South Africa | Words of the Prophet

One mosque’s radically different take on Islam

01 June 2015
“Shock therapy is necessary sometimes,” Taj Hargey has said of his style.
Schalk van Zuydam / AP Photo

ON AN APRIL EVENING, inside a small mosque in the Cape Town suburb of Wynberg, two men knelt towards Mecca to pray. The room’s walls were a pale green, like the whole of the nondescript, single-storey building that accommodated it, nestled among workshops and homes on a back road near a railway line. There were no crescents, no minarets, only a painted sign on the front wall that said “The Open Mosque,” and “All welcome.”

With prayers ended, Taj Hargey—a portly, clean-shaven 60-year-old man in an olive-green shirt and off-white trousers—hoisted himself up, and approached a desk in a corner. On it were dozens of volumes of the Hadith—collected reports of sayings and deeds attributed to the prophet Muhammad, and, for most Muslims, a guide to doctrine and practice second only to the Quran. Hargey had spent 5,000 rand, or about $400, on the books, and had stacked them up into an impressive tower about a metre tall.

“These are the fairy tales,” he said a few minutes later, waving at the stack as he started a Quran seminar. A small audience had trickled in, including a black Congolese student, a mixed-race part-time singer, and a white university professor. Hargey said many things about Islam that evening, not all of them printable. “Who goes to mullah school?” he thundered. “The stupid son of the family. If you send a donkey, you get a donkey, not a horse.”

Bhavya Dore  is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist.