By Amritha Zachariah:
In a world that constantly tries to define and create molds for us to fit into, we are often left muddled. We are made to conform to definitions and identities, that are far from who we truly are, for religious and socio-cultural powers that spread their tentacles over our livelihoods and our true being. In a country like India where religious differences are many, a commonality exists in each religious community’s attitude towards gender and sexuality. Leaders from most religions have united in creating a homophobic stance that destroys and destabilizes the lives of many. The world today speaks a rhetoric of Islamophobia where the Muslim community has been strategically targeted in the name of fear. In such situations, daring to express and live as we truly are is our greatest form of dissent.
On May 13, Bangalore witnessed a gathering of people who dared to be different. The Queer Muslim Project, in collaboration with Aneka, organized a one-day consultation titled “Being Queer and Muslim in India”. This consultation brought an array of individuals from various walks of life who actively contest and fight to create unique spaces for themselves while fighting the dominant, prejudiced diktats of our time. The day long consultation aimed to fight against the three-fold issues of patriarchy, Islamophobia and homophobia that hamper the lives of Queer Muslims. The gathering saw a total of 30 individuals from various parts of India who together strove to listen to each other’s voices and develop contingency plans and strategies to create safe spaces and further acceptance.
When the consultation was first announced, the organizers were faced with a lot of conflicting responses; some believed that this program was against religious dogmas and would try to destabilize notions that are ‘set in stone’, on the other hand there were individuals who felt empowered by such an initiative. There were also individuals who were driven to attend this consultation out of their sheer curiosity as an initiative like this seemed unfathomable.
The day began with an introduction by the organizers who asserted that initiatives like this primarily focused on safe spaces of active collaborations and learnings. They stressed on the need for such conversations as ‘life becomes better once we start talking.’ The organizers stressed on passionate yet tolerant voices to create conversations that brings different voices together.The consultation had three panel discussions with eminent voices from within the community and allies of the movement.
The first panel “Queer and Muslim: Identities, Practices, Affiliations” had individuals sharing their experiences emerging out of their converged Queer Muslim identity. This converged identity often left them having to choose one or the other. Their religious affiliations many a time squashed their sexuality and their freedom to be and love who they truly are. These panelists shared their stories of pain and annihilation with the gathering.
“My family was forced to move from our ancestral home and my young sister had to change schools is the middle of the academic year as news of my sexuality became public,” shared Aamir.* Others shared their experiences of being sent for psychiatric therapy to help them get out of their ‘phase’. Another panelist, Ayesha*, shared her experience of being sent out from her family for being friends with and later falling in love with a trans man. This panel evoked feelings of empathy and a need to create avenues of changes.
Source: The Queer Muslim Project/Facebook.The second panel focused on ”Legal/Faiths/Feminist Perspectives”, where the panelists spoke of parallels from other religious communities and the actions that are taken to accept and give further agency to these individuals who have been categorically oppressed. “The importance of theology cannot be understated.” The panel spoke of the need to invest time in theologizing their experiences to effectively understand and spread awareness. They spoke of the need to look at things from a context. “There is a need to reinterpret,”said one of the panelists. Fathima* another panelist addressed the ‘masculinization of Islam.’ Patriarchy was further discussed as a rampant issue that doubly marginalizes Muslim queer women.
Post lunch, there was a presentation on Homosexuality from the perspective of the Qur’an. The presenter emphasized that Qur’an is truly the word of Allah but also stated that nobody is sure of the ‘purity of the translations.’ Qur’an and Hadith are two different bodies of literature that form the primary sources of Islamic understanding of religion and the will of God. Further, these are used as the basis of Islamic law and other codes that regulate daily conduct amongst Muslims. Both these texts perceive homosexuality and non-heterosexual acts as being deviant and speaks of them in negative tone. Yet, compared to acts such as adultery, which is mentioned nine times in Qur’an alone, with specific punishment and a harsher tone, homosexuality comes across as a lesser crime.
The third panel was a platform where experiences of rejection and acceptance were shared and discussed. The panelists all shared their personal narratives. Among them, Imran* shared with the gathering how even though he has come out, he hasn’t transitioned because his family was against it. Imran spoke of how he has respected this and stayed with his family as they are dependent on him economically. “I am often ridiculed and ostracized by my friends and relatives but I do not care about them anymore’,”says Imran. Amidst all this, Imran retains that he has strong faith is Allah and that he actively participates in religious activities. Another panelist, Hashim*, spoke of the difficulties that his community faces. Burials were not allowed for trans people as they were considered ‘unnatural.’ Panelists also addressed the issue of abuse that queer individuals often face.
The consultation concluded with the gathering developing contingency plans to strategise and move forward. The gathering called for the need for dialogue between different religious communities as other religious groups have already made deliberations about these issues. The gathering also stressed on the need to provide mental health support to individuals within the community. Suggestions were made to document this consultation to use it as a powerful tool to empower and create awareness. Participants also stressed upon the need to provide legal assistance for affidavits, name change etc.
* names changed to protect identity