East London Muslims divided over accepting Muslims who are LGBT
There was a mix of hostility and support from local Muslims when the LGBT-Muslim Solidarity campaign was launched with a street stall and pavement discussion in Tower Hamlets, East London, yesterday, 21 October.
Organised by the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation, at the request of local LGBT Muslims and with their participation, the campaign aims to “encourage solidarity between the LGBT and Muslim communities, combat homophobia and all hate, and support LGBT Muslims.”
One of the hostile responses, which shows why our campaign is needed:
“We received wonderful positive responses from some Muslims: ‘I’m a Muslim and I support gay equality’ and ‘If Muslims are gay, let them be.’ But others said: ‘It [homosexuality] is against Islam,’ ‘You can’t be Muslim and gay’ and ‘We don’t accept gay Muslims,’” said Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
“An Afghani said he used to support the Taliban punishment of executing gay people but he doesn’t agree with that any more. A local man of Pakistani heritage, Ajaz, told how he was hounded out of his Whitechapel flat by local Muslims after they discovered he was gay. He said he received no support from anyone in the Muslim community. They all turned against him, he said.
“There was particular hostility from some Muslims towards the idea that a Muslim person could be gay. Some expressed their greatest antipathy for LGBT Muslims. Unsurprisingly, most of the local LGBT Muslims who asked us to do this campaign were too afraid to attend. They feared retribution from their Muslim families and neighbours. It demonstrates why this campaign is necessary,” said Mr Tatchell.
Anastasia Kyriacou, campaign coordinator with the Peter Tatchell Foundation, added:
“We set up our street stall outside Whitechapel tube station and leafleted passers-by from the local community. Lots of them stopped to chat with us, with very mixed responses. We offered them leaflets about LGBT and Muslim issues, including leaflets from the LGBT Muslim organisation Imaan and the Naz and Matt Foundation.
“Our initiative was prompted by requests from East London LGBT Muslims who have suffered abuse and harassment, often from fellow Muslims. They asked us to come to Tower Hamlets to challenge homophobic prejudice and build bridges with the local Muslim community,” she said.
Explaining the thinking behind the campaign, Peter Tatchell, said:
“The LGBT-Muslim Solidarity campaign is seeking to reach out, create dialogue and bring the Muslim and LGBT communities together, to oppose the prejudice, discrimination and hate crime that both communities experience. We also want to support and empower LGBT Muslims, to give them a voice and visibility – and to tackle anti-LGBT prejudice in the Muslim community and anti-Muslim prejudice in the LGBT community. Our goal is unity and solidarity to oppose all hate. This is the first phase of our LGBT-Muslim solidarity campaign, to overcome divisions between Muslim and LGB people, for our common good,” he said.
Ejel Khan, a gay Muslim and social activist, and a participant at the launch event, said:
“It is imperative that our LGBT Muslim voices are heard and that we engage with the mainstream Muslim community. I’ve spoken in some mosques on LGBT issues but many mosques still don’t acknowledge and support their LGBT worshippers. That needs to change.”
Sohail Ahmed, who is gay and from a devout Muslim family, also attended on Wednesday. He added:
“As a gay Muslim, I always feared that Muslims and non-Muslims alike would view me negatively for being both Muslim and gay. I thought that mentioning I’m gay would make me and my religion look bad and that everyone would judge me as being a ‘fake Muslim.’ I felt so alone and thought that no one would understand me. I never told anyone. This campaign has the opportunity to change lives, and even save some. I wish I had come across something like this during my darkest moments as a young gay Muslim. No one deserves to be alone and unsupported, especially not LGBT Muslims, who often go through extreme difficulties because of their sexuality, faith and ethnicity.”
Advocacy Officer, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation