Sunday, August 27, 2006


Outraged Muslims on Friday sought to ban a 60th birthday party for the late Zanzibar-born rock star Freddie Mercury, complaining the flamboyant singer’s lifestyle offended Islam.

In a strongly worded letter to the semi-autonomous Tanzanian archipelago’s culture ministry, a group of conservative Muslims said plans to honor the lead singer of the supergroup Queen at a gala bash next month must be stopped.

“There are people claiming that Freddie Mercury is a Zanzibari but he grew up outside Zanzibar and then changed his name,” the islands’ association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation (UAMSHO) said in the letter.

“Associating Mercury with Zanzibar degrades our island as a place of Islam,” UAMSHO chief Abdallah Said Ali wrote, adding that the singer was known to have been homosexual, died of AIDS and had lived a wild life many Muslims would condemn.

“Allowing such a function for a person known outside Zanzibar as a homosexual tarnishes the name of Zanzibar,” he said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Agence France-Presse. “Let us protect our good culture.”

The complaint follows the appearance throughout Zanzibar in recent weeks of posters advertising a huge beach party in the islands’ capital to mark what would have been Mr. Mercury’s 60th birthday.

Restaurateur Simai Mohamed Saidi, who is organizing the event and runs a Freddie Mercury theme restaurant and club named Mercury’s on the waterfront, said he would go ahead with the party on Saturday despite the complaint.

He said he would start a counter-drive and ask officials to start promoting Mr. Mercury’s link with Zanzibar to promote tourism.

“I plan to ask the authorities to advocate Mercury because he was an artist who advertised Zanzibar abroad,” Mr. Saidi told AFP.

There was no immediate response to the dispute from the government, which has long tip-toed between secular constitutional ideals, the demands of a booming tourist industry and the wishes of conservative Muslims.

Almost 99 percent of the million-strong population of the sun-drenched Indian Ocean islands — known for their idyllic palm-fringed beaches and spice- and slave-trading past — are Muslim, though most are moderate.

Few on Zanzibar seem even remotely aware of Queen or Freddie Mercury, who was born Farrokh Bulsara on the main island of Unguja to Persian parents employed by British colonial authorities, on Sept. 5, 1946.

Although he was educated in India and moved with his family to Britain in 1964, Mr. Mercury, who died in 1991, remains perhaps Zanzibar’s most famous son to many Westerners and rock music fans.

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