A US-based designer has apologised for using a portrait of a historic mosque on Kenya’s island of Lamu on a T-shirt worn by celebrity Jay-Z.
Worshippers became angry when they spotted WhatsApp photos of hip-hop music mogul Jay-Z wearing a T-shirt with a print of the mosque as he left a restaurant in Santa Monica, California, on March 30, CNN reported.
Abubakar Badawy, the secretary-general of Riyadha Mosque and Islamic Centre, said the mosque leaders then objected to the T-shirt as it could be worn to “sacrilegious joints” like bars.
Designer Zeddie Loky reportedly produced the T-shirt to promote Lamu, a Unesco-listed World Heritage site. Its 19th-century mosque is a top tourist attraction with manuscripts dating back to 1837 and is one of the oldest continuously functioning Islamic teaching institutions in East Africa.
“Many people were angry about this and thought that the officials running the mosque were involved,” Badawy said.
The consternation prompted him to write a public letter to Loky, the CEO of clothing design company Blkburd Genes.
The letter said that worshippers “actually feel insulted by the photos of Jay-Z wearing Blkburd Genes T-shirt portraying our Riyadha mosque. Rest assured we neither consider it an honour or privilege for the historical mosque and its founder Habib Swaleh.”
It added that “when wearers of these T-shirts end up in bars, clubs and at all sorts of sacrilegious joints” then it was an “affront” to those who revered the mosque.
Badawy said he had since received a letter from Loky, promising to remove “all inappropriate portrayals”. The letter said the T-shirt had been part of a collection to celebrate Lamu.
Loky said only 20 T-shirts, retailing for US$195 had been produced for “celebrity friends and their family”.
They would be advised not to wear them in bars and clubs, it added.
Badawy told the BBC that mosque officials were satisfied with the apology because there was “no malice” on the designer’s part, saying, “We need to forgive and be tolerant.”