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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 25, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 08
Not a sin to be Gay, South African imam says
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Not a sin to be Gay, South African imam says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Muhsin Hendricks is an imam and a Gay man.

He says he sees no contradiction between the two.

Speaking in the Netherlands at the invitation of the LGBT rights organization COC, Hendricks told Radio Netherlands reporters 'Being Muslim and being Gay are both strong identities. And I think that they are both innate identities for me. So somewhere along the line I had to reconcile the two.'

Known in his own country as the 'Pink Imam,' Hendricks runs a foundation called The Inner Circle, which helps Muslims who are struggling to accept their sexuality.

The message is simple, he says.

'It's okay to be Muslim and Gay!'

It's a message not everyone agrees with - especially other Muslim clerics - and Hendricks has been barred from his official responsibilities by other imams.

Hendricks was born into an orthodox Muslim family in South Africa. His grandfather was a cleric in one of Cape Town's most prominent mosques.

Hendricks says he discovered at an early age that he was different. He played with dolls rather than cars. He was seen as effeminate and was teased as a result.

In spite of the fact that many Muslims believe their religion condemns Gay sex, and many Muslim countries punish Gay people with death, Hendricks decided to discover for himself what the Quran had to say about homosexuality.

Hendricks says he was skeptical of the usual view that Islam condemns Gay people.

'It didn't seem fair for a very merciful and compassionate God to condemn me for something that I didn't choose,' he says.

Hendricks drew a striking conclusion from his religious studies - nowhere does the Quran state that homosexuality is forbidden.

Not even in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, Hendricks says. He argues that the cities' residents were punished for rape, not for consensual sex between men.

According to Hendricks, there are even one or two Quran verses in which Allah acknowledges the existence of Gay people.

One example is in sura 24, verse 31. 'It says that women have to put on extra clothing when they go out in public ... but not in front of those men who have no attraction for women. They must be the Gay people,' he laughs.

Despite these discoveries, Hendricks says he still did not feel able to acknowledge and openly express his own sexual feelings.

He married, and he and his wife had three children. Hendricks says his wife knew he is Gay, but still tried to make the relationship work.

After six years, his marriage ended in divorce and at that moment he decided to come out to his family.

His mother fainted when he told her.

But little by little, Hendricks says, she is beginning to understand. Other members of the family want nothing more to do with him.

Neither do many members of South Africa's Muslim establishment.

'Imams see me as a threat to their worldview and the way they see Islam,' he says.

'I don't feel they should be threatened. It's just another view that I would invite them to look at. My view allows Queer Muslims to continue being Muslim but also to accept themselves for who they are.'

In 1996 he established The Inner Circle. The group runs weekly study circles for Gay Muslims to understand an affirming Islamic view of their sexuality.

The group's website also includes an 'Ask a Scholar' feature that allows Muslims to seek the advice of religious scholars on 'the issue of Islam, gender, and sexual diversity.'

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