Intersectional, inclusive, and contemporary Islam: A personal reflection | Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed

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Since I founded the first European intersectional network of the kind, which is hybrid [1] and at the junction of queer[2] activism, feminism, and an inclusive intellectual or artistic approach, our international movement has moved to another level of expertise.

 

 

I have lived and grown up partly in France and partly in Algeria. I am now 43 years old. I have been living in Marseille, Southern France, for 25 years after having left Algeria at the time of the Civil War. My Islamic and Algerian roots will always remain close to my heart; I will carry them with me forever thanks to my love for Allah. The years I have lived in Algiers was the most beautiful time of my life, particularly as a teenager and before the advent of the Civil War. It was there that I discovered mystical spirituality, Sufism, thanks to my one and only master on earth, my paternal grandmother. God rest her soul.

I am committed to the values of the French Republic; secularism, which protects me from racism (as well as from religious dogmatism) and equality among all citizens. But when these values are used for nationalist purposes, which is happening more or less all over Europe and the West, I am no longer in agreement, especially as a former refugee. While I am particularly committed to the notion of the Republic – the idea dating back to European antiquity that public space belongs to all citizens – I am, on the other hand, vehemently opposed to the Nation as a tool for enabling fascism, post-colonialism, islamophobia, and the standardisation and forced normalisation of individual identities.

Since I founded the first European intersectional network of the kind, which is hybrid [1] and at the junction of queer[2] activism, feminism, and an inclusive intellectual or artistic approach, our international movement has moved to another level of expertise.

Ten years ago, I started from the definition of the term Islam, which in Arabic means to be at peace. It is a grammatical form that refers to a nascent process theoretically based on self-knowledge, knowledge of others and a proactive respect for diversity. Therefore, knowledge of Islam, especially the representation of Islam that the “new Islamic theologies” attempt to outline, can contribute to peacefully combatting homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, misogyny, racism, and antisemitism by encouraging everyone to find in themselves the most accurate interpretation of the divine message for our humanity.

In this respect, knowledge of Islamic liberation theology, and in particular the contribution of LGBT+ [3] and feminist activists and intellectuals, brings an added value to human consciousness in my opinion. Far from the Salafist and fascist education I received in Algeria in the 1990s, I have come to understand that Islamic Tawhid can enable individuals, whether they belong to a sexual minority, to live better and to accept themselves. Islam must no longer be a factor of oppression but one of emancipation, encouraging “self-definition and self-determination” between individual selfhood and spiritual hyphenation.

Islam, at the time of its advent, was a real revolution that has been endlessly renewed and is still a revolution for those of us who describe ourselves – because we must use taxonomic, albeit reductive, categories – as progressive and inclusive Muslims. It is the tradition of ijtihad (the effort of reflection) that we are reviving, from the heart of the most philosophical, the most mystical, and the most authentically spiritual Islamic tradition.

I think political Islam exists to control the people. There is an expression now in Algeria to describe this political Islam: “The prayer of those who only stand up for holidays and Friday prayers.” This political Islam turned against us in the 1990s during the Civil War because we were a generation that took all the ideology that these Machiavellian politicians taught us at face value. This political Islam is neither the fault of the West nor the fault of Muslims. It was born in the pan-Arabic context where the people, who have condemned our mosque, come from. For them, the mosque is one of the centres of power; it could not possibly be a forum for the expression of our struggles for the rights of women[4] and LGBT+ minorities. But in my view, mosques should be at the forefront of womens’ and minorities’ defense, since nowhere in the Qur’an, Allah described women as inferior to men, nowhere in the Qur’an Allah condemned homosexuality per se, and the Prophet himself, Peace be upon him, welcomed in his home and defended mukhanathun and mustardjilat: effeminate or transgender men and women.[5]

For me, the right to self-definition and self-determination is essential for the emancipation of all, essential for social peace, and therefore for the peace of mind. Yes, I am Franco-Algerian because I chose it, and I know what it implies in terms of freedom and personal emancipation. Ultimately, this question reminds me of the question I was asked as a child from both sides of the Mediterranean. I don’t think I have to choose: Our cultures have always been linked around the Mediterranean basin, and I pray that this will continue to be the case in the near future.

Our CALEM Institute in Marseille [6] has once again offered (mostly online) open training courses this year (September 2019–June 2020), based on intersectional scientific research (anthropology, psychology, historiography,and liberation theologies), for progressive imams and committed citizens who want to work towards more inclusive societies and reinvigorate humanistic spiritual traditions.

In addition to having founded the first inclusive European mosque, we have two progressive and inclusive Islamic organizations in France today, in Paris and Marseille, which are members of our international movement.[7]

Note that December 1, World AIDS Day, was the tenth anniversary of our educational documentary about the situation of children facing the HIV pandemic around the world.[8] As you can see, our organisations are based on twenty years of expertise, building our reflections on solid material and initiatives.

In this way, since we moved into our new premises in March 2019, our CALEM Institute in Marseille has welcomed more than 400 visitors from more than 20 countries, including more than fifty refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, LGBT+ people whom we have advised, accompanied, welcomed, or who have participated in our various local activities.

This has been possible thanks to the application of our social model which is sustainable (independent and autonomous), self-managed (helping several local partner associations, focusing on areas such as migration, disability, and meditation [9], to become more visible) and self-sufficient (income generated by our training sessions, publications, civic actions, or by renting our premises when they are not used by our community).

However, because of the coronavirus crisis worldwide, on top of systemic political crisis in most Muslim countries, we are not presently able to reach our financial goals, though our shelter is still open, and is currently hosting three young people who are struggling to get food (because our local sister organisations that distribute food are also closed).

The crisis has also allowed me to reflect on the fragility of this progressive, inclusive, and self-managed movement. A broader reflection, concerning all of us as citizens, needs to be developed regarding the position given to health and solidarity in democratic societies, and even more in non-democratic Islamic countries, where these initiatives, which currently seem more essential than ever, are all too often still considered as marginal. In this respect, intersectional modes of action – between intellectuals, activists, and artists – must be encouraged in the future inch’Allah.

 

 

Dr. and Imam Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed is a French-Algerian imam. An openly gay Muslim, Zahed is the founder of the first European inclusive mosque, in Paris, France, with the goal of accommodating the LGBT and feminist Muslim communities. Holding two doctorate degrees, one in anthropology and another in psychology, Zahed completed his doctoral study on the topic “Sexual Minorities at the Vanguard of Changes in the Islam of France”, and has since published numerous books, appeared in many seminars, and have presented himself as a leading scholar. Currently he is the director of the CALEM Institute (Marseille, France).

 

 

[1] Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994).

[2] Alternative to heteronormative identities.

[3] Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and others.

[4] Amina Wadud, Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam (London: Oneworld, 2006).

[5] Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, Homosexuality, Transidentity, and Islam: A Study of Scripture Confronting the Politics of Gender and Sexuality (Amsterdam University Press, 2019).

[6] www.calem.eu

[7] www.mpvusa.org/alliance-of-inclusive-muslims

[8] www.dailymotion.com/video/xmgzp4

[9] Notably through AOZIZ, our local intersectional network in Marseille: www.calem.eu/francais2/AOZIZ-of-inclusion.html

 

 

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