Sixty two year old African-American Daayiee Abdullah is Imam of a mosque in Washington DC in America. He is a law graduate. And he is a homosexual. He does not hesitate to admit it.

Nur Warsame, Imam in Melbourne, was an immensely respected man in Australia’s Islamic community, till he declared that he was gay. Married and father of a young daughter, he had long kept it a secret till he could do it no more.

In 1990s, Muhsin Hendricks, Imam of a Cape Town mosque in South Africa had dared to declare himself homosexual. He didn’t stop there. In 1996 he established The Inner Circle to deal with the issues surrounding sexuality in Muslim theology. It has emerged as one of the longest standing, largest and most influential human rights organization in the world that deals with Islam, gender and sexual diversity from an Islamic theological perspective.

Attitude towards same-sex sexual relationships in an otherwise strictly conservative Muslim society is slowly but very surely changing and these are the clear sign of it.

When he was a teenager in Algeria, Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, now an Imam in Paris, became so depressed about what then appeared to him as a contradiction between his sexuality and faith that he left Islam. Years later, armed with more information, he returned to the faith.

“Today in France, gay teenagers are almost 15 times more likely than those who are straight to kill themselves because of their sexual orientation,” he wrote in The Guardian, explaining why he started a gay-friendly mosque in Paris.

El-Farouk Khaki, Imam in a Toronto mosque, started Salaam Canada in 1993 which became the first support group for LGBT Muslims in the country. Salaam Canada gives people alternative information to the traditional, and generally homophobic, perspective.

The El-Tawhid Juma Circle, which is a gender-equal and LGBTQ affirming space for Friday prayers, was created in 2009, and Khaki has been one of the imams at their local mosque in Toronto. “Why would God create gay men to be second-class citizens? Why did he create them only to have them condemned?” he asked when interviewed by The Star.

Germany’s Rahal Eks once led Sufi evenings on Thursdays in Morocco, Spain, and Germany. Like his teachers, who are from three different schools of Sufism, he never saw a conflict between sexuality and Islam. “I was very lucky by having encountered some Sufi teachers, whose ideas about Islam and homosexuality were rather progressive and accepting, who explained things to me in a different light than the average fossilized Mullah,” he wrote.

In 1998 a group of LGBT Muslims in London started Imaan, a support group for individuals and families seeking to reconcile sexuality with faith. The group says their founding happened to “coincide with a coming-of-age of a particular generation of gay people from Muslim backgrounds born in this country that had witnessed the growth of a gay culture in England.”   

In 2007, Ani Zonneveld and Pamela Taylor in the USA started a non-profit organization for protection and inclusion of LGBT people in the Muslim community. In 2011 Imam Daayiee Abdullah became its Director and the organization now has chapters in Australia, Canada, France, Malaysia, and South Africa.

 Abdullah believes there is nothing in the Quran that says anything against homosexuality. On the contrary, Quran talks about men who have no desire for women and about non-reproducing women. In Sura 24, verses 31 and 32 say “marry the unmarried among you” even if they are “among male and female slaves”. The Quran does not suggest gender for marriage, Abdullah believes.

LGBT groups among Muslims are coming up not only in the West but also in the Arab world.  In 2002 a group of Palestinian women formed Aswat (“Voices”) which was later joined by another Palestinian group, al-Qaws (“The Rainbow”). Both of those are based in Israel but have connections in the Palestinian territories. Around 2004 a group of Lebanese activists established Helem – the first LGBT organization to function openly in an Arab country.

There are also Arab LGBT websites and blogs. My Kali, a Jordanian magazine which aims “to address homophobia and transphobia and empower the youth to defy mainstream gender binaries in the Arab world” is being published regularly since 2007.

Homosexuality is legal in 20 Muslim countries such as Iraq, Albania, Bahrain, Bosnia, Chad, Lebanon, Turkey and most parts of Indonesia. In Kuwait, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, homosexual relations between females are legal but between men it is illegal.

However, homosexual activity still carries death penalty in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Brunei, Mauritania, Sudan and Yemen. In some other Muslim countries such as Algeria, Maldives, Malaysia,  Quatar, Somalia and Syria it is illegal.