A gay-friendly mosque, which opened in South Africa’s Cape Town two weeks ago amid fierce criticism from the local Muslim community, was damaged by a fire shortly after midnight on Saturday.
According to an AFP report, local police have opened an arson inquiry into the fire which occurred on the eve of the celebration of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice).
No one was injured although the fire damaged the front door of the mosque.
The police have yet to make any arrests.
Launched by Muslim academic Dr Taj Hargey, the South African-born director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford in the UK, the so-called ‘Open Mosque’ openly welcomes LGBTI people; allows for men and women to pray side by side as opposed to them being in segregated areas conventionally; and had planned to have women as imams.
The mosque has faced fierce criticism and threats of violence from Muslims with 14 national and provincial organizations representing the Muslim community across South Africa issuing a joint statement condemning Hargey’s plans.
Hargey said he believes the incident to be a deliberate arson attack as petrol and oil were used. He added that unidentified people have seen on closed-circuit television footage making several reconnaissance trips to the mosque two hours before the attack.
‘Instead of preparing for the holy day, these people were preparing to destroy the house of God… it’s very sad, disrespectful,’ he said.
Despite the attack, Hargey remains undeterred, ‘They cannot shut us down, they can try whatever they want,’ he said. ‘They have tried verbal intimidation, threats and now arson. This should be the last… Our opponents should know that they don’t have a copyright on Islam.’