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First gay-friendly mosque in Europe to open near Paris

posted 29 Nov 2012, 06:56 by Mpelembe   [ updated 29 Nov 2012, 06:56 ]

A gay-friendly mosque is set to open near Paris in a bid to welcome those who do not always feel comfortable in traditional places of worship, but French Muslim community leaders oppose the project.

 PARIS SUBURBFRANCE (NOVEMBER 28, 2012) (REUTERS) - In a cosy neighbourhood in the suburbs of ParisEurope's first gay-friendly mosque is about to open its doors.

The mosque's founder, Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, comes to inspect the location for this unusual place of worship for the first time -- a small room inside a buddhist dojo, a meditation room.

For Zahed, a gay man and a practising Muslim, the location has the advantage of being both anonymous and non-political, he said.

But from now on, every Friday, this room will welcome gay, transgender and transsexual individuals for an ultra-progressive Muslim prayer in which women will be encouraged to sit next to men, and to lead the prayer.

The room, though small, will officially become France's first gay-friendly and feminist mosque.

The project was made possible thanks to a Buddhist monk, Federico Joko Procopio, a homosexual who fights for gay rights.

Up until now, Zahed would pray in the Great Mosque of Paris, blending in with thousands of his fellow-worshipers each Friday, but he hopes the new mosque will be more welcoming for those whole feel on the margins of the Muslim faith.

"It is a secure place which welcomes all Muslims and others, people who want to share an authentic moment of spirituality, of exchange, of sharing, of profound and soothing intellectual reflection on very diverse questions which concern the daily lives of all Muslims in France. Things that we can't always easily talk about in other circumstances, in other mosques," Zahed said, while sipping a mint tea in the cafe of the Great Mosque.

The 35 year-old Franco-Algerian expects about 20 attendees for the first prayer. But he hopes the space will attract more and more people, as did his association "Homosexual Muslims of France", which started with 6 members and is now 325-people strong.

But Zahed's experience is still rare, and he says that in the crowds at conventional Friday prayers, some individuals stand out.

"There are homosexuals, trans-identity people who are very effeminate and in a phase of transition. This is not against nature, I mean, it's not their fault, it is part of nature, it is God who created them that way. Some of them want to pray but they don't dare go because they are very effeminate and they are spotted immediately so they tell themselves -- rightly or not -- 'this kind of mosque could allow me to ask myself more questions on who I am, where I come from.' So I think that from now on it will bring together people with very different and varied circumstances," Zahed said.

With this new mosque open to all, he intends to offer a safe haven to those who do not feel comfortable in more traditional places of worship.

Three members of his association are currently doing weekly training to act as the mosque's Imams.

The initiative has not been backed by any Muslim institution, and many of France's Imams said they considered the project as contrary to the principles of Islam.

"This is something which is outside of the (Muslim) community, which means that he (Zahed) will not be a member of the community and his mosque will not be one that others will visit or will come to pray at because it is built on foundations of a condemnation by religion of the very principles which brought the place together," Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, told Reuters TV.

Zahed, though relaxed about hostile reactions within the Muslim community, asked reporters covering the opening to avoid disclosing the location of his "all-inclusive mosque" to protect its visitors.

The mosque opens just as France is being entangled in a heated debate on gay marriage and adoption.

Zahed says the mosque's opening was not planned to coincide with this national debate.

Inclusive mosques such as Zahed's already exist in South Africa, the United States and Canada, but it will be a first in Europe. The grassroots organization "Muslims for Progressive Values" (MPV), founded in 2007 in the U.S., counted about six such places in North America.

Although small in numbers -- MPV has about 1,500 members in the USA -- these "progressive Muslims" say they intend to embody an "alternative Islam".

Zahed added his goal was not to convince everyone to "become a homophile" but said he felt opinion was slowly starting to change on such questions.

He said he was surprised at the number of emails of support and questions he has received since news of his project broke, in addition to the threats he expected.

The first prayer is set to take place on Friday, November 30.