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When Hugo Marcus (1880–1966), a German Jewish gay author, philosopher, and activist, converted to Islam in 1925, he “did not know yet what significance the word ‘jihad’ would one day mean to [him]. For it also signifies the duty to leave the country that is under godless rule, even if in so doing one has to give up one’s homeland. In this sense,” he wrote retrospectively in 1951, “I have been on a pilgrimage for the last twelve years” (135). In a footnote to this quotation from Marcus’s unpublished manuscript, Marc David Baer, author of this fascinating, erudite, and unusual biography, clarifies Marcus’s probable confusion between the Islamic terms jihad (holy war) and hejira (exile, migration). Driven away from his homeland in 1939, Marcus interpreted his own life in the religious vocabulary of Islam. But, ascending to become one the most prominent Muslims in pre-war Berlin, he also interpreted Islam in the light of his own experiences, worldviews, and wishes: as a German Jewish gay man. Not only was Marcus assigned with the monumentally significant project of editing and annotating the Qur’an’s translation into German, aimed at rendering it accessible to non-Arab speakers (reminiscent of Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig’s project of the Hebrew Bible’s translation into German, which would be an interesting point of comparison), but he also published numerous articles discussing Islam and philosophy as well as homoerotic fiction with Islamic themes.


This article was originally published in The Journal of the American Academy of Religion volume 89, issue 4 in December 2021.

Original Publication Information

Asaf Angermann, German, Jew, Muslim, Gay: The Life and Times of Hugo Marcus. By Marc David Baer, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 89, Issue 4, December 2021, Pages 1475–1478