- Bringing Queer into Muslim Spaces:Community-Based Pedagogy in Cape Town
Cape Town, community-based pedagogy, Muslim, queer Muslims, sexual diversity
In South Africa, although the expression of queer sexuality is constitutionally protected, the acceptability of sexual diversity in religious spaces is disputable.1 The clash between constitutional rights and religious freedom is most notable in discussions around queer sexuality, which is often deemed deviant and as having no place within religious institutions. Despite legal protection, representative bodies for Muslims in Cape Town have continued to express resistance to sexual diversity in religious spaces in various ways. For example, in a memorandum submitted to the constitutional court of South Africa opposition to the proposed Civil Unions Bill in 2006, the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) wrote, "the MJC is of the opinion that the spread of homosexuality and lesbianism will invite the anger of Allah, erode the family structure, and expose young, innocent children to an unnatural lifestyle"—making explicit their view that homosexuality and Islam are incompatible.2
The MJC, however, seems to be reflecting the views of the Cape Town Muslim community at large. In a recent study on attitudes toward sexual diversity among South African Muslims, 86 percent of Muslims surveyed across South Africa reported believing that homosexuality is a choice; at the same time, 66 [End Page 143] percent said they would be willing to engage in a dialogue about Islam and sexual diversity, although qualitative data suggests this dialogue would lean toward trying to rectify homosexual tendencies.3 Over 80 percent of South African Muslims surveyed cite the story of Lut or hadith as the reason for their beliefs that queer sexuality is incompatible with Islam.
In light of this information, it seems imperative to develop a community-based pedagogy that aims at conscientization and political literacy in the Freirean sense.4 Paolo Freire emphasized the conceptualization of a problem over its solution as key to disrupting what he terms "the culture of violence" that is exacerbated by excess power of a privileged class and becomes a malady of the oppressed.5 Religion sometimes functions as an omnipotent source of information for contemporary issues. However, as gatekeepers to religious knowledge, imams hold the unique capacity and opportunity to address controversial modern issues through a humanistic and rights-based lens and facilitate community dialogues on issues of sexual diversity in the ummah to create meaningful social change.
Social change in the Muslim community of Cape Town often requires a catalyst. In characterizing the apathy of the Muslim community under the apartheid regime, Muslim scholar and activist Farid Esack lamented: "In truth, the community at large was a complacent community, feeble in its responses and going whichever way the wind was going at a particular moment."6 However, social change around the acceptance of sexual diversity in Muslim spaces is taking place in various Islamic institutions around Cape Town. Using the concept of community-based pedagogy and drawing greatly on Freire's work, I address here the current engagements on sexual diversity in the Muslim community at two mosques in Cape Town.
By chronicling key recent events that have challenged the Muslim community's views of sexual diversity and its compatibility with Islam, I explore the actions of two imams, both gatekeepers to textual Islamic knowledge but with diverse personal histories. Each imam draws pedagogical content from the experiences of their jam'ah7 (the first step to Freire's method of creating critical [End Page 144] consciousness and literacy), and both use established forums of community gathering to engage in such dialogue. This article explores the process of the conscientization of an oppressed community—in this case queer Muslims—by Imam Muhsin Hendricks of The People's Mosque and the development of political literacy for the mainstream Cape Muslim community by Imam Rasheid Omar of Claremont Main Road Mosque. I discuss the roles each imam has in shaping the dialogue around sexual diversity in the Cape Muslim community by identifying the strengths, challenges, and effects each has had in their respective religious spaces.
The People's Mosque
Masjidul Umam, or The People's Mosque (TPM), is part of a nongovernmental organization called The...