“We need to have a safe space for people who do not feel comfortable and at ease in normal mosques,” Zahed told ABC News. “There are transgender people who fear aggression, women who do not want to wear head scarf or sit in the back of the mosque. This project gives hope back to many believers in my community.”
“Common prayer, practiced in an egalitarian setting and without any form of gender-based discrimination, is one of the pillars supporting the proposed reforms of our progressive representation of Islam,” he said.
“The Unity” mosque will initially operate in a Buddhist temple in a neighborhood in eastern Paris, and will emphasize “accepting everyone as equally God’s creation….I hope straight men will pray together with gay men and women, everyone,” said Zahed who declines to make public the address of the venue, due to security concerns.
Zahed’s mosque will honor some Islamic traditions, like Friday prayers (Jumu’ah), and the Muslim marriage contract (Nikah) to bless same-sex marriage. It will also perform funeral rites (Janazah) for those who have been denied a traditional Islamic funeral based on Sharia law because of their sexual orientation.
“It is a safe place to worship,” said Zahed, where no religious questions will go unaddressed. “Our imams will talk on any taboo topic.” Zahed will be one of three prayer leaders, along with a female French convert to Islam and another man who is being trained.
“Current Islamic ethics may condemn this sexual orientation,” Zahed said, “but in fact nothing in Islam or the Koran forbids homosexuality. Indeed, for centuries, Muslims did not consider homosexuality to be the supreme abomination that they do today.”
According to Zahed, renowned Muslim poets wrote odes glorifying handsome boys. Some were interpreted as metaphors for loving God, but some also seem to reference gay intimate relations. Zahed argues that homosexuality became criminalized only under European colonialism.
“From the 10th to the 14th century, Muslim society used to be a far richer mix of the legal, the rational and the mystic,” said Zahed. “They looked at sexuality as one aspect of life’s many possibilities, and they saw in it the hope for spiritual insight.”
“Even if this mosque is newfound freedom,” said Nasser, an openly-gay Parisian, “gays will remain in a closet, worried about being ostracized at their local schwarma stand.”
While it would be the first gay mosque in Paris, there are believed to be 21 other gay mosques sprinkled through the U.S., Canada and South Africa.
In countries where traditional Islam is dominant, like Egypt and Iran, punishment against homosexual activity, not to mention advocacy for gay rights, is very severe.
Zahed’s Parisian mosque will be inspired by the work of Muslims for Progressive Values in North America, who practice common prayer, in an egalitarian setting and without any form of gender-based discrimination.
“We are already working very closely with them. The idea for our Paris mosque comes as a result of our conversations,” says Zahed, whose future plans include “a progressive mosque in the UK and then another one in Denmark will follow.”
Zahed believes, if the Prophet Mohamad was alive today, he would marry gay couples. He himself is the first gay man to marry partner in a Muslim ceremony in France. He is an Algerian PhD student writing his thesis on Islam and homosexuality, a subject he also addressed in a book “The Koran and the Flesh.”
He has experienced anti-gay discrimination from Islamic groups, and Islamophobia from members of the French gay community.
Meanwhile there is a lot of controversy in France regarding both same-sex marriages and Islamic influence and practices. Ten days ago, tens of thousands protesters took to the streets against government’s plan to legalize same-sex marriage, while several weeks ago, right wing protesters stormed an unfinished mosque to show disapproval of France’s large community of Muslim immigrants.