Oscar-nominated Black actresses still can’t find work.
But Kristen Stewart, by her own admission, can snap her fingers and get a role.
It needed a video. It needed this scene from Doubt where Viola Davis gives the performance of the century so far and makes Meryl Streep look like an amateur. I can’t watch this scene without tearing up every single time because Viola takes acting to a place where Kristen Stewart can only pray to catch a corner of one day.
The fact that any woman can do THAT and still have to beg for scenes in a movie “opposite so-and-so” after two Oscar nominations is all you need to know about what it’s like to be Black in Hollywood.
Yes because Kristen Stewart is the reason why all those black actress can find work. If you’re not willing to talk about the real problem maybe shut up. I mean don’t we all know by now that Kristen is the one who is runing, fox studio, weinstein, dreamworks and all HW?
It’s so much better to blame her than to have a real conversation about the power structure we live in.
I am an imam, but I’m also gay. And I’m prepared to die for this
South African Imam Muhsin Hendricks shares details of his personal journey from a failed marriage to his work as a gay rights activist, as Sertan Sanderson learns about the INNER CIRCLE he has built in order to help queer Muslims in SA and beyond to reconcile their faith with their sexuality
As I enter the unassuming mosque hidden away behind the store-front facades of Cape Town’s southern suburbs, I realise that I’m joining a Muslim worship for the first time. I remember how I had sneaked into the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem ten years earlier just to see the “Dome of the Rock” and to try to comprehend its place within the greater Middle East conflict.
But this time, ten years later, the context is much different. I’m not entering a holy shrine in the Middle East under false premises, but I’m rather coming here to the depths of Wynberg to share a conversation with a man, who may be described as one of the more controversial figures in Islam – not just in South Africa.
It is not just the sum of his views, which squarely challenge the fastest-growing religion on earth, but it is in fact his entire persona, his credo, his ethos, which almost appear to turn the very concept of Islam on its head:
Imam Muhsin Hendricks is one of the few Muslim community leaders in the world, who is outspokenly gay; a man, who dares to swim against the tide in a day and age where several countries and communities around the world still condemn gay men to death on the sole grounds of their sexual orientation.
“I was brought up in a very orthodox home. My grandfather was the imam of a mosque in Cape Town and my mother used to teach in the mosque. I was virtually born in the mosque. It was a very safe environment for me until I became aware of my sexuality,” Hendricks recounts the beginnings of his personal journey, which would later take him across the world as an educator, public speaker and counsellor.
Born and raised in Cape Town, Imam Hendricks has lived to enjoy the many freedoms that the South African constitution grants its subjects since the abolition of apartheid. His formative years were spent far away from the kind of political prosecution, which homosexuals in places like Iran or Saudi Arabia may know too well. However, it wasn’t always that way.
“I was hearing my grandfather was preaching from the pulpit that gay people would go to hell, so there was no place of expression for sexuality in my life. So I applied for a scholarship to study Islam in one of the madrassas in Pakistan because I just couldn’t believe that a merciful and compassionate God would reject me for something, which I didn’t even actually choose. So I chose to live in Pakistan for four years at the end of my teens to study to become an imam.”
With that foundation in Islamic studies in Pakistan, you might expect that Hendricks would perhaps have found some of the answers that he had been looking for throughout his life. However, his uneasy journey rather turned out to lead to a major U-turn, which saw him marry a woman despite his acute awareness with regard to his same-sex attraction. Through the rocky marriage, Hendricks went on to father three children, the oldest of whom is now a mother in her own right.
It all feels a bit overwhelming to believe, as I face a bubbly man who’s hardly even middle-aged sitting across from me, without even have so much as a Jack Russell in my own life.
“I started early. I’m not that old,” Hendricks jokes when he sees my amazement at the details of his illustrious family tree.
“But that’s what the community tells you: you should just get married and then it will all go away. You’re told to fast, and read the Quran, go to a spiritual person to have yourself dejinxed of evil spirits, and then ultimately you’re told to get married to sort out your sexual deviations. And so I got married. But it didn’t even take us a year to realise that we had made a big mistake.”
Muhsin Hendricks gazes at the floor solemnly as he admits to that mistake. At the same moment, I feel overcome with a wave of my own self-awareness while following his gaze. I realise that I’m finding myself inside a mosque, kneeling on the floor and talking to a religious man about sex in the way that you talk to your car dealer about your servicing plan. As I grow increasingly self-concious about the fact that a small hole in my sock might be exposing my little toe, Hendricks continues with the narrative of his failed marriage.
“We tried to stay together for the sake of the kids. There was no more sexual relationship between us; we were sleeping in separate rooms. And then one night, we both just finally addressed it. We agreed that it was not working and then we separated. I gave her everything that I owned. I told her that she could look after the children. I would come to see them once a week. I missed them very much, but I was just so confused in my head at the time.”
“Then I approached a friend of mine, who was living on a farm, and asked him for a place for me to stay for a few months while I sorted myself out. There was only a horse’s stable that was empty. So I cleaned it out and slept in there for three months. I had vowed that I was going to fast until God would tell me what was wrong with me – or change me. And I came out of that 80-day fast as an activist. I guess that’s what God was trying to tell me.”
Hendricks tells me the details of how he came out, how he shared his story with the press while exposing himself to all sorts of abuse in return. But despite some harsh reactions he maintains that it was probably the best thing he could ever have done.
“I was prepared to die for this. I needed to let the world know that I was an imam, but that I was also gay. I even had a fatwa taken out against me, which means that I was officially taken out if the fold of Islam. But that has only created more interest in my work. So I’m grateful for that. Some Muslims may want to live like this still is 7th century Arabia, but it’s not. If I can’t be part of their Islam, so be it.
I admit that this was not the reaction that I had expected as his conclusion; listening to the story of a struggling man, who had been torn in his heart for many years, who had fought through a hopeless marriage and had then suffered attacks by those he had opened himself up to, I’m stunned to hear that he would come to the epiphany that honesty would still remain the best policy in all cases.
“My conviction and my need for authenticity were greater than my fear of death. I would rather want to meet my creator knowing that I didn’t live a false life. Now I live on the peripheries of society. I know that. But I’m not a flamboyant queen running around in my underwear in bright colours. I have a mobile mosque on wheels during Cape Town’s Gay Pride, but that’s as far as I ever really venture into the gay scene.”
It almost sounds as if Imam Hendricks didn’t come out so he could be gay, but that he was born with a gay identity so he could benefit from the growth acquired by experiencing a coming out, and to go on to share his story with others around the world, which is exactly where his journey took him to next.
Within a few years of his coming out, Hendricks found himself travelling all over the globe while connecting with other gay and lesbian Muslims and other LGBT individuals, who felt abused at the hands of their religion. Hendricks soon turned into the ultimate poster-boy of a growing underground movement, which does not only address questions of gender and sexuality within Islam but hopes to portray a different face of the religion than the conflict-ridden faith shown on 24-hour news channels.
“I’ve encountered thousands of gay and lesbian Muslim on my journey now. Literally thousands. But I’m not interested in people’s sexuality. Beneath all that, there’s always a soul that’s yearning to understand itself. And that’s what I’m interested in. I’ve been through such struggles trying to reconcile my religion with my sexuality. I saw other people who didn’t have such tools to reconcile. So I wanted to provide others with tools to make sure that they don’t get into drugs or commit suicide or lose themselves in any other way.”
With that goal in mind, Muhsin Hendricks went on to establish INNER CIRCLE in 1996; his Cape Town-based community outreach centre grew into a fully-fledged Not-For-Profit Human Rights Organisation within a matter of a few years, its core values holding a vision of creating “a global Muslim community free from discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.”
However, before he even knew it, Hendricks’s says that his mission had become much bigger than simply addressing a matter of sexuality.
“I learned that homosexuality was just the first avenue to address a lot of other injustice committed in the name of Islam. And now you’d be amazed at the amount of straight people that are attracted to our organisation. So I realised that I’d taken on something big. I’ve taken on the patriarchy that sits behind Islam. It’s not easy, and it requires a good amount of faith to do that work. But thankfully, I am in the business of faith.”
It may appear like a slippery slope to straight-forward queer activism when it is faith itself that had led Hendricks to fight for his convictions in the first place, but the prolific religious leader asserts that his approach is all about scholarly foundations and academic research when it comes to justifying his cause and defending his religion, without ever ignoring the importance and the impact of his ministry.
“We’ve even had people come to INNER CIRCLE who became Muslim only after coming here. We don’t teach that Islam is a club with rules. We teach humanity. The prophet himself simply taught a spiritual system. I don’t think he intended for Islam to become organised in the way it is now. Islam has become an elite club around the world – one with membership reserved for the traditional patriarchy only. INNER CIRCLE, on the other hand, challenges that view, and even threatens it. For if gender becomes fluid, where does the patriarchy ground itself?
While bending traditional gender images, Imam Hendricks has performed nine same-sex marriages in total since finding his spiritual calling in life, complete with traditional Islamic ceremonies. His own marriage to a man of Indian descent was also sanctified as a “nikkah” – a marriage in Islam – while certain cross-cultural elements were brought in to ensure that his Hindu husband also got his traditions honoured at the interfaith ceremony.
“We’ve been married for three years now, together for eight years. That is longer than most straight relationship I’ve encountered in many places.”
Despite the fact that Hendricks stands out as unusual voice within South Africa’s Muslim community, he is not alone in the battle against the shackles of patriarchy in Islam. There are a number of further noteworthy gay imams in the world, such as in Washington, in Rotterdam, and in Paris, he tells me. Hendricks adds that there are many other religious leaders in Islam, who remain in the closet about their sexuality. He asserts that he empathises with their journeys, but that Islam itself demands authenticity.
“In Islam, your character should be the Quran. But the Quran is not against homosexuality. Even scholars have begun to agree on that nowadays. All they can say is that it is a sin but not a crime. Yet nothing about homosexuality is mentioned in the Quran. You have the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which if you study properly is about prostitution, molestation, rape and other such instances. It’s not about gay people. The Quran is not obsessed with gays in the way that some of these imams seem to be obsessed with gays.
“In fact, what is mentioned in other sources is that even the Prophet himself had men working for him in his household, who had no interest in women whatsoever. So our existence is acknowledged and even supported by the sayings of the Prophet. If the Prophet can have a gay servant, it means that he gives his blessing to that sexuality.”
Hendricks also mentions that Islam has a much-ignored history of homosexuality.
“If you want to look for role models, you don’t have to look far. Abu Nawas wrote homoerotic poetry, Rumi was clearly in love with chums, and Shah Hussain in India was very much distracted by the Punjabi boys. We have our queer role models within the tradition of Islam, and one day I hope to be one too.”
Whatever the future may hold for Imam Muhsin Hendricks, it is clear he has long moved on from the days of being a closeted man, hiding away from the world behind a sham marriage, and has come to create a modern reality, which not only works for him but also inspires those, who come to him for guidance. His attempt to bridge the understanding between gay Muslims and their communities has become a global spiritual network – a family -which is aware of its rightful place within their faith. And for that alone, he deserves being called a modern-day role model for Muslims the world over.
“You can say that I lead a very modern life. My husband is Hindu. But he doesn’t practise. Well, I actually think that he’s a closeted Muslim. We’ve been married for three years now. I have four beautiful children, and I worship God everyday. What more can you ask for?”
It would appear that for Hendricks, the story of his personal growth and of INNER CIRCLE have come full circle.