19 September 2014

I am an imam, but I’m also gay. And I’m prepared to die for this

As I enter the unassuming mosque hidden away behind the store-front facades of Cape Town’s southern suburbs, I realise that I’m joining a Muslim worship for the first time. I remember how I had sneaked into the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem ten years earlier just to see the “Dome of the Rock” and to try to comprehend its place within the greater Middle East conflict. But this time, ten years later, the context is much different. I’m not entering a holy shrine in the Middle East under false premises, but I’m rather coming here to the depths of Wynberg to share a conversation with a man, who may be described as one of the more controversial figures in Islam – not just in South Africa.

It is not just the sum of his views, which squarely challenge the fastest-growing religion on earth, but it is in fact his entire persona, his credo, his ethos, which almost appear to turn the very concept of Islam on its head: Imam Muhsin Hendricks is one of the few Muslim community leaders in the world, who is outspokenly gay; a man, who dares to swim against the tide in a day and age where several countries and communities around the world still condemn gay men to death on the sole grounds of their sexual orientation.