The Inner Circle started as a social group in 1996 when some Sufi Muslims realised the need to create support for queer Muslims. Imam Muhsin Hendricks, ex-scholar of the University of Karachi, Jamia Dirasaat (1990 – 1994) pioneered the venture with a vision to reconcile homosexuality and transsexualism with Islam. Imam Muhsin created a safe space in a corner of his garage and brought together 25 gay men into dialogue, providing psycho-spiritual support and helping them to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation and gender identity.
This was co-incidentally at the same time as the adoption of The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, where The Bill of Rights (Chapter 2: Section 9) clearly states that: “The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.”
A year later the group became more inclusive and dynamic by inviting similarly challenged lesbians to join the group and the membership rose to 36 members. During this period the focus was predominantly on the trauma and suffering of members. Members were not equipped with sufficient professional support to contain the emotions and personal challenges that emerged. This coupled with the fact that the group was not sufficiently focused on the personal and social needs of its members, led to a shift in focus and people exiting the organization in 1997.
In 1998, the group was re-energized and it was transformed into an organisation to support queer Muslims. The organisation was called Al-Fitrah Foundation with “Fitrah” meaning “your natural state as God created you”. The focus of the organization shifted from mere support to public education and training.
Amidst threats from orthodox Muslims, Imam Muhsin Hendricks publicly announced his sexual orientation. The publicity in the Weekend Argus, the Insig Magazine and the first audio-interview on the Voice of the Cape (a prominent Islamic Radio station) provided mixed public reactions. He was subsequently asked to leave his post at the Claremont Main Road Mosque and was also refused visitation rights to see his children. The organisation set up a helpline and received approximately 150 calls. About 80% of the calls from the Muslim community were positive and supportive. Thereafter there was an exodus of members due to the fear of PAGAD and for many years there was a lull. During the following years the membership grew considerably with insights on Islam and Homosexuality. Progressive Muslim individuals and organizations such as Positive Muslims and Islamic Social Welfare Association approached TIC to conduct similar workshops.