Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 2001-2002

Queer Jihad

by Brett Humphreys

Recent events have cast the most homophobic of the world’s major religions unexpectedly into the limelight. The New York atrocity in particular is disturbingly reminiscent of Afghanistan’s preferred technique of killing gay men – by crushing them under rubble created by deliberately collapsing a wall, a modern variant of the traditional Islamic punishment of stoning. It’s a reminder that abuse of lesbian and gay rights and abuse of the most basic human rights tend to go hand-in-hand. Most mainstream Western Muslim organisations were quick to condemn the attacks on the US. But, in contrast, among the many non-gay Muslim websites endorsing Islamic homophobia I have found not one willing to challenge or even question it.

That task has fallen to the Al-Fatiha Foundation, the organisation for “LGBTQ” (the Q stands for “questioning”) Muslims set up at a conference in Boston, Massachusetts, in October 1998. The website that followed in 1999 is well designed and attractively presented. Like most Muslims, Al-Fatiha portrays Islam as a religion of “social justice, peace and tolerance”. Yet they have not so far managed to form a branch beyond London and North American cities, let alone in any Muslim country. Even in London, the venue of last year’s conference was kept secret until after the event for fear of attack by fellow Muslims. Al-Fatiha gained publicity earlier this year when it was allegedly the target of a fatwa issued by the fundamentalist Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad, who acts as the so-called “Shari’ah Court of the UK”. The collection of fatwas on the Sheikh’s own rather scrappy website contains no such document, although President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan has recently joined Salman Rushdie and Terrence McNally among their targets.

Al-Fatiha makes effective use of mailing lists for communication. Most are for members only but one, Al-Fatiha-News, is a public announcement-only list through which Faisal Alam, Al-Fatiha’s mainspring, disseminates a steady and useful digest of articles related to Islamic homophobia and anti-Arab racism. With over 1,800 subscribers, the list’s influence evidently stretches well beyond Al-Fatiha’s own much smaller membership. The main focus of the list over recent months has been the harassment and torture of gay men taking place in Egypt.

Possibly the best known gay Muslim website is the provocatively named Queer Jihad. It’s the work of Sulayman X, the adopted name of a convert from Roman Catholicism to Islam (a case of “out of the frying pan into the fire”?). In an article published last year in various outlets, including, Gay Today, Homan, and the now defunct Outcast, he expressed surprise that visitors had interpreted his use of the word jihad in the popular sense of ‘holy war’ rather than his intended meaning of ‘personal struggle’.

Queer Jihad is a site full of contradictions. Sulayman X says he is a Muslim, yet seems drawn to Buddhism. He calls Islam a religion of moderation, justice and fairness, yet nearly all the evidence of his own site seems to oppose this. One remarkable feature is the large collection of pages of e-mail provoked by the site. Some of it is supportive but there are many hateful messages, even death threats, mostly from Muslims. Most fascinating of all is a page entitled “The New and Improved Sulayman X” which says:

“It’s time for me to come clean and confess that I can no longer consider myself a Muslim. Despite years of effort, I can find no way to reconcile Islamic teaching on homosexuality (and sex, in general) with my own reality of being a gay man.”

Maybe this is just some kind of hoax, but let’s hope it truly signals a happy resolution to Sulayman X’s own jihad!

A perceptive review of Queer Jihad can be found at Freethought Mecca. The author of this largely satirical site is no doubt wise to write under pseudonyms such as Sadiqi az-Zindiki in view of the death threats hanging over Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin and others. The barbs are not confined to Islam: among the menu of 80-odd features, for example, hajjis will find “G-D Hates Pork Chops!”, one of the Web’s many parodies of its most absurdly homophobic site, which happens to be Christian.

Ibn Warraq’s Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society (ISIS) website provides a more serious critique of Islam. Warraq (another pseudonym) is best known for his 1995 book Why I Am Not A Muslim. Although the book itself is not online, the numerous reviews that are provide a good flavour. Several appear on the ISIS site itself, including those by prominent freethinkers such as Professors Antony Flew and GA. Wells, and (writing in The Freethinker) G&LH’s own expert on theology, Dan O’Hara. Most of the reviews are also available in more readable form elsewhere. Among other items from ISIS, it’s good to see a selection of articles addressing the issue of the maltreatment of women for which Islam is so notorious, including an interview with Taslima Nasrin.

Apostates often make the sternest critics, which is presumably why Islam treats apostasy as a capital offence. The ex-Muslim freethinker (but not atheist) Ali Sina is one who lives up to that reputation with his substantial website named Rational Thinking. Notwithstanding some amusing malapropisms, his essays constitute a serious indictment of Islamic beliefs, with a detailed analysis of the many contradictions and absurdities of the Qur’an and ahadith on which they are based. Such is the power of religious upbringing that Ali Sina admits that even years after renouncing Islam he is still “fighting against my dislike of the homosexuals”.

Peter Tatchell’s 1995 article The New Dark Ages, documenting the global threat of Islamic fundamentalism, remains as relevant today as when it was written, perhaps more so, as developments in Afghanistan over the intervening years have shown. It seems that Al-Fatiha will have its work cut out to achieve any significant degree of tolerance, let alone acceptance, of homosexuality among non-gay Muslims. And if people like Ibn Warraq and Ali Sina are right, the task is surely hopeless.

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Created : Saturday, 2001-11-24 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
Brett Humphreys :