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Tuesday 2 September  
Habibi Ana bar in Amsterdam
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Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam, Netherlands

World's only gay bar for Muslims is closing

Published on : 1 March 2013 - 5:29pm | By (© ANP)
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Closing down

Habibi Ana, the only ‘official’ gay bar in the world for Muslims, is being closed down because it has broken Amsterdam’s licensing regulations.

Bars in Amsterdam lose their licence after three infringements. Habibi Ana has broken the rules more than three times according to Amsterdam city council, so it has to close from 2 March 2013.

Habibi Ana is a place where you can forget about feeling ashamed of your homosexuality. Where you can flirt or date with people like you. For years this bar in Amsterdam has been the place to be for gay Muslims. But it all ends on Saturday night. Amsterdam city council is closing Habibi Ana down – for breaking noise regulations.

By Raja Felgata

Turkish, Egyptian and Moroccan gays and lesbians all make their way to this eccentric café. It’s more than just a place to socialise. Young people from different Arab cultures come for the opportunity to talk about their struggle with their identity and the fear of coming out. Straight during the day, gay behind the closed doors of Habibi Ana.

The bar’s founder Atef Salib initially had doubts about opening the business. “But someone has to take the first step,” he says. “I wanted to bring homosexuality into the open in Arab circles. I opened in 2001, and we took part in Gay Pride with an Arabian Nights boat. We didn’t want to stay hidden anymore, we wanted to break the taboo.”

Gay in secret
“In Egypt, where I come from, homosexuality isn’t supposed to exist – it’s not allowed to exist,” Salib says. “Men have to dress and behave as heterosexuals, and for women it’s not safe to express lesbian feelings. Openly gay behaviour is utterly out of the question. If you’re homosexual, you keep it a secret.” Or you move to a more liberal country, as Salib did in 1982, when he emigrated to the Netherlands.

“I wanted to set up something for Arabs. Not that I didn’t feel welcome in Dutch gay bars. But the atmosphere is different. Every culture has its own opinions, its own ideas, its own jokes. You understand each other better. I only play Arab music, serve Moroccan mint tea, Arabic coffee. We all feel at ease.”

Suicide
Many Muslims lead a double life: during the day they’re respectable family men, in the evening they let their hair down at a gay bar.

Hatim, a 28-year-old Moroccan from Amsterdam, is unusually open about his homosexuality. “Precisely because it’s such a big taboo, there are actually many more gays and lesbians than we think,” he says. “When you see that some people regard it as a disease, it drives you mad. I know guys and girls who have committed suicide because their community turned against them. They had no-one to turn to. Your own brother who wants to kill you and is after you with a gun because you’re attracted to men, stories like that. Unfortunately I’ve been hearing more and more stories like this recently. Yet Allah loves everyone, irrespective of their colour or sexual orientation.”

OK to be gay
Moenira Shirwa (25) was ashamed of being a lesbian because she’d been taught that homosexuality and Islam are incompatible. Until she met Imam Mushin Hendricks, who taught her that there is no mention of homosexuality in the Qur’an. In an interview in 2011, the gay-friendly imam told RNW that it’s “OK to be gay”. He helped Moenira accept her sexual orientation, and now she stimulates other young people to do the same. Her project Respect2Love supports gays and lesbian from multicultural backgrounds.

Gays and lesbians aren’t the only people to see the closure as a major loss for open-minded Amsterdam. Heterosexual Moroccan girls are also drawn to the bar’s dance nights, where they feel free and can be themselves, without worrying about brothers, neighbours or cousins discovering they are out dancing. It’s a way to escape social control but stay in a familiar environment. Straight Moroccan girls feel at home at Habibi Ana as a place where they can go out with men and women who, like them, are exploring their social, emotional and sexual identity.

‘Haraam is haraam’
But if you ask around in the multicultural neighbourhood of Slotervaart-Overtoomse Veld in Amsterdam, it soon becomes clear that not everyone is keen on a bar like Habibi Ana. “Being gay is forbidden and it’s a disease,” says Mohamed, a resident of this much-discussed suburb. Standing with friends outside a cannabis ‘coffeeshop’, he lights up a cigarette. “They should burn a bar like that down with all the gays in it. Haraam is Haraam. I don’t want to know these gays, and if you’re one of them, stay out of my way.” Asked how he would feel if one of his friends turned out to be gay, Mohamed thinks for a moment. “I don’t think I’d see him anymore,” he says.

Saturday 2 March is the last evening in Habibi Ana. The vulnerable group of regulars will have to find a new place to go out, be themselves and escape the prejudices and threats of the outside world. And no-one knows when, or if, this unique bar will be able to open again.

 

  • Atef Salib, owner of Habibi Ana<br>&copy; (C) ANP - http://www.anp-photo.com
  • &copy; © Jan Marchal -  - http://www.rnw.nl/afrique
  • &copy; © Su—May   - http://www.flickr.com/photos/su-may/7526681414/
  • &copy; © Charles Fred   - http://www.flickr.com/photos/charlesfred/2654548795/
  • &copy; © Quelle_night  - http://www.flickr.com/photos/quelle_night/29185685
  • &copy; © Rafaelm  - http://www.flickr.com/photos/rafaelm/266301034/

Discussion

Anonymous 6 June 2014 - 10:43am / Netherlands

I also believe that there is a lot of hidden homosexuality in Arabic countries. But what is more surprising that the burden of these cultures travels into "freed" western countries. Should we start the battle all over again? To bad this bar had to close.
Sensi News Blog

Anonymous 19 November 2013 - 6:19am

I'm Muslim and gay and i refuse to let these people represent me. It's forbidden in Islam and no matter how much they lie to themselves and justify it, it's still wrong when you have to meet god. I am attracted to men but I love my religion more; i also refuse to let European standards of right and wrong dictate my life. These people disgust me because they just use Islam as nothing but an Identity rather than a way of life; I'm not highly religious but i do know what's right and wrong. How can you say Muslim values or cultural values when you're opening a bar, where alcohol and drugs are sold which are all totally haram? It makes no sense to me. My sexuality is my business between me and god, I don't need anyone telling me that i 'should' come out etc.
And the nightclubs in Europe are packed with 'Muslims' from all sorts of backgrounds, it makes no sense that straight Muslim girls need to go to a gay muslim bar. lol

absalabsal 14 September 2013 - 7:30pm / Belgium

i am 66 years old 170 66 homosexual guy but i am near aachen germany and waals still could not find any boyfriend and how i can come to your
lovely pleace may find a long term gay friend i heart about u
can u or some body 20/50 year as active to me answer near by aachen or waals

Anonymous 26 June 2013 - 9:30pm / Netherlands

What do you expect from a culture and ideology based on sharia, barbarism and the quran? These people have nothing to blame but themselves. Good riddance to all muslims, in the closet or not.

David Raphaël 10 March 2013 - 3:56am / Barranquilla

The Quran is not homophobic in many verses(Aayah)is homo-erotic.....They were Sunnis and Shiites that in their mutual hatred wannna to create a greater hatred against humanity

Luigi 5 March 2013 - 2:45pm / Italy

This is very sad. "Habibi Ana" has been the perfect place for gay muslims (and not just for them...). The first step for the freedom of muslim gay community. They (heterosexuals with old mentality) MUST accept there are gay muslims too! It's not a shame at all, you MUST open your mind!

Anonymous 4 March 2013 - 6:05am / spain

This is totally haraam in Islam. Allah will give them punishment here after.
jazakallah kher.

Anonymous 2 March 2013 - 5:23pm

Good news, now the rest of them.

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