LGBT Muslims voice their struggles, hopes

URL: LGBT Muslims voice their struggles, hopes

317230868-Mosaic-2016 Page 7

By Shauli Bar-On

On the morning of June 12, Amirali Hakim noticed the memorial black ribbon on his Google homepage. After a few minutes, he found out about the tragic incident that had taken place while he was asleep: the sheer horror and massacre that fell upon patrons of Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Hakim’s initial grief and sorrow turned into anger, then frustration when he found out the killer was Muslim and claimed to have murdered in the name of Islam.

“I thought we’d come so far… especially after the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage was legal,” Hakim said.

The shooting that took the lives of 50 people and injured several dozen others sent shock waves across the country. Vigils were held for victims and their families, gay pride parade security was tightened and people debated whether this was an act of terrorism or homophobia.

But even though shooter Omar Mateen was Muslim and pledged allegiance to Isis, the Orlando shooting is not a story about the Muslim community, said Zahra Billoo, a representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“We want to make sure that we’re centering the voices of the impacted community,” Billoo said, “which here is LGBT individuals of all faith and of all backgrounds.”

Amid the debate over the shooter’s real motives, a question that seems more relevant than ever has surfaced: What is it like to live as an LGBT Muslim?

For Hakim, it means having to live with homophobic parents.

When Hakim was 10, his family installed a new desktop computer in the living room. Excited by the new system, Hakim was quick to browse the internet and put the new computer speakers to use.

As he was trying to play a song on YouTube, he accidentally clicked on the wrong link. Unexpectedly, a lesbian sex scene unfolded before the family.

Hakim remembers his mother’s reaction. “I saw her facial expressions,” he said, “she looked like it was wrong, like it wasn’t normal. She just kept staring at it with this disgusted face.”

The facial expressions intensified. “Nobody should ever do that,” she told her son.

Young Hakim was confused. He didn’t see what was wrong with the paramours. “What if they genuinely love each other?” he wondered. It was at this point that Hakim began to understand his sexuality.

Now, as an 18-year-old, Hakim understands his bisexual orientation. He was an active member in the Muslim Student Association of Homestead High School in Cupertino before he graduated earlier this month and will be attending college in Fremont. A Shia Muslim, Hakim prays regularly at the Milpitas Ismaili Jamatkhana congregation.

For Naveed Merchant, living as an LGBT Muslim means having his life and community threatened several times. He is an organizer of the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity (MASGD) and a member at-large of Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) in Los Angeles.

MASGD is a play on words, Merchant said. The acronym is pronounced “masjid,” which is a Muslim place of worship.

The dual purpose of the organization’s name is powerful, Merchant said.

“I’m a practicing Muslim. I’m a queer Muslim,” he said, “I don’t see any contradiction between being gay and being Muslim at all.”

It is for that very reason that Merchant continues practicing Islam. He found his place in the community when realizing that there were many like-minded Muslims around him.

“I joined [Muslims for Progressive Values] because it is a collective of Muslims who believe in the inherent principle in Islam of plurality… and to open dialogue about issues that are pertinent, important, to modern day life, which may not have been addressed in ancient writings,” Merchant said.

Merchant, however, believes that many Muslims may be misinterpreting the ancient writings when it comes to accepting members of the LGBT community, specifically in the story of Lot, but urged that Islam is “either neutral or positive when it comes to discussing homosexuality.”

Certain prophetic texts collected in the Hadith that refer to several instances where the Prophet Muhammad was “very kind toward men who were not in need of women,” Merchant said, even allowing such men to be the only ones to protect his wives in their private quarters.

Despite the positive interpretation from Merchant and other progressive Muslims, many Muslims view homosexuality as illegal and interpret the texts differently.

Homosexuality is “an abomination,” said Amir Abdul-Jalil, a Muslim visiting the Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara. “For a Muslim to declare himself as homosexual means that he was never practicing Islam in the first place.”

Both Hakim and Merchant have, at times, felt unwelcome in their Muslim communities. Merchant recalls his Islamic center not supporting a theater play simply because of the sexual orientation of one of the characters.

“When it comes to gay Muslims, there’s a lot of animosity,” Merchant said. “There’s a lot of ostracism, there’s a lot of criticism… We are not treated as full-fledged Muslims, we are not necessarily welcome in our full form in mosque. Our marriages are not recognized. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Likewise, Hakim experienced “ups and downs” in his religious devotion and level of belief.

Members of Hakim’s community “were talking about hate, about God and hate,” he said, “but I realized that God is about peace and love… People think you can only be a part of one community, but the reality is you can be a part of both.”

It is hope rather than fear and desperation that inundates the minds of both Merchant and Hakim, they said.

While Hakim is frustrated with his homophobic parents, he is thankful for his supportive older sister Shiza and is excited to be living with her in the coming years.

“I am optimistic. I have faith in the new generation,” Hakim said, “it will get better.”

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