A controversial South
African mosque has performed its first interfaith marriage between a Muslim
woman and a Christian man, in a ceremony denounced by local Islamic leaders.
The imam of the Cape Town mosque, which bills itself as pluralistic and
gender-equal, is challenging the idea that Islam bans such marriages, in
defiance of traditional teachings on the issue.
Imam Taj Hargey, who
founded Cape Town’s “Open Mosque” last year, is calling for Muslim clergy to
prove that marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men are not
permissible given the Quranic acceptance of marriages between Muslim men and
women of other religions. “The reason why the Open Mosque allowed the historic
occasion to occur is because in Islam, we either have gender equality or we
don’t,” he told South Africa’s Eyewitness News on Monday.
International BusinessTimes reported that, the mosque officiated the marriage of Saieda Osman and
Siegfried Milbert on Saturday after a number of other mosques refused them an
Islamic wedding ceremony. Milbert, a Christian, chose not to convert to Islam
to marry Osman.
that such a marriage is not permissible in Islam," Riad Fataar, a senior
leader of South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council, told the Anadolu news agency.
"It is ridiculous to think otherwise." Other members of the country’s
Muslim community echoed the view, particularly taking issue with Milbert’s
decision not to convert.
Most Islamic scholars
agree that Muslim men are allowed to marry "women of the book," in
reference to Christian and Jewish women. But Muslim women are generally
believed to be forbidden from marriages to non-Muslims unless the man converts
to Islam first. Some men nominally convert to circumvent the prohibition.
Hargey disputes this,
however, arguing that "there is no verse in the Holy Quran that bans
Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men." The imam previously conducted
marriage ceremonies in the U.K. for Muslim women marrying Christian or Jewish
men without requiring the non-Muslim partners to first convert. Many Muslims
view these unions as tantamount to living in sin.
The imam’s mosque, located
in Cape Town’s Wynberg suburb, has also challenged other widespread conventions
in Islamic practice with the aim of promoting a culture of tolerance to combat
radicalism. The Open Mosque allows men and women to pray together in the same
hall without partitions and encourages the participation of LGBT Muslims in the
mosque’s religious life (while still drawing the line at performing same-sex
The effort has prompted
criticism from Muslims in the country, along with some death threats. Hargey’s detractors
have referred to him as a “heretic” and criticized him for promoting a “pro-gay
agenda.” South Africa’s Muslim community numbers about 737,000, making up
around 1.5 percent of the country’s population.
Credit: International Business Times