Diversity of Sexuality in Islam: Interview with Imam Muhsin Hendricks

Article excerpt

Krondorfer: Muhsin, you are residing and working in Cape Town, South Africa, as an Imam. You founded an organization called The Inner Circle, which empowers and supports gay Muslims and their allies. One website summarily states that The Inner Circle "strategically fights homophobia by creating awareness on issues of gender and sexuality in the Muslim community." In your work, you want to counteract certain "orthodox interpretations of the Quran and the prophetic teachings," which force Muslims to decide "between Islam and their sexuality." (1) Please tell us about your current work as an Imam and about the community where you feel spiritually at home.

Hendricks: I have never consciously planned to work as an Imam, as a leader in the community who serves his people. My intention with studying an Imam course was to get the necessary background knowledge in order to do my independent research on Islam and sexual diversity. However, I find myself doing my Imam work among the queer Muslim community, leading prayers for them, counseling them, and responding to their religious needs. This is all done within our organization The Inner Circle, which has become the mosque and social space for queer Muslims. It is very recent that The Inner Circle has started its own Friday Congregational Prayers for people who feel marginalized by mainstream Muslims.

I am often called to do workshops on Islam and sexual diversity in different parts of the world, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Indonesia, and Turkey. The need for the work I do stretches beyond the borders of South Africa.

Krondorfer: As Imam, you have asked questions about the inclusiveness and exclusiveness of sexual identities in the Muslim community. You have stated that within the non-heterosexual Muslim community, some have moved from accepting themselves as Muslims who are sexually diverse to a position that ponders the possibility of same-sex marriage. How controversial is such a position today? How much support do you get from your fellow Muslims?

Hendricks: I have just recently gotten married myself. I have mentioned it to the media locally and internationally, and there was no backlash. This can be attributed to three things: either the community is ready to engage with sexual diversity, they do not want to make public their disgust for homosexuality, or they prefer to disengage for fear of being politically incorrect. However, I do not think that the Muslim community has the answers for homosexuality and therefore prefers to remain silent on the topic. I am speaking mostly about Imams. They would make a lot of noise about homosexuality in the mosques and in their own circles but very little in public. There are progressive Muslim scholars who accept homosexuality in Islam with substantiation, but they are also not vocal about it for fear of backlash from their communities. However, we have seen in the last few years more and more progressive Muslim scholars being vocal about their perception and interpretation of homosexuality within Islam. Most of these progressive scholars are women, though. The Islamic scholar who led my marriage ceremony was a woman.

Krondorfer: The Qur'an, as a sacred text, is divine revelation. It seems that any discussion about sexuality in Islam would have to be grounded within the authoritative power of the Qur'an. Is there room within Qur'anic reasoning to argue for samesex unions? What surahs, or passages, would you rely on for strengthening your arguments?

Hendricks: Yes, there are a few verses in the Qur'an that makes room for same-sex relationships. The Qur'an is clear. Take surah 30:21: "And among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect." So the Qur'an dispels the notion that two people settle together for procreation. …