France has seen its share of debate recently over both President Francois Hollande’s push for marriage equality and the country’s increasing Muslim population. Some say these facts contrast with the country’s historical ties to the Roman Catholic Church and its ongoing commitment to maintaining a politically secular state. Others see both as opportunities to embrace diversity. In the midst of these discussions, Ludovic Mohammed Zahed, a French-Algerian Koran scholar, recently opened a fully LGBT-inclusive mosque in Paris’ suburbs.
Zahed has kept the exact location of the mosque private due to security concerns, but says "We need to have a safe space for people who do not feel comfortable and at ease in normal mosques. […] Common prayer, practiced in an egalitarian setting and without any form of gender-based discrimination, is one of the pillars supporting the proposed reforms of our progressive representation of Islam."
The mosque, called The Unity, was inspired by the work of Muslims for Progressive Values, which works in the United States and Canada, and is now an official chapter of the organization. When asked about what she thinks about this new project and how her work has impacted the global Islamic community, Ani Zonneveld, Co-Founder and President of Muslims for Progressive Values, told GLAAD, “Our mere existence has challenged members of traditional mosques to think about the issues we raise, which their mosque leadership has had to address.”
In a public radio interview earlier this week, Zonneveld said, "When you go to Mecca, we don't segregate when we pray. We have always had female imams in our heritage, but what happened was politics, what happened was power, what happened was misogyny took over Islam."
The response to the work of Muslims for Progressive Values has been varied, according to Zonneveld. Some Muslim leaders have, “[condemned] MPV and [distributed] flyers to their congregations to call and berate [them]”, she said. Conversely, Zonneveld, with her vision of a radically inclusive Islam, has emboldened people around the world looking for an alternative—people like Zahed. “I am also in talks with folks for an MPV in Denmark in 2013,” she said.
There are a handful of inclusive mosques in the United States, Canada, and South Africa, but The Unity is believed to be the first in Europe.