To commemorate National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, Faisal Alam, the founder and former director of the gay Muslim support group Al-Fatiha, spoke about the lives of gay Muslims and his predictions for the future of the gay Muslim community.
Alam delivered two speeches. The first was a noon presentation on Ring Road and the second was in the evening at Physical Science Lecture Hall 100.
Alam spoke of how far the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has come since his childhood.
‘What a remarkable day,’ Alam said. ‘I remember when I was in school not so long ago in Boston, Mass. Nothing like this could have ever occurred. It’s amazing how far we have come as a community in the last 10 years.’
Although Oct. 11 is an important date for all in the LGBT community, it holds a special meaning for Alam, because it marks the date of the first meeting of Al-Fatiha, the group he founded with the purpose of ‘promot[ing] the progressive Islamic notions of peace, equality and justice’ and, more specifically, helping ‘Muslims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, those exploring their sexual orientation or gender identity, and their allies, families and friends.’
‘Oct. 11 is a very special day for a number of different reasons,’ Alam said. ‘Today, of course, is national Coming Out Day, which celebrates … the first national civil rights march in Washington D.C. for LGBT rights, but it is also the day that a group of 40 people from around the world gathered in Boston, Mass. at the first Al-Fatiha retreat. … In the last eight years, Al-Fatiha has grown to include eight chapters in the United States and chapters in Canada, South Africa and England. We are basically a social support group for LGBT Muslims who are trying to reconcile their sexuality with their faith.’
Although Alam deals specifically with the issue of how gay Muslims are accepted in their communities, he drew a parallel to LGBT people of other religions.
‘We know that we are not alone,’ Alam said. ‘Our Christian sisters and brothers and our Jewish sisters and brothers have gone through exactly what Islam is going through today, which is a reform and a radical reinterpretation of the faith that welcomes everybody regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.’
Alam presented an optimistic outlook for the future of gay Muslims, but acknowledged that they are still frequently victimized.
‘For those of you who think that Islam is far away from accepting LGBT people, I’m here to tell you that you’re going to be very surprised in the next few years to see how much change is coming both within our state and our country and abroad,’ Alam said. ‘It doesn’t mean that LGBT Muslims, both here and around the world, don’t face persecution or discrimination against who they are as human beings.’
However, Alam said that people may have a distorted image of how much discrimination occurs at the hands of Muslim leaders.
‘Many of you have probably heard of awful stories coming from places like Saudi Arabia and Iran where Islamic law is used to enforce strict moral codes,’ Alam said. ‘Just recently, two teenagers were whipped and then hung in Iran because of their sexual orientation. In Saudi Arabia, we hear stories all the time of men who have been killed because of their sexual orientation. But the fact of the matter is that these are very few and far between cases that we hear of. Most of the persecution, most of the discrimination and most of the ostracization that occurs for queer Muslims does not occur from governments. It comes from families and society, and that’s really where the change will lie.’
Alam urged the audience to consider the entire scope of Islam and to look beyond the narrow view that is often presented in the Western media.
‘[Islam] is a very diverse religion and, unfortunately, it is portrayed often in the media as a monolithic thing that hates queer people, women and other marginalized communities,’ Alam said.
Alam’s speech was part of a series of Coming Out Week programs ranging from a resource fair to an open mic night to a beach bonfire.
More information about future LGBT Resource Center events can be found at http://www.lgbtrc.uci.edu.