Gay Muslims keep the faith

This week, two gay men in Morocco were sentenced to four months in prison and a fine. Homosexuality is a crime is most Islamic countries. But many Muslim homosexuals are trying hard to reconcile their sexual orientation with being confirmed believers.

 A campaign on Facebook against the prison sentence handed to the two homosexual men in Morocco. 

A campaign on Facebook against the prison sentence handed to the two homosexual men in Morocco. 

Muslim homosexuals living in the west are actively trying to change the negative stereotype within their own communities, with a few even coming out. Photographer Samra Habib is one of them.

An innovative project, “Just me and Allah”, is her brainchild, which she launched on Tumblr.

It is an online photography exhibition featuring Muslim homosexuals who decided to reveal their sexual identity, condemned as a sin and a prohibition under strict interpretations of Islam.

Habib brought together Muslim gay people, mostly under 35, who are both religious and gay. Most of them live in the west, a factor that might have had a bearing on their consent to taking part in the project. Older homosexuals approached by Habib chose not to be photographed for fear of the reactions of their relatives.

These homosexuals, whether converts or born-Muslims, have a strong attachment to their faith despite being subjected to stigmatisation and having to live outside the “respectable” community.

Muslim gays in the west see themselves as leading the way towards an inclusive Islam, challenging patriarchy within it and promoting the idea that their religion is not an unchangeable monolith.

Muslim gays around the world can find support and share their experiences on “I am not Haraam” – a blog created for LGBTQ Muslims by LGBTQ Muslims.

In their welcoming message, the team behind the website—all gay Muslims living in the west—says:

The online projects above are an extension of the gay rights’ movement in the west; they consciously inhabit the space that emerged in the past few decades for articulation of sexuality and pleasure.

Negative stereotyping, estrangement, the threat of a shameful loss of respectability and the wish to come out of the closet are part of the general struggle of being a homosexual in the west. But these problems pale in gravity when compared to the real threat- both legal and cultural- that homosexuals face in Islamic countries.

Homosexuality is a crime in nearly all Muslim countries with punishments including anything from fine, life imprisonment and hanging.

Given the uphill struggle in their everyday life, homosexuals in Islamic countries find solace on the internet. One of the online platforms for Arab gays—at least English-speaking ones--is Jordan’s My Kali—which defines itself as “an avant-garde online social and lifestyle magazine”.

It tackles topics related to women’s rights, freedom of speech and LGBTQ issues.

Jordan is one of the very few Islamic countries where homosexuality is not a crime.

The Magazine not only covered but also organised this year’s international day against homophobia, transphobia and bi-phobia. The event, My Kali reported, was attended by “active members of Jordan’s LGBQTIA community”.

The presence of US Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells at the event provoked strong criticism. The country’s Islamic Action Front condemned the meeting as “a form of corruption and deviation” and “a threat to the country’s security and stability”. Similar criticism was echoed in the Jordanian media.

A Jordanian lawyer filed a legal complaint against Wells, which was rejected by the country’s Attorney-General on the grounds that the ambassador has diplomatic immunity from prosecution.

My Kali had to post a disclaimer. 

The US ambassador and the US embassy did not sponsor the event. IDAHOT Jordan 2015 is a non-funded advocacy event organized exclusively by a group of activists and My.Kali Magazine to spread awareness on the social, cultural and business challenges faced by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Queer, Intersex and Agender (LGBTQIA) community in Jordan.

Members of several EU embassies, including the US embassy, unofficially attended the event as a show of support for LGBTQIA rights. The event was not held to “demand/celebrate LGBTQAI rights” as reported. It was purely organized to raise awareness on the broad spectrum of sexual orientation as well as the legal situation and social status of LGBTQIA individuals in Jordan.

Social media offers a platform for Arab homosexuals who, using pseudonyms, freely express their opinions and emotions.

Apart from the very few obscene comments from obvious homophobes, the Facebook page, “Thoughts of a gay man”—all in Egyptian Arabic—is rife with sentimentality and a romanticised vision of love. It draws mostly comments from gay men seeking company and love.

 The Facebook page "Thought of a Gay Man". 

The Facebook page "Thought of a Gay Man". 

On Twitter, a number of Arabic hashtags such as #homosexuality and #homosexualityisnotanoption appear to attract a mix of comments, mostly from Arab homosexuals defending their right.

According to imam Mohsin Hendricks, the Koran does not prohibit homosexuality.

Hendricks is a gay imam based in Cape Town, South Africa and director of Inner Circle, a human rights advocacy that seeks to empower homosexual Muslims and help them reconcile their sexual orientation with Islam.

Hendricks maintained in an interview with The German website that most Muslim scholars consider homosexuality to be a sin but the Koran does not say it is.

We can never change the Koran, but we can change our interpretation of it. Today, we live in a different world than that a thousand years ago. We have to look at the Koran again and see how Islam can become a mercy for a part of the community that is suffering at the moment.

Hendricks, who draws backing from several classical Islamic historians, states that in the golden period of Islam between the seventh and the ninth centuries there was a marked social acceptance of homosexuality.

The poet Abu Nuwas, for example, wrote homoerotic poetry under the rule of Caliph Harun al-Rashid and his work was tolerated, Hendricks said.

Among the many caliphs known for having engaged in same-sex intercourse, the Ummayyad caliph Al-Walid Ibn Abdelmalik (705-715) was the most famous of them. The religious scholar of the Middle Ages, Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, documented this fact in his work “History of the Caliphs”.

Caliph Walid’s reputation for “gay sex and alcohol drinking” has been documented by a 13th century Muslim historian, Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi, in his book “History of Islam”.