The call to prayer should welcome all Muslims, including gay Muslims, according to an openly gay imam in Cape Town. To many, the values of Islam and the rights of the LGBTQI community are incompatible, but Muhsin Hendricks has created a safe space for prayer, reflection and embracing all gender identities.
Hendricks opened Cape Town’s first gay mosque five years ago as a safe haven, away from the clash between religion and gay rights. The city is popular among gay travelers, but has been less welcome to those born there. It can be especially difficult for queer Muslims.
“There is this love-hate relationship from the Muslim community,” Hendricks told news agency AFP. “Sometimes they feel that I should be thrown from the highest mountain, and sometimes they appreciate that there is one imam who is willing to work with people who they are unwilling to work with.”
The mosque welcomes worshipers like a local art teacher recovering from a “corrective” ritual aimed at “curing” him of his homosexuality. A young woman from the Middle East, who asked not be named fearing reprisals in her home country, also came to the mosque to discuss a more inclusive approach to Islam. Many are still unwilling to accept this view.
“How can you be homosexual? It is forbidden,” said an imam from a nearby mosque. “And it is your duty as an imam or as a Muslim to go and speak to them and say ‘no, it cannot be.’” Around 1.5% of South Africa’s population of 53 million is Muslim and Cape Town is home to about 300,000 Muslims, according to the AFP.
Hendricks came out at the age of 29, after being married to a woman for six years. The fashion designer turned imam and Muslim scholar has been driven by questions of what his god really thinks of Islam.
Before opening the mosque, Hendricks founded The Inner Circle in 1996, an organization that seeks to reconcile the teachings of Islam with homosexuality and transexuality. But turning his garage into a safe space for LGBTQI Muslims then, and the publicity that followed, led to his expulsion from a traditional mosque.
“This is who I am and if that means I am going to be killed because of my authenticity, then that is how I choose to meet God,” said Hendricks, now 48. He is determined to “establish a movement that can respond to patriarchy and Islamic extremism.” The imam has invited queer Muslims around the world to join him.