Seyran Ateş

Beating the patriarchy with love

She’s a bisexual Muslim, a feminist, an imam and a lawyer. On her personal mission for the modernization of Islam, Seyran Ateş meets much resistance. Still, her optimism and love overcome many obstacles.

Seyran Ateş was born in Istanbul in 1963, and as a child moved to a small apartment in Germany. Seeing that German girls had more freedom than her, she started asking questions. ‘Why are girls raised differently from boys? Why are we treated differently?’ If a girl wanted to go somewhere, Ates explains in Sex, Revolution and Islam: Seyran Ateş, the documentary about her life, she was a ‘bad girl’. ‘In my family and neighbourhood, they always talked about women as whores. If I said “I just want to live my life”, they said: “You want to be a whore?”’ As a teenager, she was beaten every time she objected or did something ‘wrong’. ‘If I read a book, they beat me, and told me to clean the house instead.’ So, at 17, she ran away from home.

Ever since, Seyran Ateş has followed her own path, looking for the freedom she longed for as a child. That is not without risk, however. In 2009 she published her book Islam needs a sexual revolution, and in 2017 she founded a mosque without gender separation and with an open door for the LGBTQ community. It earned her a fatwa and permanent police protection. In 1984, she was shot working at a counseling centre for Turkish women. ‘It’s a miracle I survived’, she said in an interview. The experience made her all the more determined to fight on. ‘I believe in God, a gentle, merciful God, and I believe I was meant to live so I could fight this battle.’

As an imam in her own mosque, the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque in Berlin, she has a deeply rooted love for Islam. ‘I am not fighting Islam’, she explains, ‘I’m fighting patriarchy. It’s patriarchy which discriminates and oppresses women. Patriarchy and its traditions are the real problems.’ Therefore, she says, Islam needs to be modernized: ‘We live in the 21st century, but we’re teaching Islam like it’s the 7th century.’

She hopes to open similar mosques across Germany and Europe. Through them she wants to spread love. ‘This love makes us grow, gives us relief, makes us tolerant’, she says. ‘With this love, we can approach others in a spirit of mercy.’

Sex, Revolution and Islam: Seyran Ateş is shown at the Movies that Matter Festival 2021, where Seyran Ateş will be a special guest.