Sexuality, sacred spaces and Cape Town’s ‘Open Mosque’

Debates around gay rights in Islam is certainly not new, but this week the conversation in South Africa got louder. The establishment of an inclusive “Open Mosque” in Cape Town has sparked controversy, with some members of the Muslim community branding it a “gay mosque” and going so far so to threaten to bomb the mosque.

It’s unclear exactly how the debate around the Open Mosque unfolded or how “open” came to be synonymous with “homosexual” in this particular instance. But it seems to trace back to an article on The South African, dating back to July, in which Imam Muhsin Hendricks detailed his life as a homosexual Muslim, and discussed the development of his organisation, Inner Circle, which seeks to build “a global Muslim community free from discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation and gender identity”.

Hendricks’s story gained traction in September – and coincided with news that an “Open Mosque” was set to open its doors in Cape Town this same month. Soon, the local Muslim community began to conflate Inner Circle and the Open Mosque.

But the founder of the Open Mosque, Dr Taj Hargey, has rejected any affiliation with any local Muslim groups, let alone any homosexual groups, and has described the new mosque instead as a non-sectarian and gender-equal space for Muslims of all backgrounds. Interestingly, Hargey said that the Open Mosque would not only welcome women but allow them to lead prayers.

A “religious revolution” is needed in the Western Cape, Hargey told News24, and the Open Mosque is the start.

As Capetonian Muslims debated whether to picket the mosque or attend it, South Africans in general began to take note. Soon, the Open Mosque became the subject of several news stories and radio shows.

Not all Muslims agree that mosques are exclusionary spaces that now need to be “opened”.

In a discussion with radio host Eusebius McKaiser on PowerFM, political analyst Ebrahim Fakir said: “It [homosexuality] doesn’t necessarily have to be made an issue, because by making it an issue it’s becoming fetishised.”

Fakir said that the general consenus among Muslims is that homosexuality is neither legitimate nor accepted in Islam, but that at the same time homosexual Muslims were not rejected from mosques.

On Facebook, he also expressed his belief that mosques have always welcomed all visitors, saying “It’s a tautological nonsense. All mosques are Open, To everyone.”


But on Facebook, McKaiser swiftly responded to Fakir’s remark saying, “Unlocking a door doesn’t mean an inclusive space.” This in turn lead to a lengthy discussion on the Quran’s acceptance or rejection of homosexuality.

As the Open Mosque prepares to welcome its first visitors on Friday, the controversy around gay rights and the inclusivity in Islam, continues to mark conversation.

  1. Cigar Fox says

    For 1400 years, Muslims have never dared changing the Sunnah mosque practices of the holy Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). Why is now the time to go against the Sunnah practices?

    Masjid al-Haram and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, the two holiest mosques in the Islamic faith situated in Saudi Arabia, have been practising the clear segregation of men and women from the inception of Islam and to this present day. This is enacted from the teachings of the final messenger of Allah, Prophet Muhammed (may peace be upon him)

    The practice of Islam is based on the message of the Quran and the Sunnah principles of the Prophet Muhammed peace be upon him). Sunnah is the way of life prescribed as normative for Muslims on the basis of the teachings and practices of the Islamic Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him).

    The segregation of males and females in the mosque is the Sunnah practice of the the Prophet Muhammed (may peace be upon him). Non-segregation of males and females in the mosque goes entirely against Islam since it is in total conflict with Sunnah practices of the Prophet Muhammed (may peace be upon him).

    1. John Taylor says

      The most dangerous phrase is “We’ve always done it this way.” Open your mind, open your heart, and try questioning why change might be better for your fellow human beings rather than shutting the door on them because you’ve “always done it this way”.

    2. Tom says

      If you want to practice the sunnah, perhaps you should educate yourself about it. During the prophet’s time, women and men entered his mosque by the SAME entrance and there was zero physical barrier between men and women.

      Also, have you been to pray in the grand mosque in Mecca? I have, a few times. There are spaces inside and out where men and women stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Guess what, people do that and manage to maintain their focus on their prayers because they can.

      But I also agree with John Taylor, doing things cos it’s always been done creates a stagnant state. Sahaba had slaves but morality has evolved and transcended that despicable practice. The point is that societies and moralities evolve, so holding onto medieval practices make no sense. We should be striving to better ourselves, not remain stuck back 1400 years.

      1. Rehana says

        The Qur’an was revealed in stages. At one stage, Muslims were not prohibited from drinking wine until the verses commanding such prohibition were revealed. Similarly, when the verses regarding hijab were revealed, segregation between the sexes became the norm. Therefore, it would be incorrect to assume that the earlier practice is valid in these times.

        The practices of Arabs and Muslims in other parts of the world, including the Grand Mosque, do not constitute proof in Islam. Muslims base their beliefs and actions on Qur’an and the Ahadith (teachings of the Prophet, pbuh).

        If ‘societies and moralities’ have indeed evolved, we should be better off today than earlier societies were. However, it’s obvious from the high rates of divorce, abortions, suicide, substance abuse and general social dysfunction that we are far worse off than before. This is precisely because we have abandoned Islamic values for materialism and other destructive value systems.

        Islam is not ‘stuck back 1400 years’. It’s those who are ignorant of its teachings and the wisdom behind them who are! Recent studies in Medicine and Science have only now revealed phenomena mentioned in the Qur’an and Ahadith centuries ago – and that’s just one aspect of many.

        How does anyone hope to better himself when he rejects or distorts the very source of guidance towards self-improvement?

        Only those who sincerely want to be guided will be.

  2. […] The controversial Open Mosque launched in Cape Town on Friday amid protests and calls for the mosque to be boycotted. Members of the media and critics outnumbered the congregation on Friday and Imam Taj Hargey’s sermon was interrupted by attendees who called him a “fraud” and told him he would “go to jahannam (hell)”. RA’EESA PATHER asked people at the mosque what they thought of it. […]

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