Cape Town’s controversial new Open Mosque, which says it will welcome gay worshippers, has threatened to sue anyone who suggests that it or its founder is gay.
The mosque, which is set to open on Friday in Wynberg, will also allow women to lead prayers and to play a part in its running.
Its founder, Cape Town born imam and Oxford University professor Taj Hargey, said on Monday: “I do not endorse homosexual living, but I do not condemn them as people. We will, however, welcome gay people and discuss topical subjects like sexuality, politics and others.”
The mosque has caused a firestorm in the Muslim community and claims have been made on social media that it is a “gay mosque” and that Hargey is himself gay.
In an official statement posted on its website, the mosque’s Executive Council denied these rumours and distanced itself from the gay community.
“We unreservedly confirm that we are not a gay organisation. We reject with contempt the unsubstantiated charges levelled against us that we are connected with people who are gay. The Open Mosque is an entirely independent non-sectarian institution that prides itself in having no formal links with other Muslim groups, let alone homosexuals or lesbians,” said the council.
It stated further that, “We are a gender-equity institution where men and women are on par and equal in conformity with the Holy Qur’an’s clear directives,” but clarified that, “Gender-equal in this context does not refer to sexual orientation.”
The council warned that, “If any one seeks to falsely portray the Open Mosque other than what we actually are by defaming, libelling and smearing us or to label us wrongly as gay or homosexual, we will institute legal proceedings against them and seek maximum punitive damages for such baseless accusations.”
The threat, however, is deeply insulting to gay people as it suggests that being called gay is insulting, degrading or otherwise negative. The threat may also not be enforceable.
In 2011, the Constitutional Court ruled that being depicted or described as a homosexual is not grounds for defamation.
“It… cannot be actionable simply to call or to depict someone as gay even though he chooses not to be gay and dislikes being depicted as gay – and even though stigma may still surround being gay,” Justices Cameron and Froneman said in their majority ruling.