to attend the sermon and pushed through and shouted at the group.
“South Africa has got a great Constitution. What did you fight apartheid for? Not this crap!” he said, before managing to squeeze through the closing door.
The men moved to the side, but still voiced their displeasure at a large throng of reporters and TV cameras.
Shaheem Vardien, from Manenberg, said Hargey was creating “mischief” among Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
“Is this what we want in Cape Town? No, no. If I fall dead right now, what is going to happen to my children? They are going to enter a mosque like this? Not while I am alive, maybe when I am dead, yes,” Vardien said.
He insisted that they were not radicals and had practised their religion peacefully in Cape Town for 300 years.
However, the building should be called an open place of worship and not a mosque, as it insulted the religion.
Bilaal Ghorieb, an Algerian living in Mitchells Plain, was as outspoken on the issue.
“This is wrong and must be stopped. They want to wipe all the filth on our Islam. The thing hurts me. We must stand [up] for our religions,” he said.
Reverend Roux Malan from the Cape Town Unitarian Church attended the sermon to support Hargey and praised his work.
Public order policing vans lined the road close to the unassuming green industrial building, sandwiched between auto-repair workshops.
Officers also closed off the road leading down to the building with traffic cones. SAPA