Openly gay imams serve as an affirming gleam of hope in Muslim LGBT community

Pew Research reported that 84% of LGBT people view Islam as the least friendly religion to LGBT people. Mainstream Islam has a reputation of being rabidly anti-LGBT, but that reputation is being challenged. Gay Muslims around the world are working slowly-but-surely to reach out to other LGBT Muslims looking to reconcile their identity with their faith.

Muhsin Hendricks of South Africa is believed to be the first openly gay Muslim imam in the world. He's been preaching his LGBT-friendly messages for years now, and with his organization The Inner Circle, has helped to produce a documentary called A Jihad for Love, and publish a book called Hijab: unveiling Queer Muslim Lives.

He says he works with other imams that are gay, but remain in the closet for fear of being ostracized by the greater Muslim community, while Hendricks has been preaching for years that being gay doesn't jeopardize one's Muslim identity, his personal experiences have shown that it's hard to gain acceptance in the community. He has been verbally threatened, and denounced as a real imam by many of his peers.

"Whatever you do in life, if you do it out of conviction and sincerity, and knowing that what you are doing is the right thing, you do not have to fear anything," Muhsin explained graciously in response to the serious threats, "and I am not prepared to let fear rule my life; I [would] rather choose faith."

Muhsin might have been the first openly gay imam to preach a gospel that is forbidden to the mainstream Muslim community, but slowly others are joining a growing movement of inclusive Muslims.

Imam Daayiee Abdullah is the only other openly gay imam known to this day. The DC-based converted Muslim imam says that he has performed over 50 discreet marriage ceremonies over the past 13 years. Daaiyee's first act as an imam was to perform the funeral rites of a gay Muslim man from DC who died of complications from AIDS because every other imam in the area refused to oversee the funeral.

Abdullah started the Light of Reform Mosque in DC, and discreetly offers marriages, counseling, and prayer space for LGBT and interfaith Muslim couples. One peer compares him to "the Harvey Milk of gay Muslim leaders in America."

The teachings of Hendricks and Abdullah contradict the mainstream Muslim beliefs, and because of this, they have experienced criticism and hate language. Abdullah explained that local DC imams refuse to say the traditional 'Salaam' to him, which means 'hello and peace.'

LGBT Muslim activist Faisal Alam hailed Abdullah as "immensely helpful," for those in the Muslim community aiming to reconcile their sexuality with their faith. The mainstream Muslim view is that sex is only for those who are married, and marriage is reserved only for a man and a woman.

Faisal himself has made great strides in the name of equality within the Muslim community as well. He says that the Muslim community in the United States is slow to make progress but opinions are starting to change. He too has been shunned by various members of the Muslim community for his beliefs, but because of this he feels the need to reach out to other gay Muslims.

Despite experiencing pushback from the more conservative sides of the Muslim community, the LGBT-friendly imams are part of a slowly-but-surely growing LGBT-affirming movement within the Muslim community. Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) is a United States organization that has 9 chapters across the US and abroad. Like other reformed religious groups, MPV allows women to lead religious services, and welcomes interfaith and LGBT couples to worship.

The first LGBT-friendly mosque in France was opened a year ago, and the first lesbian Muslim couple to ever marry in England was married this year. The changes in the community may seem small, but given the hostile environment in mainstream Islam, all of the change being made by affirming members of the Muslim LGBT community is a positive sign of even bigger change to come in the future.