One Muslim's fight to marry Islam with homosexuality

03/04/2012
Submitted by ILGA-Europe

Original article: http://www.france24.com/en/201204...y-marry-france-ludovic-mohamed-zahed

Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed (right) has made headlines by becoming the first French man to be married to another man in a Muslim religious ceremony. In his new book, he tells the tale of his unique journey of faith and love.

Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed is an intellectual, an expert on the Quran and an AIDS activist. The 35-year-old also has the distinction of being the first gay man to be married in a Muslim wedding ceremony in France. "I am sure that if the Prophet Muhammad were as still alive, he would marry gay couples," Zahed confidently told FRANCE 24.

His marriage last February -presided over by an aspiring imam in the Parisian suburb of Sevres- has brought Zahed much attention, even if his marriage is not officially recognised by French authorities.

Zahed has made the reconciliation of Islam and homosexuality his life’s pursuit. That battle has been fought through his gay rights group, HM2F (Homosexual Muslims in France), but also through rigorous academic research.

A student of anthropology and psychology at the prestigious Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales university in Paris, Zahed is currently preparing his doctoral thesis on Islam and homosexuality.

His first book, The Koran and the Flesh (Le Coran et la chair, Editions Max Milo), which hit French bookstores on March 29, promises to further shine a spotlight on this unique man.

The new book is a poignant account of the difficulties of growing up as a gay Muslim; a journey that takes the author across continents and confronts him with constant bouts of humiliation and personal doubt.

Learning to be a man

“Homosexuality is not a choice, and it would be crazy to choose to be gay in the socio-cultural environment I grew up in," Zahed writes in his debut work. Born in Algeria in 1977, he is the second of three children born to a modest family. When he was three years old his parents leave their home in the Algerian capital of Algiers and settle in Paris.

The family will take up permanent residence in France, only returning to Algeria thereafter for short holidays. Zahed says he was a shy and effeminate boy. "I'm between the two: I’m a bit girl, a bit boy", he realizes when he’s eight years old.

However, neither his “macho thug” father nor his older brother are willing to accept this dual identity. “I spent my childhood with a father who constantly called me a sissy, a chick, a cry-baby,” he writes. To teach him “to be a man” his brother regularly beats him, going as far as breaking his nose. “He was ashamed of his ‘sick’ brother,” Zahed remembers.

Desperate for answers, the teenager plunges himself in religion, and is accepted into Quranic school in Algeria run by Salafists –ultra-conservative Islamists. Back in Algeria he learns to recite part of the Quran by heart, prays five times a day and strictly observes the teachers’ precepts.

Again, his manners are viewed as too effeminate by his Muslim brothers, who eventually kick him out of the community. It’s 1995 and Algeria is mired in civil war. On January 30, a truck packed with explosives devastates downtown Algiers. The attack, which kills 42 people, is claimed by the Armed Islamic Group, or GIA. It will prove to be a turning point in Zahed’s life.

Mohamed’s spiritual desert

"That day I felt an ache in my gut just thinking that, even at the most minimal level, I shared something in common with those people [who attacked Algiers],” Zahed writes. The attack and his ostracism from the Salafist school signal “the beginning of a long spiritual desert” for the author, who for 15 years “violently rejected Islam.”

At the age of 21, and back in France, he confesses his sexual orientation to his family. His mother is inconsolable for several months, but his father’s reaction surprises him. “This is the way it is, I understand, one must accept,” the once unbending man declares. Another secret to reveal: Zahed is HIV positive.

Despite his break with Islam, the young man still yearns for faith, and turns to Buddhism. “But I realized that misogyny and homophobia were the same everywhere,” he told FRANCE 24. Gradually Islam re-conquers him.

"Little by little I started to pray again, and then I went on my first pilgrimage to Mecca, the source of Islam, to reclaim my religion,” he said. “I rediscovered an interior peace that I hadn’t known since childhood.”

In France he founds his first NGO, The Children of AIDS, for which he embarks on a year-long trip across the globe. “It helped me realize that I was a good person. I also realized that I could be gay, and have a religious practice.” A second organisation, HM2F, is born.

“Current Islamic ethics condemns this sexual orientation, but in fact nothing in Islam or the Quran forbids [homosexuality],” Zahed argued. “Indeed, for centuries, Muslims did not consider homosexuality as the supreme abomination, as the ultimate debauchery, as they do today."

A restless peace

On the subject of Homosexuality and Islam Zahed is relentless. “There is nothing about homosexuality that ‘goes against nature’ according to one interpretation of Islam, quite the opposite,” he argues in The Koran and the Flesh. This idea is the battle flag he carries with him every day.

His work with HM2F took him to international destinations, including to South Africa, where in 2011 he participated in a conference organized by an association similar to his own. There he met Qiyaammudeen Jantjies-Zahed, like him, a devout Muslim man.

Two months later, in June 2011, Zahed and Jantjies-Zahed decided to get married in South Africa – a country where gay civil marriages and adoptions by gay couples are legal. The couple decided to settle in France, but the European country does not recognise marriage between two men. Nevertheless, it’s in France where celebrated their religious union.

Despite labyrinth-like administrative procedures that his spouse Jantjies-Zahed must now face in order to remain in France, and despite the threatening emails and phone calls that continue to hound him, Zahed says it is all worth it. "I have found calm,” the smiling man says. “I could die tomorrow, I'm finally at peace."

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