When I was growing up queer and Muslim in Somalia, struggling to understand how my sexuality harmonized with my faith, I never knew there would be a day in my lifetime when there would be gay imams who were open about their sexuality and led their communities with honesty and dignity. That day is here. More and more there are openly gay imams popping up. Some you might know from the media, others might be new to you, but they do exist.
Some of these men have fully operational mosques, others are meeting a few days a week or even once a week, and some may not even call themselves “imam,” but what they all have in common is that they are spiritually leading LGBT Muslims into accepting themselves with the understanding that Islam is really free from homophobia.
1. UNITED STATES: Daayiee Abdullah
The concept of a gay imam is so foreign to the American mainstream psyche that Daayiee Abdullah has so far been featured all over the media in places like The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Al-Jazeera, among others. “Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. And because of the necessity in our community, that’s why I came into this particular role,” he told Al-Jazeera, talking about how he was thrown into being an imam when all the local imams refused to give a gay Muslim the last rites, forcing the scholar to step in. “Being an openly gay imam and having been identified as such, I do get a lot of feedback and also kickback, but that’s OK. I think that when people are unfamiliar with things, they tend to have an emotional knee-jerk reaction to it.”
2. SOUTH AFRICA: Muhsin Hendricks
In the late 1990s, Muhsin Hendricks came out to his community and started Al Fitrah (The Natural), an organization he believed would help LGBT Muslims understand their natural sexuality is okay with Allah. Today, over 15 years later, his community has grown hugely. The Inner Circle, which is another organization he started, has organized many international conferences, published material, and allows him to participate in the overall discussion on Islam and homosexuality around the world. “We can never change the Koran, but we can change our interpretation of it,” he told Qantara, the German portal that works in the intercultural dialogue between Islam and Germany. “Today, we live in a different world than over a thousand years ago. We have to look at the Koran again and see how Islam can become a mercy for a part of the community that is suffering at the moment.”
3. FRANCE: Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed
When he was a teenager in Algeria, Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed became so depressed about the reconciliation between his sexuality and faith that he left Islam. Years later, armed with more information, he returned to the faith. This time around, he decided to make a change. “Today in France, gay teenagers are almost 15 times more likely than those who are straight to kill themselves because of their sexual orientation,” he wrote in The Guardian, explaining why he started a gay-friendly mosque in Paris. “Left deeply bruised by this fact, I decided to create an association in support of gay French Muslims, which launched in 2010. This eventually led me to plan an inclusive mosque in Paris – the first of its kind. It is a project born after a long personal journey.”
4. CANADA: El-Farouk Khaki
In 1993, El-Farouk Khaki started what ended up being the first support group for LGBT Muslims in Canada. Salaam Canada is now one of the major organizations in the Muslim community who are giving people alternative information to the traditional, and generally homophobic, perspective. The El-Tawhid Juma Circle, which is a gender-equal and LGBTQ affirming space for Friday prayers, was created in 2009, and Khaki has been one of the imams at their local mosque in Toronto. “It’s always a challenge for a gay person to come to terms with any faith,” he told The Star. “Why would God create gay men to be second-class citizens? Why did he create them only to have them condemned?”
5. GERMANY: Rahal Eks
Rahal Eks is the author of several memoirs, including the upcoming “On the Path of the Friend,” in which he details his encounter with Sufism and how it changed his life. Since the mid 1990s, he has been leading Sufi evenings on Thursdays in Morocco, Spain, and Germany. Like his teachers, who are from three different schools of Sufism, he never saw a conflict between sexuality and Islam. “I was very lucky by having encountered some Sufi teachers, whose ideas about Islam and homosexuality were rather progressive and accepting, who explained things to me in a different light than the average fossilized Mullah,” he told me in my book Queer Jihad. “Combined with my happy years living in the Arab World, and having enjoyed wonderful relationships, I managed to achieve a harmonic integrity of all my aspects where spirituality and sensuality form a holistic totality, not being fragmented or at war. Plus, I also love and accept myself, which is really a vital point and a must. So I think the main credit for achieving this must go to the Sufi Tradition, as it really is the main helper and positive impact.”
Note: There are several others in Muslim-majority countries, but they have been excluded from this list to make sure their safety is not compromised. If you are aware of them, please do not mention them in the comments section. Thank you.
Afdhere Jama is the author of Queer Jihad: LGBT Muslims on Coming Out, Activism, and the Faith. He lives in the United States.