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"Sodom & the Koran" - Article in the Gay Times of UK

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  • Al-Fatiha - LGBTQ Muslims
    The following article appeared in the May issue of Gay Times - a monthly gay magazine published in the United Kingdom. A picture of 2 gay Muslim men appears
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 20, 2000
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      The following article appeared in the May issue of Gay
      Times - a monthly gay magazine published in the United
      Kingdom. A picture of 2 gay Muslim men appears with the
      article which can be viewed at

      Copyright: Gay Times, UK

      Sodom & the Koran - By Raza Griffiths

      Can you be gay and a Muslim?

      Yusuf Islam, the musician formerly known as Cat Stevens,
      thinks not, and he has thrown his weight behind Baroness
      Young's campaign to retain Section 28.

      But he cannot speak for all Muslims any more than the noble
      lady can speak for every Christian.

      Increasingly, lesbian and gay Muslims are coming out about
      their pride in both their sexuality and their religion.


      RAZA GRIFFITHS reports

      Religious homophobia has made many gay people frankly
      dismissive of all orthodox religions. Yet even within this
      general scepticism, Islam is seen by some as being
      particularly homophobic, and conjures up images of veiled
      women and fanatical bearded imams stoning homosexuals to
      death in public squares. While this picture in part springs
      from widespread Islamophobia, and does scant justice to the
      day-to-day reality of how homosexuality is accommodated in
      practice within the billion-strong Islamic world, it is not
      entirely without foundation.

      Homosexual acts are a capital crime in several Muslim
      countries. In many others, including Pakistan, they carry
      mandatory prison sentences. In Iran, Islamic hardliners who
      came to power in 1979 imposed the death penalty for
      homosexual acts, in accordance with Islamic law, or
      shariah. Many of those condemned have been stoned to death,
      in accordance with some interpretations of the shariah.
      Precise information on the number of such executions is
      difficult to establish, says Nassim, a member of Homan, a
      gay group for Iranians living in the West. This is because
      the Iranian press suppressed reports of homosexual
      executions following strong protests from Western gay
      activists about the killings. In the early years of the
      Islamic regime, however, when all activities deemed
      "un-Islamic" were openly and vigorously repressed, there
      were well-documented accounts of whole groups of people at
      clandestine homosexual parties being rounded up and
      executed without any evidence of homosexual activity having
      taken place.

      This zeal to rid Iran of homosexuals went directly against
      the limits set even by the shariah, which expressly forbids
      spying to prove homosexual acts have been committed, and,
      furthermore, demands that four male Muslims of sound mind
      witness the act of penetration for the death penalty to be
      incurred. This standard of proof, if properly followed,
      makes prosecutions for homosexual acts almost impossible in
      practice - though Nassim claims that the Iranian
      authorities themselves regularly acted as "witnesses" in
      order to secure convictions. Nevertheless, the result is
      covert tolerance, if not overt acceptance, of homosexuality
      in the majority of Muslim countries, as long as it is not
      publicly seen or talked about.

      The present is a time of monumental upheaval in Iran, with
      liberal reformers having won a landslide victory in the
      Iranian Parliament. However, says Nassim, it is simply too
      early to assess what impact, if any, this will have on the
      situation for homosexuals in Iran. In Afghanistan,
      meanwhile, where shariah law is also in operation, the
      fundamentalist Taliban regime's preferred method of
      execution is to bulldoze a wall onto the guilty parties,
      who are made to lie in a trench dug especially for this
      purpose. Whole villages turn out for these occasions, with
      relatives of the condemned among those forced to watch. The
      Taliban have made no sign that these executions are going
      to stop, despite protests from human rights agencies such
      as Amnesty International.

      Many western countries now have large Muslim populations.
      In Germany, there are three million Muslims, mainly of
      Turkish origin, while France has two million north African
      Muslims. In Britain, the Muslim community is predominantly
      from the Indian subcontinent and numbers one-and-a-half
      million. Of these, an estimated 75,000 are homosexual (a
      figure based on a report on British Muslims by the
      Runnymede Trust in 1998). Muslim religious leaders in
      Britain officially reject homosexuality completely.
      Alongside churches, synagogues and Sikh and Hindu temples,
      Muslim organisations such as the Islamic Party of Britain
      have been organising petitions protesting against the
      Government's attempts to scrap Section 28. Ricky Potts, the
      acting Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Officer at the University
      of Wales in Bangor, was horrified to be asked to sign a
      petition, against the scrapping of Section 28, drawn up by
      the Islamic Presentation Centre International Limited. The
      petition claimed that to scrap the Section would expose
      children "to immoral values and practices [and] will also
      undermine the institutions of the family and damage the
      fabric of our society. Any teaching in school which
      presents homosexual practices � in a morally neutral way is
      profoundly offensive and totally unacceptable to all
      communities and religions."

      Such political action takes its inspiration from an
      orthodox interpretation of Islamic doctrine. Sheikh
      Sharkhawy, a senior cleric at the prestigious Regent's Park
      Mosque, in a written response to my questions, compares
      homosexuality to a "cancer tumour", which must be removed
      to preserve the health of society. Viewing homosexuals as
      "paedophiles and Aids carriers" who have no hope of a
      "spiritual life", he openly and unashamedly argues for the
      execution of gay males over the age of ten and life
      imprisonment for lesbians. Like many orthodox imams, he
      views homosexuality as a symbol of a peculiarly "Western"
      decadence, claiming that "homosexuality is not tolerated in
      Islamic countries".

      More liberal imams, such as Sheikh Zaki Badawi of the
      Ealing Muslim College, refuse to pigeonhole homosexuality
      in this way. Speaking to Gay Times, he said that "the film
      My Beautiful Laundrette [which centres on the love of a gay
      Muslim man for a white former racist] should serve as a
      useful reminder to the Muslim community that they cannot
      simply sweep gays and lesbians under the carpet.
      Homosexuality has always existed and continues to exist in
      all Islamic countries. Indeed, many high-ranking leaders in
      the Islamic world are gay." Sheikh Badawi categorically
      rejects homophobic violence. "In Britain," he says, "we
      Muslims are in a minority, and it should not be our task to
      encourage intolerance towards other minorities." He is one
      of the few Muslim figures who advocates the teaching of
      homosexuality in the context of sex education lessons in
      schools, as long as it does not challenge the "normality"
      of the traditional heterosexual family by "promoting"
      homosexuality. However, toleration does not equal
      acceptance, and even he considers homosexuality to be a
      "problem" similar to alcoholism, which is against Islamic
      teaching, even though being an alcoholic or gay does not
      disqualify one from being Muslim.

      Such attitudes from within the Muslim community have made
      positive validation of a gay Muslim identity extremely
      difficult. Not surprisingly, many gay people from Muslim
      backgrounds simply leave Islam. At a recent meeting on the
      subject in Leicester (where there is a large Muslim
      population), a young gay man who had rejected Islam said
      simply, "It's a choice between praying and sucking cock -
      you can't do both at the same time." Other gay Muslims who
      are very religious often become severely depressed as a
      result of the internalised guilt they feel at their
      closeted sexuality.

      Compared with homosexuals from other faith denominations,
      the situation for gay Muslims of faith has been noticeably
      bad. For many years now, gay and gay-friendly Christian
      organisations and individuals, such as the Rt Revd Richard
      Holloway, the Bishop of Edinburgh, have very publicly
      denounced homophobia while affirming the possibility of
      being gay and remaining true to one's faith

      In the past three years, the homophobia of Islamic
      orthodoxy has begun to be challenged by gay Muslims
      themselves. It all started with the formation of a
      ground-breaking new homosexual Muslim group, Al-Fatiha, in
      the US in 1997. Al-Fatiha is the brainchild of Faisal Alam.
      Facing the same dilemmas as other gay Muslims, he searched
      the internet to find information about homosexuality and
      Islam. Finding absolutely nothing there, he set up his own
      internet discussion group (listserv) for gay Muslims from
      all over the world to discuss issues of common concern in a
      safe environment. The listserv has now grown to over 1,500
      members worldwide, from America to Indonesia. The first
      Al-Fatiha Retreat, attended by 40 people, took place in
      Boston in October 1998.

      Faisal Alam crossed the Atlantic in November 1999 to form
      an Al-Fatiha chapter in this country. The very first
      meeting of Al-Fatiha UK brought together 30 men and women
      from all over Britain to the basement of a bar in Old
      Compton Street, Soho - the heart of London's gay scene.
      Faisal convened a second meeting in Leicester and a third,
      also in Soho, before returning home to the States. At these
      gatherings, people shared the intricacies of their lives as
      well as discussing some of the theological arguments for a
      pro-gay Muslim position. Many had their own tales to tell
      of ostracism and feelings of isolation, but also
      inspirational stories of being gay and Muslim.

      The name Al-Fatiha is taken from the title of the first
      chapter of the Koran, and signifies "the Beginning" or
      "Opening". It consists of an invocation for guidance from
      Allah, who is referred to as "the Compassionate, the
      Merciful One". Faisal Alam believes that these qualities -
      and not the fundamentalism of extremist groups - represent
      the true essence of Islam. In addition, Faisal explains,
      the "Opening" refers hopefully to the beginning of a
      dialogue through which the mainstream Muslim community will
      come to acknowledge the millions of gay Muslims in its
      midst and open its arms to them.

      Despite the severe hostility homosexual Muslims had
      experienced from their communities, some people at the
      early meetings of Al-Fatiha UK were wary of provoking an
      Islamophobic backlash by highlighting exclusively Islamic
      homophobia. Ali, a sexual health worker from NAZ who runs
      an HIV forum, had been forced to move after unsolicited
      visits to his home from an imam from the Balham mosque and
      some of his followers. They demanded that he stop his work,
      which, they said, was "corrupting" the Muslim community,
      "or else". Yet, says Ali, "I believe that what they did was
      not Islamic in the sense I understand Islam. There is
      considerable Islamophobia in Britain, and the last thing we
      as gay Muslims want is to be marginalised twice over, once
      for being gay and again for being Muslim."

      Yet this dilemma is little understood by the wider gay
      community. A leader article in the September 7th, 1998
      issue of the now-defunct London-based gay magazine
      Metropolis even called for homophobic Muslims to be
      deported back to their country of origin. "While we
      understand that the extreme homophobia of some Muslims
      leads non-Muslim gay people to characterise Islam itself as
      homophobic," says Ifti, an Al-Fatiha spokesperson, "we have
      to be very careful to make a distinction between the two so
      as not to alienate potential straight Muslim supporters and
      to offer homosexual Muslims the possibility of being true
      to their faith. We have to emphasise the fact that
      interpreting the religious texts is a dynamic process and
      that application of religious laws must take into account
      the changing social context. While we recognise that we
      have many powerful allies in the non-Muslim community, we
      must also recognise that, ultimately, the situation for gay
      Muslims of faith can only be improved by changing attitudes
      from within the Muslim community itself. This is the
      revolutionary task Al-Fatiha is attempting to carry out."

      Not everyone views being gay and Muslim as a burden,
      however. A lesbian member of Al-Fatiha UK, Nur-ul-Islam,
      emphasises that although her dual identity had caused her a
      lot of internal soul-searching, it was finally a source of
      tremendous inspiration to her, as she had to question
      everything about herself and her spirituality in a way
      straight people do not. This led her on a quest for a
      higher spiritual meaning. "Contrary to what fundamentalists
      might say, Islam is not a dogmatic religion but emphasises
      the search for truth. Being gay or lesbian can be a real
      spur to this quest," she insists.

      Al-Fatiha members have been active in UNISON, Britain's
      largest public sector trade union, which has many gay
      Muslim members. UNISON's National Gay and Lesbian
      C4ommittee (which has 2,500 members) passed a resolution
      last year which supported Al-Fatiha in its activities while
      condemning the homophobic persecution of gays in

      Meanwhile, plans are underway to open a chapter of
      Al-Fatiha in Jerusalem - a city which is considered the
      third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi
      Arabia. This chapter will operate with the help of the
      Jerusalem Open House, a multi-faith gay centre co-founded
      by Rabbi Steven Greenburg, the US's only openly gay
      orthodox rabbi. A copy of the Koran and resources for gay
      Muslims are to be housed at the Open House's library. In
      this way it is hoped to help create dialogue between the
      city's sharply segregated religious communities as well as
      offering help for homosexual Muslims. Within the next two
      years Al-Fatiha hopes to connect with LGBTQ Muslims and
      organise support and discussion groups around the world.

      Al-Fatiha is not the world's first gay Muslim organisation.
      An earlier San Francisco-based group, called the Lavender
      Crescent Society, misjudging the situation completely, sent
      five members to Iran in 1979 following the overthrow of the
      Shah and the coming to power of the hard-line Ayatollah
      Khomeini, in the hope of creating an Iranian gay Muslim
      movement. The five were taken straight from the airport to
      a place of execution and killed. Gay Iranians were forced
      to go underground after this.

      Even within the West, gay Muslims are bound to attract a
      certain level of hostility. An organisation called Min-Alaq
      was formed in Toronto in the early 1990s, but folded after
      threats from religious fundamentalists. Al-Fatiha has also
      received death threats just before some of its events,
      though no incident has occurred so far. For the forthcoming
      Retreat in London, the Metropolitan Police are in contact
      with the New York police to assist in security concerns.
      "We are aware of the potential negative reaction from
      fundamentalist groups in Britain, such as Al Muhajiroun,
      and will take all necessary precautions to ensure the event
      goes smoothly," said an Al-Fatiha UK spokesperson.


      * the names of some of the gay Muslims quoted in this
      article have been changed

      * Al-Fatiha holds regular meetings and social events. For
      more details of these and the forthcoming Retreat (May
      26th-29th), write to Al-Fatiha UK, Box No 424, 37 Store
      Street, London WC1, send an email to
      alfatiha_london@... or phone 0774-763 6010 and ask
      for Adnan. To subscribe to the gay Muslim internet
      discussion group, send an email to gaymuslims@....
      Visit the website on www.al-fatiha.org

      * Homan UK, the secular group for gay Iranians, can be
      contacted by writing to Homan UK, BM Box 7826, London WC1N
      3XX or by email at homan@.... Their website is
      at www.Homan.cwc

      Al-Fatiha is an international organization for Muslims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning & their friends! web site: http://www.al-fatiha.org

      Al-Fatiha, UK & Al-Fatiha Foundation, USA proudly present the 2nd International Retreat for LGBTQ Muslims - May 26-29, 2000 - London, England. For more information email us!

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