They say a good gay story is just a story, but what about when they are written by straight people? These writers of Muslim background sat down and wrote stories about gay people. All of them had tried to present an acceptable image of the community, for their times and for their specific societies. Whether written in the 1940s Egypt or the 1970s Indonesia, or the in 2000s in the heart of Europe, what these stories have in common is that they created unforgettable characters.
1. INDIA: Ismat Chughtai
In her 1942 short story “Lihaaf” (The Quilt), Ismat Chughtai introduced perhaps the first two gay characters in modern Urdu literature. Begum Jaan and the Nawab are married, but the Nawab has been abandoning his wife and the reader finds out it’s because he’s gay. In the meantime, she finds comfort in the hands of another woman. This was so controversial at the time that the author was summoned to court and had to defend herself in Lahore (this was before India and Pakistan became two separate countries). The 2014 Bollywood film “Dedh Ishqiya” is believed to be loosely based on her story, as was the 1996 film “Fire.”
2. EGYPT: Naguib Mahfouz
In his 1947 novel “Zuqaq el Midaq” (Midaq Alley), Naguib Mahfouz debuted what is now considered to be the first gay character in a modern Arabic novel. Kersha, the character, is an owner of a coffee shop whose desire for younger men leads to a scandal. Mahfouz would continue to write more gay characters in his later novels, and would become one of the most recognized authors of Arabic literature. Mexican filmmaker Jorge Fons Pérez adapted the novel in the early 1990s and a film with the same name was released a few years later, starring Salma Hayek.
3. INDONESIA: Syamsul Fuad
In his 1975 screenplay “Remaja di Lampu Merah” (Teens Under the Red Light), which later became a feature film with the same name four years later and featured a now-superstar Rano Karno in the lead, Syamsul Fuad presented the Indonesian society with a gay person that can only be described as temporarily confused. The character is totally gay, or at least bisexual, as he is in a sexual and emotional relationship with another man, but no one talks about it. Really, in the film not once does the word “gay” or “homosexual” or even “bisexual” come up, even when the character, Andri, talks to his father, blaming him for his being gay. Although it’s a negative character, despite the story being a sweet one (Andri is saved and nursed back to health by his lover after an accident), it’s a character that many gays in Indonesia feel had presented some form of a gay life to the masses.
4. UNITED KINGDOM: Hanif Kureishi
In the mid 1980s, writer Hanif Kureishi’s screenplay “My Beautiful Laundrette” was turned into a successful film. The story centers on Omar, who reconnects with his former friend Johnny, and the two team up to take over a launderette owned by Omar’s uncle. In the process, the two end up having a romance. Set against the backdrop of the Tatcher Era England, Kureishi manages to interweave interesting stories that make for a great movie—tackling issues like racism and homosexuality in that period of British history. For his great writing, Kureishi was nominated for an Academy Award.
5. GERMANY: Fatih Akin
“Auf der anderen Seite” (The Edge of Heaven) is a 2007 film based on Fatih Akin’s screenplay of the same name, which by the way in German means “On the Other Side.” Akin, who happens to be one of the more successful directors from Germany in the international market, also directed the film. He is a household name in both Turkish and German markets. In this film, he creates a story that takes its characters to the mother countries. In the heart of it is a love story between two women: Ayten, a Turkish revolutionary fighter, and Lotte, a German student. They meet and fall in love in Istanbul. Their love affair is intense, and takes place in the backdrop of negativities in both countries, but Akin creates believable love scenes.
Afdhere Jama is the author of Queer Jihad: LGBT Muslims on Coming Out, Activism, and the Faith. He lives in the United States.