opinion

I'm a Muslim, and we must face up to the homophobia in our religion.

Before you detonate your thoughts, I must make you aware that this statement comes from a practising Muslim, one who has studied Islamic theology, grew up in a devout household and has first hand experiences with Islamic homophobia.

When I told some friends about writing this piece, I was confronted with the usual: ‘Christianity is against homosexual activity too!’ and ‘There are many secular people who hate gays.’

Granted.

But I am not a Christian. Or miscellaneous. I am a Muslim.

And enough with the deflection.

Just because other people are okay with hate, I don’t have to jump out of the window and kill my soul.

I’m sorry friends, but the person who horrifically opened fire in the gay nightclub in Orlando was a Muslim. Regardless of his polluted interpretation of Islam, he did not identify with being a Hungarian Jew.

I understand the difference between religion and people: not all Muslims represent Islam; notably, the barbaric, blood-lusting ISIS.

"The person who horrifically opened fire in the gay nightclub in Orlando was a Muslim." Omar Marteen. Image via Myspace.
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Nonetheless, we must address the issues surrounding homophobia, and not limit the debate to fanaticism and gun control.

Every Muslim is instructed from an early age to believe that gay people are sub-human deviants who will, without doubt, end up in hell. This contempt for fellow human beings has baffled me since the day I witnessed a gay man hang in a public square in Iran.

You will also remember the infamous, dim remarks by ex-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who foolishly said there were no gay people in his country.

So you’ll have to excuse my cynicism when I hear Muslim scholars come out to “condemn” the Pulse night club attack. Fake. I can tell you it’s fake. Most Muslim scholars believe gay people are a disease to this planet. Deep down, they think this terrorist act was divine intervention. After all, God tore apart to the people of Lot with a titanic tornado.

If the perpetrator had in fact been a Hungarian Jew, the outcry from the Muslim leaders would have been to the tune of silence. I also doubt the Muslim community outrage-o-metre would have been as shattering. It simply wouldn’t have been our problem. Another mass shooting. Another lunatic.

I am both bemused and amused by the number of Muslims suddenly swearing their allegiance to the LGBTQI flag following the attack.

Whilst I welcome this loving and peaceful parade, I wonder about its longevity – since at the root of the problem lies the fundamental Islamic doctrine that being gay is not only a vice, but is punishable by death. The wicked sinner is gifted a one-way, non-stop ticket to hell. Well, there is the mandatory transit in purgatory, of course.

So, are these Muslims up in solidarity because they truly have come to realize that, hey, being gay is okay, or do they just fear the terrible PR their religion has been subjected to and feel compelled to join the ocean of intercontinental mourners?

"I am both bemused and amused by the number of Muslims suddenly swearing their allegiance to the LGBTQI flag following the attack." Image via Getty.
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I pray it’s the former not the latter. I think it might be. I can smell the change. After all, tidal waves shift even the heaviest of anchors.

As an Australian Muslim, I often feel oppressed through the media’s portrayal of Islam as an unkind, feral religion. What makes me cringe however, is when I see my oppressed brethren themselves tyrannize another minority group. It’s akin to a tormented person living in a war-zone who has his home and entire neighbourhood destroyed, only to himself go and blow up the neighbour’s house.

It’s crazy.

I have been open about my support for the LGBTQI community for a long time. A decision which saw me shunned by fellow Muslims. I have challenged Imams about the outdated ideology that states homosexuals must be put to death.

My daughter went to an Islamic school last year and because she didn’t wear the headscarf outside school hours (she was only 8 years old), she was bullied by other Muslim students and was told she will end up in hell, because “her hair was naked.”

How does another eight year old child know to say these words? Who is the source of these teachings? This was not an isolated incident. A number of other classmates shared the bully’s beliefs.

Now can you imagine if my daughter was to come out as gay?

Watch Mamamia's guide to Muslim veils. Post continues after video.

A few years ago, I appeared in a short film where I played a gay Muslim. The furore surrounding it was traumatising. The film was shared hundreds of times and spread as though a contagious virus on the mobile phones of an entire, livid community. Death threats followed.

I was told I will rot in hell in front of my young daughter as I did my grocery shopping in the mall. Some thugs chose to break my home’s windows. It left me suffering a sustained period of anxiety and rocked my beliefs in the religion I’d sought refuge in.

The repercussions on my family were just as severe. Dad was the lead Melbourne cleric, with a PhD in Islamic Jurisprudence, as such, he was subjected to pressure no father should endure: he was asked, almost ordered, by the congregation to disown his eldest son. Of course, being the beautiful, open-minded man that he was, he didn’t. If not for him, Islam might have been a foreign religion to me by now.

I was even told to ‘commit suicide’ to cleanse my body.

For playing a gay character, folks.

The sooner we, as Muslims, recognise and accept there is a systemic, structural problem with how we view gay people in Islam, the sooner we will eradicate this senseless, imbedded hatred. We need to hold up the mirror and take a close look – there is a dark mole. It’s called homophobia. We must remove it.

We cannot run away from it. Or hide from it. We must stop this denial.

It starts at grassroots level. Instead of being bombarded by homophobic rhetoric in Islamic studies, we need our kids to be taught to love one another, free of prejudice.

Islam is a religion of tolerance and peace. That’s why I am a Muslim.

A haiku for Orlando. Image supplied.

The Prophet (PBUH) abolished slavery fourteen centuries before the West realized their unforgivable atrocities. There is so much good, and love, in Islam.

But I have to be true in calling a spade a spade.

The fact is, in Muslim countries across the planet, LGBTQI people are discriminated against with a vengeance – think of standing under a balcony, bound in a straightjacket, unable to move, then a two-tonne wrecking ball drops crushing on your skull. Their pain is worse. They are imprisoned, tortured and even executed.

This is not right.

No one should feel the cold, coarse noose of a gallows for committing the non-crime of love.

I have heard moderate scholars say: “The thought itself is not a sin, it’s the act which is sinful. We can talk these people out of being gay.”

Can you talk a person out of being black, too?

One Imam even went as far as saying: “We must respect gay people because there are laws in place in this country.”

Excuse me? So if there were no “laws” to protect other vulnerable humans, you’d go around homosexual hunting?

Of course there is a problem in the wider Australian society too. Gays are still not granted basic, equal rights and are treated as second class citizens.

Recently, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, stood in front of parliament and apologised for “turning innocent young men into criminals.” He was talking about laws that were around as recent as his own time.

But it’s never too late to right the wrong.

I know many Muslims who stand up for justice, including gay rights, even when it’s contradictory to their original manifesto. I am hopeful they and other peace-loving, loving, brothers and sisters stand up for what is right and influence their leaders and law-makers to change their interpretations of the religion. One where red is no longer linked to the blood spilled by countless loving human beings and instead represents the red in the rainbow we associate with love.

There is zero room for homophobic apartheid in this world.

The Orlando catastrophe has the incredible ability to help us learn. The Holocaust taught the Germans and much of the rest of the world lessons in humanity. I pray this shocking massacre becomes the turning point in weeding out homophobia from our religious texts and leads us to a world of true tolerance and acceptance.

The United States government has shown perpetual incompetence in acknowledging its problem with gun control. I don’t want to follow their lead when it comes to addressing the problems in the religion I love and practice.

Osamah Sami is an Australian comedian, actor and writer. He was recently awarded the NSW Premier's Literary Prize.

This post originally appeared in Osamah's blog. It has been republished here with full permission. 

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