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Durban - A gay Muslim married couple are making international headlines with their plan to open a mosque for homosexuals in France.
Mohammed Ludovic Lütfi Zahed is an Algerian Muslim living in Paris with his South African partner, Qiyam al-Din, whom he met and married in South Africa, where same-sex marriage is legal.
Zahed shared his story recently with French television channel France24 TV, Al Arabiya News and Turkish newspaper the Daily Hürriyet and the word has spread ever since.
He plans to open a mosque on Friday for the homosexual community, and where women and men will be able to perform their prayers together in the same space.
“We will use a hall in a Buddhist chapel, which will be opened on November 30,” he said.
The news of the mosque sparked protests from parts of rural France, with an estimated 70 000 marchers at the weekend and vocal opposition from religious leaders and some politicians.
French President Francois Hollande said he would enact his “marriage for everyone plan” within a year of coming to power in May.
The Daily Mail reported that riot police were forced to use tear gas to break up violence between supporters and opponents of the change in the law.
Zahed told France24 TV that he met Din last year at a convention on Aids in South Africa. Zahed was diagnosed with Aids at 19, an event that he said sparked his spiritual awakening.
“I was in the lecture hall when an imam, who incidentally is gay himself, introduced me to Din. We discovered we had a lot in common and a mutual admiration was cemented. I stayed on after the convention for two months, deciding to get married, since South African laws were more friendly [to same sex unions],” he said.
They married in February and after the wedding, organised by Din’s family, the couple returned to France and settled in a Parisian suburb, hoping the French government would recognise the legality of their marriage.
But the French authorities refused to do so.
In April, Al Arabiya News reported that the couple had tied the knot in France, in accordance with sharia (law) in the presence of a Mauritian imam named Jamal, who blessed their union.
“Being married in front of my family, was like a new start of life for me, I could have never imagined such a day would come, seeing the joy in my parents’ eyes after they had battled with my sexuality and tried with all their might to change the course of my sexual orientation,” Zahed told Al Arabiya News.
It was after performing the hajj, Zahed told the media, that he realised a mosque for gays was a must for gay Muslims who wanted to perform their prayers.
“In normal mosques, women have to sit in the back seats and wear a headscarf and gay men are afraid of both verbal and physical aggression,” Zahed told the Daily Hürriyet.
The Jerusalem Post reported that despite Zahed receiving threats by telephone and on the internet, and his struggle with the negative views of Arabs and Muslims alike, today he felt more comfortable than ever in his own skin.
He intends to pursue his doctoral studies in Islam and homosexuality and heads an organisation that researches issues relating to Islam and homosexuality.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Zahed’s priority is to get a legal permit for Din to stay and work in France.
The couple do not intend to travel to an Arab or Muslim nation for fear of being discriminated against.
“We want to stay in France, because my husband really likes this country. However, if it becomes impossible for him to stay, we will return to South Africa to live,” Zahed told France 24.