HOW’S this for a strange co-incidence â€¦?
Last night I attended an excellent talk on secularism from a young person’s perspective at the Brighton and Hove Humanist Society. The speaker was ardent atheist Peter Brietbart, a Brighton university student in his early 20s who devoted part of his address to the threat posed to Western values by militant Islam.
During a question-and-answer session, a member of the audience – a woman originally from South Africa – pointed out that many Muslims she knew, especially in South Africa, were a pretty enlightened and tolerant bunch, and she cited as an example “an openly gay imam whose partner was a Jesuit priest”.
Peter’s response was:
Wow! Someone should make a film about them. That’s one I’d certainly like to see.
Well, today I learn that Imam Muhsin Hendricks has indeed been the subject of a documentary – and that it had been screened the previous evening by Channel 4.
But even before the broadcast, A Jihad For Love – which shows the suffering of gay Muslims and lesbians under sharia law – was being roundly condemned by British Islamic leaders.
And Parvez Sharma, the gay Indian man who made the film over a six year period, revealed:
I have had death threats on my blog after making this film. Some countries have even banned it.Â I’ve been called an apostate because Muslims think I have insulted Islam, but I think it will open up a debate.
According to this report, Channel 4 chiefs were bracing themselves for a backlash, following the More 4 broadcast which lifted the lid on the battle gay and lesbian Muslims face as they struggle with their faith and their sexuality.
The documentary not only shows gay Muslims daring to kiss, holding hands and talkingÂ about getting married, it also provides harrowing reports on the suffering they have faced under Islamic law.
And it reveals the death threats and punishments handed out to gays in countries including Egypt and Iran.
Islamic leaders in the UKâ€ˆattacked the documentary, saying it would offend, anger and shock.
An imam from Europe’s largest mosque, The Baitul Futuh based in Surrey, condemned the film saying:
These people should not be confessing their sins to the television cameras. They should be doing it in private to God and seeking forgiveness.
But a Channel 4 spokesman defended the documentary:
Among the people featured in the film is Imam Muhsin Hendricks, who was interviewed by Radio Netherlands in August of last year. Hendricks, who was born and raised in a deeply religious Muslim household in South Africa, realised he was gay at the age of 12.
This is a sensitively made documentary that has played to critical acclaim at film festivals internationally and is a legitimate area for a documentary film-maker to explore.
I was always told that homosexuality was completely wrong. So I needed to understand how my creator gave me all these feelings, while people kept on telling me that I was going to go to hell.
He eventually went to Pakistan to study the Koran. Most religious scholars, he says, were basing their condemnation of homosexuality on a misinterpretation of the hadiths and the “holy” book.
When Hendricks came out 11 years go at the age of 29, he had been serving his community for over a decade and was well respected. He was a co-imam at one of the local mosques and taught at three other mosques. He was a senior Arabic teacher because of his knowledge of the language.
He says he has never faced any discrimination from his community since he came out, though he has been condemned on national radio talk shows in which he has taken part. Attitudes in the Muslim community towards homosexuality are gradually changing, he says.
In the last five years, there have been more discussions and debates than ever before. Just the mere fact that there has been no strong opposition is an indication for me of some sort of acceptance. It just can’t happen publicly now.
Mr Hendricks says that Muslims in his country are increasingly tolerant of gays in their midst because of the country’s liberal constitution.
People understand that if they oppose homosexuality publicly, they could get into trouble. I guess we are kind of blessed in South Africa … I don’t think it would be possible in Iran, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.