News and views 2006


-Convocation of the II International Congress of Islamic Feminism
-Jeg er lesbik muslim og jeg eksisterer
-Indonesia Gays Fight Prejudice
-First gay 'marriage' in Pakistan
-Safra Project open letter to the gay press on EuroPride 2006
-Threats and Survival:The Religious Right and LGBT Strategies in Muslim Contexts by Anissa Hélie
-Northwestern University Journal of International Human Rights- Human Rights and Homo-sectuals: The International Politics of Sexuality, Religion, and Law
-Farish Ahmad-Noor on TV
-Leading the mufti; Progress in the Islamic tradition
-Gay Muslim Adnan Ali talks
-Op-Ed: Danish Cartoons Offensive ­to Muslims; What Would Prophet Mohammed Have Done?
-Tribute to Sheikh Zaki Badawi (14/1/'22 - 24/1/'06)
-Channel 4- Gay Muslims
-BBC Radio 4, Sunday Programme on Gay Muslims



-Convocation of the II International Congress of Islamic Feminism
Bismil-lâhi ar-Rahmani ar-Rahim
The Second International Congress of Islamic Feminism (Barcelona, 3rd, 4th and 5th of November 2006) will focus on major issues with relation to the implementation of sharia and family laws in countries with a Muslim population.

The conference aims to continue the task which was started in the First Congress on Islamic Feminism, through which the growing Muslim women’s movement in pursuit of gender equality became known, on a theoretical as well as a practical level. It also seeks to contribute to the consolidation of Islamic feminism as a international movement.

Nowadays, there are some groups that claim for the implementation of a codification of the Sharia that goes back to the 10th century, and which in practice means corporal punishments, justification of domestic violence against women, dress codes that restrict freedom, highly chauvinistic and discriminatory family laws restricting women’s right to divorce or inheritance or to exercise certain professions.

In front of this situation, Islamic feminism declares that this alleged “Islamic Law” is not “God’s law”, as is claimed by those who promote it, but a human creation codified centuries ago in the context of societies in which women were considered to be the property of men and religious discourse lay in the hands of men. This movement considers that a degradation of Islamic tradition and distortion of the Sacred Text has taken place. Moreover, Islamic feminism affirms that true Islam contains important elements of liberation and calls for the recovery of those elements as a framework for social emancipation.

The Congress has the participation of some of the most outstanding Muslim intellectuals working for gender justice and against sexist interpretations of the Sacred Text. These scholars will analyze the state of women’s human rights in countries like Pakistan, Iran, Morocco, Nigeria and Indonesia.

Some of the fundamental topics that affect the situation of women in the Islamic world will be approached, such as polygamy, abortion, divorce, domestic violence, family planning, sexual rights and the intellectual and spiritual leadership of women. The conference seeks to analyze these topics from the perspective of Islamic Feminism. Various strategies for the improvement of women’s rights will be discussed. Sessions will be devoted to Quranic hermeneutics, inter-religious feminist dialogue, masculinity and the role of men in Islamic Feminism.

The event is organized by the Catalan Islamic Board (Junta Islàmica Catalana), and has the patronage of the Barcelona City Council and the Catalonian Autonomous Government, as well as the support of the Foundation “Pluralismo y Convivencia” (Ministry of Justice).

-Jeg er lesbik muslim og jeg eksisterer
Norwegian article on the Safra Project.

-Indonesia Gays Fight Prejudice

(Article from the 247 Gay website at:
Indonesia's fledgling LGBT group, Arus Pelangi (Rainbow Flag), last Monday launched a national campaign against a welter of ultra-homophobic regional statutes based on Muslim Sharia law. "Many LGBT people are arrested and detained, often without charges or clear reason, only to be released after a few days," said Widodo "Dodo" Budi Darmo, the 35-year-old director of campaigning for Arus Pelangi, which was formed in January this year as Indonesia's first explicitly activist LGBT group on the legal and political fronts.

"In 2004, the region of Palembang introduced a regional law that proscribes homosexuality as an act of prostitution that `violates the norms of common decency, religion, and legal norms as they apply to societal rule,'" Dodo—a co-founder of Arus Pelangi—told Gay City News from Jakarta. "That law says that included under the term `act of prostitution' are `homosexual sex, lesbians, sodomy, sexual harassment, and other pornographic acts.'"

Dodo said that "this regional law was part of a chain of similar laws across Sumatra and Java that base themselves on Sharia law from the Koran," and that "52 regions have adopted or put forward such laws." In the special capital district of Jakarta itself, he said, "all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and transsexual people are legally considered cacat, or mentally handicapped, and as such are not protected by law. This contradiction of LGBT people falling outside the law while still being subjected to it is one of the injustices that Arus Pelangi hopes to combat."

Some 88 percent of Indonesia's quarter of a billion people identify as Muslims, making it the world's largest Islamic nation. Islamic beliefs take various forms in the country—there are the orthodox, Mecca-oriented santri, and also another Muslim current called kebatinan, or Javanism, which is an amalgam of Islamic (especially Sufi) beliefs colored by indigenous animist and Hindu-Buddhist influences, as well as ethnic traditions, in a country where 300 languages are spoken.

Three-fifths of the nation's population lives on the island of Java and Islamic precepts continue to frame public debate. There is considerable political coherence among traditionalist and modernist Muslim currents—all of them doctrinally opposed to homosexuality.

"There are many Islamic fundamentalist groups in Indonesia that thrive on premanism, or thuggery, against anyone that goes against what they feel their religion dictates," said Dodo. "These groups—in Jakarta they are most predominantly the FPI (the Front of Supporters of Islam) and the FBR (Betawi Council Forum)—will attack the offices, workplaces, and homes of people they consider to be of particular threat to the morals and values of Islam, and that includes LGBT people."

The International Herald Tribune noted in an October 9 article on Indonesia, "President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been criticized by some for failing to speak out clearly against" the "persistent [Muslim-instigated] violence."

Last Monday, Dodo recounted, "We had a forum with the Department of Justice and Human Rights, and met with the head of the office regarding regional laws in order to push the issue of discrimination against LGBT people evidenced in those laws, and as well to attempt to break through channels in order to meet with the only two people in Indonesian politics able to quash laws still in deliberation (the minister of Internal Affairs) or already made (President Yudhoyono.)" So far, Arus Pelangi has had no success in arranging those breakthrough meetings.

Arus Pelangi also has been lobbying hard against final passage of a sweeping "Law Against Pornography and Porno-Action" that is being pushed by Islamic-oriented political parties, and could be used to stifle any pro-gay agitation or writing. This draconian, homophobic law would prohibit any writing or audio-visual presentation—including songs, poetry, films, paintings, and photographs—that "exploit the notion of persons engaging in sexual relations" or "engaging in activities leading to sexual relations with persons of the same sex." Even portrayals of "kissing on the lips" of any gender combinations would be forbidden under this proposed legislation. Violations of this law would be punishable not only by fines but by prison terms of up to seven years as well.

"There are a few supporters within the Indonesian Parliament who are willing to help us seek equal rights for LGBT people in Indonesia," Dodo said, "and these are mainly from the PDI-P (Party for the Indonesian Democracy Struggle) and the PKB (National Awakening Party), and though their members are few, they have greatly supported Arus Pelangi's cause and have enabled us to come further in political discussions and alliances as a result."

Arus Pelangi is also striving, against great odds, to have sexual orientation included in a new Minority Rights law being considered by Parliament that was originally presented as a bill on ethnic and racial discrimination.

"There has been strong opposition from various [Islamic] fundamentalist and conservative parties who have threatened to block the Minority Rights bill should the LGBT issue be inserted," Dodo said, "but we are currently working in coalition with several [non-governmental organizations] and a few members of Parliament to further this issue."

Less than a year old, Arus Pelangi has some 400 members—about 40 percent are lesbians, 30 percent gay men, and 30 percent transsexuals. The large number of lesbians is in part due to the success of bi-weekly lesbian discussion groups the organization runs in Jakarta which, Dodo said, "have been successful in uniting groups with little to no ties with each other previously. They've become a popular forum for lesbians who are open about their sexuality as well as with those who have yet to come out," and involve discussions of everyday problems, violations of their human rights, and consciousness-raising.

Arus Pelangi has already facilitated the establishment of three autonomous branches outside Jakarta. In Surabaya, the LGBT organization Us was formed with the support of Arus Pelangi staff, and participates in the activities generated by the Jakarta office. An Arus Pelangi chapter has started in Medan to target LGBT issues in Northern Sumatra. And in Purwokerto, a new LGBT organization has been formed as a result of Arus Pelangi's activities in the region in response to the murder last year of Vera, a transsexual.

"The case of Vera, a transsexual who was murdered last October 28 in Purwokerto, Central Java, has received little attention from the local police," Dodo said. "Our staff traveled to the area, met with witnesses and the victim's family, and received permission to take this case to court. We've developed a network of partners to insure the protection of witnesses, only four of whom have as yet been questioned by the police but with no concrete action as a result."

In another horrendous case that is the focus of Arus Pelangi's work, three transsexuals were murdered in Jakarta by the Indonesian police.

"We've begun investigations with the families of the victims who live in Jakarta, and have raised the issue with the National Human Rights Commission," said Dodo, "but this case will require an extremely long process of data collection and campaigning with government authorities, as it involves charges being brought against the police. We've taken up cases like these, and are trying to build up our local communities and empower them to support themselves and each other, to decrease the fear experienced by LGBT people."

In fact, it is difficult to quantify with any specificity the level of bias-related anti-gay violence in the country because, until the founding of Arus Pelangi, there was no gay group collecting such information in Indonesia. A group called Lambda Indonesia was founded in 1985, sponsored social gatherings, consciousness-raising, and issued a newsletter, but it petered out in the 1990s. Gaya Nusantara is a gay group focusing on health issues like AIDS, and operating mainly in Surabaya, East Java. Yayasan Srikandi Sejati, founded in 1998, focuses specifically on health issue of the transgendered, running a free health clinic that provides HIV/AIDS counseling and free condoms to transsexual sex workers.

"In general, the public here is not well-informed about HIV/AIDS," Dodo said. "There is no sex education in the schools, except for that done by these other organizations with very limited means and despite hostility from school authorities. Because the other LGBT organizations before Arus Pelangi exclusively focused on health issues, they inadvertently perpetuated the notion of AIDS as a `gay disease' and thus the stigmatization of the LGBT community concerning this issue. However, the stereotype of people with AIDS now leans more toward drug users and Papuans, the indigenous people living in the easternmost province of Indonesia."

Legal and police abuse of gay people in Indonesia is hard to document, said Julie Van Dassen, Arus Pelangi's Canadian-born international advocacy secretary, "because people often do not report cases due to their sexuality, and thus data is very hard to come by. Frequently, LGBT people are arrested for other reasons, or with no charges at all, which happens often enough in Indonesia, especially in certain regions (Aceh being the worst), and though it is obvious that they are scapegoated because of their sexual orientation, this is never formally issued as a charge, and thus hard to prove or not reported as a crime of discrimination at all."

In addition to this, Van Dassen said, "often gays, once taken into jail, are submitted to sexual abuse far beyond that of other prisoners because of their sexual orientation. These cases are also very hard to prove, especially as many of the victims are very traumatized and remain silent out of fear of returning to jail and being subjected to abuse, rape, and beatings again."

A good example of this police abuse, she said, is the case of Adang, a gay man who was one of many arrested in a protest against the opening of a an environmentally poisonous dump site in Bojong, Bogor, West Java.

"Adang was suffering from a mild form of tuberculosis at the time of his arrest," Van Dassan explained. "He informed authorities of this, but received no medical attention. He was further criminalized in jail, forced to kiss, masturbate for, and perform fellatio on the guards at the prison and other inmates were encouraged to take advantage of him sexually because he was a gay man, `so he must love it.' His condition worsened while in jail, he was beaten and still received no medical attention. Upon his release, after seven months in jail, he received medical attention but died three weeks later due to complications connected to his injuries and tuberculosis."

Dodo dismisses the notion that a gay identity is a "Western" notion foreign to Asian or Islamic cultures.

"We have to make a separation between religion and sexual orientation," he said, "because sexual orientation is natural, it's a human right that needs to be respected and valued. My family was very open and pluralistic, so I was lucky to be raised in a family that was not too focused on religious rules or ethos. In Indonesia, religion is forced, you are not afforded the opportunity not to choose a religion—and as a result, many of the social norms, political policies, and laws are deeply rooted in Islamic ties and morals. I was not as affected by this as most others were."

In fact, said Van Dassen, "Dodo is one of very few (three, at most) of our staff that has actually come out to his family and friends. Most of the staff, even though they are passionate enough about supporting LGBT rights to work full-time without wages for Arus Pelangi, are still afraid to come out to the people close to them."

Van Dassen explained that "their reasons vary – some come from moderate or more conservative Muslim families and are afraid to come out and be alienated from their families; some are less afraid of the reaction of their families but more the reaction of their community and the shame it would bring upon their entire family, which could have mild to severe social and economic effects - their business would no longer be used, they would be ostracized in social circles. Still others, and this was the most shocking for me, is that some, not working in Arus Pelangi but connected to it, are ashamed to admit it to themselves. They were raised in Muslim families and feel that their natural sexual inclinations are a sin, and have no idea of what to do about it."

-First gay 'marriage' in Pakistan

-BBC World Service- Heart and Soul Programme
Gay and Muslim in the UK by Shazia Khan
Listen here...
Shazia Khan explores one of the biggest taboos facing Muslims living in the United Kingdom.

-Safra Project open letter to the gay press on EuroPride 2006

EuroPride 2006 was billed as a Pride of diversity. Watching the morning march, with its float of gay Muslim groups Safra and Imaan, as well as Beit Klal Yisrael, Black Lesbians UK, as well as trans, BDSM, and many other groups, the diversity motto seemed convincing. By the afternoon, however, we were painfully reminded that what most of the Pride goers were marching for was a ‘safe space’ that was highly unsafe for people of colour.

England had come to its end of 2006 World Cup attempt and swarms of English fans charged along Charing Cross road shouting and taking on the police. We were four Queer Asian women and decided to turn back into a ‘safer’ Soho to avoid the troubled area and decided to get a taxi home.

As we were climbing into the cab, two white Queer boys started taunting us, “bloody Indians” and “cunts”. Judging from their accents, one was English and the other European. They pushed against us and tried to follow us into the cab. When we managed to close the door, they threw beer at us through the window, catching us all, including my partner who wears a headscarf as part of her Muslim identity.

The cabbie, an older black man, along with my partner called the police. Meanwhile we were assaulted with an onslaught of verbal threats, spitting and pushing. The police arrived and one attacker snuck off leaving the other to face the police. The police questioned him and then hearing the witness account of the cabbie and not wanting to be remembered as the Met officers that arrested Queer boys at Pride decided it was enough to ask the attacker to apologise, which he first refused and resulted in him being cuffed. He then made a half hearted apology and we left in the cab.

In the heart of Soho none of the Pride goers showed solidarity with us. None of us were Indian; all of us are European; yet we had no place in this EuroPride where white Europeans from different countries could bond against the “bloody Indians”. The queer “community” should really ask itself whether it is proud of its racism, or whether it is high time to translate the diversity rhetoric into some serious allied action.

T. Tauqir, Dr. J. Haritaworn, RG and SK

-Threats and Survival:The Religious Right and LGBT Strategies in Muslim Contexts
by Anissa Hélie
The turn of the nineteenth century, Europeans referred to same- sex relationships as the "Persian disease," the "Turkish disease," or the "Egyptian vice." In an interesting reversal, many conservative voices in Muslim contexts nowadays attribute homosexuality to "Western depravation"—and call for sanctions.

This shift in homophobic discourse demonstrates that the construction of "sexual difference" may vary significantly, shaped as it is by historical and political considerations. It used to echo advocates of colonialism, who sought justification for imperialist expansion in "native" perversions.

Now, it serves the interests of the Muslim Religious Right, which (selectively) denounces globalisation as a source of social evils to better silence alternative opposition. Sustained pressure by feminist and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) activists has succeeded in bringing the issue of "sexual diversity" to the forefront. Yet the recent past is marked by both landmark achievements and worrying trends. This paper explores the last decade—from the early 1990s onwards—and recalls some of the gains made at the global level. It also examines how these gains are currently threatened by the strengthening of the Religious Right. While the focus is specifically on Muslim contexts, Muslim fundamentalists' efforts need to be located alongside those of their not-so-strange bedfellows, such as the Vatican and the Christian Right.

The long, winding road to emancipation
One major global trend emerging from the current situation has actually been positive: sexual diversity is no longer invisible. Legislators have started protecting the rights of sexual minorities—at least on paper. In recent years, South Africa and Ecuador became the first countries to expand the basis for discrimination to include sexual orientation, and to incorporate anti-discrimination provisions in their Constitutions (New Internationalist, 2001). However ambivalent one might feel about the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) personnel in the military or about the struggle for "gay marriages," it is still a measure of equality that several countries now recognise same-sex couples' civil partnerships. Although these countries are overwhelmingly Western, activists in Vietnam and Mexico are lobbying for similar changes.1

Medical authorities had to give in too: in 1992, homosexuality ceased to be listed as a disease by the World Health Organisation (WHO). However, transsexuality remains stigmatised through the diagnosis of gender identity disorder (GID), which is still considered a mental illness today. Activists were also successful in their efforts to broaden the human rights agenda so that it began to address various violations faced by LGBTI people. Mainstream human rights organisations took note— since 1991, Amnesty International's mandate includes the protection of individuals persecuted on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Though established only a few years ago, the Human Rights Watch now has a dynamic LGBTI programme.

Issues of sexual rights and sexual autonomy have caught the attention of institutions like the United Nations (UN), particularly since the international world conferences of the nineties.2 In an unprecedented move, in 2001, no less than six independent UN experts and Special Rapporteurs issued a joint statement urging activists in LGBT circles to assist with documenting violations. Such international developments could not have been achieved without the dedication of countless advocates, nor without the feminist and LGBTI organising that has taken place over the last decades—locally, nationally and regionally. But while LGBTI legal rights slowly become more socially acceptable, the discrimination and persecution have not disappeared—far from it. Although LGBTI people's visibility is on the rise in many parts of the world, the discourses of religious extremism are also increasingly powerful. The growing influence of the Religious Right constitutes another major trend in the global arena.

Beaten by backlash?
Homophobia remains state sanctioned in too many countries (Hélie, 2004), and the voices (and deeds) of "fundamentalist" extremists are instrumental in maintaining the status quo. At the local level, they also help provide legitimacy to those—state and non-state actors alike—committing human rights violations against LGBTI people. At the national and international levels, the Religious Right influences and shapes political agendas.

Manipulating deeply held notions of cultural identity is an effective strategy. The Religious Right (whether Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, etc.) would like us to believe that it promotes a return to "traditional values," to the "fundamentals" of one's faith. Rather, leaders of politico-religious movements promote conservative, highly selective interpretations of religion and identity in order to gain or maintain political power. The "traditions" invoked refer to a "pure" and ahistorical past, devoid of any trace of diversity (diversity of ethnic groups, of religious beliefs, sexual orientation, customary practices, or class are simply erased). The mythical "values" promoted are, in fact, those of nationalism, xenophobia, sexism, and homophobia. Therefore, it is not surprising that women, minorities, and LGBTI people are most vulnerable to fundamentalist right wing politics.

The January 2006 case of two LGBT groups being denied Consultative Status at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) provides a striking example of coalition-building between the Christian and the Muslim Religious Rights at the UN level.3 When else are Iran and the US walking side by side? But the anti-gay stance is a battle each faction fights on its own turf as well. For example, Pope Benedict XVI recently denounced gay marriages as "a grave error." In November 2005, he also approved a ruling barring homosexuals from priesthood, launching a witch-hunt within seminaries.4

In Nigeria, the invocation of "indigenous values" allows for a framing of sexual differences of which the Pope would surely approve. As of January 2006, the government is discussing a bill that makes same-sex relationships and marriages illegal. Justice Minister Bayo Ojo stressed that offenders would face jail sentence, and justified the move stating, "It is un-African and the Holy books prohibit it."5 Nigerian activists warn that advocacy work has de facto become a punishable offence and that the bill invites "widespread human rights violations of people suspected to be gay or working for gay rights."

A piece written à propos of last year's banning of the Vagina Monologues in Uganda confronts religious zealots with eloquent arguments that could also apply to Nigeria: "How can one talk of `African cultural and moral values' in a continent that has tens of thousands of different ethnic and linguistic groups? What is `un- African' about casual reference to the vagina when Karimojong and Dinka women walk freely naked and squat before their children exposing their vaginas? What is `un-African' about homosexuality when...`homosexuality was not only a condoned but also an actively encouraged' practice among young males among the Bahima peoples of Ankole?" (Mwendo, 2005).

Fighting faggots and feminists
In Muslim contexts—among others—conservative leaders use (homo) sexuality in various ways. For example, it can effectively divert public attention from crucial domestic issues: the recent trial of 52 Egyptian alleged gay men has helped focus the public eye on another issue other than the ongoing economic recession. It is also handy in dismissing opponents: former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed imprisoned his main political rival Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges. Finally, it helps discredit any voice of dissent: in Tunisia in 1998, the government-controlled media challenged six feminist leaders regarding their marital status. The same women (from the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women, ATFD) were later accused of "undermining Islam as well as cultural and social values" (Rothschild, 2005, pp. 27-28). In May 1999, similar arguments were used by the Punjab Minister for Social Welfare to discredit Shirkat Gah, a Pakistani women's collective accused of "promoting a culture of adultery" and being "responsible for the degeneration of society."

As the examples from Tunisia and Pakistan demonstrate, extremist politico-religious leaders resort to similar rhetoric when mobilising against women's rights and LGBTI advocates.

The first argument is that homosexuality (or feminism) simply does not exist in Muslim countries. In March 1997, a university professor was dismissed because she had mentioned—in a private conversation with a student—her belief that there were lesbians in Kuwait. The female president of Kuwait University, who fired her, insisted, "Ours is a Muslim society and homosexuality is against Islam" (AHBAB, 1996-1997).

Next comes the claim that women's (or LGBTI people's) demands for equality are products of a foreign ideology, and should be rejected on that ground. LGBTI activists and feminists are systematically accused of being agents of a corrupted foreign power; hence, labeled a threat to the social order, to cultural purity as well as traitors to their nation, community, or faith. (Indeed, this is an argument used far beyond predominantly Muslim contexts, from India to China or Serbia.) Finally, it is made clear that sexuality and women's rights cannot—ever—be a priority. Such issues are not meant to be on the agenda (any agenda): aren't they, ultimately, a luxury of the elites, whether foreign or local? At the 1995 Beijing Conference, attempts to introduce any reference to sexual orientation in the final document were obstructed by many Muslim states (as well as their Catholic allies); including Sudan, whose delegate insisted that: "This is something unnatural. The majority of women in the world are expecting us to deal with poverty and disease. We object to the presence of this term. This is a refusal, not a reservation."

In fact, women are especially vulnerable to growing fundamentalism, indeed primary targets. As Radhika Coomaraswany, former Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, explains: "Communities police women's behaviour. A woman who is perceived as acting in a sexually inadequate manner according to her community's standards will be punished." This is particularly true for lesbians and trans people in Muslim contexts, who are often at risk of persecution by non-state actors (including extremist politico-religious groups or their own relatives). A testimony from Jordan highlights thisreality: "Very strong prejudices exist in Jordanian society, that are stronger than any legal prohibition. Lesbians are afraid of becoming visible.... The corner stone of social support in Jordan is the family unit—but in the case of a lesbian who would be open about her sexuality, it may well be her own family that can become guilty of violations against her" (Assfar, 2000, pp. 283-284). Turkish trans activist Demir Demet can also testify to the repeated assaults she faces from police forces.

Activism, dissidence, and resistance back home
Despite these repercussions, people fight back under the most oppressive circumstances. Because strategies are adapted to specific environments, there is a need to at least distinguish between those developed in Muslim countries and in the West (this already being an oversimplification).

LGBTI people located in predominantly Muslim contexts have begun organising relatively recently (some early birds started in the beginning of the nineties). Speaking out publicly takes a bit longer, particularly for those from within socially and politically repressive societies. Sometimes, it is blatant discrimination that triggers resistance. However, the strategy of reclaiming public space requires not only seasoned risk assessment but also courage strengthened over the long term. For example, Lambda Istanbul, although active since 1993, organised its first Pride March in the Turkish capital a decade later—and at that time only 50 pioneers dared join.

Visibility often carries a high price, from humiliation and accusations of betrayal to actual instances of violence, forced HIV testings, rapes, and even murders. Lesbian activism is even more of a challenge, but some are paving the way, such as newcomer Aswat in Palestine (whose future will be further endangered by the recent Hamas election victory).

Despite the risks, support groups are now sprouting, although some still cannot operate openly. Over the last few years, Muslim LGBTI people are getting together in places as diverse as Morocco, Indonesia, Turkey, Malaysia, Jordan, Lebanon, Jerusalem, South Africa, Nigeria, Palestine, Dubai, or Saudi Arabia as well as in countries with large indigenous Muslim communities like India. Breaking isolation is the main priority. This is not a minor achievement when the majority of newcomers to a Muslim LGBTI gathering share their amazement at being able to meet people "like them": "I always thought I was the only one like that." In countries where being outed as a non-heterosexual is dangerous, people are reaching out to other LGBTIs via the Internet. While often a tool of the privileged, it does nevertheless provide a channel for exchange and solidarity (which can also be risky, depending on police monitoring).

Interestingly, the most repressive regimes are not necessarily the worst as far as expression of gender identity is concerned. Transsexuals in Jordan and Iran seem to be able to turn the strict gender binary division of society to their advantage,6 with some individuals actually getting support (including financial) from fundamentalist clerics for sex change operations (McDowall, 2004).

Activism, dissidence, and resistance—Surviving as the Other
For LGBTI people in the West, it might be easier to organise openly, but there are also specific difficulties to face. Acceptance by Muslim communities generally presents a challenge, particularly as older members of migrant communities might cling to values dating back from when they left their country of origin, while in fact these societies have changed in the meantime. This tendency is almost certainly encouraged by most community leaders (always male, and often conservative), who may well find that this helps their ownauthority to remain unchallenged. In addition, the very real issue posed by one's complex identity, particularly in contexts far too often marked by racism, is not conducive to examining critically one's own community. Furthermore, racism, stigmatisation, and isolation can lead some disenfranchised youth to become easy prey for the local fundamentalist brotherhood.

Acceptance by non-Muslim LGBTI groups is not a given either, even if one is deeply secular and only identifies as culturally Muslim. Often faced with a mixture of naive orientalism, paternalism, and Islam stereotyping, many stress that "it is almost as hard to come out as a gay in the Muslim community than it is to come out as Muslim in a gay group."

Maybe as a result of this dual challenge, a number of specifically LGBTI Muslim groups are forming or further expanding in Europe and the Americas. These groups can be strictly faith-based or open to "LGBT Muslims and their friends"; they might focus on social gatherings or on political campaigning, or propose a mixture of activities; they might welcome people from a given ethnic/ regional background or invite all willing souls. Strikingly, many such groupspoint at the contradiction that many individuals do struggle with—but which mostly mirrors society's discriminatory glance: "Being both queer and Arab is not easy in a world that discriminates against both" (AHBAB); "Gay and Muslim: Am I an Oxymoron?" (Al fatiha).7 Names such as Sawasiyah ("Equal" in Arabic) also state from the outset a desire for recognition and respect. The team behind a recent documentary on the lesbian and gay Middle Eastern community in the US simply—yet very powerfully—states, "I Exist" (Eyebite Productions, 2002).

Experiencing the need for "a room of one's own," women also embark on setting up women-only groups. For example, Bint el Nas devotesits website to "women who identify as LGBT and/or queer and who areidentified ethnically and culturally with the Arab world"; theypledge "optimistic subversion" and seek to offer "a space to createsomething new: images of queer Arab women." Assal ("honey" in Farsi)is a lesbian group based in the United States (both on the East and West Coasts), mostly functioning as a social support group. In the United Kingdom, the Safra-Project has grown since its birth in 2001, launching its website in 2003 and carrying research (especially with regards to service providers and how they can better accommodate the needs of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender [LBT] women) as well as organising meetings and asserting its presence in the media.

Collective strategies
The emphasis here is on activist organising from within Muslimcountries and communities, as opposed to more structured efforts ofnon-government organisations (NGOs) that are often based "abroad."But this is not to suggest that the latter should in any way bedismissed. Indeed, linking to these structures and cultivating alliances with individuals in their midst is a valuable form of networking. Their relative prosperity also contribute to LGBTI's global visibility: from timely mass faxing to fact-finding missions to holding international gatherings. Queer Muslims continue to benefit from the support of such allies. For example, in 2000, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) organised the symposium "Separation of Faith and Hate: Sexual Diversity, Religious Intolerance and Strategies for Change."8 And the gay men jailed in Cairo are not entirely forgotten, thanks in part to documenting and advocacy work undertaken by Human Rights Watch.

Strategies are designed or adapted according to existing political and social contexts. The diversity of strategies reflects the diversity itself of Muslim contexts: living in Saudi Arabia (where one can be sentenced to death on the ground of homosexuality) has different consequences than living in Mombassa, Kenya (where same sex relationships can flourish: for example, two women sharing a household is comparatively acceptable). The following is an examination of some general trends.

Herstory, History and H*story
As do many oppressed and marginalised groups, queer Muslims attempt to reclaim their past. Identifying one's own "roots" is crucial both in terms of building a collective identity and in terms of asserting one's historical legitimacy. A number of LGBTI people are therefore engaged in the search for a more inclusive "tradition" than what is promoted by politico-religious groups. They are looking for a past that acknowledges the existence of otherwise silenced minorities. While many traces of "indigenous" homosexual practices/ homoeroticism have been erased from mainstream history, examples can still be found.

In the twelfth century, a male scholar referring to the elites of the Muslim empires (that run from Syria to Morocco at the time) noted in a Medical Treatise published in Baghdad: "There are also women who are more intelligent than the others. They possess many of the ways of men, so they resemble to (sic) them even in their movements, the manner in which they talk, and their voice (…) This makes it difficult for her (sic) to submit to the wishes of men and bring her (sic) to lesbian love. Most of the women with these characteristics are to be found among the educated and the elegant women, the scribes, Koran readers and female scholars."9

To counter the myth of homosexuality being a foreign/ imported ideology, other groups and individuals are engaged in reclaiming homoerotic literature such as Sufi poet Jalaludin Rimu or the Ottoman "diwan literature." Still others are involved in re- examining religious texts. The Qu'ran is being examined by gay or gay-friendly theologians and believers in order to break the monopoly of male homophobic interpretation.

Expanding political spaces and building alliances
Many Muslim countries are subjected to rather authoritarian rule, a context which in itself tends to limit the possibilities for LGBTI equality. Nevertheless, when progressive civil society gains space, queer Muslims (who might well have been part of pro-democracy efforts) are taking advantage of newly opened arenas in which to voice their specific concerns. For example, in 1999, the coordinator of an Indonesian national gay rights group noted that the fall of dictator Suharto had an impact on queer people's visibility: "More people are coming out to their friends, writing in the media about gays and lesbian issues, even if under pseudonyms."

Collaboration with like-minded groups is also a promising strategy. Coalition-building with other faith-based groups, or on an identity basis, allows for fruitful exchange of strategies and mutual support. As homophobic and conservative politico-religious leaders of various faiths invest in international alliances, so do people working for the advancement of LGBTI rights.

One example of faith-based initiatives, among many other examples, is the loose yet sustained relationship that a Quaker gay support group had built with the local UK Al-Fatiha chapter (now Imaan).2 Sexual identity-based initiatives include, for example, the National Religious Leadership Roundtable which, in the US context, represents "leaders of over 40 faith-based organisations including Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Mormon, Black Church, and other religious and spiritual traditions, in partnership with other justice-seeking groups." In 2001, it issued a joint statement condemning "conversion" therapy and affirming that "gay, lesbian, and bisexual (GLB) individuals are an intentional and blessed part of Creation. Therapies to `convert' or `repair' a person's orientation are misguided and should end. Such therapies deny the inherent holiness of GLB people."

Another example is Larzish, the first film festival devoted to "sexuality and gender plurality" to take place in India. In 2003 and 2004, it brought together in Mumbai hundreds of queers from Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Christian, and secular backgrounds. In addition, loose networks of activists collaborate internationally, especially around exchange of expertise in asylum cases.

As Muslim LGBTI movements develop, they are also more likely to be involved in collaborating with institutions. In 2000 for example, Al Fatiha UK was officially contacted by a police liaison officer, keen on documenting marriages imposed onto lesbians and gays. This opportunity might provide a way to tackle one major challenge: ensuring the accountability of states as well as non-state actors responsible for violations of LGBTI people's human rights.

Broadening the western concept of "homosexuality"
One is often, implicitly or explicitly, asked to fit into one of the following frames: homo/hetero/bi. Trans and intersex activists have complicated the equation by adding gender identity to the sexual orientation picture—but, more often than not, individuals are still expected to "tick one box only." Still, we seem to always conveniently forget celibates, who also very much challenge both heteronormativity and compulsory sexuality.

Overall, existing categories can render invisible other conceptions of sexual/gender identity, and also do not acknowledge that sexual expression might be fluid throughout one's lifetime. For example, among Swahili Muslims of Mombassa in Kenya, "men and women shift over a lifetime between homosexuality and heterosexuality. Lesbians and homosexuals are open about their behaviour. There are well- established rules for fitting them into everyday life."

Fixed categories also seem too narrow to fully express the range of feelings and relationships people experience. For example, in the Sindh province of Pakistan, three words refer to a female friend: these distinguish between a "friend," a "close friend," and a "loving/physical relationship." These categories can be seen as potential evidence of homoerotic behaviour, but it also reminds us that the "gay" concept and label does not necessarily always fit.

Reference to LGBTI is politically useful for coalition-building, lobbying and organising purposes because it brings together diverse people under a common umbrella. But it also excludes others who, although they engage in homoeroticism, do not identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB). It also makes power structures rather invisible.

Building an LGBTI movement—in Muslim contexts as elsewhere—is not devoid of pitfalls. Indeed, class, caste, income, physical ability, health status, generation (youth/elders), ethnicity, and other factors continue to affect access to leadership positions, and to plain power. Above all, challenging norms associated with mainstream gender roles and gender identity does not necessarily bring about a challenge of gender hierarchies. It should therefore come as no surprise that many self-styled "LGBTI" groups are in fact dominated by gay men (some being truly blind about the privileges that masculinity, even alternative masculinity, affords them). The status of bisexuals, of intersex and trans persons and—let us not forget—of celibates, is still fragile within our movements.

It's up to us
There is a crucial need to be more inclusive of all LGBTI people. This requires a political awareness that can only come from an acknowledgement of the complexity within our lives. We can learn from feminist analysis and expand the reach of bell hooks' statement that "there is no language that can articulate what it is to be penalised by one's gender, even as one is privileged by one's race and class" (Childers & hooks, 1990).

Collective strategies are the most difficult to put into place, but they are also the ones more likely to bring about change. Substantial gains can come from solidarity—real solidarity, like the one that bites and sings between the words of aboriginal activist Lilla Watson:

"If you came to help me,
You are wasting your time
And mine
But if you have come because your liberation is bound with mine,
Let us work together."

Anissa Hélie is a historian by training and a feminist activist by choice. She grew up in Algiers, Algeria, and has traveled and lived in several continents—guided by the love of politics as well as by the politics of love. Hélie has been involved with various women's organisations and transnational networks, and is active in the fields of sexuality, wars and conflicts, and religious fundamentalisms (and the unfortunate intersection of the three). She also occasionally teaches.

AHBAB. News archives 1996-1997. Retrieved from AHBAB website <>.
AllAfrica Website. Retrieved January 18, 2006, from <>. Assfar, A. (2000). Lesbians in Jordan: Yet we exist. In P.
Ilkkaracan (Ed.), Women and sexuality in Muslim societies. Ystanbul: WWHR/New Ways.
Baird, V. (2001). The No-nonsense guide to sexual diversity. Verso.
Childers, M. & hooks, b. (1990). A conversation on race and class.
In M. Hirsh & E. Fox Keller (Eds.), Conflicts in feminism. New York: Routledge.
Eyebite Productions. (2002). I exist [Documentary].
Hélie, A. (2004). Holy hatred. Reproductive Health Matters, 12(23), pp. 120-124.
McDowall, A. & Khan, S. (2004). The Ayatollah and the transsexual. The Independent (UK), p. 34.
Mwendo, A.M. (2005). What is un-African, when K'jongs, Dinka move naked? The Monitor (Uganda).
Rothschild, C. (2005). Written out: How sexuality is used to attack women's organizing. S. Long & S. T. Fried (Eds). International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission & Center for Women's Global Leadership.
Shaheed, F., with Lee-Shaheed, A. (2005). Great ancestors–Women asserting rights in Muslim contexts. Lahore: Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) & Shirkat Gah.
Vatican to check US seminaries on gay presence. (2005, September 15). NY Times. Retrieved from <>.

1 South Africa has actually endorsed same-sex unions since December 2005. The Mexican concept is innovative as it seeks legal recognition of any type of shared households, no matter on which basis (sexual or otherwise) relationships are based.
2 These began with the 1994 Cairo "International Conference on Population and Development" and the 1995 Beijing "Fourth World Conference on Women."
3 In January 2006, the applications submitted by the InternationalLesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) and the Danish Association ofGays and Lesbians (LBL) to obtain consultative status were denied.An ILGA press release (January 27) stated that Egypt and theOrganization of Islamic Conference called on the United Nations (UN) to reject the two gay groups' applications without a hearing (contrary to the Economic and Social Council's normal procedure). The United States (US) voted alongside Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan to reject the ILGA and LBL applications, denying them a hearing.
4 The ruling concerns "anyone who has engaged in homosexual activity or has strong homosexual inclinations." The restriction apparently apply to those who have not been sexually active for a decade or more. NY Times, September 15, 2005, "Vatican to Check US Seminaries on Gay Presence."
5 <>, J anuary 18 , 2006; Same-sex unions were prompted by their recent recognition in South Africa. In Nigeria, the jail sentence can now be up to five years.
6 This is not to say that homosexual conduct is made easy: in Iran, it is defined as an offense carrying the death penalty. In the summer and winter of 2005, several public executions of male teenagers took place, allegedly because of their sexual orientation. 7 Al Fatiha is the pioneer gay Muslim organisation in the US, which has since expanded into a multi-city chapters network and now has an international reach.
8 The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission's gathering brought about two dozen sexual rights advocates and faith leaders from different regions. We issued a common declaration that started as follows: "We, people of diverse sexuality and spiritual, religious and secular communities, come together from around the world. We issue a call for solidarity to end religiously motivated and perpetrated intolerance based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status."
9 Haddad (a.k.a. Abu Nasr al Isra'ili). (2005). Ktab nuzhat al-ashab fi mu'asarat al-ahbab fi'ilm albah, Part 1, paragraphs 6-8). Cited in Wiebke Walther, Woman in Islam, (Monteclair, NJ, Abner Schram: 1981), 118. In F. Shaheed, Great Ancestors, Narratives Section, p.17. Lahore: Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) & Shirkat Gah.

-Northwestern University Journal of International Human Rights
Human Rights and Homo-sectuals: The International Politics of Sexuality, Religion, and Law

Jeffrey A. Redding
Cite as: 4 Nw. U. J. Int'l Hum. Rts. 436 at
Released Spring 2006, this article is an indepth legal study and reflection on Human Rights and Homo-sectuals: The International Politics of Sexuality, Religion, and Law'. Go to the link at Northwestern University School of law or download a .pdf version from

-Farish Ahmad-Noor on TV
Farish Ahmad-Noor is a Muslim academic and an activist in Europe. An introduction is in Dutch but Farish speaks in English.
He talks of being a Muslim in Europe, what it was like living in xenophobic Britian, especially after 9/11 and the beginning of the Iraq war. He also speaks of the ghettoisation of Muslims in Western countries and relates Shabir Akhtar’s writing, “the next time gas chambers are built in Europe, they will be built for Muslims.” partly as a result of Muslim communities isolating themselves from the wider indigenous population.
He also speaks of the universal principles of Islam; justice, equality and freedom, that these not only apply to Muslims but everyone and when that is done, then there is victory for Islam, which is different to the victory of Muslims. God’s compassion is not limited, therefore Muslims compassion should not be limited only to Muslims, but for all of humanity.
Interview ends with a camera panning over a part of the Berlin wall where written is, ‘Break the wall in your heart.’

Rabat, 13 March 2006 (AKI) - The first 50 female imams in Morocco will start preaching in April, Moroccan news site reported on Monday. The Islamic affairs ministry is about to hand out diplomas of Murshid (religious guides) to 50 women and 150 men who attended an annual course to become imams. The government decided this year to allow women to attend the course along with men for the first time ever. The newly-appointed spiritual guides will preach in prisons and on television, as well as in mosques and Islamic institutions, the web site said.

A government source was quoted by the web site as saying that the decision to graduate women imams was taken to improve the relationship between religion and the family. The course they have just completed focuses on Islamic law, philosophy and the history of religions

-Leading the mufti; Progress in the Islamic tradition
By Pamela Taylor
It’s not often that one is asked to lead a grand mufti in prayer. Especially if one is a woman. Indeed, until this February, no Muslim woman had ever been asked to lead a grand mufti in prayer. So it was, understandably, with an edgy mix of trepidation and elation that I recently agreed to lead prayers for a congregation that included, upon his request, the former Grand Mufti of Marseilles Sohaib Ben Cheikh. Read more...

-Gay Muslim Adnan Ali talks

by Hassan Mirza
(Article originally from
With the recent comments from the Muslim Council of Britain's Sir Iqbal Sancranie condemning homosexuality and a Russian Muslim cleric threatening violence in regards to a Moscow pride festival, the conclusion seems clear: Islam and gay people do not mix.
However, there is a growing resistance to the anti-gay beliefs held by some religious leaders and challenge the polarisation of religion and sexuality within the Muslim community.
In recent years with the founding of the UK-based Imaan support network and international organisation Al-Fatiha the gay Muslim voice is finally being heard.
We caught up with one of Britain's most visible gay Muslims Adnan Ali to talk about the problems faced by gay muslims in the wake of rising homophobia and Islamaphobia.
Originally from Pakistan, Adnan came to the UK and with the help of Al-Fatiha and helped start Imaan.
Featured on Channel 4's documentary Gay Muslims last month, Adnan recently celebrated a civil partnership with his partner of 4 years and is currently completing a Masters Degree in Gender, Culture, Politics at the University of London.

-Op-Ed: Danish Cartoons Offensive ­to Muslims; What Would Prophet Mohammed Have Done?

What would Prophet Mohammed have done?
The Globe and Mail

Keep to forgiveness (O Mohammed), and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant. - The Koran, Chapter 7, Verse 199During his lifetime, Prophet Mohammed endured insults and ridicule on a daily basis. His opponents mocked his message and used physical violence to stop him from challenging the status quo.

At no stage during this ordeal did the Prophet lose his temper or react to these provocations. Tradition has it that he would, instead, offer a prayer of forgiveness to those who showed contempt for him.

Today, however, many followers of Prophet Mohammed are acting the exact opposite. Reacting to the provocative Danish cartoons about the Prophet, they are burning newspapers, threatening journalists, issuing bomb threats, yet claiming they are standing up for the Prophet himself.

I have seen the cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. There is no question they are meant to hurt the feelings of Muslims. As I saw them, I had to restrain my anger. Once more, Muslims were being depicted as a violent people. (One particularly derisive cartoon showed the Prophet wearing a turban with a bomb inside it.)

No one in the Muslim community is willing to buy into the notion that these cartoons were not meant to promote racism against Muslims. The editors may say otherwise, but the community knows better when it is depicted as the "other," to be scorned and sidelined.

Caricaturing racial minorities has been a tradition in Europe and North America since long before it became acceptable to deride Muslims. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it wasn't uncommon to see Jews and blacks depicted negatively. Today, thanks to the great work of many civil rights and anti-racism activists, no newspaper would invoke press freedom to depict Jews and blacks or their leaders the way the Danish paper depicted the Prophet.

Having said that, the way some Muslims have reacted to the provocation leaves a lot to be desired. Provoked, they walked blindfolded into a trap set for them, and came out worse than what they started with.

In Canada, we had a similar case, if not of the same magnitude. In the mid-90s, a Toronto man distributed highly inflammatory literature against Islam and the Prophet. Unlike our European colleagues and some fanatics of the Middle East, Canadian Muslims took up the case with the police and the gentleman was charged under Ontario hate laws and convicted. End of story.

In the Danish case, the Arab world's reaction, led by the Egyptian government, suggests there is more to it than meets the eye. Thousands in the Arab world have protested against the publication of the cartoons. TheDanish paper has received bomb threats. Two armed groups threatened yesterday to target Frenchmen and Norwegians in the Palestinian territories, as well as Danes, after the caricatures were published in their countries.

Many believe that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government is acting not for the love for Islam, but for love of the power it has usurped for decades.

Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, a regular columnist for the London newspaper Sharq AlAwsat, wrote in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Dastour: "Perhaps the Muslim governments who spearheaded the campaign -- led by Egypt -- felt this was an easy way to burnish their Islamic credentials at a time when domestic Islamists are stronger than they have been in many years."

For the Arab League to demand that the Danish government shut down the newspaper Jyllands-Posten shows how deeply entrenched dictatorial practices are in many Muslim countries. They are so accustomed to closing down their own newspapers, they could not understand why the Danish government could not issue a decree closing the Jyllands-Posten.

This posturing by Arab governments and Islamist movements is not in the tradition of Islam. These zealots should ask the question: What would Prophet Mohammed have done when faced with this insult?

He would, I suggest, have said a prayer for the cartoonist and "turned away from the ignorant," as Allah commanded him to do in the Koran.
Tarek Fatah is host of a weekly TV show on CTS-TV, The Muslim Chronicle, and is the communication director of the Muslim Canadian Congress

-Tribute to Sheikh Zaki Badawi (14/1/'22 - 24/1/'06)

Doctor Zaki Badawi, who called for Muslims to integrate fully into British life, has died in London aged 83.
Egyptian-born Badawi was the chairman of the Council of Mosques and Imams, founded the Muslim College in London and had been an imam of the London Central Mosque...
...Leading reformist Badawi forged close ties with the Christian and Jewish religions and joined with other faith leaders in a message of unity after the 7 July 2005 London bombings. 7th January 2006.
...A handful of Muslims are believed to be among the hundreds of gay men and women who have taken out civil partnerships in the past month. ... Dr Zaki Badawi of the Muslim College, has urged gay Muslims to take advantage of their financial benefits so long as they are not sexually active.

-Channel 4- Gay Muslims
23/1/2006 8pm

Channel 4 documentary on five gay/lesbian Muslims illustrate the diversity within Islam.
Article from Channel 4 website:
Gay Muslims
This Channel 4 documentary shows how the experiences of five lesbian and gay Muslims in Britain challenge the heterosexual bias in Muslim communities and illustrate the diversity within Islam. Tamsila Tauqir reports
Over the sinister introductory music to the programme, presenter Sonia Deol says: ‘Islam is fierce in its condemnation of homosexuality.’ Let’s be fair, antagonism towards homosexuality is no more exclusive to any one community than favouring men, the able-bodied and those with wealth and power.

Whose Islamic line is it anyway?
There are diverse perspectives on homosexuality amongst Muslims, ranging from condemnation through to the Muslim Canadian Congress's welcome for legislation redefining marriage to include same-sex partners. In fact, a number of Islamic scholars point out that the Qur’anic verse, ‘we created you as partners’, need not be limited to male-female couples. There have also already been Muslim gay marriages (nikahs) in the USA, Canada and India.
In fact, this diversity lies at the heart of traditional Islamic practice. In the formation of the different Islamic schools of thought, which have now become different denominations, such as Maliki and Shaefi, scholars accepted there could be different interpretations of Qur’anic Arabic and people could align themselves to whichever they felt represented them most. So the modern-day call of the politico-religious right for a homogeneous Islam is a new invention, and not at all fundamental.

The scholar
The diverse ways of understanding of the Qur’an are echoed in the programme by Dr Scott-Siraj Al-Haqq Kugle, of Swarthmore College in the USA, currently a research fellow at Leiden University in Holland. He asks a question which is not asked often enough: what do we mean by Shariah? Shariah – Islamic law – is determined by male jurists whose interpretations of Islamic texts are based on cultural assumptions situated in particular times, and particular political and geographical locations? It’s not divine. It offers us different avenues to live our lives as Muslims, depending on who’s doing the interpretation. Importantly, Kugle also points out that there is no word in the Qur’an for 'gay' or 'homosexual', and no mention of lesbians.

The activist
Some 200 lesbian and gay Muslims were contacted by the programme makers but only a handful were willing to be interviewed, and most of those insisted on keeping their identities hidden. Only one was prepared to show his face and give his true name. He was Adnan Ali, an activist on issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) Muslims.
Adnan described how, when he first came out about his sexuality in Pakistan, he was physically and verbally abused. He then came to the UK, where he chatted online with members of the Al-fatiha Foundation in the States. Al-fatiha is an international organisation dedicated to questioning Muslims who are LGBT and their friends. Adnan then set-up a sister group called Al-fatiha UK, now called Imaan.

The voices
The interviewees speak of their commitment to and belief in Islam, though instead of having their beliefs supported by their community and family, they face being ostracised.
‘ Razeem’ speaks of his pain at being denied access to the children of his previous marriage, despite having a legal right to access and the fact that his wife ran away with another man. He also wishes there were more role models, like Adnan Ali, for gay Muslims. ‘Shakir’ and his parents find it easier to accept lesbianism than gay men’s homosexuality. ‘Farah’ contemplates going back into the closet, to lie about her sexuality to ease the tension in her relationship with her parents. Presenter Sonia Deol says that the gay Muslim group, Imaan, supports the idea of ‘keeping sexuality a private matter’.

Of course there are other voices out there, which are not heard in the programme, like the mothers, children and siblings of LGBT Muslims who come along to gay Muslim events. There have been active LGBT members of Muslim societies and communities for generations, who now want their relationships and responsibilities recognised just like their heterosexual counterparts. They are not asking for special treatment but for justice.

Information and support
A number of Muslim LGBT groups and organisations now exist across the globe, such as the Safra Project in the UK, which works on issues concerning Muslim LBT women. There are also LGBT organisations in countries where Muslims are the majority, such as Kaos GL in Turkey. There are lots more resources in the Find out more section.

-BBC Radio 4, Sunday Programme on Gay Muslims
Listen here...
Last week Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that homosexuality is immoral, harmful and not acceptable in Islam. The police are reported to be investigating Sir Iqbal's remarks to see if they breach the Public Order Act.
Shazia Khan examines the tensions that exist within the Muslim community on the gay issue.