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Arson Suspected in Latest Setback for Gay-Friendly Mosque: VIDEO

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On Friday night in Cape Town, South Africa's first gay-friendly mosque suffered fire damage due to a suspected arson attack.

Speaking with AFP, mosque founder Dr. Taj Hargey said video surveillance shows unidentified people making recon trips to the mosque in the hours before the fire. Hargey called the effort a "deliberate attack" noting the use of petrol and oil. But he remained steadfast, saying:

"They [the arsonists] cannot shut us down, they can try whatever they want...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."

As referenced in the above quote, this is the latest in a series of hardships faced by South Africa's first gay-friendly mosque. It has drawn denouncements from Muslim groups, and even death threats directed at Hargey.

In the last couple weeks, there was speculation that the City Council of Cape Town might close the fledgling mosque, but Hargey tells the AFP the complaints have been dealt with.

Hargey's mosque, which he emphasizes as open to the public (above) breaks from tradition in several ways. The mosque allows women to lead prayers, and as aforementioned, it is gay-friendly.

Hargey is an academic and founder of Oxford University's Muslim Educational Centre.He has given controversial statements in the past, notably in the Daily Mail, where he argued for a 'burka ban' in the UK and spoke against processed halal meats.

Watch a video from AFP on the Mosque's opening, AFTER THE JUMP...

[image via Rodger Bosch for AFP]

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Shrien Dewani, Bisexual British Multimillionaire, Stands Trial For Murdering Wife: VIDEO

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The trial of Shrien Dewani, a multimillion dollar businessman from Bristol accused of hiring hitmen to kill his wife, began today with Dewani pleading his innocence. In 2010 while on her honeymoon in Cape Town, South Africa, Dewani’s wife Anni (née Hindocha) was kidnapped and subsequently murdered.

Zola Tongo, Mziwamadoda Qwabe, and Xolile Mngeni, would eventually come forward and admit the roles they played in Anni’s death, but also revealed that they were hired by Dewani to kill the woman for R15,000. While the three men were all sentenced to prison sentences of various lengths for Anni’s death Dewani, still an English citizen, evaded South African authorities and fought attempts to extradite him back to the country.

Though an attempt to extradite Dewani was put on hold in 2012, the British High Court sided with the South African prosecution earlier this year and successfully sent Dewani to my tried for his wife’s murder. According to Tongo Dewan, a closeted bisexual man, hired the men to kill his wife in a desperate attempt to end his arranged marriage without compromising his public image.

“My sexual interactions with females were usually during the course of a relationship which consisted of other activities and emotional attachment,” Dewani’s legal defense explained on his behalf in a prepared statement.  “I consider myself to be bisexual. My sexual interactions with males were mostly physical experiences or email chats with people I met online or in clubs, including prostitutes such as Leopold Leisser.”

Leisser, according to the prosecution, was said to have had conversations with Dewani in which he explains how he was looking for a way to get out of his marriage despite his new wife being a lovely woman. The trial will reconvene on Wednesday.

Watch coverage of Shrien Dewani's murder trial AFTER THE JUMP... 

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United Nations Human Rights Council Approves LGBT Rights Resolution: READ

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Earlier today the United Nations Human Rights Commission approved 25-14 a resolution opposing anti-LGBT violence and discrimination, The Washington Blade reports:

VoteThe U.S., along with Argentina, Austria, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Montenegro, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, South Africa, Macedonia, the U.K., Venezuela and Vietnam voted for the proposal. Algeria, Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Indonesia, Kenya, Kuwait, Maldives, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates opposed it.

Burkina Faso, China, Congo, India, Kazakhstan, Namibia and Sierra Leone abstained.

The U.N. Human Rights Council before the final vote rejected seven proposed amendments put forth by Egypt, Uganda, Pakistan, South Sudan and other countries that sought to strip LGBT-specific language from the proposal

Said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power:

I am very pleased that the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution today to combat discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. This is only the second time in its history the Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution on LGBT rights, and the first time it has done so with a majority of its members. This resolution mandates a much-needed UN report that will investigate and bring to the world’s attention the violence and discrimination faced by individuals around the world simply because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Read the resolution, AFTER THE JUMP...

Buzzfeed adds that much attention was paid to South Africa's vote - due to recent concerns that the country might slowly be turning away from its pro-LGBT status in the region. The country ultimately voted for the resolution, but LGBT activists close to the negotiations said it worked to water down the resolution before the vote. 

MintyIn remarks delivered following the vote, South African Ambassador Abdul Samad Minty [pictured] made clear he felt squeezed by its historic commitment to LGBT rights — it was the first country in the world to protect LGBT rights in its constitution — and a desire to preserve relationships with other African countries that have recently enacted severe anti-LGBT laws like Uganda and Nigeria.

“South Africa believes that no person should fear for their safety or be deprived of their dignity because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Minty said, but blasted “divisive” steps taken by some donor nations to “use development aid to shift policies and laws in some countries,” an apparent reference to adjustments made by the United States and some European countries in contributions to Uganda following enactment of its Anti-Homosexuality Act earlier this year.

[vote count photo via Twitter]

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South Africa LGBT-Friendly Mosque May Close Down Barely A Week After Opening - VIDEO

Open Mosque South Africa to close down

South Africa’s first gay-friendly mosque could be shut down barely a week after it opened because it has violated municipal by-laws by not having any parking spaces, reports AFK Insider.

According to Taj Hargey, the director of the “forward thinking” organization Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford and Imam of the university’s Islamic Congregation, the Open Mosque in Wynberg, a Cape Town suburb - which opened last Friday - welcomes all genders, religions and sexual orientations. The mosque also allows women to lead prayers.

Taj hargeyHargey said that he has received many positive responses to the mosque but confirmed that he has also received “a lot of death threats.”

The Muslim Judicial Council, an umbrella organization of the South African Islamic clergy, condemned the mosque, stating that Hargey’s establishment cannot be considered a true mosque given that it does not adhere to both the Qur'aan and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

However, Hargey told the BBC that although his “autonomous and independent” mosque has been targeted by the City Council using “ridiculous bylaws,” he “will not be threatened by them or anyone else.”

Protesting outside the mosque, Imam Bilal Ghorieb said that his argument against the mosque is personal and "not part of the religion['s] understanding, my understanding, a selfish understanding."

Elsabeth Muirhead said that, as a Unitarian, she went to the opening to support the mosque's message of "tolerance, interfaith dialog and equality with women."

Watch a report on the opening of the Open mosque, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Will South Africa Become a Roadblock To International LGBT Rights?

South Africa, which was once an essential nation to advancing LGBTI rights in international diplomacy, has since become a potential roadblock, according to Huffington Post.

South africaIn 2011, South Africa sponsored a resolution before the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) that, for the first time, recognized LGBTI rights as human rights. Supporters of the resolution believed that it required at least one prominent African backer in order to prevent it playing into the hands of LGBTI rights opponents in Africa and other parts of the world.

However, when an updated version of the resolution was tabled last week at a HRC meeting, South Africa’s name was not on it. With a vote expected this week, some LGBTI rights supporters are now concerned that South Africa  could turn against the resolution.

This comes following a move by South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party to block a parliamentary motion to condemn Uganda’s severe anti-gay laws - which have since been struck down.

According to Mmapeseka Steve Letsike, a lesbian activist who chairs the South African National AIDS Council’s Civil Society Forum:

“We currently have leadership that fails to represent the ethos of what the constitution says and the equality principles they have to uphold. We have leadership going out of this country putting their personal beliefs before its own people. We have leaders that fail to protect their own.”

MandelaSome South African activists regard these decisions to move away from supporting LGBTI rights internationally as part of a larger trend in the country’s leadership.

While Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the African National Congress embraced LGBTI rights, that commitment is not as strong among the younger generation of leaders, most notably President Jacob Zuma, who called same-sex marriage “a disgrace to the nation and to God” around the time the unions won legal recognition in the country.

The resolution’s supporters are optimistic that they will have the votes to pass the resolution and nobody believes it is possible that South Africa would vote against it on the final vote. It could abstain on a final vote or vote for a procedural motion that would kill the resolution by denying an up or down vote — exactly what it did to keep the inclusive language out of the Protection of the Family resolution in June.

The lack of support for the updated HRC resolution actually comes at a time that there is a new commitment from the government to fighting anti-LGBTI hate crimes inside the country, spurred by a series of horrific rapes and murders of black lesbians.


Muslim Academic Receives Death Threats Over Plans For Gay-Friendly Mosque - VIDEO

Burka

Death threats have been sent to organizers of a planned women- and gay-friendly new mosque in Cape Town, South Africa, reports The Telepgraph.

According to Taj Hargey, the director of the “forward thinking” organization Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford, his Open Mosque will welcome all genders, religions and sexual orientations when it opens in Wynberg, a Cape Town suburb, on Friday.

6a00d8341c730253ef01a73e17c457970d-800wiHargey, who previously called for Muslims in Britain to ban the burka, said that he has received many positive responses to the mosque but confirmed that he has also received “a lot of death threats.”

Explaining the mission of the mosque, he said:

"You go to churches and often see the sign 'All Welcome'. This is the single mosque in the whole country that sadly has the words 'All Welcome' underneath it. I decided that being Cape Town-born I had to do something. We had a political evolution in this country 20 years ago and what we need now is a religious revolution, especially in the Muslim community.

"You enter the mosque, do I ask you the question who did you sleep with last night? No. It's not my business who you slept with.

"Women will enter the same doors as men, women will take part in the service. This is the first time you'll see men and women praying together. We wanted a mosque that reflects 21st century South Africans not some seventh century utopia that never existed."

However, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), a non-profit religious advocacy group, is "in the process of investigating the policy and objectives of the mosque".

Last week, the MJC’s deputy president Riad Fataar said:

"We see and feel the anxiousness in our community. We see in the newspaper clippings and the messages that this is a place of worship but we can't call it a mosque. But again we cannot make a complete statement until we have all the facts."

In November 2012, a gay-friendly mosque opened in Paris, France.

Watch a report on Hargey's call for a burka ban in the U.K., AFTER THE JUMP...

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