A gay Egyptian friend of mine once said to me that “being queer and Muslim when you think of an ally, you basically think of someone who doesn’t try to kill you in the name of Islam for your sexuality.” That is because in Egypt, and many other Muslim countries, the bar has been lowered by colonialism, dictatorships, and Islamist extremism. But, of course, allies are far more than just that. They are people who protect us, and they can protect us in different ways.
Last month, I talked about allies in the Muslim communities in non-Western societies, and especially those who happen to be women, in the article 5 Female Allies in the Muslim World. Of course, allies are not only in the Muslim World. There are allies in the West, too. They range from people who believe that local law trumps over whatever particular interpretation someone might hold in Islam, to people who welcome queer Muslims in spiritual spaces, and all in between.
Here are five people who stand up for LGBT Muslims in the West:
United States: Ani Zonneveld
In the United States, LGBT Muslims have many great allies and Ani Zonneveld stands out. The organization she co-founded and which she has been running since 2007, Muslims for Progressive Values, has garnered more visibility for the LGBT Muslim community than any other organization. One of their 10 principles is “LGBTQ Inclusion,” which points out that the organization is committed to the inclusion of all the members of the community regardless of their sexuality or gender. “The truth is that during Prophet Muhammad’s days, he appointed the first female imam, and gay people were not persecuted for being gay,” she told Al-Jazeera. “We’re not reinventing Islam. We are actually going back to the values of Islam in the Quran, and we’re bringing those values into the 21st century … And we’re cutting out the middle part, all the political and social corruption of the faith.” According to Ihsan Bagby, a professor at the University of Kentucky, there are around 7 million Muslims in the United States.
France: Tewfik Allal
In 2013 France became the 14th country to legalize same-sex marriages. Unlike other countries in Europe, however, France saw a big opposition to the law. The conservatives on all sides united, but so did the moderates and secularists. Tewfik Allal, a well-known human rights defender, along with Mouhieddine Cherbib, petitioned the Muslim community to take a stand in support of same-sex marriage, getting around 7000 signatures. “All the French Muslims who have signed the petition are approving gay marriage,” Allal told Al Arabiya, adding “All of the signatories defend homosexuals just like they support equality between women and men, black and white, Muslims and Jews … equality for everyone.” Allal has been interviewed on the issue in newspapers, television, and radio, always affirming his support for equality. According to France24, there are around 5 million Muslims in France.
Germany: Bekir Alboga
In 2005 Germany introduced what is now called a Loyalty Test. Before Muslim immigrants were allowed to become German residents or citizens, they would be asked a bunch of questions, including “If your son told you he was homosexual and wanted to live with another man, how would you react?” If your answer was homophobic, you could be denied such privileges. Bekir Alboga, who works with the Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion, which has the largest number of members of such organizations of its type in Germany, says that shouldn’t be an issue for Muslims because German law trumps Islam. In 2012 the Turkish-born Alboga told Deutsche Welle that breaking a national law, by discriminating against gays, “as Muslims, we can’t consider that a good thing,” adding that while he believes homosexuality is forbidden by Islam that “punishment is not stipulated.” According to Deutsche Welle, the authorities believe there are about 3.5 million Muslims in Germany.
United Kingdom: Maajid Nawaz
In 2013 Maajid Nawaz published his book ‘Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism,’ in which he detailed his life as a former islamist and how he turned himself around and became a champion for human rights. In the book he talked about how the extremist organization he was with prescribed the death penalty for gays. But those days are over. Today Nawaz is often asked to talk about modern issues from a liberal Islamic point of view. For example, in 2014 he was invited to Free Speech, the debating series on the BBC, in which he defended a gay Muslim. In the program Nawaz said that the Muslim community has become abuser to its minority communities. “A case in point are gay Muslims,” he told the audience in Tottenham on March 25, mentioning how gay Muslims are attacked and sometimes are living in hiding. “We have to have an honest debate about this, it doesn’t mean all Muslims are homophobic,” he added, pointing to a Muslim man in the debate who also said gays shouldn’t face discrimination. According to the BBC, there are about 2.7 million Muslims in the United Kingdom.
Canada: Laury Silvers
In 2009 Laury Silvers co-founded El-Tawhid Juma Circle, the first progressive mosque created for all gender identities and sexual orientations, in Canada. Since the founding of their flagship mosque in Toronto, the circle of progressive mosques has spread to all over Canada and the United States. “The people we are getting are usually sick of their local mosque and are already leaving,” Silvers told The Islamic Monthly. “People who would quit Islam if it weren’t for progressive mosques. I cannot tell you how many people we get who say ‘I hate Islam, I was leaving Islam, I have already said I’m no longer a Muslim when I found out about this mosque and now I find a place where I can be myself.’” Silvers, who is a professor of religion at the University of Toronto, is the author of ‘A Soaring Minaret: Abu Bakr al-Wasiti and the Rise of Baghdadi Sufism.’ She has been a vocal ally to the LGBT community for many years. According to the 2011 National Household Survey, there are about 1 million Muslims in Canada.
Afdhere Jama is the author of Queer Jihad: LGBT Muslims on Coming Out, Activism, and the Faith. He lives in the United States.