Europe's first gay-friendly mosque opened last week in the suburbs of Paris, located within the confines of a small room inside the house of a Buddhist monk. According to its founders, its doors are open to Muslims of all backgrounds and sexual orientations, including those who are transgender and transsexual. Women will also be allowed to lead the congregation in Friday prayers.
Islam has a long tradition of condemning homosexuality. But that tradition stems not from scripture, but from cultural attitudes, according to Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, the founder of the mosque.
"Islam is a philosophy of life, a spiritual quest," says Zahed, who is also a gay-rights activist. "It has nothing to do with controlling sexuality."
Zahed argues that it is not the religion itself that discriminates against women and homosexuality, but rather that Islam has been manipulated by men over the centuries. "You will never see homosexuality - that term - used in the Qur'an, you will never see a verse of the Qur'an forbidding women to be imams. Just the opposite," Zahed says. "It's not Islam."
Similar efforts have also begun in the United States, where a handful of gay-friendly mosques are already open in North America. Ani Zonneveld, who is the co-founder and president of Muslims for Progressive Values, says the idea of inclusive mosques and prayer spaces is catching on around the world.
"When you go to Mecca, we don't segregate when we pray," she says. "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."
Zonneveld says she gets emails from Muslims and ex-Muslims, from all over the world, saying that they did not realize that Islam could be so open-minded. "We get emails from the Middle East even, in regards to women leading prayer," she says. "As far as they're concerned, they've had their Arab Spring, now the next step in an Arab Revolution."
But many conservative Muslims have already condemned the idea. Dalil Boubakeur, the rector at the Great Mosque of Paris, told Reuters that Zahed's gay-friendly mosque is "built upon foundations which are condemned by religion." And he said the mosque "will not be one that others will visit."