‘Europe’s first gay-friendly mosque’ sparks controversy
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A Muslim prayer centre, which has been dubbed Europe’s first gay-friendly mosque, opened in Paris this week. Its founder described it as the first step in breaking “prejudices in Islam”, but it has been criticised by religious leaders.
The opening of what has been dubbed Europe’s first gay-friendly mosque in Paris has been condemned by some of the city’s Muslim leaders for going “against the spirit of Islam”.
But the prayer room located in the eastern suburbs of Paris is not supported by any formal Muslim institution and many imams in France oppose it.
Against the rules of islam?
Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grande Mosqueé in Paris, told FRANCE 24 that the opening of a new place of prayer for gay Muslims goes against the rules of Islam.
“The mosques that are already there accept everyone so creating one specifically for homosexuals is against the spirit of Islam. Worshippers go to a mosque to worship god, they don’t go to demonstrate their sexuality,” Boubakeur said. “This is an abuse of the definition of a mosque.”
Boubakeur argues that Islam’s rules on homosexuality were unambiguous.
“Homosexuality is condemned in 13 verses of the Koran. The only sexual relationship that is legitimate is between married men and women”, he said, though acknowledging that it is against Islam to be homophobic.
Abdallah Zekri, president of an organisation which monitors Islamophic attacks for the French Council of Muslims, also criticised the move. “We know that homosexual Muslims exist but opening a mosque (for them) is an aberration,” he said.
'Radically inclusive mosque'
Accepting homosexual Muslims is not the only religious taboo the new mosque will break, with the usual rules on separating men from women also to be sidelined.
The mosque’s founder, French-Algerian gay rights activist and practicing Muslim Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, will also encourage women to lead Friday prayers.
“It’s a radically inclusive mosque, a mosque where people can come as they are,” Zahed, 35 told Reuters.
Zahed has already proved he is not afraid to risk a backlash in his own religious community by breaking with Islamic custom. He made headlines in April this year when he became the first French man to marry another man in a Muslim religious ceremony.
Speaking to FRANCE 24 shortly after that ceremony Zahed, an expert on the Koran, boldly said: “I am sure that if the Prophet Mohamed was still alive, he would marry gay couples”.
Zahed is hoping the prayer room is just the beginning, and he eventually aims to create a cultural centre and library.
“This is just the first step in a long-term struggle to deconstruct prejudices within Islam in France,” he said in an interview with the BBC.
While a handful of gay-friendly mosques now exist in Canada, South Africa and the United States, Zahed believes his project is breaking new boundaries in France and Europe.
His desire to set up the mosque was motivated by a need to find a fixed gay-friendly prayer space for members of his fledgling association Homosexual Muslims of France, which has rapidly expanded since it was set up two years ago. It now boasts over 300 members.
Those likeminded Muslims clearly appreciate having their own place of worship, with one of the prayer leaders at the new mosque saying that hostility to gay Muslims had prompted many to quit the faith. “France sorely lacks a space like this,” the 38-year-old told Reuters, asking not to be named.
“Being homosexual and Muslim is borderline schizophrenic,” said another prayer leader.
The response from some of France’s Muslim leaders may not surprise Zahed, who is concerned about the reaction among more fanatical members of the Muslim community.
Although French authorities are not aware of any threats being made against him, he is anxious enough about the safety of worshippers to keep the mosque’s location secret.