The Muslim community of Knysna may have to wait about two to three months to know whether the Cape High Court has ruled in their favour for the erection of the first formal mosque in the holiday town, writes Ismail Suder
The Cape High Court is deliberating submissions made to it this week on whether a proposal for a masjid in the picturesque town of Knysna on the Garden Route should go ahead as planned – or to side with a group of residents who have vehemently objected to the construction of the mosque in their neighbourhood.
The enraged residents of a residential block called 22 Rawson Street Body Corporate (and one other) have submitted objections, urging the court to rule in their favour and stop the construction of the masjid because it would mainly create traffic congestion in their area.
The battle by the objecting residents’ to stop the erection of the mosque has been raging since 2015 when the Knysna Municipality awarded a rezoning application to the local Muslim community to develop the mosque on a 1,277m2 piece of land near the town’s centre.
But the group of homeowners – neighbouring the mosque plot – would have none of it. Headed by Joseph Hudspith, the objecting group has filed opposing documents against both the Knysna Muslim Council and the Knysna Municipality which approved the zoning of the mosque.
Hudspith told a local reporter: “I will state once more that the majority of Knysna residents respect the rights for the Muslim community to have a place in Knysna to worship and meet, but the proposed area is what we are objecting to.”
Speaking to Al Qalam, Omar Essa, chairman of the Knysna Muslim Council, said the community was optimistic of a favourable outcome. He urged all to make Dua.
Essa said: “The architectural concept of the mosque was based on the specific requirements of an Arab donor who approached us via the MJC early on in the project. Unfortunately, the donor withdrew after our rezoning was approved, citing other priorities.
“We obviously don’t have sufficient funding for the project estimated to be between R5-million and R10-million. We have subsequently adapted our plan to accommodate some of the objections without deviating too much from the overall concept, since the latter was approved by the Aesthetics Committee of the Knysna Municipality. For example, we reduced the number of minarets and reduced the height and size of the dome. We also eliminated the minor domes completely. This will significantly reduce the costs as well”, he said.
Essa said all Ulama bodies have given the project their full support. At the High Court hearing last week, MJC unfurled a banner in support of the proposed mosque. Members of the Western Cape Inter-faith Initiative also attended to show their support.
Essa told Al Qalam he could not understand why the group was objecting as they had undertaken to comply with all building regulations, including addressing the question of parking and congestion – a key point raised by the objectors.
In its replying documents, the Knysna Muslim Council pointed out that there are about 15 churches in the CBD alone and not a single formal mosque exists to cater for the growing Muslim community – a factor that they hoped would be taken into account by the judge when deciding on the case.
Arguing for the applicants‚ advocate Eduard Bower explained that the “fundamental aspect of the applicants’ case is the Traffic Impact Assessment report”.
Bower said that such a report would provide data to show the traffic impact of the proposed development. Bower also argued that the proper concessions for parking were not considered when the property was rezoned. He said the new zoning would allocate one parking bay for every five seats in the mosque‚ which would result in 70 new parking bays being required for the 350-seat building.
Social media was alight with comments from mainly non-Muslims. In one post, Mike Kroger said sarcastically that “the cacophonic calls to prayer will add so much to Knysna’s peace and tranquility”.
Iceman wrote: “Open a pork shop next door”.
Vethol replied to Iceman: “I am just shocked that you will go to such lengths to offend people who are trying to live their life just like you and I. You sir are not worth any more of my time as I think you are either drunk or irreparably ignorant.”