A pioneering gay imam is teaching South African Muslims about sexuality and gender identity in Islam during the coronavirus pandemic.
Imam Muhsin Hendricks, 53, was one of the first imams in the world to publicly come out as gay in 1998, according to Reuters, and he has made it his mission to start conversations about LGBT+ issues in Islam.
In 2004 he founded The Inner Circle, a human rights organisation based in Cape Town which helps “Muslims who are queer to reconcile Islam with their sexuality” and gender identity.
He also runs workshops for imams across Africa, helping them to develop an inclusive understanding of gender and sexuality within Islam.
He explained: “It involves a re-examining of what it means to be Muslim…I focus on compassion, values, faith more than the rituals and sects that divide us.
“A lot of unlearning needs to be done [but] it is amazing what the imams come up with.
“They bring in research and context and match it with the religious text, and there are these ‘aha!’ moments.”
This work is vital in Africa, where homosexuality is still illegal in 32 out of 54 nations, and South Africa is the only country in the continent that allows same-sex marriage.
But when the coronavirus pandemic began, Hendricks feared that his workshops would have to stop.
He said: “It is such a challenge to give hope when people are experiencing loneliness, financial loss and low self-esteem in the time of COVID. But we had to pull it off.”
Hendricks managed to alter the workshops, running online sessions for imams in other countries and socially distanced meetings for those in South Africa.
The experience has taught him, he said, the importance of continuing dialogue while remaining safe.
He said: “Lets be safe, wash hands, wear masks, but let’s not stop engaging. If we continue to do what we need to do, we will make it.”
Earlier this month, Hendricks joined hundreds of religious leaders around the world in signing a declaration organised by the Ozanne Foundation saying that LGBT+ people “are a precious part of creation” and calling for a global ban on conversion therapy.