Europe, Globe, Human Rights, Politics, United Kingdom

Muslim and gay: Minority twice over

This progressive imam is convinced that the rejection faced by homosexuals in the majority of  mosques in the West comes from the manipulation by a fundamentalist minority that has nothing to do with the teachings of the Koran.


Noelia Ceballos Terrén


He was thrust into the media when he became the first imam in Europe to marry a man and to found the first inclusive mosque for Muslim LGBT people in Europe. Since starting out in 2011, Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed has ensured that his house of worship also attracts heterosexual Muslims who appreciate his tolerant and progressive readings.

Inspired by other similar occurrences in the United States and South Africa, the “alternative” religious leader, as he describes himself, believes that the modern reading of the Koran is going to continue to spread in popularity, although it may take a couple of decades to win over the majority of the Muslim community.

During his meeting with The Prisma he complained about some “self-proclaimed”, minority religious authorities who manage to persuade people that they represent the majority, and spread a dogmatic, backwards message amongst the Muslim diaspora in Europe.

Homophobia, he explains, is a reaction of fear by an immigrant community that feels threatened. This represents a danger to the emotional and physical security of many gay Muslims who don’t dare to reveal their identity.

Is Islam homophobic?

Sociologically it is only Muslims who can form a representation of Islam. Islam itself cannot have opinions concerning social issues like gay marriage. To be homosexual and Muslim is possible. It is a sociological fact. You can’t say that “Muslims are all homophobic”, as I often hear. Homophobia exists all over, above all in communities that feel in danger and need to prove their identity by asserting virile masculinity. Religion is used to ideological ends.

What does the Koran say about homosexuality?

The Koran has never spoken about homosexuality. It is a modern idea, invented in the XIX century by Western psychiatrists. Islam speaks about sexual relations between people of the same sex in the contexts of war, violence and ritual rape. The Koran often cites the town of Lot, and the verses always condemn violence, theft, rape and piracy. However, some dogmatic Muslims say that homosexuals are unbalanced – and sometimes vicious – deviants.

According to tradition, the Prophet would choose androgynous men to serve his wives, who wouldn’t cover their heads in their presence, as they would feel no desire for them.

During that period they were much more inclusive than some imams today, who use religion to totalitarian ends.

But in the West Islam is seen as an intolerant religion. 

Muslims are people who lack education, economic freedom and work. There is also a lot of racism in Europe towards those from Africa and Arabic societies. When different economic, cultural and religious factors come together, you can’t say, “it’s only down to religion”. In built up areas, there are equal numbers of Muslim homophobes and atheist homophobes of European origin.

A generational factor also exists. Statistics from France show that there is less homophobia amongst young Arab-Muslims (25%), than there was in the previous generation (75%).

There is also a socio-professional factor. A Moroccan worker who has worked in a factory for thirty years, learned during the colonial period that homosexuality was bad, and now the same ex-colonizers tell him to accept it. This takes time.

Finally, there is the racist and islamophobic factor. When you become part of a community that the rest of the nation can’t wait to attack, you close yourself up.

Are these more tolerant waves present in Europe?

We are assembling a network of mosques all around France. This is all changing, but I believe that it will take some twenty years to have a majority of Muslims who understand that their cultural and religious heritage doesn’t oblige them to be homophobic.

Your religion doesn’t have such a closed hierarchy as Catholicism. So why don’t more initiatives like yours arise? 

It is very fortunate that we don’t have a clergy because it gives us a certain open-mindedness. But religion can also strengthen political power like nothing else, and that is its danger. There will continue to be initiatives like ours, but it will take time. You mustn’t forget that it is dangerous to say that you are a gay imam; it’s a question of survival.

 Were you threatened when you opened your mosque?

We received some threats, but we had much more support. It really surprised me to see that lots of people said to us, “You are the true Islam”, even though the religious authorities unanimously condemned all of our actions.

The majority of Muslims think that you have to condemn the sin not the sinner.

That is what the Catholic Church has repeated for years. These days, dogmatic imams, the majority of whom we unfortunately see on television, adopt the same attitude as the West, whilst they simultaneously condemn it. For me, that’s schizophrenia. It’s of ten forgotten that this argument came about in the West in the XIX century, not in the Arabic world.

It doesn’t have anything to do with Islam; it is a kind of political protection for the self-proclaimed elite, who say that marriage is only between a man and a woman. According to tradition it isn’t a sacrament but a social contract that anyone can enter into.

Do gay Muslims suffer for being minorities, as much in Islam as in the LGBT community?

Those I’ve interviewed tell me that, effectively, they suffer homophobia in the Muslim community and amongst their families. They also suffer islamophobia and racism in the LGBT community. We are minorities twofold. However, when someone comes out, like me, it is a great victory. Then you realise that the homophobic Muslims and the racist LGBTs are similar: they are afraid of diversity.

What kind of pressures and violence do they suffer?

The same as in other social groups. Starting with verbal violence. But if they’re also Muslims, they also suffer islamophobia and racism. Yet, there are people who use religion dogmatically to justify the violence. The most violent are the non-practitioners who usually have an issue with their own masculinity. However, women practitioners generally don’t have a problem, regardless of whether they agree or not; tolerance exists in all parts.

What psychological effects can this violence give rise to?

Depression, isolation and suicide. In France there are 15 times more suicides amongst young, gay people than amongst heterosexuals. They are the consequences of “infra-humanization”, to make people believe that they are inferior.

If you think that homosexuals are a threat to the masculine identity or even the national identity, like in Uganda, you are going to try to demonize these people, creating illnesses that don’t exist. Homosexuality was considered a mental illness in Europe up until the 70s and 80s.

Do they have to cut their familial ties in order to live a life in which they can express their sexuality freely?

Some yes, when the family is very traditional. You have to remember that Arab-Muslims who live in Europe these days maintain the idea that marriage has to take place within the ‘tribe’, of the social group of origin, because the diasporas are in political difficulty.

What do you think of the ‘therapies’ to ‘treat’ homosexuality?

As a psychologist I can tell you that they are useless. You cannot change sexuality. Genetics, education and our relationships are factors that influence our sexuality, and nobody can rewrite their history, even though they may consciously choose to do that. What we can do is choose how we express it. What these therapies lead to are suicide attempts, depression and identity crises concerning what they are. It’s very dangerous. (The Prisma’ memoirs. 19 October, 2014 – Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed: It’s dangerous to be a gay Imam”)

Photos: Pixabay  –  (Translated by Eleanor Gooch)

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