Paris activist to test taboos with gay-friendly mosque

Thu Nov 29, 2012 11:59am EST
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By Chine Labbé

PARIS (Reuters) - Europe's first gay and lesbian-friendly mosque opens on Friday in an eastern Paris suburb, in a challenge to mainstream Islam's long tradition of condemning same-sex relationships.

The mosque, set up in a small room inside the house of a Buddhist monk, will welcome transgender and transsexual Muslims and seat men and women together, breaking with another custom where the sexes are normally segregated during prayer.

Its founder, French-Algerian gay activist and practicing Muslim Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, will also encourage women to lead Friday prayers, smashing yet another taboo.

"It's a radically inclusive mosque. A mosque where people can come as they are," said Zahed, 35, whose prayer space will be the first in Europe to formally brand itself as a gay-friendly mosque, according to Muslim experts.

The mosque, which for now will be limited to Friday prayer sessions, is opening as religious leaders in France, including senior Muslims, are petitioning against plans by the Socialist government to legalize gay marriage.

"Being homosexual and Muslim is borderline schizophrenic," said one of three gay Muslims who will lead prayers at the mosque, whose floor-to-ceiling windows look out on a garden decorated with Buddhist symbols.

Zahed decided there was a need for a fixed gay-friendly prayer space as membership of his fledgling association "Homosexual Muslims of France" rose to 325 people from just six people when he founded it two years ago.

The prayer leader at Zahed's mosque said hostility to gays prompted many to quit the faith. "France sorely lacks a space like this," said the 38-year-old, asking not to be named.   Continued...

Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, a French-Algerian homosexual Muslim, poses in front of Paris Mosque November 23, 2012. Zahed, who heads the "Homosexual Muslims of France" association, is the initiative behind Europe's first gay and lesbian-friendly mosque which is due to open next month in an eastern Paris suburb, in a challenge to a tradition of discomfort in mainstream Islam with same-sex relationships. REUTERS/Charles Platiau