1 The True Clash of Civilizations-Sex 4/03
2 Summer lovin’ – Arab Gays, Lesbians coming out of the closet? 8/03
3 Gay Muslims Work Toward a New Islam 8/03
4 Arabian Nightsweats (essay) 6/03
5 A Muslim calls for reform – and she’s a lesbian 1/04
6 Woman Fights for Equality in West Virginia (USA) Mosque 1/04
7 How a Muslim woman (USA) broke a taboo by praying with men 1/04
8 Review of Book by Lesbian Mulsim Author Irshad Manji 1/04
9 Al-Fatiha hold successful 2004 North Amertican conference in Los Angeles 2/04
10 Outing the Middle East 2/04
10a Differences in opinions among men and women (non-gay story) 5/04
11 Web site galvanizing Muslim moderates 6/04
12 Progressive Muslims rally around web site 10/04
13 Dissident Sexualities: Muslim and Gay in the UK 12/04
14 No Condoms & Gays Must Repent Arab AIDS Summit Agrees 12/04
15 Gay Muslims will hold international conference in Atlanta 8/05
16 Queer Muslims finish 5th international conference in (post script) 9/05
Foreign Policy Magazine, Washington, DC ( http://www.foreignpolicy.com ) http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/story.php?storyID=13562
The True Clash of Civilizations-Sex
Samuel Huntington was only half right. The cultural fault line that divides the West and the Muslim world is not about democracy but sex.According to a new survey, Muslims and their Western counterparts want democracy, yet they are worlds apart when it comes to attitudes toward divorce, abortion, gender equality, and gay rights – which may not bode well for democracy’s future in the Middle East.
by Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris
Democracy promotion in Islamic countries is now one of the Bush administration’s most popular talking points. “We reject the condescending notion that freedom will not grow in the Middle East,” Secretary of State Colin Powell declared last December as he unveiled the White House’s new Middle East Partnership Initiative to encourage political and economic reform in Arab countries.
Likewise, Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush’s national security advisor, promised last September that the United States is committed to “the march of freedom in the Muslim world.” But does the Muslim world march to the beat of a different drummer? Despite Bush’s optimistic pronouncement that there is “no clash of civilizations” when it comes to “the common rights and needs of men and women,” others are not so sure. Samuel Huntington’s controversial 1993 thesis – that the cultural division between “Western Christianity” and “Orthodox Christianity and Islam” is the new fault line for conflict–resonates more loudly than ever since September 11. Echoing Huntington, columnist Polly Toynbee argued in the British Guardian last November, “What binds together a globalized force of some extremists from many continents is a united hatred of Western values that seems to them to spring from Judeo-Christianity.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Democratic Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, after sitting through hours of testimony on U.S.-Islamic relations on Capitol Hill last October, testily blurted, “Why doesn’t democracy grab hold in the Middle East? What is there about the culture and the people and so on where democracy just doesn’t seem to be something they strive for and work for?” Huntington’s response would be that the Muslim world lacks the core political values that gave birth to representative democracy in Western civilization: separation of religious and secular authority, rule of law and social pluralism, parliamentary institutions of representative government, and protection of individual rights and civil liberties as the buffer between citizens and the power of the state.
This claim seems all too plausible given the failure of electoral democracy to take root throughout the Middle East and North Africa. According to the latest Freedom House rankings, almost two thirds of the 192 countries around the world are now electoral democracies. But among the 47 countries with a Muslim majority, only one fourth are electoral democracies – and none of the core Arabic-speaking societies falls into this category. Yet this circumstantial evidence does little to prove Huntington correct, since it reveals nothing about the underlying beliefs of Muslim publics. Indeed, there has been scant empirical evidence whether Western and Muslim societies exhibit deeply divergent values – that is, until now.
The cumulative results of the two most recent waves of the World Values Survey (WVS), conducted in 1995-96 and 2000-2002, provide an extensive body of relevant evidence. Based on questionnaires that explore values and beliefs in more than 70 countries, the WVS is an investigation of sociocultural and political change that encompasses over 80 percent of the world’s population. A comparison of the data yielded by these surveys in Muslim and non-Muslim societies around the globe confirms the first claim in Huntington’s thesis: Culture does matter – indeed, it matters a lot. Historical religious traditions have left an enduring imprint on contemporary values.
However, Huntington is mistaken in assuming that the core clash between the West and Islam is over political values. At this point in history, societies throughout the world (Muslim and Judeo-Christian alike) see democracy as the best form of government. Instead, the real fault line between the West and Islam, which Huntington’s theory completely overlooks, concerns gender equality and sexual liberalization. In other words, the values separating the two cultures have much more to do with eros than demos.
As younger generations in the West have gradually become more liberal on these issues, Muslim nations have remained the most traditional societies in the world. This gap in values mirrors the widening economic divide between the West and the Muslim world. Commenting on the disenfranchisement of women throughout the Middle East, the United Nations Development Programme observed last summer that “no society can achieve the desired state of well-being and human development, or compete in a globalizing world, if half its people remain marginalized and disempowered.” But this “sexual clash of civilizations” taps into far deeper issues than how Muslim countries treat women. A society’s commitment to gender equality and sexual liberalization proves time and again to be the most reliable indicator of how strongly that society supports principles of tolerance and egalitarianism.
Thus, the people of the Muslim world overwhelmingly want democracy, but democracy may not be sustainable in their societies. Testing Huntington Huntington argues that “ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, [and] the separation of church and state” often have little resonance outside the West. Moreover, he holds that Western efforts to promote these ideas provoke a violent backlash against “human rights imperialism.”
To test these propositions, we categorized the countries included in the WVS according to the nine major contemporary civilizations, based largely on the historical religious legacy of each society. The survey includes 22 countries representing Western Christianity (a West European culture that also encompasses North America, Australia, and New Zealand), 10 Central European nations (sharing a Western Christian heritage, but which also lived under Communist rule), 11 societies with a Muslim majority (Albania, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Turkey), 12 traditionally Orthodox societies (such as Russia and Greece), 11 predominantly Catholic Latin American countries, 4 East Asian societies shaped by Sino-Confucian values, 5 sub-Saharan Africa countries, plus Japan and India.
Despite Huntington’s claim of a clash of civilizations between the West and the rest, the WVS reveals that, at this point in history, democracy has an overwhelmingly positive image throughout the world. In country after country, a clear majority of the population describes “having a democratic political system” as either “good” or “very good.” These results represent a dramatic change from the 1930s and 1940s, when fascist regimes won overwhelming mass approval in many societies; and for many decades, Communist regimes had widespread support. But in the last decade, democracy became virtually the only political model with global appeal, no matter what the culture.
With the exception of Pakistan, most of the Muslim countries surveyed think highly of democracy: In Albania, Egypt, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Morocco, and Turkey, 92 to 99 percent of the public endorsed democratic institutions – a higher proportion than in the United States (89 percent). Yet, as heartening as these results may be, paying lip service to democracy does not necessarily prove that people genuinely support basic democratic norms – or that their leaders will allow them to have democratic institutions.
Although constitutions of authoritarian states such as China profess to embrace democratic ideals such as freedom of religion, the rulers deny it in practice. In Iran’s 2000 elections, reformist candidates captured nearly three quarters of the seats in parliament, but a theocratic elite still holds the reins of power. Certainly, it’s a step in the right direction if most people in a country endorse the idea of democracy. But this sentiment needs to be complemented by deeper underlying attitudes such as interpersonal trust and tolerance of unpopular groups – and these values must ultimately be accepted by those who control the army and secret police.
The WVS reveals that, even after taking into account differences in economic and political development, support for democratic institutions is just as strong among those living in Muslim societies as in Western (or other) societies. For instance, a solid majority of people living in Western and Muslim countries gives democracy high marks as the most efficient form of government, with 68 percent disagreeing with assertions that “democracies are indecisive” and “democracies aren’t good at maintaining order.” (All other cultural regions and countries, except East Asia and Japan, are far more critical.) And an equal number of respondents on both sides of the civilizational divide (61 percent) firmly reject authoritarian governance, expressing disapproval of “strong leaders” who do not “bother with parliament and elections.”
Muslim societies display greater support for religious authorities playing an active societal role than do Western societies. Yet this preference for religious authorities is less a cultural division between the West and Islam than it is a gap between the West and many other less secular societies around the globe, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. For instance, citizens in some Muslim societies agree overwhelmingly with the statement that “politicians who do not believe in God are unfit for public office” (88 percent in Egypt, 83 percent in Iran, and 71 percent in Bangladesh), but this statement also garners strong support in the Philippines (71 percent), Uganda (60 percent), and Venezuela (52 percent). Even in the United States, about two fifths of the public believes that atheists are unfit for public office.
However, when it comes to attitudes toward gender equality and sexual liberalization, the cultural gap between Islam and the West widens into a chasm. On the matter ofequal rights and opportunities for women – measured by such questions as whether men make better political leaders than women or whether university education is more important for boys than for girls – Western and Muslim countries score 82 percent and 55 percent, respectively. Muslim societies are also distinctively less permissive toward homosexuality, abortion, and divorce.
These issues are part of a broader syndrome of tolerance, trust, political activism, and emphasis on individual autonomy that constitutes “self-expression values.” The extent to which a society emphasizes these self-expression values has a surprisingly strong bearing on the emergence and survival of democratic institutions.
Among all the countries included in the WVS, support for gender equality – a key indicator of tolerance and personal freedom – is closely linked with a society’s level of democracy. In every stable democracy, a majority of the public disagrees with the statement that “men make better political leaders than women.” None of the societies in which less than 30 percent of the public rejects this statement (such as Jordan, Nigeria, and Belarus) is a true democracy.
In China, one of the world’s least democratic countries, a majority of the public agrees that men make better political leaders than women, despite a party line that has long emphasized gender equality (Mao Zedong once declared, “women hold up half the sky”). In practice, Chinese women occupy few positions of real power and face widespread discrimination in the workplace. India is a borderline case. The country is a long-standing parliamentary democracy with an independent judiciary and civilian control of the armed forces, yet it is also marred by a weak rule of law, arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicial killings.
The status of Indian women reflects this duality. Women’s rights are guaranteed in the constitution, and Indira Gandhi led the nation for 15 years. Yet domestic violence and forced prostitution remain prevalent throughout the country, and, according to the WVS, almost 50 percent of the Indian populace believes only men should run the government.
The way a society views homosexuality constitutes another good litmus test of its commitment to equality. Tolerance of well-liked groups is never a problem. But if someone wants to gauge how tolerant a nation really is, find out which group is the most disliked, and then ask whether members of that group should be allowed to hold public meetings, teach in schools, and work in government. Today, relatively few people express overt hostility toward other classes, races, or religions, but rejection of homosexuals is widespread. In response to a WVS question about whether homosexuality is justifiable, about half of the world’s population say “never.” But, as is the case with gender equality, this attitude is directly proportional to a country’s level of democracy. Among authoritarian and quasi-democratic states, rejection of homosexuality is deeply entrenched: 99 percent in both Egypt and Bangladesh, 94 percent in Iran, 92 percent in China, and 71 percent in India.
By contrast, these figures are much lower among respondents in stable democracies: 32 percent in the United States, 26 percent in Canada, 25 percent in Britain, and 19 percent in Germany. Muslim societies are neither uniquely nor monolithically low on tolerance toward sexual orientation and gender equality. Many of the Soviet successor states rank as low as most Muslim societies.
However, on the whole, Muslim countries not only lag behind the West but behind all other societies as well. Perhaps more significant, the figures reveal the gap between the West and Islam is even wider among younger age groups. This pattern suggests that the younger generations in Western societies have become progressively more egalitarian than their elders, but the younger generations in Muslim societies have remained almost as traditional as their parents and grandparents, producing an expanding cultural gap.
Clash of Conclusions
“The peoples of the Islamic nations want and deserve the same freedoms and opportunities as people in every nation,” President Bush declared in a commencement speech at West Point last summer. He’s right. Any claim of a “clash of civilizations” based on fundamentally different political goals held by Western and Muslim societies represents an oversimplification of the evidence. Support for the goal of democracy is surprisingly widespread among Muslim publics, even among those living in authoritarian societies. Yet Huntington is correct when he argues that cultural differences have taken on a new importance, forming the fault lines for future conflict. Although nearly the entire world pays lip service to democracy, there is still no global consensus on the self-expression values – such as social tolerance, gender equality, freedom of speech, and interpersonal trust – that are crucial to democracy.
Today, these divergent values constitute the real clash between Muslim societies and the West. But economic development generates changed attitudes in virtually any society. In particular, modernization compels systematic, predictable changes in gender roles: Industrialization brings women into the paid work force and dramatically reduces fertility rates. Women become literate and begin to participate in representative government but still have far less power than men.
Then, the postindustrial phase brings a shift toward greater gender equality as women move into higher-status economic roles in management and gain political influence within elected and appointed bodies. Thus, relatively industrialized Muslim societies such as Turkey share the same views on gender equality and sexual liberalization as other new democracies. Even in established democracies, changes in cultural attitudes – and eventually, attitudes toward democracy – seem to be closely linked with modernization.
Women did not attain the right to vote in most historically Protestant societies until about 1920, and in much of Roman Catholic Europe until after World War II. In 1945, only 3 percent of the members of parliaments around the world were women. In 1965, the figure rose to 8 percent, in 1985 to 12 percent, and in 2002 to 15 percent.
The United States cannot expect to foster democracy in the Muslim world simply by getting countries to adopt the trappings of democratic governance, such as holding elections and having a parliament. Nor is it realistic to expect that nascent democracies in the Middle East will inspire a wave of reforms reminiscent of the velvet revolutions that swept Eastern Europe in the final days of the Cold War. A real commitment to democratic reform will be measured by the willingness to commit the resources necessary to foster human development in the Muslim world. Culture has a lasting impact on how societies evolve. But culture does not have to be destiny. .
Ronald Inglehart is program director at the Center for Political St udies at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and directs the World Values Survey. Pippa Norris is the McGuire lecturer in comparative politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. They are the authors of Rising Tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change Around the World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
Al Bawaba, The Middle East Gatewa
8 August, 2003
Summer lovin’ – Arab Gays, Lesbians coming out of the closet…?
At times, due to immense attention focused on political developments taking place in the Middle East, a variety of social and cultural phenomena fail to receive the right amount of attention they deserve. This is not to say they are ignored, but rather, not exposed properly or enough. Besides the aforesaid factor about not being “political” enough, the issue of homosexuality in the Arab world is extremely controversial, and encompasses a wide range of moral, psychological and religious dilemmas, which constitute yet another factor in the lack of media coverage it receives.
Still, by reviewing what has been published and printed in recent years by numerous media outlets, it is fair to say that slowly, but surely, homosexuals throughout the Arab world are coming out of their closets. Despite obstacles (and there are quite a few), there appears to be an increase in the coverage the issue of homosexuality receives, whether in the form of printed or electronic media. With the growth of the use of the Internet, it seems Arab gays, lesbians as well as bi-sexuals and transgenders have found new places they can call home.
Various websites deal with the explosive topic of homosexuality and it appears a new community of Arab gays has been born. For one, the LEGAL Institute Website is a non-profit private organization set up by the GayLebanon Group and serves the Lebanese Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender community. According to the group, its goal is to work for the legal, social and cultural equality of these communities in Lebanon, while providing support, social interaction, objective assessments, news updates and other services related to their cause. At GayMiddleEast.com, for example, one can meet people through the site and also find interesting and helpful country-by-country information with recent gay-related news reports.
In one of their feature articles, the site wrote about reports received last summer from Lebanon regarding an anti-gay policy of the management of the local Dunkin Donuts. According to the site, following a short period of quiet, the reports started coming back to them. The Lebanese Executive Economic magazine reported that Dunkin Donuts had reportedly decided to refuse serving “gay-looking” people. Smith, an American expatriate living in the capital of Beirut, was appalled when her gay friend was turned away from the well-known donut shop and she wrote a letter of complaint to Dunkin Donuts management.
Christine Assouad Sfeir, general manager of Dunkin Donuts Lebanon, said that this was not an instance of discrimination against gays. According to the site, its readers were kept up to date with the anti gay stand of Beirut’s Dunkin Donuts. The response letter from the US’s Dunkin Donuts main office to the Lebanese citizen who complained was also displayed. In the response, they said that those shops in Lebanon were locally owned and operated by the licensee who is a respected Lebanese citizen and businessperson as well as an involved member of the Beirut community. In the same site, one can also find an article about an Israeli tourist who was arrested in Cairo after chatting with someone by computer and arranging to meet him. When they eventually met, he was told that he is under arrest and was taken away.
The site also published a letter from a Syrian gay who claimed, “I think the gays in the Middle East sure need protection.” In his fascinating letter, the man wrote about gay life in Syria. “These days”, he wrote, “I think that it’s quite open when compared to other Arab or Islamic countries. But, we do not have any rainbow flagged businesses, or special gay bars or restaurants that we can meet other gays to be social, to talk, to make friends”. He explained that it is possible to meet someone “in the street, in a public place, or in a park”, adding “this is only for sex – not for friendship. I really hate that”. He further explained what happens when Syrian police spot these people.
“Meeting people in the street or in the park can be dangerous”, he warned. “Sometimes the police come and if the guys are doing anything “out of the ordinary” like dancing to music, kissing or looking “too gay” – the police take them for a while”. GLAS, which stands for Gay and Lesbian Arabic Society is a US-based organization which aims “to promote positive images of gays and lesbians in Arab communities worldwide, in addition to combating negative portrayals of Arabs within the gay and lesbian community.”
They serve as a networking organization for Gays and Lesbians of Arab descent or those living in Arab countries. In addition, they provide a support network for their members while fighting for human rights wherever they are oppressed. The purpose of Ahbab site, which refers to itself as “the online community for Queer Arabs worldwide”, is to help the homosexual community communicate, network and stay in touch within Arab communities all over the world. In the site, one can find a wide-range of news, articles, and other services.
According to the site, on the political level, they continue to witness and protest abuse in various Arab countries, especially in Lebanon and Egypt. It reports how gays in Beirut marched in anti-war demonstrations waving Rainbow flags and days later, a popular Gay nightclub in that city was raided. In Egypt’s capital of Cairo, the site says, arrests and jailing of gays continues despite an outcry by global activist groups and members of the American congress. Homosexuality is not explicitly prohibited under Egyptian law, but statutes are based on Sharia (Islamic law), which condemn it as an immoral act. It further reports that in spite of obstacles, there is a renewed feeling of activism in the community, as people are reaching out to each other in an effort to empower one another.
The notion that Arab gays and lesbians have been trying to support one another is widely felt throughout all the Arab gay sites. In Lebanon, the law says that having sexual relations of this sort contradicts the “laws of nature” and the penalty for such behavior can be up to one year in jail. In Qatar, for instance, one can be sent to five years behind bars. In Saudi Arabia, the penalty for convicted homosexuals is death. Executions, in the form of public beheadings are carried out in the oil-rich kingdom. Iran also applies the death penalty for such cases. At gayarab.org, one can engage in live chat with other gay Arabs and friends. The owners of the site state that they have served as an inspiration for other channels to serve the homosexual community and claim that as of today, there are several IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channels, mail lists and websites which serve the gay Arab community. IRC is one of the most popular and interactive services on the Internet, which allows people from all over the world to participate in real-time conversations.
The Al-Fatiha Foundation, for its part, is dedicated to Muslims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, those exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity and their families and friends. According to activists of the Foundation, it is a body that “advances the progressive Islamic notions of peace, equality and justice,” as it envisions a world free from prejudice, injustice and discrimination. Founded five years ago, Al-Fatiha is a US-based non-profit, non-governmental organization. With all that’s been said regarding the rising openness throughout the Arab gay community and the increase in media outlets homosexuals can find comfort in, it is essential to remember that gays living in the Middle East still widely suffer from persecution. Gays and lesbians living in the Arab world are fighting against their own governments’ persecution, according to various human rights groups. According to the Al-Fatiha Foundation, homosexuality is seen as sinful and perverted in most Islamic countries based on Koran verses.
However, although mainstream Islam condemns homosexuality, the Al-Fatiha Foundation claims “there is a growing movement of progressive-minded Muslims who see Islam as an evolving religion that must adapt to modern-day society.” According to Al-Fatiha, there is a general consensus amongst the scholars of Islam that homosexuality is a deviation of man’s true (heterosexual) nature.
Thus, the act of homosexuality is considered sinful and perverted and is viewed with contempt in most Muslim societies and Islamic countries. It states that there are approximately seven verses in the Koran that supposedly refer to homosexuality and same-sex acts and there are at least four hadith in reference to homosexuality, same-sex acts, and even cross-dressing.During the time of the Prophet Muhammad, there was not one single case of a reported punishment or execution for homosexuality or same-sex acts. The first execution to ever have been carried out was in the time of the third Caliph, who ordered a homosexual to be burned while he was alive. Scholars at the time differed in opinion on this sort of punishment, arguing that no human should be burned, thus it was decided that homosexuals should be thrown off the highest building and then stoned to death.
Huriyah (freedom) magazine for homosexual Muslims also reports about gay-related issues. Recently, it reported about an Iraqi-born lesbian’s life in the Arab world. The magazine’s Muslim doctor, for example, dealt with the issue of gays in the military, while another lesbian wrote about homophobia. Queer Jihad, for one, offers provocative articles by writers worldwide as well as readers’ comments. The site also provides numerous links to gay and Islamic cultural, legal, and political sites.
It seems that the increase in the use of the Internet in the Arab world enhances the ability to draw together members of the Arab homosexual community. However, it is important to remember that even though the World Wide Web plays a significant role in the advancement of the homosexual community’s communication, goals, and interests, many Arabs still perceive members of the gay community as perverts, thus, causing their governments to keep the gays and lesbians closed in their closets.
Forward, New York, NY ( http://www.Forward.com )
August 15, 2003
Gay Muslims Work Toward a New Islam
by Mubarak Dahir
The melodic strains of the Muslim call for prayer reverberate off the walls of the odd-shaped room as a handful of men and women gather side by side in a row up front. Eventually, the small assembly of faithful bend and bow in the familiarly graceful motions that constitute the Muslim prayer. But this is no mosque, and certainly no ordinary gathering of Muslims.
It is an all-day conference for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims and their allies. The Saturday, August 9, event is sponsored by Al-Fatiha, a national organization of gay Muslims, and is being held at The New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center on West 13th Street in Greenwich Village. It is just after 2 p.m. when the afternoon prayer begins. There are probably 70 or so people squashed against the back wall of the Caplan Assembly Hall, downing Diet Cokes and turkey or roast beef sandwiches from Subway. The chatter drops to a dramatic whisper when the prayers begin, but most people do not leave the room or stop their conversations just because of the service.
It is not a lack of respect, but rather a reminder, I think, of how deeply ingrained religion is in daily life for those of us who grew up Muslim. This is why we do not feel the churchlike compulsion for grave silence in the face of the Almighty. I do not join in the prayers. Even to say that I am a lapsed Muslim is stretching the truth. My father did his best to pass on his religion to my sister and me, driving us half a dozen times a year from where we lived in small-town Hershey, Pa., to the closest mosque some two and a half hours away, in Washington, D.C.
Like a good son, I memorized the passages from the Koran in Arabic that I barely understood and robotically waded through the ritual motions of prayer. But the Muslim thing was a difficult sell to an Americanized child in the 1970s. Diversity was not yet the buzzword it has now become, and it was tough enough having an Arabic name and a dark-skinned father in lily-white Chocolate Town, USA. I would never really count myself as one of the followers of the prophet Mohammed.
Over the years, I have forgotten and relearned the gestures and passages of prayer numerous times, though as an atheist I seldom indulge in the ritual. Still, I never tire of the sonorous call to prayer or watching groups of believers move to their faith in elegant unity. And ever since September 11 – and the subsequent vilification of Muslims in American society – I find that the Muslim prayer carries a heightened sense of nostalgia and culture for me. Those feelings are magnified many times over at this gathering, where those carrying the dual identity of Muslim and gay congregate to share their faith in their religion, and in each other. Particularly in a post-9/11 America, gay and lesbian Muslims can be torn by both sides of their identities.
Many have experienced acute stereotyping and discrimination here since the terrorist attacks. Sadly, the community that many of them had always considered a safe haven – the gay community – is just as fraught with anti-Muslim sentiment as the general population. Yet, most mainstream Muslim organizations and mosques remain unfriendly at best, and outright hostile at worst, to their gay and lesbian followers. The net effect has been to draw many gay and lesbian Muslims back to their roots, to reconnect with their spirituality or their culture. “I had so many issues with my faith, including ones around my sexuality, that I had rejected my religious history,” said Atif Toor, a graphic designer.
“September 11 definitely changed that. I found myself defending Islam on a regular basis, where before I’d been a skeptic. But I found that even as a skeptic of Islam, the religion wasn’t the image of terror and oppression that is the popular perception in the USA. So 9/11 had a profound impact on my relationship with Islam. I was forced to reconcile parts of my personal past that I’d been ignoring.” But the conference is not merely a therapy session on how to reconcile sexuality and faith. Most of the people I speak with are not embroiled in dark personal struggles pitting their sexuality against their religion.
Like gay and lesbian people of all beliefs, the people here have learned how to use their religion as a source of strength rather than conflict. The panels reflect that sensibility. Only one panel deals directly with bridging sexuality and faith: one that offers an alternative interpretation of the story of Lot. The other discussions center around more immediately pressing issues in the lives of people who are here, such as how to face increased discrimination since September 11, how to deal with the new and troubling developments in immigration, fighting sexism within the religion or where gay and lesbian Muslims fit into the larger picture of an evolving Islam.
The attendees seem to be looking for more than simple affirmation that they can indeed be gay and Muslim; they already realize that. Instead, they appear to be working toward a new Islam, part of what is loosely referred to as the progressive Muslim movement, made up largely of modernists and feminists. But even there, it can be an uphill battle. “There’s not a lot of us [who accept homosexuality] on the ground, yet,” said Saadia Yacoob, a heterosexual ally of Al-Fatiha and a founding member of the Progressive Muslims Network.
“In scholarship and online, yes, but people able to stand up in their local communities or at their local mosques, no.” The problem among progressives, she said, is less of outright homophobia than of fear of being alienated for openly supporting something that is widely unpopular in the traditional cultures from which most Muslims hail. But, she notes, there has been significant advancement in that arena. In its mission statement, the Progressive Muslims Network specifically names homophobia – along with such other social ills as sexism, racism and classism – as an enemy.
Gay and lesbian Muslims are invited to speak at progressive religious conferences, and a newly published book, “Progressive Muslims,” includes a chapter on homosexuality. “We’re definitely moving forward,” said an optimistic Yacoob. Change will probably be slow and hard, as it always is. But watching the small group of men and women worshipping together, hoping together, in the small corner of the community center this day I, too, am filled with a new kind of faith – if not in the religion itself, then in the foot-soldiers here who are determined to reinspire it.
Boston Phoenix, Boston, MA ( http://www.bostonphoenix.com ) http://www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/news_features/other_stories/documents/02 931077.htm
June 6-12, 2003
Arabian night sweats (essay)
The old Orientalism, with its vicarious sense of erotic thrill in the alien, was bad enough. But in the hands the religious right, the sexualization of Islam is downright dangerous.
by Michael Bronski
Even as the Bush administration is still working to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, thousands of US-based evangelical Christians are poised to rush into the ravaged country to win their souls. Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, one of the largest US-based Christian aid organizations, has hundreds of missionaries and relief workers ready to enter Iraq as soon as it’s safe.
The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has already printed in Arabic a quotation from John 1:17 (“For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ”) on 80,000 boxes of dried food it will distribute as part of its evangelical work. Covenant World Relief has raised $50,000 to help Iraqis as part of its ministry there, and a special Iraqi Relief Fund has been established by the Evangelical Covenant Church to provide food for the Iraqi people, given to them by missionaries.
While Christians in the US can become part of Operation Iraqi Care (which has been set up by World Prayer Team, the Presidential Prayer Team, Covenant World Relief, and the National Association of Evangelicals) and offer their prayers for the suffering Iraqi people, the International Mission Board of the SBC, the largest Protestant denomination in the US, is planning to send close to 500 American volunteers from Oklahoma, Georgia, and Texas to Iraq – so far they have spent $125,000 on supplies and Bibles.
The International Bible Society has recently produced a Scripture booklet especially for Iraqi refugees, and is asking its parishioners to donate enough money to print another 10,000 copies. Weapons of mass destruction have yet to be found in Iraq, but instruments of mass conversion are about to be shipped in at a high volume. On one level, these evangelical Christians are simply doing what they do: evangelize. They are in the business of trying to convert others to their beliefs. And the focus on Islam is nothing new: in the past decade, American evangelicals have quadrupled the number of missionaries they send to Islamic countries.
They estimate that they have distributed Christian books, pamphlets, pictures, and toys to more than 334 million Muslims since 1990. But this renewed focus on converting Muslims to Christianity is motivated by something besides religious faith: a hatred of what’s seen as the sexualized aspects of Islam. Consider the rather prurient focus on Islam of evangelical leaders like Dr. Jerry Vines, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida, and a former president of the SBC.
Last June, he announced at the Southern Baptists’ annual meeting that “Islam was founded by Mohammed, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives – and his last one was a nine-year-old girl.” Vines’s highly sexual condemnation of Mohammed’s life and teachings is, well, unseemly. But his scurrilous, anti-Islamic attacks find deep roots in the traditional Western view not only of Islam, but of all that used to be called, without embarrassment, the “Orient.” Indeed, this protracted history of Western distortion of other cultures has been a key element in our woeful contemporary misunderstanding of Islam, and to some degree, the complicated political nightmare we find ourselves in now.
This isn’t to say that “sexualized” Islam is the only thing motivating the evangelicals. There’s good old-fashioned racism at work, too. For instance, as his source of knowledge about Islam Vines cites the recently published book Unveiling Islam: An Insider’s Look at Muslim Life and Beliefs (Kregel Publications, 2002), by Ergun and Emir Caner – two brothers, apostate Muslims who are now fundamentalist Christians and teach at religious colleges in the South. But take a quick look through their arguments and you see that they rely on selective readings and interpretations of the Koran and the Hadith (the accepted, authoritative life of Mohammed).
At a press conference last year hosted by the Baptist Press in St. Louis, Ergun Caner stated that “some Muslims want to allegorize their own scriptures because they don’t want to defend jihad. But if you take the Koran at its word, or Mohammed at his word, then you’ll find physical jihad.” The Caners insist that they have the definitive interpretation of the Koran – and isn’t it surprising that theirs is a fundamentalist, literal interpretation that dovetails very nicely with conservative – well, fundamentalist – Christian ideas and political agendas? But as is well known, allegorical readings of religious texts are common in all religions.
As with any religious text – or any book, for that matter – interpretation is subjective. Jews, Catholics, and Protestants have major disagreements about how to understand and interpret the Hebrew Bible and the later Christian writings we call the New Testament. Catholics and Protestants, after all, slaughtered millions over these matters of interpretation. And today, Sunni and Shiite Muslims have bitter and sometimes deadly religious fights over how to read the Koran. Vines, of course, isn’t the only right-wing culprit.
Last summer, Jerry Falwell penned a defense of Vines on WorldNetDaily.com, and Dr. Jack Graham – the current president of the SBC – also issued a defense of his co-religionist; both Falwell and Graham completely agreed with Vines’s remarks, and complained that Islam, unlike Southern Baptists, was being treated with kid gloves by the mainstream media. Franklin Graham – no relation to Dr. Jack Graham, but the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham who now runs his father’s worldwide ministry – had already weighed in on Islam soon after 9/11 by saying, “I don’t believe [Islam] is a wonderful, peaceful religion.
It wasn’t Methodists flying into those buildings, it wasn’t Lutherans. It was an attack on this country by people of the Islamic faith.” Even though the Bush White House distanced itself from Graham’s remarks – Graham is a Bush family friend and had given an invocation at the inauguration – Graham publicly supported Vines and reiterated the idea that Mohammed was a pedophile in his newest book The Name (Thomas Nelson, 2002).
The propriety of conservative Christian attacks on Islam and Mohammed was reinforced on July 15, 2002, when Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a sharp, myopic rebuttal to a July 9 New York Times column in which Nicholas Kristof had condemned the views of Graham and Vines. Declaring that Vines and Falwell were “anything but religious bigots,” Mohler stated that “I know both of these men, and I know that their greatest concern is to see all people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Muslims around the world may disagree, but they also understand.” This “understanding,” Mohler argued, came from the fact that Islam, like Christianity, also insists that it is the one true religion. In the wake of 9/11, it’s understandable, if unfortunate, that Islam itself – not just the men flying the planes or the geopolitical culture that produced them – is under attack from the likes of Vines, Graham, and Falwell. But what is curious is that while the mainstream press, for the most part, editorialized against such statements, there was almost no attempt to explain why the attacks focused most repeatedly on the alleged deviant sexual practices of Islam and Mohammed. Clearly Vines and company were out of line – not only with mainstream Christian and Jewish thinking, but also with accepted popular thought. But something else about the evangelical critique of Islam has resonated with the public: the obsessive focus on a sexualized Islam.
The best example of this obsession is the endlessly circulated idea that a man who dies while on jihad will be granted an exalted place in heaven, which means he will be able to have sexual intercourse with 70 perpetual virgins. This idea is based on a reading of the 135th verse of the Hadith, but it is a literal interpretation that’s not embraced by many people. Islamic scholars even disagree on the translation, some holding that “virgins” is an incorrect rendering of a word that might more accurately be translated as “purity.” Yet the idea is that from Mohammad Atta to Palestinian suicide bombers, Muslims (many of whose motivations may be cultural rather than religious) who die for a political ideal often do so for just such a reward. Even more blatant examples of the sexualization of Islam concern homosexuality. Two months after 9/11, the National Enquirer published a story about Mohammed Atta’s alleged homosexuality. It was the usual Enquirer mix of innuendo, conjectural reporting, and inflammatory insinuation, claiming that “Mohammed Atta and several of his bloody henchmen led secret gay lives – and Atta’s boyfriend died with him in his September 11 suicide mission.” They also insisted that “the terrorists seethed with a hatred and a fear of women – and that that loathing fueled their insane rage.”
The rest of the media did not take the Enquirer story all that seriously – it was, after all, the Enquirer. But that did not stop many of them from mentioning it repeatedly as a curious media item. This theme was reprised in a more respectable manner last August when Time magazine reported that John Walker Lindh, “the American Taliban,” had a sexual relationship with Khizar Hayat in Pakistan sometime before he went to Afghanistan. Hayat himself was the source of the information. Time quoted him as saying, “He was liking me very much. All the time he wants to be with me.” But he later denied this, as did Lindh’s lawyers (probably figuring that this was one more thing, true or not, their client didn’t need made public). This story received a huge amount of play on conservative radio and television shows – like The O’Reilly Factor – which pointed out the “obvious” connections between homosexuality, immorality, and anti-Americanism. From pedophilia to homosexuality, from polygamy to a bevy of perpetual virgins, Western culture cannot get enough of this sexualized Islam. But that should come as no surprise, since for over a century Western cultures have eroticized not only Islam, but the Near and Far East in general. In his groundbreaking 1978 book Orientalism, Edward Said charted how European (and to a lesser degree, American) culture has depicted the “exotic” East – “orient” comes from the Latin word for east – in art, theater, novels, travel books, opera, philosophy, and architecture.
Said’s basic argument is that “the Orient” doesn’t exist – it is a figment of the West’s imagination, invented from endless, often sexualized, fantasies. Such fantasies have borne no relationship to the strikingly diverse countries, nations, peoples, and cultures to the east of Europe. Indeed, Orientalism was so strongly embedded in the Western imaginative tradition as to make these cultures virtually invisible to Europeans. And why did this happen? Orientalism, Said argues, enabled European culture to gain “in strength and identity by setting itself off against the Orient as a sort of surrogate and even an underground self.” In other words, the sexy, exotic Orient allowed Europeans to experience – through the imagination – sexual desires their own culture forbade them, as well as to set clear boundaries between their own moral culture and an alien amoral one.
By displacing their own sexual fantasies onto the Orient, Europeans could double their pleasure by imagining the best, then labeling it the worst. For over 150 years the Orient has played a vital part in Western culture: the endless fascination with myriad versions of the Arabian Nights; operas such as Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers; Victorian erotic novels such as Ten Nights in a Turkish Harem and The Lustful Turk (both of which feature violated British virgins who just can’t get enough); the enormous popularity of Rudolf Valentino in the 1921 silent film The Sheik; the shimmering otherness of films like The Thief of Baghdad (played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr., not Saddam Hussein), with their dancing girls and fabulous treasures; and all those mummy movies from the 1940s to the present. Embedded in all this eroticism was, of course, cruelty and death. Silent-film star Theda Bara – the original deadly vamp(ire) – was really a nice Jewish girl named Theodosia Goodman, whom the studio PR department renamed and billed as the “daughter of an Eastern Potentate” and whose name was an anagram for “Arab Death.” In the European imagination, the Arabs were always cruel and heartless – far more so than the “civilized” Western world – and novels and films offered up this image to titillate and excite Western audiences.
From Victorian times to the 1950s, children’s books about the Crusades constantly played with the exciting idea of terrible, never exactly explained “Oriental” tortures. This idea of Arab cruelty was so ingrained in Western popular culture that blatant racism is considered appropriate children’s entertainment. In the 1992 Disney animated film Aladdin, a character introducing the story sings “Oh, I come from a land/From a faraway place/Where the caravan camels roam. Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but, hey, it’s home.” Because of protests by Arab-American groups, the line was changed in the video release of the film. A similar trend has been more than evident in such newer Hollywood films as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Mummy, and Rules of Engagement, whichconsistently depict Arabs as fiendishly sadistic and indifferent to human life.
The Orient might be sexy, but it was dangerous as well. Is it any wonder, then, that charges of Mohammed’s immorality and child brides, or fanciful tales of suicide bombers driven by lustful dreams of perpetual virgins, or stories of John Walker Lindh being seduced into sin, sexual decadence, and terrorism by men in the mysterious East would play well with the American public? And who better to promote this thinking than the spokesmen of the American religious and political right? As Said explains in Orientalism, the inability of the West to really look at and understand “Eastern” cultures has been an impediment to better cultural and diplomatic relationships.
That’s even more true today. After 9/11 there was a general sense that at least some Americans were interested in understanding aspects of Islam – a religion many people in this country knew almost nothing about. Bookstores reported a sales boom in books about Mohammed, and even the Koran. Universities saw an increase in students taking classes in the history of Islam and in Arabic cultures. That may still be the case. But it is also true – thanks to Jerry Vines and his cohorts – that a more vicious brand of Orientalism has re-emerged in our popular culture.
Traditional Orientalism was always tinged with the ambivalent, vicarious thrill of sexual desire and attraction to the “pleasure of the Orient.” What Vines and friends have done is to render all that subliminal pleasure as sin, and to overtly demonize Islam as a vicious, evil religion predicated on sexual depravity, one that promotes hatred and violence. Albert Mohler is right: Falwell and Vines’s “greatest concern is to see all people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.” That they are allowed to pursue that vision – which is profoundly disrespectful to the lives and beliefs of Muslims and antithetical to an contemporary American idea of tolerance and cultural acceptance – with the tacit acceptance of the media is a sorry sign of American culture today.
Michael Bronski can be reached at email@example.com
San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, CA, ( http://www.sfgate.com/chronicle )
January 19, 2004
A Muslim calls for reform – and she’s a lesbian
by Matthew Kalman, Special to The Chronicle
Jerusalem – It’s not hard to see why people react strongly to Irshad Manji. At 35, she’s become a ubiquitous fixture on Canadian television, the smartest, hippest, most eloquent lesbian feminist Muslim you could ever hope to meet. Manji, who is in the Bay Area today and Tuesday to talk about her new book, “The Trouble with Islam: A Wake-Up Call for Honesty and Change,” leaves no stone unturned in her attack on the fault lines of her faith. She berates “sclerotic contemporary Islam” for turning its back on human rights, stifling freedom of thought and expression, oppressing women, encouraging slavery and fomenting anti-Semitism.
She accuses the religion of standing silent in the face of terror and derides her fellow Muslims for becoming “brain-dead” and “automatons.” She calls for an Islamic reformation, replacing jihad, or religious war, with ijtihad – independent critical thinking for Muslims. And she says this reform most probably will come from places where Muslims are free from the stifling totalitarianism of the Islamic world. “I am arguing that Muslims in the West have the best opportunity to revive ijtihad because it is here that we already enjoy the freedoms to think, express, challenge and be challenged without fear of state reprisal,” says Manji. “The major reform for which I am calling is all about questioning the divinity of the Koran. This is still the great unspoken taboo within Islam,” she says.
Manji argues that crimes are being perpetrated under the banner of a religion which claims more than a billion adherents who have lost the ability to question their leaders. “Amnesty International has documented that Pakistan sees honor killings at the rate of two per day, often with the name of Allah dripping from the lips of the murderers; that children are hustled into slavery in God’s name in Mali, Mauritania and Northern Sudan; that women have to ask permission to travel from the men in their lives in Iran,” she says. “I acknowledge that every faith has its share of literalists but I do not believe that any society, culture, ethnicity or religion should be immune from scrutiny about human rights. I have so much faith in my faith and my fellow Muslims that I believe we are capable of being more humane and more thoughtful than we give ourselves credit for.
This book is an act of faith, not a repudiation of it,” she says. Manji says she is driven to voice these concerns by her “passion for universal human rights and discontent with Islam on the basis of the way Muslims around the world continue to violate human rights, particularly for women and religious minorities. “It’s not enough to chant that Islam is about peace,” she says. “Prove it.” She says she has been surprised by the passion – for and against – which the book has aroused. “I have long suspected that there is a latent hunger, a craving for honest talk about Islam,” she says.
“Not everybody agrees with what I’m saying, but many people across the political and faith spectrum are telling me that they’re breathing a sigh of relief that finally someone has stepped up to the plate from inside the faith to say ‘We’ve got to let some air in.'” But not everyone is inhaling. There is talk of a fatwa. She receives hate-mail and death threats by the megabyte and glories in posting them on her Web site, www.muslim-refusenik.com.
She is accompanied by bodyguards at public appearances and has been denounced by her co-religionists for “poor scholarship” and “Muslim bashing.” Critics have denounced her reading of Middle East politics. She says the Palestinians have been “betrayed by their own leadership” and accuses prominent Arab Muslims of working with Hitler to destroy the Jews. In this post-9/11 era, Manji accepts that Muslims face increased problems but argues her book is timely and perhaps part of the solution. “Muslim apologists suggested that Islam was some kind of a plane that was on its way to a human rights haven and were it not for the 19 terrorists of Sept. 11, Islam would have reached its wondrous destination with nary a bump,” she says. “We know that is not the case. If anything, we Muslims have ceded the ground to these terrorists and then belatedly protested that Islam is about peace, love and harmony.
“I don’t want to deny that the book may very well be feeding into some anti-Muslim stereotypes among some people, but I have heard from no shortage of non-Muslims who say, ‘Thank you for stopping me from becoming a racist. I was on the verge of writing off your people, and your book comes along and reminds me that there are liberal thinkers within Islam. Thank you for pulling me back from the brink.’ “Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, it wouldn’t have nearly the chance of getting published as it would now. Much more of the world is now listening. I will not apologize to anybody for taking the opportunity presented to me to write the book now.” Manji, a tiny woman with a quicksilver tongue and a lightning intellect, arrived in Canada at the age of 4 as a refugee from Idi Amin’s Uganda. She says that even as a child she realized Canada was a society that celebrated difference and encouraged debate.
“I know every day when I wake up that as a Muslim woman there aren’t too many other places in the world in which I could dream big dreams and tap much if not most of my potential,” she says. But the dreams went unappreciated at her madrasa, the religious school she attended every week from the age of 8 for instruction in the teachings of Islam. She says she was shocked to realize the anti-democratic messages being taught in the middle of Vancouver.
“Attending the madrasa for several hours at a stretch every Saturday, I routinely imbibed thetwo major messages that women are inferior and that the Jews are treacherous. Neither of those messages made much sense to me,” she says. When she was 8, she said she asked her first “wrong question” and carried on until they kicked her out of the madrasa at age 15. But she continued to study Islam, and even continued to pray in the traditional manner until her mid-20s. By that time, she had graduated as a star student from the University of British Columbia, begun a career as a writer and broadcaster and discovered she was not, despite her childhood fantasies, a heterosexual.
“It came as a shock to me when I fell in love with a woman,” she says. But she came to celebrate her sexuality. In 1998 she conceived, hosted and produced QueerTV, one of the world’s first commercial TV programs to explore the lives of gays and lesbians. It was syndicated through the San Francisco- based Web portal Planetout.com and became one of the few programs anywhere to be streamed entirely on the Internet, circumventing state-sanctioned censorship and rapidly reaching a global audience. The book is written as a letter, which she signs off “faithfully – for now.”
She says the book’s reception has halted her alienation. “I’m very much still struggling from the inside, and if anything the response from individual Muslims has to some extent assured me that there is an appetite for reform,” she says. “Whether a reform version of Islam has a hope in hell, and how much support we as Muslim reformers can count on for a sustainable reformation, is all fluid at this point.”
January 25, 2004
Woman Fights for Equality in West Virginia (USA) Mosque
Morgantown, W.Va. – For three months, Asra Nomani has been defying convention at the mosque she attends — by walking through the front door.
Nomani, a journalist who has written for the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, is trying to change a rule that women should enter the Morgantown mosque through a side staircase and pray separately from the men. A growing number of mosques have such rules.
” I can interview the Taliban,” said Nomani, 38, “but I can’t walk through the front door of my mosque.” Before ever approaching the front door, Nomani asked the mosque’s board of trustees for equal access for women. But when she later went to the mosque, the board president stood at the front door and said, “Sister, please, the back entrance,” Nomani noted in a discrimination complaint she filed with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
About three months ago, Nomani, her mother and her 12-year-old niece rejected the women’s entrance for the front door. Once inside, the women chose not to pray in a balcony built for women in the rear of the mosque — where the main prayer space cannot be seen. Instead, they began praying under the same vaulted, sunny ceiling as the men — but several feet behind them. “The men interrupted the start of ‘taraweeh’ prayer,” Nomani recalled in the discrimination complaint. “A man said, `We cannot pray until she leaves.’ A group of men told my father to tell me to leave. He said he would not.
“Four men assembled around me and told me to leave. Two men took positions directly behind me and started to pray. One of the men assembled around me asked in an intimidating way whether I wanted to remain with these men behind me. Another man poked his finger at me and spoke to me in a threatening way. I remained.” Nomani and her father, Zafar, a professor emeritus of nutrition at West Virginia University, mosque founder and current board member, recently filed a police complaint saying that one man in the congregation yelled at her, called Zafar Nomani an idiot and waved his arms at them before other members of the congregation restrained him.
“If women are not treated with respect and dignity in our mosques, we have failed,” Zafar Nomani said. “I am concerned not only about women but the second generation of immigrant children growing up in America.” Asad Khan, acting president of the mosque’s board, said a meeting on the issue will be held soon but declined further comment until after the meeting.
Morgantown’s mosque is among a growing number of U.S. mosques that put women behind a partition or in another room to pray. In 1994, 52 percent of mosques had such a practice, but that rose to 66 percent in 2000, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The world’s holiest mosque — in Mecca — allows women and men to pray together, said Nomani, who has prayed there. She was born in India and lived in New Jersey before moving to West Virginia.
From the Daily Times of Pakistan
January 29, 2004
How a Muslim woman (USA) broke a taboo by praying with men
by Khalid Hasan
Washington – A young Muslim woman’s bid to pray in the same area of a mosque as men has triggered a controversy with the more conservative male members of a small West Virginia community up in arms at what they see as a heretical act.
The young woman who has triggered the storm is Asra Q Nomani, an Indian-American Muslim and a direct descendent of the great Islamic scholar Maulana Shibli Nomani. She is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who was in Karachi gathering material for a book and a series of articles when Daniel Pearl arrived there from Bombay with his wife Marion to investigate the Islamist terrorist network and its links to Al Qaeda. Mr Pearl and Ms Asra had been colleagues at the Wall Street Journal for nearly 10 years. The Pearls moved in with Ms Asra who had rented a house in Defence, Karachi. Mr Pearl was lured to an appointment, kidnapped and killed. The men said to be behind his killing, including the mastermind Omar Sheikh, were caught, tried and sentenced. They are now in jail pending an appeal.
Ms Asra, a freelance writer, journalist and single mother lives in Morgantown, West Virginia with her parents. During the month of Ramazan, she refused to be relegated to the women’s section of the local mosque, and she wanted to pray with the men, since it was her view that Islam placed no restrictions on where women should pray.
In the Washington Post on Sunday, she wrote about her unique and courageous bid to be treat as an equal Muslim despite her gender. She walked in through the front door, accompanied by her mother, her niece, her father and her infant son and they all sat themselves down in the main prayer hall, about 20 feet behind the men. The reaction was immediate. She was told to go to the women’s section. She declined, saying. “Thank you, brother, I am happy praying here.”
The next day, the mosque board, all male, voted to make the main hall and the front entrance accessible solely to men. Her father, who set up the first mosque in Morgantown over 30 years ago, dissented and the matter is now receiving an internal legal review. Ms Asra has also filed a complaint with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which seeks to protect Muslim civil rights. Her “Eidi” this year from her father was the key to the front door of the mosque, which he had bought at a fund-raiser on the last day of Ramazan.
Despite the protests, Ms Asra has entered the mosque through the front door and prayed in the main hall about 30 times. But only four other women have joined her, one being a relation. She said during the first days of Ramazan this year, she tried to accept the status quo, entering the mosque through the rear entrance, praying upstairs in the women’s section and listening to sermons addressed to “brothers”.
She writes that she had witnessed the marginalisation of women in many Muslim countries but she was not prepared to be treated this way in America. She began researching the practice and concluded that mosques that bar women from the main prayer space are not Islamic. In the US, a survey revealed that out of 66 American mosques sampled, women prayed separately in each mosque. The practice was less rampant 30 years earlier, which shows the creeping radicalisation of Islam in America.
Ms Asra writes that in the Prophet’s time (PBUH), women of Medina prayed in the mosque in the same space as men. However, by the third century of Islam, women’s rights began to be whittled away. She notes that the Fiqh Council of North America supports women’s rights in the mosque. In practice, however, mosques in America have become a male preserve where women and children are not welcome. Many American mosques have been taken over by conservative Arab men following Salafi teachings.
The mosque libraries mostly carry books published by the Saudi government, which takes the view, Ms Asra points out, that partitions and separate rooms are required in mosques. She writes that in her mosque, only men are allowed to use a microphone. When she asked the reason, she was told, “A woman’s voice is not to be heard in the mosque” for fear that it would cause sexual titillation.
When asked what her motivations were, Ms Asra answered, “I have prayed like this from Mecca to Jerusalem. It is legal within Islam.”
More Information on Asra Nomani
Asra Nomani web site – http://www.asranomani.com/site/
Beliefnet Story – http://www.beliefnet.com/story/129/story_12945_1.html
Salon.Com – Asra’s Stories – http://archive.salon.com/directory/topics/asra_q_nomani/
January 25, 2004
Review of Book by Lesbian Mulsim Author Irshad Manji
The Trouble With Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith.
by Irshad Manji. 225 pp. New York: St. Martin’s Press. $22.95.
Book review by Andrew Sullivan, NYTimes on the Web
There is one anecdote in this bracing little book that still makes me crack a smile long after reading it. As a 13-year-old student attending a madrasa in suburban Vancouver,Irshad Manji, a Muslim immigrant of South Asian origins from Uganda, was subjected to a familar tirade against the Jews by her teacher — to whom she gives the name ”Mr. Khaki.”
Unfazed by the disapproval she knew she would garner and completely unsuited to the kind of supine deference her teacher was obviously asking for, Irshad began to pose some tough questions: ”I remember asking why Prophet Muhammad would have commanded his army to kill an entire Jewish tribe when the Koran supposedly came to him as a message of peace. Mr. Khaki couldn’t cope. He shot me a look of contempt, gave an annoyed wave of the hand and cut short history class, only to hold Koran study next. Me and my big mouth.”
But Irshad wasn’t done with Mr. Khaki. She kept asking awkward questions throughout the year. A kind of Lisa Simpson of Islam, one day she simply demanded that Mr. Khaki provide some evidence of the alleged Jewish plot. She recalls: ”What he provided was an ultimatum: ‘Either you believe or get out. And if you get out, get out for good.’ ” ‘Really? That’s it?’ ” ‘That’s it.’ ”With my temples throbbing and my neck sweating under the itchy polyester chador, I stood up. As I crossed the partition checkpoint, I could have uncovered my head for all the boys to see, but I didn’t want to risk the humiliation of being chased out by an even more scandalized Mr. Khaki. All I could think to do was fling open the madrasa’s hefty metal door and yell, ‘Jesus Christ!’ A memorable exit, I hoped.”
”The Trouble With Islam” is a memorable entrance. It isn’t the most learned or scholarly treatise on the history or theology of Islam; its dabbling in geopolitics is haphazard and a little naive; its rhetorical hyperbole can sometimes seem a mite attention-seeking — like that final ”Jesus Christ!” in the madrasa.
But its spirit is undeniable, and long, long overdue. Reading it feels like a revelation. Manji, a Canadian journalist and television personality, does what so many of us have longed to see done: assail fundamentalist Islam itself for tolerating such evil in its midst.
And from within. Her basic argument is that the Koran is a complex, contradictory, human book. Its proscriptions are many and conflicting. Abandoning the role of a thinking person is not something that should be required of any religious individual.
Reason and faith, Manji wants to believe, are not in conflict. And yet, as Islam is frequently practiced, reason is deplored as something that should defer in every instance not simply to the Koran but to the political authoritarians who reserve to themselves the sole right to interpret it.
What Manji discovered in the madrasa was a symptom of what she sees as a broader and deeper problem: that Muslims have stopped thinking, that their faith has been hijacked by tyrants and bullies, and that it has become infested with all kinds of hatred — of Jews, of women, of gays, of the West.
And instead of confronting these issues directly and openly, most Western Muslims — perhaps the only group of Muslims with the actual freedom to question, criticize and debate – – have decided to retreat into victimology and appeasement. Aided and abetted by the moral nihilism of academic postmodernism, these people have surrendered to the new fascists of the Arab world. I just hope Manji is ready for a very rough ride ahead.
She is not exactly diplomatic. Here’s one typical rhetorical flourish: ”Through our screaming self-pity and our conspicuous silences, we Muslims are conspiring against ourselves. We’re in crisis, and we’re dragging the rest of the world with us. If ever there was a moment for an Islamic reformation, it’s now. For the love of God, what are we doing about it?” Her answer to her own question is guilelessly to challenge certain givens. The Koran mandates the veiling of the wives of the Prophet. So why are all women now required to be covered from head to foot? In the distant past, Islam integrated and celebrated human diversity, and honored Christian and Jewish culture.
So why has Islam degenerated into a maelstrom of the most virulent anti- Semitism? ”Let there be no compulsion in religion,” says Chapter 2 of the Koran. So why do many Arab Muslim states persecute or ostracize nonbelievers?
Manji wants to know why some extraordinary statements of Muslim intolerance are dismissed or ignored. She writes: ”Here’s a passage straight out of an Arabic-language textbook distributed by the Saudis to Muslim schoolchildren in America: ‘The unbelievers, idolaters and others like them must be hated and despised. . . . We must stay away from them and create barriers between us and them.’ ” This textbook is being read in America.
Why? And why isn’t there a groundswell of outrage among American Muslims about this kind of message? Or, for that matter, by American non-Muslims? Of course, Manji will be widely dismissed. She is a young woman and she is a lesbian. She loves the West, its freedoms and its opportunities.
She has visited Israel and found it more open, more self-critical, more admirable than its Arab Muslim neighbors. She is clearly and primarily an individualist, a person who thinks for herself.
It will be asked, as it is asked of many Westerners, why she simply cannot accept that religion is not about reason. Why doesn’t she simply cease being a Muslim? Or why doesn’t she simply submit?
Her answer is a straightforward and moving one. She wants to embrace her faith by understanding it fully, by realizing its vision of human equality, by resuscitating the ancient Islamic tradition of ijtihad: questioning, asking, thinking.
Like gay Christians demanding accountability from their faith, she is not content to have Scripture read to her and then be told to shut up. She refuses to be treated like an idiot. Sure, when she reads about women being stoned for adultery or gay people being murdered by religious fanatics, she is tempted merely to leave, to wash her hands. ”But each time I reached the brink of excommunicating myself, I pulled back. Not out of fear. Out of fairness — to myself. One question begged for more thought: If the all-knowing, all-powerful God didn’t wish to make me a lesbian, then why didn’t he make someone else in my place?”
I’m glad he didn’t. Manji’s prescriptions for change in Islam — Western loans to Muslim businesswomen, for example — seem dwarfed by the scale of the problem. She barely touches the difficult topic of American foreign policy as a critical aspect of the defanging of Islamism. She can be a little glib at times, a little too fond of her own tone of voice and of her smart-aleck phrasemaking. But her plea endures because it is so clearly genuine.
One question she asks reverberates in my mind: ”What if Mohamed Atta had been raised on soul-stretching questions instead of simple certitudes?” The relationship between the state of contemporary Islam and the mass murderers of Al Qaeda is not a simple one; but it surely exists. In the voice of this young woman, you can hear the willingness to ask why, and how the situation can be remedied. You can hear, in fact, the distinct tone of liberalism, a liberalism that seeks not to abolish faith but to establish a new relationship with it. If we survive this current war without unthinkable casualties, it will be because that kind of liberalism didn’t lose its nerve. Think of Manji as a nerve ending for the West — shocking, raw, but mercifully, joyously, still alive.
Andrew Sullivan is a senior editor at The New Republic and a columnist for Time.
Al-Fatiha hold successful 2004 North Amertican conference in Los Angeles
Plans announced for women’s retreat in August 2004
February 18, 2004
Al-Fatiha Foundation, a US-based organization dedicated to supporting and empowering queer Muslims, successfully held its 3rd North American conference for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning (LGBTIQ) Muslims and their allies. The conference which brought together more than 80 people, was held in Los Angeles, CA from February 13-16, 2004. Conference participants came from across the United States and Canada and from as far away as Italy. Al-Fatiha also saw a significant increase in female participants this year, adding to the success of the event. Twenty workshops and sessions were held on a variety of political, social and cultural issues, with more than thirty speakers.
The conference was also host to the first-ever queer Muslim film festival, which featured more than six hours of films, documentaries and shorts portraying various aspects of the LGBTIQ Muslim community.
Al-Fatiha also held a successful cultural extravaganza during the conference, which featured dance performances, a book and poetry reading and a one-man / one-act play. Awards were given to community members and special guests including Kerry Lobel, former executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), Rev. Elder Troy Perry, founder & moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) and Homan LA (a queer Iranian organization). The event raised more than $1,000 in donations.
Highlights of the conference included the establishment of a travel scholarship fund for young people and for women, who may not otherwise be able to attend Al-Fatiha conferences. The scholarship fund was dedicated in the name of Somayyah Siddiqi, a member of Al-Fatiha Philadelphia and an ally to the organization, who passed away in January 2003.
Al-Fatiha also announced that it will hold a retreat for lesbian, bisexual and transgender Muslim women in August, marking the first time that such an event has been held.Additionally, Al-Fatiha will hold a one day conference in New York City in the fall of this year. Plans are also underway to hold the Fifth International Retreat for LGBTIQ Muslims and their allies in 2005. Dates and a location are being finalized. A full program of the conference and a guide to the film festival can be found at http://www.al-fatiha.org under “Events.” Photographs are also available upon request.
February 13, 2004
Outing the Middle East
The Silk Road Theatre Project sets the record straight on gay Arabs, Japanese war brides, and other overlooked immigrants.
by Ed M. Koziarski
In the days after Sept. 11, Malik Gillani remembers, southwest suburbanites marched on the Bridgeview Mosque Foundation as anonymous callers phoned in bomb threats. A friend of his who wears the hijab was repeatedly harassed at school. When she complained to officials they did nothing. And though nothing so drastic happened to him, Gillani, a Muslim born in Pakistan, noticed strangers shooting him looks of suspicion and fear on the street. “That first week after the event I was very focused on Malik’s well-being,” says Jamil Khoury, Gillani’s life partner.
“Because I don’t particularly look Arab I wasn’t the focus of any hostility personally. But I found myself on the defensive, as did a lot of Arab- and Muslim-Americans.” That year Khoury, a Mount Prospect native who was raised in the Syrian Christian church, “spent a lot of time on the phone and meeting with people in the community who felt very galvanized and threatened,” he says. At the same time, however, he and Gillani saw signs of a new receptiveness among some American audiences for Arab and Muslim perspectives. Sales of the Koran boomed. Khoury, a cross-cultural trainer, found himself in increasing demand as a speaker at civic and cultural organizations.
“There was…an outpouring of sympathy and interest,” he says. “Having knowledge of the Arab and Muslim world was suddenly a valuable commodity,” Khoury says. Khoury had written a couple of plays and he and Gillani felt that theater could provide a way to address misrepresentations of their cultures and tap into that growing interest. The metaphor they settled on for the project: the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that linked Asia to the Mediterranean by way of the Middle East.”
Starting with their own money, borrowing from friends and family, and soliciting for individual donations, the two men launched the nonprofit Silk Road Theatre Project in summer 2002, with Gillani as executive director and Khoury as artistic director. “More than just trade was taking place on those caravans,” Khoury says. “There was an exchange of arts and aesthetics and philosophies. By embracing this range of cultures that were connected by the Silk Road, we realized we could make a very strong statement.”
The company’s gotten off to an auspicious start. Barely a year old, Silk Road’s already collaborated with Steppenwolf Theatre Company and the Chicago Cultural Center. Reader critic Nick Green praised the “gripping stories” and stylized staging of its second show, “Tea,” currently in a six week run at the Loop Theatre. The Sun Times’ Hedy Weiss called it “a superb, exquisitely tuned production.” Khoury attributes Silk Road’s quick success to its sound fiscal management and focus on networking and marketing – business principles he and his partner bring from their day jobs: Khoury’s with Cendant Mobility Intercultural Services, Gillani’s with the Falkor Group, an information technology firm.
“A big part of the reason that we’ve been able to make relationships with such great institutions in a short period of time is the fact that Malik and I approached this as a business, albeit a nonprofit, which has earned us a good amount of respect and trust,” says Khoury. “A lot of theater companies are established by artists who want to practice their art, and getting bodies into seats is something they think about later.” Silk Road’s first production was Khoury’s own play, “Precious Stones,” staged by Los Angeles director Michael Najjar at the Chicago Cultural Center’s studio theatre last season.
“Precious Stones” is the story of a Jewish lesbian and a married Palestinian woman who organize an Arab-Jewish dialogue group in Chicago during the first Palestinian intifada and find themselves falling in love. “I’m interested in how gender and sexuality fit into the larger identity picture for people and for communities,” Khoury says. He has firsthand experience confronting the tensions that can arise tackling such issues. As an international relations student at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in the late 80’s, he co-founded the Gay and Lesbian Arab Society (GLAS), an organization that combats homophobia within the Arab-American community and provides support for lesbians and gay men in Arab countries. “People were shocked to see the word ‘Arab’ associated with the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian,'” he recalls.
“Many people vehemently deny we exist. We hear a lot that it’s a Western thing. I say, ‘Sure, there are no gays and lesbians in the Arab world, except for all those that I’ve met.'” Khoury wrote his first play, “Fitna: Chaos as Woman in the Arab World” in the early 90’s while he was working toward his master’s degree at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Produced at the U. of C. in 1995 and presented in a staged reading at Bailiwick Arts Center in 1997, the play tells the interlocking stories of three women from different parts of the Arab world, each of whom defies tradition in her own way. Last July, Silk Road presented a screening and discussion of Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s film “Kandahar” at the Chicago Cultural Center in conjunction with Steppenwolf’s production of Tony Kushner’s “Homebody/Kabul.
In September the company followed up “Precious Stones” with Singaporean playwright Chay Yew’s “A Language of Their Own,” part of a series of staged readings they’ve launched at the Chicago Temple. The company’s production of “Tea,” Asian-American playwright Velina Hasu Houston’s drama about a group of Japanese war brides in Kansas, opened last month under the direction of Goodman Theatre fellow Lynn Ann Bernatowicz. “Both of our first two productions are set in the U.S.,” Khoury notes. “We’re particularly interested in the Diaspora voice of Silk Road people trapped between two worlds…but we also think (“Tea”) speaks to the immigrant experience across the board.”
“Tea” runs through Feb. 29 at the Loop Theatre, where Silk Road is one of five companies slotted for the final season of the 65-year old playhouse. Once “Tea” has finished its run, Khoury and Gillani are taking “Precious Stones” on a tour of US colleges. In August the play will be performed at Sabanci University in Istanbul as part of an International Institute of Peace Education conference. “We’d love to bring it to Israel (and) Palestine. We’ve spoken to some people there,” Khoury said. “But it’s tricky, both with the lesbian storyline and the Arab-Jewish elements. We don’t want to get shot.”
Differences in opinions among men and women in predominantly Muslim countries (non-gay story)
May 13, 2004
In this paper, we use comparative international data to analyze a broad array of issues relating to the global gender gap: Are women “doves” and men “hawks” when it comes to foreign policy and security matters? Do men and women have different beliefs on religion and morality? Is it possible to identify regional patterns in gender differences? And specifically, what are the major fault lines in opinions among men and women in predominantly Muslim countries? …
Read full article at: http://pewglobal.org/commentary/display.php?AnalysisID=90
June 29, 2004
Web site galvanizing Muslim moderates–Message attracts younger followers
by Teresa Watanabe
It’s not often you find an Islamic Web site that features a photo of rocker Jimi Hendrix with a story that exhorts Muslims to put down their suicide bombs and pick up guitars instead to change the world. Even more startling is the site’s ”Hug a Jew” feature, which includes short interviews with Jews and photos of them hamming it up in hugs of solidarity with Muslims.
Most shocking is the site’s Sex & the Umma section. Here are racy fictional works about a single, pregnant Muslim woman living with an alcoholic non-Muslim, Islamic love poetry and articles by scholars urging Muslims to ”celebrate the sexual impulse.”
It’s all found at www.muslimwakeup.com, which was established last year by Ahmed Nassef and Jawad Ali. With more than 800 articles posted and 90,000 hits per month, the site is billed as representing the ”vanguard of the progressive Muslim movement.”
The nascent movement aims for a broad-based reformation that champions social justice, gender equality, pluralism and free inquiry into the full range of the religion’s 1,400-year-old traditions.
The Web site and movement are attracting a largely younger, Americanized Muslim audience that finds most mosques and U.S. Islamic organizations too conservative and rigid, Nassef said. In April, he posted a piece, ”Time to Listen to the Muslim Silent Majority in U.S.,” thatcriticized such organizations as the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America as reflecting ”an ultraconservative Muslim agenda not shared by most within their community.”
”Among the new generation, there is a tremendous feeling of disaffectedness from the established Muslim community,” said Nassef, 38, in an interview. A native of Egypt who moved to Los Angeles at age 10, he majored in Islamic studies at UCLA and has worked in marketing in New York and the Mideast. In general, U.S. mosques ”are run by people trained in Saudi-funded
institutions abroad or who have no formal training,” he said. ”As a result, you have a very conservative approach that is foreign-dominated, which is not realistic for the American environment.”
Some of the community’s established leaders disagree that their organizations are out of touch. Some, such as Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Society, said they had never heard of Muslim Wakeup! Others privately dismissed it as ”childish” or simply in bad taste.
Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, the Islamic Society’s secretary general, said that the organization’s annual conventions drew more than 30,000 people and that its Web site received an average of 2.6 million hits a month. Syeed added that the society was firmly in the moderate mainstream, with a female vice president and open membership that imposed no religious litmus tests.
Ibrahim Hooper of the Islamic council also said his organization reflected mainstream opinion. Its staff, he said, includes both bearded and clean-shaven men, women with and without head scarves. ”Everyone has a right to their opinion,” he said, when asked his reaction to Muslim Wakeup!
For Sarah Eltantawi, a 27-year-old Muslim activist and writer, the Web site is a ”lifeline.” In a recent posting, she and six fellow feminists were touted for daring to protest gender segregation in a West Virginia mosque by walking through the men-only entrance. Although Eltantawi said she was in step politically with most other American Muslim organizations in their opposition to the Iraq war and Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, she called herself disaffected from them on such social issues as women and gay rights.
”I feel Muslim Wakeup! is the most relevant Web site in terms of exploring issues facing American Muslims,” she said. ”It’s a young, edgy, modern thing. It’s a place to read about taboos and explore them. I feel it reflects my experience as a woman, a Muslim and someone with progressive views.” Nassef and Ali, who met through the Muslim Student Association at UCLA, launched the Web site in January 2003.
Today, it offers lively, provocative and often humorous articles on at least 40 topics, including sexuality, spirituality, gender issues, U.S. politics, civil liberties and film. Political targets often include the puritanical strain of Islam known as
Wahhabism, the Israeli occupation, Bush administration policies on civil rights and the Mideast. Cultural articles feature book and film reviews, plus interviews with popular Muslim musicians and film artists. There are ruminations on Ramadan and on ”hajj,” the pilgrimage to Mecca.
At the moment, the most popular — and controversial — feature is Sex & the Umma. Introduced in April, it is aimed at reclaiming a rich tradition of sensuality in Islam that Nassef argues has been buried under the current influence of puritanism.
One article, for instance, said that Islam’s literature was filled with erotic poetry, that its medieval sciences offered recipes to enhance desire and that its Scripture praised sexual pleasures.
Also popular is ”Hug a Jew,” which has largely featured opponents of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. They include a mother who organized a baby picnic for peace and Noam Chomsky, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguistics professor and outspoken critic of much of U.S. foreign policy. Nassef said his team started the feature to combat what he called rampant anti-Semitism among Muslims.
But he said it had been criticized by some Jewish organizations and individuals for primarily spotlighting opponents to Israel’s policies. The guitar piece urged Muslims to ”forget militancy.” ”Too often, we hear the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘terrorist’ in the same sentence. But how often do we hear the phrase ‘Muslim guitarist?’ The guitar has the potential to be one of the most useful and powerful weapons in the arsenal of change and progress. The guitar screams. It shrieks. It speaks to us,” wrote Shadi Hamid, a Georgetown University graduate student in Arab studies.
In recent months, Muslim Wakeup! has organized monthly gatherings in several cities to bring progressive Muslims together to discuss ways to advance the cause. The site has also begun urging readers to make ”Wakeup Calls” to other Muslim organizations about actions regarded as regressive, such as one Canadian imam’s refusal to allow a female Muslim political candidate to speak.
Although the site has been variously criticized for trying to destroy Islam or attack America, Nassef said neither was the goal.
”All of this questioning is going to enrich us,” he said. ”It will give us a faith that is appropriate to the times and that is as Islamic as you can get.”
Progressive Muslims rally around web site http://www.muslimwakeup.com/
October 07, 2004
by Rachel Zoll
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks emboldened many outside the Muslim community to demand Islamic leaders re-examine religious teachings on matters from war to women’s rights. But in the United States, the latest call for reform is coming from within. On Nov. 15, as the holy month of Ramadan is expected to end, a group of mostly young Muslims plans to launch the Progressive Muslim Union of North America in New York.
As their name suggests, the organization will take positions that conservatives consider objectionable, even heretical: Progressives believe women should have a broader role in mosques; they back gay rights; and they believe Muslims should borrow from traditions as varied as Buddhism and the U.S. civil rights movement to reshape Islam for modern times. “When you’ve been taught ever since you can remember that Islam is a certain thing, especially as women … you reach a certain point where it’s not tenable anymore,” said Sarah Eltantawi, 28, one of four founders of the Progressive Union.
“People need to feel that there is an alternative Islamic space that has some legitimacythat they can turn to.” The organizers are taking significant risks with their platform. Progressives intend to speak out publicly against Muslim practices they consider harmful, at a highly sensitive time when the community fears fueling prejudice against Islam. And by promoting acceptance of homosexuality and women’s religious leadership, they leave themselves open to accusations that their agenda is not truly Muslim.
Sayyid Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, a leading Muslim organization in this country, warned that “creating forums and making them too radical” will alienate other Muslims. “They might have something good on other issues,” Syeed said, but their more controversial positions – on homosexuality, for example – will undermine their credibility. “It will do a disservice,” Syeed said. Omid Safi, a religion professor at Colgate University and another founder of the Progressive Union, said the movement must take these chances. Progressives will not be “standing outside pointing an accusatory finger” at other Muslims; they want the religion to flourish, he said.
“We’re trying to make it clear that this is somehow more than just a bunch of Muslim people who just happen to be socially progressive,” said Safi, editor of the book “Progressive Muslims,” which serves as a guide for the movement. “We’re confronting a lot of problematic practices that are part of our faith and our community, while also admitting and acknowledging that there are incredible reservoirs of wisdom for us to draw upon from our faith.” The idea for the new organization grew from the Web site muslimwakeup.com.Ahmed Nassef, 38, a former marketing consultant and progressive activist who grew up in California, created the site with a friend about two years ago to find like-minded Muslims.
The site is anything but timid. It openly criticizes major U.S. Muslim organizations for being too conservative and hosts discussion boards where Muslims debate the future of their religion. It also includes many provocative articles on topics such as Muslim women’s sexuality, while running a “Hug a Jew,” feature that profiles progressive Jews with a photo of them embracing a Muslim. Muslim activists from overseas who cannot get their work published in their own countries often ask Nassef to post their writings on his Web site.
Muslimwakeup.com has quickly built a readership, reaching nearly 2.8 million hits last month, Nassef said. A few months ago, Progressive Muslim Meetup chapters grew from the site and now draw about 750 people for monthly gatherings nationwide, he said. There are comparable progressive movements among Muslims in South Africa, Iran, Malaysia and elsewhere, that, like the American movement, include a critique of U.S. foreign and economic policies, and human rights abuses in Muslim and non-Muslim countries.
However, U.S. activists see something particularly American about how the ideas are spreading here. The Muslim community in the United States is one of the most diverse in the world, encompassing Arabs, South Asians, Europeans and U.S.-born blacks. Among the thinkers the U.S. progressives are studying are the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Elie Wiesel. Yet, their chances for becoming a major influence in the United States are unclear. Studies have found that the majority of U.S. Muslims are not active in mosques or affiliated with national Muslim groups. Nassef hopes they will find a home in the Progressive Union. “Part of our mission as Muslims, as we see it, is to stand for justice in our community as well as critique what’s outside of it,” Nassef said. “As an American, I want to make sure that my country is doing what is right. As a Muslim, I want to make sure things are being done right in the name of our faith.” On The Net http://www.muslimwakeup.com/
http://muslimwakeup.com/sex/December 29, 200413
Dissident Sexualities: Muslim and Gay in the UKYakoub Islam takes a look at the gay Muslim scene in Britain and argues that homophobia is an act of social injustice based on prejudice rather than fact and reason.
by Yakoub Islam
As a middle class, white, British-born convert to Islam, nothing has perplexed me more than the ideas and beliefs held by many ordinary Muslims about gay people. I’ve tried to rationalize it, justify it and excuse it. In the end, I felt impelled to put on my sociologist’s cap and investigate the problem. What I discovered was that the history of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning (LGBTQ) Muslims, even their social reality, has been grossly misrepresented and misunderstood.
In this article, I will attempt to reconstruct the core historical and contemporary realities of LGBTQ Muslims in the spirit of ithar, a term which roughly translates as ‘self-sacrificing generosity’. I will start by brushing off the cobwebs of the past and roughly summarize what is known about LGBTQ Muslims by gender historians. The social research on LGBTQ Muslims in Britain will then be considered, exploring the human rights problems experienced by one section of this population – lesbian, gay and bisexual women.
As I am not an expert on Shariah, I will not be considering the legality of LGBTQ behaviours within Islam. Rather, my intention is to draw people’s attention to the dire consequences of continuing to rely on prejudice, rather than reason and research, to relate to LGBTQ Muslim people in the UK. My conclusions, however, should be equally applicable to other developed nations with Muslim minorities.
Speaking Historical Truth
In Arab and South Asian lands, pre-colonial LGBTQ activity was almost always hidden from the public gaze, but was nonetheless well-known. It took diverse forms, and even amongst the mainstream literature of classical Islam, there are numerous examples of same-sex relationships written about in an affirmative way. Medieval Persian poetry, including Rumi, esteemed the love of the older man for the younger man; and the now lost Kitab al-Sahhakat (Treatise on Lesbianism), dating from the ninth century, is equally assenting of women-women sexual activities, as are later works of Arab eroticism. There is also substantial evidence of the stigma surrounding pre-marital heterosexual relations finding outlet through male-male sexual acts, as there is in contemporary gay Muslim studies.
The arrival of the colonial Europeans introduced new ways of conceptualizing dissident sexual and gender behaviours. By the nineteenth century, Europeans had two well established social discourses on non-heterosexual activities. One was the institutionalization of lesbian and gay activities within a social identity, separate from gender: the self-conscious, dissident homosexual. For some lesbian, gay and bisexual Muslims, this may call into question their explanation of sexuality as something biologically innate. But Europeans did not invent homoerotic desire – what they did was link it to their sense of self.
The other discourse was evangelical Christian homophobia, a moralizing fear and hatred far more extreme than the mocking indifference common throughout much of the pre-colonial Muslim worlds. It was a discourse that has its parallels in the reactionary masculinities of popular Salafism and Wahhabism. From the hijab to homophobia, Salafis and Wahhabis sought cultural defense against colonialism through promoting their patriarchal and hyper-masculine ideologies. The fanatics who flew jet planes into skyscrapers on 9/11 proved to be no different in their hyper-masculine mumblings than modern neo-fascists – misogynistic, and inevitably, homophobic.
The rationalization of homophobia is an example of Salafi dissimilation par excellence. Indeed, if ever there was an exemplar of the intellectual bankruptcy of Salafism, it is in the telling of non-heterosexual Muslim history. From laughable accounts of how the American Psychiatric Association reluctantly capitulated to gay pressure groups in deciding to scratch homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, to the claims that homosexuality is a ‘Western disease’, the Salafabi mindset demonstrates what their anti-secularism is all about – the end of critical thought.
Fortunately, the interaction between Muslim and colonial texts has also forged more positive discourses. Non-heterosexual and transgendered Muslims around the world are increasingly talking about their sexual experiences and gender identities in a way that echoes European discourses. It makes sense to them, like computers and cars. But these dissidents are not talking quite the same talk, or walking quite the same walk, as European and American gays. Witness the birth of the modern LGBTQ Muslim.
Speaking Personal Truth
Today, gay Muslims in Britain are speaking truth to prejudice on two fronts: the personal and the political. Unusually, it is within the former realm that help has come from professional academia. This April, Dr. Andrew Yip, a reader in sociology at Nottingham Trent University, published a groundbreaking study into the personal and family lives of a small group of gay Muslims in London. As well as the clandestine practices and marriages of convenience, Yip met a number of Muslims who had quietly come out to their families. And in doing so, he uncovered widespread and fundamental misconceptions within the Muslim community – about gay Muslims, and about British society. “ My parents think I am having sex all the time!” Adaam laughs. This is the perception of many Muslim parents – Britain, a debauched society, poisons the minds of their young and sucks them into a life of homoerotic vice and self-indulgence. The term to describe this view is becoming increasingly well-known:Westoxification. In Britain, it’s a perception which finds easy reinforcement in the media, not to mention our rowdy, boozy pub culture. Ironically, Yip’s study suggests most gay Muslims are in tune with their parents, and prefer not to visit clubs, partly because they perceived them as being ‘cruisy’. In the real world, of course, people who drink and engage in premarital sex may be stupid, but they don’t mutate into self-serving ogres.
Adaam was also a participant in Yip’s research, and spoke to me on the telephone on behalf ofImaan, a LGBTQ Muslim collective based in London. Originally founded in 1999 as a US chapter of Al-Fatiha, led by Adnan Ali, the organisation has recently been re-launched as a collective catering to LGBTQ Muslims, their families and friends, and is committed to ‘Islamic notions of social justice, peace and tolerance’. Adaam is responsible for liaising with individuals, groups and organisations interested in the gay Muslim issue.
Despite a recent upsurge in homophobic violence in London, Britain is more comfortable with dissident sexualities than ever before. The rebirth of Imaan has clearly revitalised Britain’s gay Muslim community, with media interest showing interest in a range of organisations, including the Naz Project, which focuses on gay sexual health issues. A TV documentary is in the offing, and BBC’s flagship talk station, Radio 4, recently devoted an entire programme to gay Muslims in Britain. Muslims are now visible on gay pride marches, and this year gay Muslim placards could be seen above the crowds of London’s Mardi Gras.
Adaam is keen to emphasise that Imaan is, first and foremost, a religious and social organisation which supports LGBTQ Muslims, forging links with the wider Muslim community with its solid commitment to fighting Islamophobia.
“ A more social take on things was demanded by the membership,” He explained. This year, Imaan is holding an Eid party, with a representative from the Mayor of London’s office invited to attend. There are also monthly meetings, with members’ discussions revolving around a selected topic. Next meeting, the group intend to discuss the difficulties of having a non-Muslim partner. Yet in both its social activities, as well as in its wider remit, what makes Imaan stand out is its commitment to a compassionate and wholly non-judgemental ethos.
“ If someone at a meeting says he or she can’t be both gay and Muslim, that’s okay with us,” Adaam explained, “But equally, if someone is gay, Muslim and proud, that’s okay too.”
The same non-confrontational ethic also informs Imaan’s dealing with the media on national and international issues, including the recent visit to Britain by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who co-opts a term from Victorian biological determinism to describe homosexuality – ‘unnatural’. Some British gay activists argued al-Qaradawi should be banned from visiting Britain, but Imaan remained neutral throughout the media foray condemning him. The collective are already in quiet discussion with other religious leaders over the legality of gay relationships, although such is the tendentious nature of the topic that Adaam mentioned no names.
With Britain’s ulema still dominated by Imams educated outside the UK, attitudes to LGBTQ Muslims generally reflect the laws and customs of the countries of origin. Like Imaan’s original membership, Islam in the UK is predominantly South Asian, with 43% ofBritain’s 1.6 million Muslims having ethnic origins in Pakistan. Perhaps partly due to theBarelvi Sufi tradition of tolerance and humanism, homosexuality is tacitly accepted in many parts of Pakistan, providing it doesn’t threaten traditional marriage. At the same time, Britain has seen the encroachment of a more intolerant Islamism, and is not immune to other international gay Muslim issues, including the politically expedient clampdowns in Egypt, and the recent legislation against homosexuality in Zanzibar.
Perhaps the most powerful friend of gay Muslims in Britain is Zaki Badawi, the curmudgeonly graduate of Al-Azhar with a PhD in psychology from a London University, who has long condemned homophobia and controversially once suggested many high-ranking leaders in the Muslim world were gay. Yet inevitably, there are also leaders who continue to fan the flames of prejudice. Amongst the more disturbing is Sheikh Sharkhawy, based at the prestigious Regent’s Park mosque in London, who once denigrated gay people as “paedophiles and AIDS carriers.”Speaking Political Truth
Testimony to the impact of such flagrant bigotry comes from the Safra Project, an organisation founded in 2001 to pursue the interests of Muslim lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (LBT) women. Originally part of the old Al-Fatihah-UK, Safra has demonstrated an ability to consult widely and focus on social policy issues. In 2003, Safra published a searing indictment of the difficulties Muslim LBT women experience in accessing legal and social services in the UK.
At this point in time, I want to get preachy and sound a word of warning. In Britain, many Muslims feel embattled by Islamophobia on the street and in our own government’s foreign policies. There is no doubt that negative portrayals of Muslims in the media contribute to this predicament. At the same time, one of the most perilous consequences of Islamophobia is the silencing of self-criticism, whereby Muslims defend what is indefensible. By any measure, the treatment of Muslim LBT women is indefensible. I hope you can dare to look these unpleasant truths in the face-–imagine being there, suffering, living these people’s lives. Then by Allah do something about it.
Imagine experiencing intense same-sex desire, in a world where such feelings are not only condemned as wrong, but information about dissident sexualities is inaccessible. Imagine seeking counsel from within your community over such feelings, even from Asian women support services, only to face homophobic hatred and rejection. But there are so few people you can tell, anyway – the fear of the loss of honour (izzat) is such that you dare not risk your family’s public vilification should your secret become public knowledge. What can you do?
Imagine then turning to people outside the community, and finding things no better there. Homophobia also exists amongst state-funded social services, along with Islamophobia and racism. Some service providers, holding misplaced ideas about ‘cultural sensitivity’, don’t like to bring the issue of dissident sexualities up. Muslim LBT women working for these services may be silenced from professing their sexuality for exactly the same reason.
Imagine the sense of isolation and inner turmoil, but you don’t have to imagine the outcome. Muslim LBT women suffer serious mental health problems, with some attempting self-harm and even suicide. And at this juncture, the only ‘sin’ many have committed is inside their heads. Those Muslim LBT women who dare to come out to their families face rejection, despite being brought up to believe that family is the only real protection a Muslim woman can have. Those who are not rejected often face intense pressure to marry, or physical and emotional domestic violence from parents or siblings. Not surprisingly, some Muslim LBT women never come out, and consequently spend their whole lives either in torment or in clandestine relationships.
Other Muslim LBT women, isolated from information and support, struggle to make sense of their own sexuality well into adult life, by which time they have a husband and children. These women then sometimes risk physical or emotional violence from husbands, either due to conflicts over sexual interest or the discovery of the truth that cannot be spoken. Some women, filled with self-loathing, leave their husbands and give up their children, or even lose them to abduction.
You have imagined the worst. Thankfully, the problems of Muslim LBT women are not universally the same–-middle class women, particular those who are educated and economically independent, fair slightly better than their poorer, worker class sisters. Some families are simply more sympathetic than others. And these problems are not without some remedy –the testimonies of women and men who have been helped by Safra and other organisations show that Muslim LGBTQs can cope with the right support. But two troubles remain to be told.The Mustad’afun fi’l-Ard and HIV
The conflict between sexuality and faith which Muslim LBT women and gay men usually experience is almost always overwhelming. In my view, that is a matter for each individual; for the wider ummah, my view is that LGBTQ Muslims are clearly among the mustad’afun fi’l-ard–that is, they are among those individuals and groups mentioned in the Qur’an who, for no reason of their own, are pushed to the edges of society and live in oppression. Muslims have a duty to defend them. This is what the academic histories and the sociologies of dissident Muslim sexualities and genders are saying to me.
Some assert LGBTQ Muslims are not amongst this group, since they choose to be who they are. This is not an argument I can accept, because the extraordinary level of suffering experienced by gay Muslims makes no human sense if you assume choice is involved. The psychologists agree with me on this one. To date, the American Psychological Association maintains that, “human beings can not choose to be either gay or straight.” But if this doesn’t convince you, let’s be clear where continued condemnation of LGBTQ Muslims is leading. More than anything, it is leading precisely nowhere. LGBTQ Muslims are not going to go away, although a minority end up abandoning their Muslim faith as inimical to their sexuality. For most, the continued vilification of LGBTQ Muslims pushes them further underground, where they are forced to live a lie. Even in liberal Britain, many continue to hide in marriages of convenience, only able to express their sexuality through clandestine relationships or purchased sex.
Putting aside the intolerable pressure this must place on such artificial families, such practices clearly put men, women and unborn children at risk from sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Yet rather than viewing this predicament in terms of health risks, some Imams with a direct line to Ar-Rahman’s will exploit this issue in order to attack LGBTQ Muslims, by claiming AIDS as divine justice. One must ask, then, why Allah would want to kill 66 Irish haemophiliacs with HIV, or infect unborn children. There is no answer to this question, of course, because such diatribes are expressions of hate and fear, not reason.
And so the suffering cascades through our communities, its history and faulty logic forgotten. Despite the clear injunction on Muslims to care for the sick, the outcome for many Muslims suffering from HIV is rejection by the families, communities and even their faith leaders – with some Imams even refusing to give people who have died of AIDS a proper burial.
Non-heterosexual sexual activity has been a part of Muslim life for centuries. In Britain, where there are 1.6 million Muslims, it has forged a community and identities that are compassionate, insightful and bursting with a passion for our faith. But some Muslims continue to view this community with malice, born of a hatred unknowingly borrowed from their former colonial masters. It’s a hatred that kills justice and, by creating a climate of fear, may even be killing Muslims.
Time to put the hatred to bed, and wake up love!—————
For reasons of confidentiality and security, individual names have been changed.Yakoub Islam
Islam is the parent and primary carer of a child with autism. He is also studying for an MA is Social Sciences with the Open University and writing an auto-ethnographic study into Islamic masculinities.
Bates, S. (2003) Imams join Plea for Gay Tolerance, The Guardian 26 11 03 p.11
BBC Online (1999) Inquiry begins into contaminated blood, BBC Online Monday 27 September 1999 http://news.bcc.co.uk/ accessed 18/11/04
Davies, M. (2002) Wilful Imaginings, New Internationalist 345, http://www.newint.org/ accessed 15/11/04
Dhaliwal, L. (2002) Across the Last Gay Frontier, The Guardian Online 29 September 2002 http://www.guardian.co.uk/ accessed 14/11/04
El Fadl, K. (2001) Islam and the Theology of Power, Islam for Today http://www.islamfortoday.com/elfadl01.htm accessed 01/11/04
Griffiths, R. (2000) Sodom and the Koran, Gay Times April 2000 http://groups.yahoo.com/group/al-fatiha-news/message/45 accessed 08/11/04
Human Rights Watch (2004) In a time of torture: The Assault on Justice In Egypt’s Crackdown on Homosexual Conduct (London: Human Rights Watch)
Kimmel, M. (2003) Globalization and its Mal(e)Contents: The Gendered Moral and Political Economy of Terrorism, International Sociology, 18, 603 – 620
Kugle, S. (2004) Sexuality, diversity and ethics in the agenda of progressive Muslims, in Omid Safi (2004) Progressive Muslims; On Justice, Gender and Pluralism (Oxford: One World)
Murray, S, and Roscoe, W. (1997) Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History and Literature (New York: New York University Press)
Naz Project London (2000) Emerging Sexualities: Ten Testimonies (London: Naz Project)
Office for National Statistics [UK] (2004) Focus on Religion http://www.statistics.gov.uk accessed on 26/10/04
Reuters (2004) Zanzibar brings in gay sex ban, The Guardian Online August 21 2004 http://www.guardian.co.uk/ accessed 23 08 04
Safra Project (2002) Initial Findings, Identifying the difficulties experienced by lesbian, bisexual & transgender Muslim women in accessing social & legal services (London: Safra Project)
Seabrook, J. (2004) It’s not natural, The Guardian Online 03 July 2004 http://www.guardian.co.uk/ accessed 05 07 04
Shariati, A. (1969) Humanity and Islam, in C. Kurzman [Ed] (1998) Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
Yip, A. (2004) Negotiating space with family and kin in identity construction: the narratives of British non-heterosexual Muslims, The Sociological Review 2:3 p.336-350LINKS
Muslim Youth http://www.muslimyouth.net/
Naz Project http://www.naz.org.uk/
Safra Project http://www.safraproject.org/
American Psychological Association http://www.apa.org/pubinfo/answers.html
The Associated Press
No Condoms & Gays Must Repent Arab AIDS Summit Agrees
December 17, 2004
Cairo – Arab religious leaders debated methods to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS – a usually taboo subject in much of the conservative Arab world – but stopped short of recommending contraceptives. More than 80 religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian, met at a UN-sponsored conference on HIV/AIDS and acknowledged “the medical call for the use of different preventive means,” but would neither name nor endorse the use of contraceptives that the United Nations recommends as a means to cut infection rates.
“It is not that easy to challenge centuries of certain positions,” said Khadija Moalla, an official with the UN Development Program who focuses on the Arab world. She said the conference was necessary “because policy-makers were really scared of religious leaders. It was their alibi for not working on AIDS or even doing small things. “Now we do know there are people with HIV and we can move on,” she said. The UNDP considers the Arab world a “low-prevalence” area compared to other regions around the globe, although it estimates that about 540,000 people are infected with HIV.
“Just getting these large figures and these religious communities to speak about something in a manner that was extremely open was quite revolutionary,” said Nadine Shamounki, a UN spokeswoman. “It’s a totally unexpected and refreshing approach (compared to the view) that God was punishing these people.”
According to a recent UN report, the number of new infections in the region has jumped almost 28 per cent since 2002. This year, 92,000 new infections have been reported. Moalla said the religious community had made a move from supporting only “abstinence and fidelity” to a new message of “compassion, helping ill people and fighting discrimination.” A joint declaration from the leaders emphasized the importance of reaching out to vulnerable groups, such as prostitutes, drug users and gay men, but also (called) “on them for repentance.” Conference attendees included Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, Egypt’s foremost religious leader, and Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi of Qatar, head of the London-based International Association of Muslim Scholars.
http://www.sovo.com/2005/8-26/news/localnews/sexuality.cfmAug. 26, 2005
Gay Muslims to hold international conference in Atlanta
Sexuality, women’s rights to dominate discussion
by Bo Shell
Al-Fatiha — the nation’s only organization dedicated to supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, intersexed and questioning Muslims — holds its fifth international retreat Sept. 2-5 in Atlanta. This year’s conference, entitled “Sexism, Misogyny and Gender Oppression: Breaking Down the Systems of Patriarchy,” will allow 75 to 100 gay and lesbian Muslims to openly discuss sexuality and the role of women in Islam. “ The number one issue facing GLBT Muslims in this country is the feeling of being really out of place,” said Faisal Alam, Al-Fatiha founder and former president.
“ The gay community doesn’t necessarily accept us fully because we’re Muslim and then there’s all these stereotypes that come with that, and within the Muslim community there’s no or little acceptance because we’re LGBT,” he added. The weekend includes separate retreats for lesbians, gay men and gay Muslim allies, as well as caucuses on coming out and Quranic study. Two events are open to the public. A festival of short films about gender and sexuality from the Islamic world will be followed by a panel discussion and keynote address by Asra Q. Nomani, author of “Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Women’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam.”
Later in the weekend, the public is also invited to a reception, award ceremony, mixed prayer and keynote address by Dr. Amina Wadud, author of “Quran and Woman” and a scholar of Islamic theology and jurisprudence.The retreat marks the ninth conference that Al-Fatiha has held since it formed in 1998. Inspired by gay groups within Christian denominations, Alam, 17 at the time, sent an e-mail to several American and Canadian Muslim student groups saying he’d found a gay Muslim list serve, when he was in fact the organizer.
Despite his attempts at anonymity, Alam said he was discovered and subsequently forced to resign from several positions within Muslim groups. But he continued working on the list serve and, with the help of international subscribers, formed Al-Fatiha.
Gathering an organization of gay and lesbian Muslims has not been easy, Alam said, given the religion’s staunch opinions on homosexuality. On its Web site, Al-Fatiha estimates that nearly 4,000 gay Iranians have been executed since the country’s revolution in 1979. “ There isn’t an understanding in the mainstream Muslim community of same-sex sexuality,” Alam said. “I think Islam is now where Catholicism and other Protestant religions were 50 years ago.” Even with added measures to ensure participant confidentiality, Alam said many of the conference attendees registered under pseudonyms, fearing they might be discovered.
According to Alam, mainstream Islamic opinion on homosexuality varies, but generally all interpretations agree that it should be forbidden. Al-Fatiha points to several verses about Lot and his homosexual tribesmen as the source for Islamic opinion toward gay men and women. Al-Fatiha approaches the matter much like Christians have, believing that religion is defined by a worshiper’s individual relationship with God.“ We have our own liberal and progressive Muslim scholars who are questioning and now calling for a reinterpretation of these texts that have been taken out of context,” Alam said.‘ Silent no more’
Daayiee Abdullah, a gay Imam, or religious cleric, said the retreat gives a voice to those who were once unheard. Abdullah is scheduled to help facilitate a session for gay, bisexual and transgender Muslim men during the weekend. “ Gay Muslims are not sitting ducks anymore,” Abdullah said. “Through our scholarships, through the meeting of each other, we’ve developed a voice. We’re silent no more.”
Abdullah is trained in Western and Islamic law and helps gay Muslims cope with their sexual orientation, an issue he said many Imams will not confront. Overcoming a lack of self-acceptance is difficult, he said, but self-education is a part of the solution. “ There are many people who look at that Quranic interpretation and have questions, as we do,” Abdullah said. “So we’re not alone.”
Bo Shell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al-Fatiha Foundation Press Release
September 9, 2005
More than 75 queer Muslims AND allies complete 5th International Retreat in Atlanta, GA
Highlights included film festival, media training, mixed-gender prayers and keynotes by renowned gender rights activistis
Al-Fatiha , a US-based organization dedicated to supporting and empowering queer Muslims announced today that more than 75 people gathered at the 5th International Retreat in Atlanta, GA from September 2-5, 2005. Under the theme of “Sexism, Misogyny and Gender Oppression: Breaking Down the Systems of Patriarchy,” the retreat had four simultaneous gatherings for queer Muslim men, queer Muslim women, transgender Muslims and allies (both straight Muslims and queer non-Muslims). Each facilitated gathering held dialogues and discussions related to the theme.
For the first time in Al-Fatiha’s history, more than half of the participants were women and transgender people. Representatives came from as far as Seattle, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Montreal, London and Johannesburg. Highlights of the international retreat included a shortfilm festival, a media training, mixed-gender prayers and keynote talks by Dr. Amina Wadud and Ms. Asra Q. Nomani, two renowned Muslim gender-rights activists in the U.S.
With the support of a generous grant from the Astraea Foundation, Al-Fatiha awarded twenty scholarships to queer and transgender Muslim women, who would otherwise not have been able to attend the international retreat. Additionally with the support of a grant from theGill Foundation, Al-Fatiha held a media training for board members, community leaders and members of the organization. Led by a professional media consultant, the training focused on increasing visibility of LGBTIQ Muslims and the challenges they face around the world.
Reports from each retreat gathering are being compiled and Al-Fatiha will issue a report on the discussions held in the coming months. The retreat also offered an opportunity for participants to learn about Al-Fatiha and become future board members and volunteers.
Al-Fatiha presented awards to Dr. Amina Wadud and Ms. Asra Nomani for the bravery, courage and valor in struggling to gain gender rights and gender equity for Muslim women. Both women welcomed the gesture and hoped for future collaboration between the LGBTIQ Muslim community and the Muslim women’s rights movement in the U.S. and abroad.
Faisal Alam, founder of Al-Fatiha announced at the conclusion of the retreat that he will be stepping down from the board of directors and taking a one year sabbatical from Al-Fatiha. Faisal who already stepped down as president in August 2004 said that the leadership transition within Al-Fatiha is important and that new people stepping up as leaders within the organization will only make the queer Muslim community stronger.
The 5th International Retreat for LGBTIQ Muslims was supported by the generous sponsorship of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). Other advertisers and supporters included: GLSEN, the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (at the Pacific School of Religion), Immigration Equality, IGLHRC, and Raksha Inc. Al-Fatiha is already making plans to hold a North American conference in San Francisco from June 22-25, 2005. The conference will be held in conjunction with the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade and Festival.
New book 2007: Gay Travels in the Muslim World, Edited by Michael Luongo
(chapter 10 written by GlobalGayz owner Richard Ammon)
More information about Islam & Homosexuality can be found at: www.al-fatiha.org
Other articles of interest can be found at: groups.yahoo.com/group/al-fatiha-news
Muslim Yahoo Group: “Queer Muslim Revolution” <email@example.com>
Queer Muslim magazines: Huriyah, Barra
Gay Islam discussion groups:
More Lesbian and Gay Muslim Websites:
-Gay Middle East: http://www.gaymiddleeast.com/
-Social support group: Imaan.org.uk
-Web site aims for a broad-based reformation, social justice, gender equality, pluralism and free inquiry: www.muslimwakeup.com
-Arab Gateway–includes pages on gay Islam
-Making friends: http://www.muslimfriends.com/
-Safra Muslim Lesbian Project
Mithly.com website: http://www.mithly.com/main/mainpage.htm -“find true value in self-actualization and self-expression”
The majority of Muslim countries, including supposedly ‘liberal’ ones like Tunisia as well as dictatorships like Sudan, outlaw same-sex relationships. See full article (October 2000) at:http://www.newint.org/issue328/holy.htm
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