A gay Muslim cleric has fled Iran after receiving death threats for marrying gay couples.
Going only by the name of Taha, the mullah told the BBC’s Ali Hamedani he tried to keep his sexuality hidden, but other clerics became suspicious – even without knowing he was secretly marrying gay couples.
‘Yes, I was conducting gay weddings,’ Taha said.
‘The last few months were very difficult. The authorities questioned me several times about my choice of friends.’
In the other clerics’ eyes, gay men were no appropriate contact for a man of his status, Taha explained.
‘They were saying I am a cleric and I shouldn’t be meeting gay men,’ he said.
‘The other mullahs were suspicious about my sexual orientation and threatened me with death.’
With his life in danger, Taha fled to Istanbul, which is usually regarded to be the Muslim world’s most liberal place; homosexuality is widely accepted, and a few gay bars cater to the local community. From there, the cleric wants to move to Canada.
In Muslim countries, mullahs exercise a lot of power. Studied in Islamic theology and sacred law, people turn to the men for spiritual guidance and advice.
At the same time, they are feared for how powerful they are – apart from being spiritual leaders, they often also rule the country, and their advice is seen as law.
It’s this status that makes Taha conducting same-sex marriages in Iran so significant for other gay Muslims.
‘Before this, we knew mullahs as people who wanted to punish us. They prayed at our execution ceremonies’ Ramtin Zigorat, a gay Iranian refugee in Istanbul, told the BBC.
‘But now we know someone who prays at our wedding ceremonies.’
For others, though, trust doesn’t come easy, as another gay refugee identified only as Farid explains.
‘It’s very difficult for me to trust him, because he is a mullah,’ he says.
‘I grew up in an atmosphere where they were part of the fears and lies.’