Last month Omar Kuddus wrote an article for the Gay Star News titled ‘It’s time to come out as gay, Muslim and proud’. As the chair of Imaan, the largest LGBTQI Muslim organization in the UK, Europe and probably even the world, I was definitely interested in what Kuddus had to say.
He wrote of personal struggles in accepting his sexuality and negotiating relationships with his family, followed by a short examination of the movements that were taking place internationally, where LGBT Muslims were carving out a space for themselves in the mainstream.
He concluded the article by calling for similar voices in the UK to represent the struggle of LGBT Muslims living here.
So I want to share a little of the history of British LGBT Muslim activism, particularly in relation to Imaan.
I start by asserting one thing. LGBT Muslims have not remained silent. In fact, Imaan has been operating – educating, empowering, representing, LGBT Muslims for the last 14 years.
The organization was founded in September 1999 through an advertisement placed in the Pink Paper by the founder of Al-Fatiha (US), itself an LGBT Muslim support group. We have acted as a social-support group for Muslims reconciling their sexuality and faith, ever since.
In that time, our contribution to the LGBT Muslim landscape has not been insignificant, nor has it been silent. We have been regularly hosting monthly support meetings, social events and religious gatherings for more than the last decade.
Gradually the organization has also evolved to meet the needs of its growing membership. We currently hold three meetings and events per month in London: social, support and women’s. We also hold bi-monthly meetings in Manchester and travel across the UK to reach our members. Consequently, we are securing strong female representation in Imaan, when all organizations recognize this as a particular struggle of LGBT organizing.
We have developed a highly successful welfare service. Through the expertise of a trained social worker and counselor, we offer counseling and practical advice on issues including, coming out, domestic and sexual violence, forced marriage and persecution.
By writing and submitting expert reports, we have been involved in over 30 asylum claims on behalf of LGBT refugees and, fortunately, have not lost a single case.
With LGBT refugees, succeeding in asylum claims is only the first hurdle. We continue to guide our members throughout the integration process, on all matters, housing and employment, loneliness and community.
We have held five international conferences over the years, with speakers travelling from mainland Europe, Asia and North America to share their expertise and knowledge.
We have been unafraid to tackle the confusion of our members, educating them on alternate interpretations of theology, sexual health, gender equality, sectarianism and so on.
At our August 2012 conference, we hosted and shared a panel with four mainstream Muslim organizations who addressed our membership and movingly affirmed their place within Islam and the need for Muslims to treat them with justice. This achievement is unparalleled.
The education continues, as we continue to share a pioneering workshop with our members. ‘Demystifying Shariah Law’, a workshop brought to Imaan from Malaysia, deconstructs shariah to understand it as the sum of a particular historical, social, political and religious contexts and then, re-assesses this ‘law’ from the perspective of gender and sexuality.
I could go on.
It is true that we have no discernable media presence. Though we have marched at pride for the last 14 years, we do not court publicity. This is because we believe that there is a difference between being public and being visible. The former threatens to disengage members who fear being part of something that is ‘open’ before they are ready to be; the latter allows us to reach those who need us most.
The Safra Project was founded in 2001 for LBT Muslim women. They too have achieved a significant deal, through their research projects, the facilitation of regular conferences and meetings, alongside the development a model same-sex marriage contract, amongst other achievements.
Though there are calls for LGBT Muslim voices to emerge from the vacuum, those forces exist and are empowered into existence through organizations like Imaan and Safra.
Imaan is an umbrella: we operate not as singular, divergent voices, but as the voice of a community, one that is diverse, one that has achieved a great deal, and God willing, will continue to do so.
In the coming weeks, GSN will share articles by a number of Imaan members, to help us showcase the diversity of our thoughts and experiences on LGBTI issues.