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Joumana Haddad

The life and times of a gay Muslim

zahed

Can you be a homosexual and a Muslim believer without the first contradicting the latter? Is true reconciliation possible between a faith that strongly condemns gays, both in theory and in practice, and the realities of the LGBTQ community in the Arab world? "Yes it is," claims French/Algerian Ph.D. researcher, activist, and writer Ludovic (Lotfi) Mohamed Zahed (born 1977), whom I met recently in Rabat, Morocco at a colloquium about feminism and religiosity versus secularism, organized by the school of Governance and Economy and the Jacques Berque center, where we were both speakers.

 

The least that can be said about Zahed, in addition to his academic rigor and his numerous intellectual assets, is that he is not a controversy-shy human being. He lives in Paris with his husband (they were married by an Imam), where he founded a first of its kind association for gay Muslims (HM2F), and where he is also the founder of a "gay friendly mosque." He is a graduate of the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure in cognitive sciences, and currently a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology of religion, on the theme of Islam and homosexuality. His first book, The Koran and the Flesh, sheds light on his life's passion: proving that a homosexual Muslim is not an oxymoron.

 

Zahed's efforts to twist the holy fence to his side, instead of jumping over it or calling it nonexistent are striking, even if it is unlikely that a groundbreaking result might stem from them. What follows is a conversation between a (very) skeptical atheist feminist, and a (very) fervent gay Muslim.

 

Joumana Haddad: You say that being gay is not incompatible with Islam, and you speak about a radically progressive Islam which would allow this compatibility. How can a gay Muslim go beyond the following words in the Quran:


"What? Of all the creatures in the world, will ye approach males, and leave those whom Allah has created for you to be your mates? Nay, ye are a people transgressing (all limits)!" (Qur'an 26:165)

 

Ludovic Mohamed Zahed: We do focus on reinterpreting the sacred texts of the Qur’an, and also the hadith, since many LGBTQ Muslims have internalized homophobia and transphobia. For instance we recall that the hadith that the Prophet said “kill the active and the passive,” is apocryphal; not talking about the fact the Prophet welcomed in his home mukhanathun (“faggots” in English) and protected them proactively from being killed. Hence there is one verse of the Qur’an saying to the people of Loth (7.80) “And Lo! (Remember) when he said unto his folk: Will ye commit abomination such as no creature ever did before you?” That is the biggest proof what the Qur’an condemns is violence, rape, thievery; not “homosexuality” per se.


Is such a description of Islamic tradition and Prophetic Sunna closer to a homophobic and misogynistic representation of Islam, or just the opposite? According to the Razor of Occam axiom, we have to honestly fulfill what our Prophet came to announce: the end of any discrimination, toward universal inclusivity and happiness that is Allah, and be part of the universal creation. Thus, what is our duty as Muslims during this 21st century: to be more homophobic than our Prophet, or to follow his holy example, building a constantly renewed, inclusive representation of our faith? What is the legacy we are going to leave for the future generations?....We can only renew our faith from within Islam, using Islamic traditional references, to free ourselves from dogmatic and political ideologies….The essence of our Islamic faith is to encourage freedom, respect of human dignity. Not understanding that is being like the fool when the wise shows the moon, constantly steering at the finger.

 

Haddad: But don't you think that such a convoluted re-interpretation of the verses and texts is just a way to create a comfort zone where you'd enjoy a clear religious conscience instead of facing your demons? Furthermore, aren’t such radical interpretations rather elitist, while the masses will keep on following a completely opposite track? How can there be real change in Islam if progression is limited to a small minority of enlightened and educated scholars who are neither heard, nor acknowledged, but even frequently condemned by fatwas?

 

Zahed: We all look for a “comfort zone;” I looked outside of Islam and I was not a bad person for sure, but then I came back to spirituality, through Buddhism first, then through the metaphysical Sufism of my Muslim ancestors. Indeed we have to share that freedom of thoughts with all our human brothers and sisters: that is the reason why it is worth it to risk my life in a certain way, to spread that message of peace, of Islam.

 

Haddad: On one hand you are violently attacked and discriminated against by many (the vast majority) of Muslims who condemn your sexual choice as "obscene and sinful." On the other hand, you are criticized by the atheist and secular gays as having opted for a "cowardly compromise with religion which is nothing but a state of denial and a big fat lie," as one of your critics puts it. Don't you find yourself in a no man's land?

 

Zahed: Just the other way around; indeed when I was lost in translation between faith and atheism, trying to convince myself that Allah does not exist because of some human beings’ violence, I truly felt in a no man’s land. Today I have the feeling I have fulfilled my liberation from every dogma, religious or not. I do not believe, at all, in what we usually call “religion.” I do believe in what we commonly call “Allah,” and that is beyond our human understanding so far.

 

Haddad: You live in Paris with your husband Qiyaam. Would this and all your other accomplishments have been possible from within your Muslim conservative homeland Algeria?

 

Zahed: In Algeria I could go to jail for up to two years for who I am. That fact is comforting in the way that I see totalitarianism and fascism related to political despotism, on this side of the Mediterranean Sea last century, and the other side of our sea this century. That has nothing to do with Islam as a spirituality per se, but with Islam as a political ideology. The way out? Secularism, or what we call in France “laïcité.”

 

Haddad: You claim that "if the Prophet Mohammed was still alive, he would marry gay couples." With all due respect to your convictions, I can't help but think that this is rather wishful thinking. What makes you so sure? I mean let's not forget that even your own marriage hasn't been recognized by the authorities?

 

Zahed: Marriage for Muslims is and always has been a social contract, established in front of two or more witnesses, accomplished under the prayers of an Imam – literally, the one who is “in front,” not the religious, despotic master. What I wanted to say is that from an Islamic point of view, it is very easy to build an inclusive representation of marriage, since for Muslims marriage is not a sacrament.

 

Haddad: What's a "gay friendly mosque" beyond the actual description? And doesn't segregating gay Muslims who want to pray from the straight bunch constitute a form of positive discrimination that is insulting to many homosexuals? Why do they need to be "apart"? This goes against integration and tolerance, don't you think?

 

Zahed: It is an “inclusive” mosque, and our Imams are not all gays or lesbians. I dream of the day when human beings shall be considered for the part of divine we have within us, instead of being categorized according to their sex, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, faith and so on. I believe that the Prophets, like our beloved Muhammad, came with a liberating message for all human beings. The Prophet proactively defended mukhanathuns from being killed; today we would say that he saved gays and transgender people from homophobia and transphobia. So yes, I do believe that if he would have come today, he would have been a revolutionary, an alternative anarchist, preaching for each and every one’s self-definition and self-determination. And today, that path goes through the freedom to marry for each and every citizen. We all are equals and each and every founding member of our inclusive mosque is more than welcome to share with all our brothers and sisters his/her understanding of life.

 

Haddad: You are a feminist yourself and you also say that being a feminist is not contradictory with Islam. What about the obvious discrimination in the sacred texts, not to mention the laws and common practices everywhere and at almost every level in the Arab world? Monotheism is intrinsically patriarchal, so how can equality be achieved in the frame of an Islam that allows men four wives, to cite but one example out of many?

 

Zahed: You think the Qur’anic descriptions of these historical events are not fair? Of course you are right and you know why? Because there is no such thing as a perfect human being. Our liberation depends on us, Allah only gave us milestones. It is indeed on oxymoron to consider Islam as a violent religion per se, and then and accuse dogmatic Muslims of making of Islam a violent religion. The only way I see to get out from that axiological trap, whether you are a believer or not, is to consider that our liberation depends only from us.

 

***

 

Ludovic and I closed the debate rather transformed. I confess I became even more skeptical towards a possible harmony between monotheist religions and a long list of basic human rights; and I am almost certain he became even more fervent about his own faith and convictions. But we were both more interested in a respectful and creative exchange of ideas rather than in the often sterile convincing game. And most importantly, beyond my impression that his Don Quixote-esque fight is more a utopian vision than an applicable, spreadable and viable project, there is and always will be one fundamental principle we will always share and struggle for, whether from his side of the battle or mine: the firm belief that homosexuals and women (and all other discriminated minorities out there) are entitled to dignity and respect as much as any heterosexual Arab man.

 

Follow the author on Twitter @joumana333

Ludovic Mohamed Zahed with his partner. (Image courtesy of Joumana Haddad)

“The Prophet proactively defended mukhanathuns from being killed; today we would say that he saved gays and transgender people from homophobia and transphobia.”

  • Metnman

    "A colloquium about feminism and religiosity versus secularism". Zzzzzzzzzzz

    May 19, 2013