Finding a mosque for Germany’s first gay imam
Men of all ages slip their shoes off at the entrance to the mosque and find a place on the floor, which is spread with colourful rugs. The rugs point towards Mecca. At the front, Imam Amir Aziz leads the prayers, as the mosque fills up. Only one woman arrives; she disappears into a corner behind a wooden screen. There is a box of scarves back there for women to cover their heads with during Friday prayers. Narrow gaps in the screen give a vague idea of what is happening in the mosque’s main room.
“We won’t do this in our mosque,” says Christian Awhan Hermann. The separation of the sexes doesn’t fit his idea of Islam. The 49-year-old Berliner is visiting Friday prayers at the Lahore Ahmadiyya congregation. He converted to Islam two years ago, and describes himself as Germany’s first openly gay imam.
He aims to use his newly-founded Kalima association to give a voice to Muslims who face discrimination, in particular those who are gay, queer or transgender, for whom there are hardly any support services within their religion. But women are explicitly welcome, too. They are to have equal rights in all functions, from communal prayers to becoming imams themselves.
Reconciling faith and sexuality
Gay and Muslim – for many Muslims brought up the traditional way, the two things don’t go together. All their lives, they have been taught that homosexuality is "haram", forbidden. That was the experience of a young man from Bangladesh, who is studying in Berlin and came across Hermann on the Internet. His conversations with the imam helped him to reconcile his faith and his sexuality, he says.
But many other gay Muslims have the impression that they must choose one identity or the other. Some feel excluded and turn away from their religion, while others follow an even stricter version of the religious rules because they believe their sexuality means that God doesn’t love them. Hermann calls that brainwashing.
A lot of his advice centres on the issue. "These men have firmly internalised the idea that it’s not okay to be the way they are." But the Koran doesn’t explicitly forbid homosexuality, he says.
Some Muslims take a different view. They point to the Koranic story of Lot, and put the city of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction down to the obscene behaviour of its male inhabitants. The Central Council of Muslims in Germany takes a similar line: homosexuality is "not permissible" in Islam.
Islam's take on homosexuality "unclear"
Many interpreters don’t class homosexuality itself as a transgression, however; the sin lies in practicing it "actively and openly", according to the Central Council. And although that may not have any worldly consequences, it comes "between man and God".
"The sources don’t say anything that clear," says the imam. His title gives him authority, even if he isn’t recognised by all Muslims. Hermann was trained by the French imam Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, who is also gay. He has come in for a lot of criticism online. "Yesterday gay, today supposedly an imam," reads one comment.