He’s on a visit to Holland to spread his controversial message that the Qur’an doesn’t say homosexuality is wrong.
In Holland they’re calling him the “pink imam”. Muhsin Hendricks looks a little tired. Invited on a Dutch tour by gay rights organisation COC, he’s met with huge public interest, and he’s on a busy schedule. But he soon livens up when he starts talking about his faith and his sexuality.
“Being Muslim and being gay are both strong identities," he says. "And I think that they are both innate identities for me. So somewhere along the line I had to reconcile the two.”
This was far from easy for Muhsin. He was born into an orthodox Muslim family in South Africa. His grandfather was a cleric at one of Cape Town’s main mosques.
Muhsin, now aged 41, knew at an early age that he was different. He played with dolls rather than cars, and was teased for being feminine. All this was long before he even knew there was such a thing as homosexuality.
But he took comfort in his faith – even though most Muslims believe Islam says sexual love between two men or two women is wrong. In fact, it’s seen as one of the worst possible sins, punishable in some Islamic countries by death.
Muhsin Hendricks decided to find out for himself what the Qur’an has to say about homosexuality. “It didn’t seem fair for a very merciful and compassionate God to condemn me for something that I didn’t choose,” he says.
He travelled to Pakistan to study Islam. There he came to a striking conclusion: in the Qur’an it doesn’t actually say anywhere that homosexuality is forbidden. Not even in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. There are even one or two Qur’an verses in which Allah acknowledges the existence of homosexuals, he argues.
Muhsin still didn’t feel he could be open about his homosexual feelings. He got married, and he and his wife had three children. She knew about his homosexuality but still tried to make the relationship work.
But after six years, his marriage ended in divorce. That was when he decided to come out of the closet.
Muhsin’s mother fainted when she heard that her son was gay. But little by little she’s beginning to understand.
Now Muhsin has met the man who is the love of his life. His partner follows another faith – Hinduism – and has not yet come out of the closet.
Muhsin was respected in the mosques of Cape Town because of his knowledge of Islam and Arabic. But now he’s had to stop his work at the mosque. He’s been branded a Satanist. Although he’s never been physically threatened, he’s had to take a lot of abuse and criticism.
“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.”
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