A South African gay Imam is taking it upon himself to teach Muslims from his country about sexuality and gender identity within Islam during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Imam Muhsin Hendricks was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1967 to a mother who was a teacher at the local mosque and a father who was a spiritual leader. His grandfather was the Imam of the mosque. 

Hendricks was one of the first Imams in the world who came out as gay in 1998 and according to Reuters, made it his mission to start conversations about LGBTQI issues in Islam. 

In 2004 he founded the Inner Circle, a human rights organisation which is designed to help ‘Muslims who are queer to reconcile Islam with their sexuality and gender.’ 

 Across Africa he also runs workshops to assist Imams with developing an inclusive understanding of gender and sexual identity in Islam. 

“It involves a re-examining of what it means to be Muslim… I focus on compassion, values, and faith more than the rituals and sects that divide us,” explained Hendricks. “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.”

It is important that this work is conducted in Africa where homosexuality is still very much illegal in 32 of the 54 nations, with South Africa being the only country on the continent that allows same-sex marriages. 

“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.”

 During 2020 Hendricks had to alter the workshops, running them online with Imams from other countries and with socially distanced meetings in South Africa. 

This experience has taught him the importance of continuing conversations whilst remaining safe.

“Let’s 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 other religious leaders around the world in signing a declaration arranged by the Ozanne Foundation. The declaration stated that LGBTQI community “are a precious part of creation” and called for a global ban on conversion practices.

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