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S Africa's women and gay-friendly Open Mosque under fire after peaceful launch

Against a global background of rising Islamist militancy a new mosque where gay people are welcome, Christians too, and women are treated equally to men has opened in Cape Town despite threats of violence.

world Updated: Sep 23, 2014 12:09 IST
Open Mosque,Taj Hargey,gay friendly mosque

Against a global background of rising Islamist militancy a new mosque where gay people are welcome, Christians too, and women are treated equally to men opened peacefully in Cape Town despite threats of violence.

The new Open Mosque also planning to have women as imams.

Launched by Muslim academic Taj Hargey, the South African-born director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, the first Friday prayers at the Open Mosque drew more media crews than worshippers.

Muslims walk near the entrance of the Open Mosque, on its opening day in Wynberg, Cape Town. (AFP Photo)

Fourteen national and provincial organisations representing the Muslim community across South Africa issued a joint statement condemning Hargey's plans.

"Hargey's cult has totally no affinity with the? Islam which the Muslims of South Africa follow," the statement read.

"We believe that it is illegal and highly deceptive for Hargey to call his warehouse of 'worship' a 'mosque', and his cult 'Islam'".

The religious leaders said they were considering the possibility of instituting legal action against Hargey, the Cape Town-born chairman of the Muslim Education Centre of Oxford which he founded in the UK.

An Algerian muslim man voices his displeasure about the opening of the Open Mosque in Wynberg, Cape Town. (AFP Photo)

Hargey has described his mosque as a "religious revolution" following on from the political revolution led by late former president Nelson Mandela when democracy replaced apartheid rule in South Africa in 1994.

In his sermon Hargey condemned the increasing hatred in the world between Muslims and Christians.

He blamed this on "warped theology" from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan which he said gave rise to "fanatical" groups like the Islamic State organisation, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

He said "contaminated Saudi money" was used to promote "toxic and intolerant manifestations of Islam".

A woman listens inside the Open Mosque, as she and other woman share the same area with men in Cape Town, South Africa. (AP Photo)

Hargey, whose controversial liberal views on Islam have received worldwide publicity, cited intimidation from the South African Muslim institutions for the poor turnout at his launch.

"There's been threats about castrating me, beheading me, hanging me upside down. But South Africa has the most liberal constitution in the world -- they cannot stop us opening today."

Asked about his qualifications as a religious leader he said: "I have a PhD in Islamic studies from Oxford University, unlike my opponents who went to some donkey college in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia."

South Africa has around 737,000 Muslims, or 1.5% of the population, according to figures from the Pew Research Centre.

First Published: Sep 23, 2014 11:44 IST