South African Muhsin Hendricks is an Islamic cleric and a gay man.
He runs a foundation called The Inner Circle, which helps Muslims, who are struggling to accept their sexuality. He has come to the Netherlands to spread a simple message: “It’s okay to be Muslim and gay!”
It’s a message not everyone agrees with and the reason why Mr Hendricks is no longer officially a cleric.
Muhsin Hendricks looks a little tired. He is in the Netherlands at the invitation of the Amsterdam branch of gay rights organisation COC and he’s on a punishing schedule. There is enormous public interest in the “pink imam”, as he’s been dubbed.
But every trace of fatigue vanishes as Mushin Hendricks talks about his faith and his sexuality.
“Being Muslim and being gay are both strong identities. 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 Hendricks. He was born into an orthodox Muslim family in South Africa. His grandfather was a cleric in one of Cape Town’s most prominent mosques. Mushin discovered at an early age that he was different. He played with dolls rather than cars. He was seen as being feminine and was teased as a result. All this was long before he even knew there was such a thing as homosexuality.
Mushin Hendricks took comfort in his faith, in spite of the fact that many Muslims believe it offers no place to homosexual feelings. Sexual love between two men or two women is prohibited. It is seen as one of the worst possible sins, punishable in some Islamic countries by death.
Sodom and Gomorrah
But Muhsin Hendricks decided to discover for himself what the Qur’an has to say about homosexuality. He pursued his Islamic studies in Pakistan. “It didn’t seem fair for a very merciful and compassionate God to condemn me for something that I didn’t choose.”
Muhsin Hendricks drew a striking conclusion from his studies: nowhere does the Qur’an state that homosexuality is forbidden. Not even in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Mushin refutes the interpretation that God destroyed the cities because men had sex with one another. He argues that the cities’ residents were punished for rape, not for consensual sex between men.
The controversial cleric argues that there are even one or two Qur’an verses in which Allah acknowledges the existence of homosexuals. One example is in sura 24, verse 31. “It says that women have to put on extra clothing when they go out in public ... But not in front of those men who have no attraction for women. They must be the gay people,” he laughs.
Despite these discoveries, Mushin still did not feel able to acknowledge and openly express his own homosexual feelings. He married, and he and his wife had three children. Mushin’s wife was aware of his homosexuality but still tried to make the relationship work.
Mushin Hendricks’ knowledge of Islam and Arabic earned him respect in the mosques of Cape Town. But his feelings did not go away. After six years, his marriage ended in divorce and that was the moment when he officially came out of the closet.
His mother fainted when she heard the news that her son Mushin was gay. But little by little she is beginning to understand. Some members of the family want nothing more to do with him.
Now Mushin Hendricks has met the love of his life. His partner follows another faith – Hinduism – and has not yet come out of the closet.
Mushin’s work at the mosque came to an abrupt end. His take on the relationship between homosexuality and Islam does not rhyme with the official doctrine. He has been branded a Satanist. Although he has never been physically threatened, he has to endure much abuse and criticism.
“Imams see me as a threat to their worldview and the way they see Islam. 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.”
Muhsin Hendricks still sees himself as an Islamic cleric. With his foundation The Inner Circle he tries to help Muslims with their coming out. He gives empowerment workshops to make young people more self-aware. He will also give one here in the Netherlands: over sixty people have already signed up for it.