Mosque Du Jour!
An empowering Spirituality or a superficial appearance oriented world?
(Photo Bruno Charoy for Libération.fr)
By Yazan MJ
What if we combined “Islam” and “homosexuality” together forming an infinite controversy? Would those two words go together? Or soldiers of Islamophobia and homophobia would be pilling around? Religion has always been an immeasurably great subject and un-boundless to many cultures. No kidd’n! But what one wonders is, is there a room for a higher number of religious people without focusing on the appearance or the inner sexual orientation, when coming to religion? Or is the world too busy with fighting over the differences between ideologies without embracing the mutual ground, humanity and diversity? Maybe!
Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, an Algerian-born-French gay Muslim activist, broke all traditions and religious codes with his gay-friendly, and what I like to call feminist, Mosque! A Mosque located in the center of Paris, far from where it might be impossible admitting so in the Middle East. A Mosque that is formed in a small room inside the house of a Buddhist monk that doesn’t ostracize a single person. “Many gay men don’t go to the mosque because they don’t want to be recognised,” Zahed tells the BBC. Makes you wonder, how many Mosques welcomes gay acting people, transgendered and transsexuals? Almost none-existent! It empowers women to lead the prayer, it allows them to pray with men and not to mention, praying without wearing a headscarf!
Building a gay-friendly and a feminist mosque is a bold step filled with controversies. Some people may think that you’re sent by Islam haters to castrate the image of Islam by those acts and detract the sanctity of Islam. How does that make you feel?
When my husband and I got married, some people online were saying that we were paid by the Jews to corrupt Islam but it is just what it is, conspiracy theories. People should learn to do research and thinking for themselves instead of just taking what others say and then going with it. I feel that it is actually sad that people believe so firmly in conspiracy theories.
The target of praying in a mosque in lines beside each other is to strengthen the bond between Muslim brothers without discriminating between races, origins or social classes. Would your addition of women, gays and Trans achieve this target of nondiscrimination on the long run or it would just fuel clashes and violence since homosexuality is known to be against religions in general?
I think it is impossible to say what will happen in the future but we hope for and work towards the best. Men pray in lines in mosques everyday and still there is discrimination between races, origins or social classes amongst them. It is not uncommon to sometimes see an area or city that has more than one mosque but the Pakistanis would frequent the one while the North Africans would frequent another etc. homosexuality is not against religion, religion or rather religious interpretations of the texts is what is against homosexuality.
Islam asks women to wear headscarf when they reach puberty. But doesn’t that contrast what you are promoting, since you allow women who do not wear it to come and pray?
The connection with Allah, the spirituality, is what is important.
There are women who are unveiled but when they pray they cover their body except face and hands as a respect for the mosque’s sanctity. Don’t you think every place has a certain dress code, such as when you go to a wedding men wear suits and women dresses?
Some people say that women cover up to respect the sanctity of the mosque while others say that it is to protect them against the gazes of men and the list goes on. We, on the other hand say that they should dress how they feel comfortable. If they want to dress Islamically, they are allowed to do so and if they don’t want to, no one will force them to. After all, it is an inclusive mosque.
What is the dress code for men and women entering the mosque?
People dress as they feel comfortable. Some women would have a scarf on and others not. The men dress like the majority of people dress when they go to mosque; in a pants or jeans along with a shirt or t-shirt etc.
Considering the Cathedral of Córdoba in Spain, which is now a Catholic Christian Cathedral and formerly a medieval Islamic mosque, and since the early 2000s, Spanish Muslims have lobbied the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the cathedral. The Muslim campaign has been rejected on multiple occasions, by both Spanish Catholic authorities, and the Vatican. My question is, are people from other religions allowed to participate?
Yes, people from different walks of life are welcome to participate in our activities, if they so wish.
In Iran, transsexual individuals were officially recognized by the government and allowed to undergo sex reassignment surgery in the mid-1980s. So they are supposed to be respected now and have their right to go to mosque. Though they face society’s stigma. Do you think your mosque will be an inspiration to countries like Iran one day?
In fact, we hope that our mosque will be an inspiration to any country.
Islam allowed sex change for men who have more feminine hormones than masculine and vice versa for women. What is your opinion about transsexuals who choose to have a sex change without a hormonal imbalance? And do you include them in your mosque
Yes, transsexuals are included in our mosque. Being transsexual is not about having too much female hormones in the man or male hormones in the woman. It is about someone who feels that his/her sexual organ does not fit what they feel inside. Some transsexuals are gay and some are straight. Hence, you will sometimes find the man who became a woman but still dates women or the woman who became a man and still date men. There is a difference between sex and gender, sex is the physical body, if it has a penis, it is called man, if it has a vagina, it is called woman. When someone has a penis, he is expected by society to act, walk, talk and behave a certain way just like in the case of someone who has a vagina. Gender is on the inside, how you feel about yourself and sexuality. It is also about your mannerisms, so for example, you will get someone with a penis who is effeminate or someone with a vagina who is masculine.
“…it is believed that if a man and woman touch each other, while in a state of wudhu, their wudhu breaks. Where do gay people fit in here? If a gay man is standing next to another man in the mosque or touches him, does that break his wudhu?”
In Islam, women and men pray separately for reasons of modesty, as God has created attraction between man and woman. What’s your opinion toward such matter, due to the concept of the mosque?
In certain Islamic schools of thought, like the Shafi’i mathab for example, it is believed that if a man and woman touch each other, while in a state of wudhu, their wudhu breaks. Where do gay people fit in here? If a gay man is standing next to another man in the mosque or touches him, does that break his wudhu? There is not just attraction between a man and a woman but also between a man and a man and a woman and a woman. In our inclusive mosque, we feel that it is only fair to let everyone be equal.
Homosexuals are inclusive to Islamophobes, and Muslims are inclusive to homophobes. What are the procedures and policies you follow to protect yourself and those who attend the mosque, from those phobes which are doubled because of those two identities?
We don’t give the exact location to just anyone because many of the people who come to the mosque has found a safe space there, where they are able to relax, be themselves and focus on their spirituality which is ultimately the most important thing. Giving the exact location to just anyone would spoil that space for them.
Do you get support from the LGBTQ community in France and Europe?
Yes, to a certain extent. However there is a lot of Islamophobia that we have to deal with, from them, as well.
Growing up as a Muslim and gay is challenging, sometimes depressing and extremely hard on people who didn’t get the support or the space to think. What is your message toward gays who are having conflicts about maintaining their Islam and being gay?
My message to them would be short and simple; firstly, they must get the proper information about their sexuality and who they are from the correct sources so that they can accept themselves as they are. The reason I say correct sources is because many people who are against homosexuality will convince them that they are wrong which will further depress them. It is like asking a policeman, instead of a brain surgeon, how to perform a brain surgery. Secondly, they should look at different interpretations of Islam and not just one. Islam is not a totalitarian system that tries to force a fascist identity; it is about peace and spirituality.
A lot of gay Muslims converted to atheism or chose to remain agnostic after struggling with the pressure of being a gay Muslim. What is your comment about this since you were an ex Buddhist?
The reason I explored with Buddhism was because spirituality is very important to me, and because I could not make peace with my sexuality and my Islamic faith when I was younger, I decided to try out Buddhism.
I was looking for that spirituality and peace that we all need. After a while I saw that they also have followers who are not accepting of homosexuality as some of them believe that gay men were bad women in their previous life and as punishment, they are gay in this life. I felt that it was better to deal with the prejudices of my religion and community that I was born into, instead of adopting another religion and then dealing with those prejudices that I face with them. I then decided to get back to Islam and during my Hajj, I reconnected with Allah. As time went on, I realized that there is more than one way to look at religion and that Salafism, the face of Islam that I thought to be the only true one, is just one face of Islam. As far as gay Muslims that are becoming atheists is concerned, I feel that everyone has the right to believe what they want to believe or disbelieve want they want to disbelieve. At the end of the day, it is about where each person feels the most comfortable. At the same time, through the work that I do, I try to reach out to them as well so that they can see that there is a place for them in Islam.
Isn’t there a civil marriage that accepts the idea of marrying couples from the same sex. Why did you dare the world and had “the first Islamic gay marriage”?
There is a law that allows civil partnerships (pacs) but it does not give the same rights as a marriage. I don’t think that same sex couples should be subjected to anything less than what they deserve. We all deserve to be able to get married to the person we love, as long as we are of age and of sane mind, and ready to take that step in our lives. Marriage is a basic human right and when homosexuals ask for the right to be able to get married, they are not asking for special rights but rather the same rights as their fellow citizens. My marriage to my husband was not to dare the world or anyone else. It was to have a public commitment, like anyone has when they get married, in front of family and friends and because we are both Muslim, we felt the need to have the religious blessings of an Imam. In fact we are legally married under South African law as gay marriage is legal there. In any case, because our marriage is not recognized by French law yet, we are not allowed to do the “pacs” as his documents show that he is married to me in South Africa. In order to do the “pacs”, your papers must show that you are single.
Is it that crucial to build a gay-friendly mosque? Don’t you believe that relationship with God should be private? Won’t that save all the trouble?
I believe that it is crucial to have a gay-friendly/inclusive mosque as many people who identify as gay do not feel comfortable in a mosque. To name a few things; Last year there was a transgendered woman who died and no Imam wanted to bury her. I am sure that this is not the only case. What will happen the next time a transgendered Muslim dies? When my husband visited the mosque in Paris for the first time, a man came up to him and pulled on his earrings and told him, in front of many others, that earrings are just for women and not for men. He practically insulted him in public. Through my work, I have met lots of gay Muslims who have been thrown out of their local mosques or lost their posts at Islamic organizations because they were gay or supported our struggle for equality. Also, sometimes, the Imam would give his interpretation of homosexuality in a Friday sermon and this would cause many gay people present in the mosque to feel alienated and judged. Who can focus on his/her spirituality if they feel like that in a place of worship where they should feel part of a community? Imagine sitting in a mosque and having your inner self indirectly condemned to hell.
Yes, a relationship with God is a private matter. However, it is also important for humans to have a sense of belonging, hence, people go to a place of worship and because many gay people feel discriminated against in mosques, because of certain interpretations of scripture, they feel the need to have an alternative space and that is what we offer.
“Stand up for what you believe in, even if it means standing alone”. Does this quote describe your personality accurately?
I do believe that standing up for what you believe in is important, even if you stand alone. As a youngster, I did not have any support to help me with reconciling my faith with my sexuality and now that I have been able to reconcile, I feel it is important for me to help others going through the same or similar issues.
Would you like to visit Jordan specifically and Middle East generally? Maybe give a Friday’s prayer with introducing the new perception of the mosque or a bit about equality?
Yes, I would inch’Allah.
Watch a gay-friendly ‘mosque’ opens in Paris