How do you feel about gay Muslims?

When Munir Sidran was a child, he drew mosques and men on flying carpets. This is how he imagined it, the mysterious Orient, full of wonder and spirituality. His father is Muslim and his mother is Orthodox. One day they emigrate together, away from the former Yugoslavia, and are looking for a new life in Catholic Bavaria. Today Sidran is no longer a child, he has long been a man, 48 years old. A man of faith, a Muslim, like his father. And: Sidran is gay.

To be both at the same time, a member of his religious community and homosexual, that is not easy for Sidran. Sometimes it scares him. He nervously lights a cigarette and says: "You shouldn't be intimidated." But his real name shouldn't be in the papers. Homosexuality and Islam - that is a delicate combination. "The subject is hot," says Ahmad Popal, Imam of a small Muslim community who prays in the Hansahaus: "Like a hand grenade - with a pin pulled out."

Only a few Munich imams are willing to speak publicly about the "hot" topic. Popal is the exception. Talking about sexuality in your own, protected community is actually a cultural break, says the 29-year-old. The imam tells of a phone call he received some time ago: a Muslim father asked him for help. The man complained that his son was possessed by the devil. It must be like that, after all, his son is gay. In one fell swoop, the young man became the black sheep of the family, reports the imam. "If you have no knowledge, you have fears. There is a lot of radicalism." Convincing parents that the devil was not involved is difficult. "These are families who have learned and lived differently for 50 years."

Prejudice, rejection, fear - Sidran experiences all of these too. While smoking the next cigarette, he reports derogatory remarks when he talks to other Muslims about his homosexuality - and attempts to "convert" him from it. That's why he hardly talks about it, hides this part of his life. "Of course I struggle with it inside. I sit in mosques, pray because it is important to me, and at the same time I know that in this environment I could never open up my point of view on the role of women or same-sex love," he says. He would like to pray with other Muslims "who understand me". Just where?

Of course, Sidran isn't the only gay Muslim in town. The employees of the Munich gay center Sub know that too. There has been a self-help group for gay refugees there for some time. From this group, questions repeatedly arose as to where one could get to know other gay Muslims, because they always kept a low profile, reports sub-therapist Christopher Knoll. This is how Ishq came about, a self-help group for homosexual and bisexual Muslims. Ishq is the Arabic word for love, the members call themselves the "brothers of colored light". It is the first group of its kind in Munich, says Knoll. The brothers met for the first time at the end of January, and since then the meetings have been held on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Sidran is also there.

Can a homosexual be a good Muslim? "Naturally"

Fear even creeps into the controlled environment of the gay center. Visitors to the Sub feared, says Knoll, that you could get into the crosshairs of Islamists through Ishq. Even gays have "fear of contact," reports the psychologist. Homosexual Muslims would be discriminated against twice: by their religious community and by other gays. Ishq is now set to provide a much-needed shelter.

Eight men came at the first meeting, Knoll says. Two of them huddled around the sub-café for a long time and wondered if they could dare to enter the new group's room. Homosexuality is stigmatized in Muslim communities, says Knoll. Family members and friends should not find out that you are gay. For many, attending a self-help group is an overcoming. "The fear that people will find out that you are gay is always there," says Knoll. "But it takes a minimum of publicity and courage to come to us. Those who are totally scared often don't even come." But a few come - at the second meeting there were already 13.

The group is still small and the topic is taboo in many families. "I don't let my spirituality be taken away from me any more than my sexuality," says Sidran. The discourse must finally be carried into the Islamic communities: Can a homosexual be a good Muslim? "Of course," says Imam Popal. "Who takes the right to put themselves above the other? As good Muslims we must not demonize or humiliate anyone." In the end everyone has to answer to God for himself.

With his attitude, says the young imam, he offends conservative circles. He grew up in Neuperlach and Hasenbergl and knows many "radicals" personally. Some sought his advice now and then, others would send him death threats. For a while he was even under police protection. No one can say how many Muslims are victims of homophobic violence; there are no statistics on this. Anyone who is ashamed of being gay, who keeps their homosexuality a secret, will not just reveal it to a foreign police officer.

Popal tries to fight with arguments, not violence. You shouldn't let the wrong people rule, says the Imam. But this fight, the fight of the arguments, is being waged less and less. "Often the loud voice wins, the black-and-white picture." This is how Sidran experiences it too. "There's a lot of contempt," he says. "And I'm somehow in the middle of it."