He found his way to Islam in 2017, in the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe mosque of women’s rights activist and female imam Seyran Ates, one of the loudest critics of conservative Islam in Germany. In her mosque, men and women pray together, and she welcomes both gay people and Muslims of different denominations.

He is grateful to Ates for this, he says – even though the two of them fell out and went their separate ways a year ago. Hermann looks disappointed. "The points Seyran makes are too hard for a dialogue between the Muslim groups to be possible with her." She is more interested in high-impact media appearances than in religious content, he claims.

After Friday prayers in the Wilmersdorf mosque, a young couple approaches Imam Amir Aziz and asks him to marry them. She is from Syria; he’s from Iran. Ten minutes later, they’re married. Two men from the congregation serve as witnesses, the mother of the bride gives her consent via video chat, and the imam signs the certificate.

For a contemporary Koranic interpretation

"Muslim marriage is a contract in civil law, not a sacrament," Hermann explains. He is most often approached by women who want an Islamic divorce: without the husband’s agreement, there are very few imams in Germany who will pronounce a divorce. But in exceptional cases, a marriage can be dissolved unilaterally, Hermann explains – if a husband is violent or has been unfaithful, for example.

Islamic studies scholar Andreas Ismail Mohr (screenshot: ZDF)
Interested in Hermann's work: Islamic studies scholar Andreas Ismail Mohr regularly publishes on the topic of homosexuality in Islam himself. Hermann's intentions are honest and he is doing some good work – but in Mohr’s eyes, he isn't an imam. "An imam is someone who regularly leads prayers with a group and has theological expertise"

In Hermann’s eyes, a good imam is not primarily a prayer leader or scholar, but an approachable pastoral adviser who is an expert on the Koran. His criticism is not directed at Islam, but against the hard lines of some "literal interpretation fanatics". His religious instruction centres on a contemporary interpretation of the Koran.

Until he gets his own mosque, lessons take place in the kitchen of one of Hermann’s friends. A mind-map on discrimination hangs on the kitchen door. In a corner, a picture of the Virgin Mary and some model angels stand on the piano; surrounded by candles and fairy lights, the arrangement is a little like an altar.

Two participants sit at the table, and another two are taking part in the evening via Skype. They are talking about the "fourth pillar" of Islam, fasting and Ramadan, discussing whether giving up plastic or meat in Ramadan might count as fasting, or how to view meat that fulfils all the "halal" criteria and is therefore allowed, but which comes from intensive farming.

Hermann likes to talk about Islam, the Koran and the Prophet Muhammad, whose practical solutions to the problems of his time he finds impressive. But he is still grateful not to have been born into the faith, thereby sparing himself a "double coming-out" as a gay Muslim.

When a waiter asks him what he would like, he replies: "Ten million euros for my mosque and a man to spend the rest of my life with."

Anna Fries

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2019

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

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