Karen Pollock speaks to Hidayah, an organisation for LGBTQ+ Muslims
For many non Muslims the idea of being queer and following Islam are contradictory. As the far right has used LGBTQ+ rights as a cloak for their Islamophobia, the discussion so often focuses on extremists, whilst ignoring those of other faiths who share the fanatical anti LGBTQ+ attitudes. In the middle of this LGBTQ+ muslims are erased.
The misapprehensions, stereotypes, and beliefs about both LGBTQ+ people and muslims have led to the formation of .Hidayah, a campaigning and support organisation for LGBTQ+ Muslims in the UK. Karen Pollock spoke to some of their members, and founders.
TQ: What prompted the foundation of Hidayah?
“M” What prompted the foundation of Hidayah was through my own experiences. I felt like there wasn’t much emotional support or Islamic support out there for LGBT Muslims. When I came out in 2015, I was searching for a support network of people who have gone/are going through something similar as me i.e. people who had come out and wanted to use Islam as a way to prove that actually being gay and Muslim is ok to people who didn’t accept us (for me personally, it was for my family). It was strange that even with the rise of technology etc, that there wasn’t really a base for people like me. I had a few friends who were LGBT Muslims and we all decided that if we found each other, that we exist and that there must be more people like us around who are interested in understanding that text of the Qur’an and wanted to talk about a range of topics such as religion, politics, personal identity etc. So, at the start of January 2017, Hidayah was born.
Syed :LGBT Muslim organisations do exist, but most focus on offering support to those who identify as LGBT and Muslim and/or offer a social space where such individuals can meet safely. Hidayah aims to do more. I wanted in particular to engage and challenge homophobic discourses within the Muslim community. Too often the discussion breaks down into an non reflective (and therefore unhelpful) binary. At one end the wisdom states that one can be Muslim and LGBT without any problems, while at the other end a prejudice often dismisses that possibility entirely. Hidayah was set up to tackle the issue more robustly. I see the issue of homosexuality in Islam as a means of re-imagining Islam in the 21st century.
Are there specific issues LGBTQ+ Muslims face which other LGBTQ+ people don’t?
“M” I think that there is Islamophobia and racism that exists on the gay scene. A lot of people assume that being LGBT, means that the rest of the community accepts us but I’ve found that sometimes that is not the case which is distressing because who can we turn to? Our Muslim community has shunned us and so has the LGBT community.
Syed: The rise of (what Jasbir Puar termed) Homonationalism draws on anti-Muslim feelings to conveniently appropriate LGBT struggles in the fight against criminally minded Muslims inspired by a politically warped version of Islam. This means LGBT Muslims face double discrimination and alienation. Whether this is people being denied entry into nightclubs or refusing to accept that anyone can be a ‘gay’ and Muslim, LGBT Muslims experience the loss of more than one type of community
Drew: Yes, LGBT Muslims face unique pressures of being potentially rejected by their own LGBT communities and their own faith communities. Islam is part of your core self and to be rejected by the two communities that form a core part of your identity can be devastating. As a white, Northern and working class man, many people are often surprised that I am a Muslim as well as being an ‘out’ bisexual LGBT rights campaigner and so whilst I understand that my ‘whiteness’ protects me from some of the racism and islamophobia faced by others, often a mix of these things, including rejection by communities, can be toxic to some people. Finding a safe space to be out and Muslim is difficult in a LGBT community as we are seen as a contradiction in terms.
There is Islamophobia and racism that exists on the gay scene.
However, there are some great examples of changing attitudes within the Muslim community happening. On a recent trip to the Middle East I was surprised to meet examples of gay men, whose parents had supported them coming out (these were men from Saudi Arabia). In fact, we celebrated a ‘coming out’ party for a young Saudi gay man who was held by his straight brother. Attitudes are shifting and younger Muslims are changing their views in the UK and are becoming more open-minded to LGBT people – though this is a slow process
I see the issue of homosexuality in Islam as a means of re-imagining Islam in the 21st century.
From your replies it seems that the general perception of the non Muslim community that Islam is anti LGBTQ is far from the reality? How can we tackle this?
“M” The notion that Islam is anti LGBT is wrong. This is where people need to be educated on the teachings of Islam.
Syed: One of the aims of Hidayah is to engage in educational campaigns and this involves educating the Muslim community but also the wider population. We wish to disabuse people of their misconceptions and initiate news ways of looking at the world, themselves and others.
Drew: I tell them that homosexuality is not mentioned in the Qur’an and there’s a line between religion and culture in terms of belief. In fact, historically, Islam has a rich background of LGBT history that is conveniently forgotten about or erased (by Muslims and non-Muslims alike). You can still be a Muslim and be LGBT and so I tell people that they need to see past some of the dogma that surrounds it. Talk to LGBT Muslims, ask questions if you wish! It is the only way to learn more as it leads to a much better understanding.
As a white, Northern and working class man, many people are often surprised that I am a Muslim as well as being an ‘out’ bisexual LGBT rights campaigner
Given this need for more education and understanding do you feel you are welcomed by the wider LGBTQ community?
“M”I think there is a 50/50 split. Some welcome us with open arms, others don’t due to the issues I’ve mentioned
Drew: I have been blocked on social media and told that I am an ‘oppressor of gays’ by other members of the community and that I am shameful for campaigning for LGBT rights (despite almost 20 years of campaign work) when I agree with such an ‘oppressive religion’. This is not true. I am trying, in my own way, to change the cultural system and attitudes which are prevalent by raising awareness of LGBT Muslims through Hidayah. It appears to some people in our community that I can only be one or the other, a member of one community or another, and not a bridge in between. This is made worse when the community can be biphobic on top of this and if I were a weaker person, I would be affected by this even more. Thankfully I am not, I cope with it well and I will never stop campaigning for the rights of others in the charity and campaign work that I do. However, I have to admit that most non-Muslim people I know very well have been largely supportive and usually they are either very curious about and then there are others who do not quite know where to fit me into their own ‘box..
You have started running meetup events, how are they going, and what are your plans for the future?
“M” Meet ups are going fantastic! We are now running events in London, Birmingham and Manchester. The plan is to continue the meet ups, start running workshops and host panel events and hopefully become a registered charity.
Drew: The plans are to learn more Islam! I am attending Islam classes at the moment and I want to watch Hidayah continue to grow and thrive. It is a much-needed organisation. As our campaign on our website says, our job will be done when LGBT Muslims can be truly visible
Follow Karen on Twitter (@CounsellingKaz)