Plenty of people have homophobic parents, and some will try and do anything to change it, but one gay man has said his father tried to ‘exorcise’ his sexuality using ‘blessed honey’.
Sohail Ahmed, 23, has come forward to talk about the ‘rituals’ he was forced to go through by his father as an alternative to being made homeless.
The ‘culturally Muslim’ Londoner, a former student of Queen Mary University, said he was kicked out by his parents at 22 when he came out as gay.
If he wanted to return home, they told him he would have to be ‘exorcised’. It was there, at the Abu Ruqya shop in east Ham, where he was forced to undergo a strange ritual.
‘They laid me down, recited the Qu’ran at me, blew air at me. They gave me this special honey that they had blessed. My parents then, at home, carried on doing the exorcism on every other day for two months. They even made me bathe in special water and eat the blessed honey,’ Ahmed told Gay Star News.
‘On a rational level I knew I was gay, and no matter what they did I was going to stay gay.’
His family suggested the healer, or raqi, use physical violence but they quickly backed down.
‘These exorcists, they believe that if you hit the individual during the exorcism, they’re hurting the demons inside them and not the individual. I said, “Fuck that.”‘
Ahmed was brought up in a very conservative, very religious family with his father ‘hating the West’.
While he knew these rituals would do nothing to change who he was, on an emotional level he began to wonder if he was actually possessed.
‘When I went there and this guy started doing this stuff, I felt this intense need to freak out or start screaming,’ he added.
‘You’re not even in control, it’s the power of suggestion. It’s like being hypnotized…I had to physically try and not to freak out and have a fit.’
But as the days went on, Ahmed felt ‘extremely anxious’.
‘I had panic attacks, I began feeling very depressed. I tried to take my own life.’
He confronted his parents, told them that he knew he was gay from the age of eight and that was not going to change.
‘I tried to do everything that I could to be straight, but it just didn’t work. And then, I said, “I’m now proud to be gay and if I could even try to be straight I wouldn’t.” They thought I was beyond the point of saving when I said that.’
Ahmed hasn’t spoken to his family since January.
But while he misses his mother and his young siblings, who he also considers victims of his radical father, he is now telling his story and being an inspiration to LGBTI Muslims.
He recently appeared at a rally organized by the Peter Tatchell Foundation, helping to build bridges between the Muslim and LGBTI communities. He also appeared on the radio where he helped take down a homophobic Muslim caller.
‘It didn’t sink in for the longest time, what I’ve been through. I didn’t grieve about it, I didn’t think too much about it. But in September, it hit me. It was a delayed reaction. After that I was crying every single day,’ he added.
‘On some days it’s really difficult, but I’m taking solace that I can help others using my experience. Someone who lives in Palestine got in touch with me the other day, saying they had heard my story and it was the only reason why they could even consider they are gay.
‘And, actually, the entire shit I’ve gone through, I would go through it all over again if I can help that one person.’