Muslim Community Needs To 'Stop Avoiding' Gay Issue, Says Student

A British Muslim student has described his struggle to cope with being gay and urged Islamic communities to "stop sweeping the issue under the carpet".

The student, only known as Yusef, as he wishes to remain anonymous, is an active member in his campus's Islamic society (ISoc). He has attacked his society for failing to provide support and advice for others experiencing the same situation as him.

"Muslim communities tend to treat such deeply personal matters as elephants in the room," he said in a blog for The Huffington Post.

"Of course, one such elephant is homosexuality, specifically the idea that someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) can also be a devout Muslim."

Yusef has not yet gone public with his sexuality, and says he regularly hears homophobic jokes made by other students in ISoc.

"Do you think I enjoy that these so-called jokes come at the expense of people like me? Given that no one has their sexual orientation stamped on their forehead, those who make these jokes have probably already prayed alongside LGBT people without realising it.

"Was there anything "lesser" about these people then?

"Having been through all the mental anguish, I feel for those who are on their own right now, unable to turn to anyone for advice and support. If you're a Muslim coming to terms with the fact that you're gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, I'm not going to offer you some generic advice and avoid the your actual concerns altogether, as some scholars might.

"I really wish I could point you in the right direction, but that's part of the point: the Muslim community needs to do more to support those of us who are LGBT."

There is currently very little support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims, let alone those who are still in education and struggling to come to terms with their identity.

In November, activist Faisal Alam spoke to a packed audience at Kansas University in the US about the challenges of being a gay Muslim. One student said Alam's speech "brought light" to the actions many are taking to create a support network for LGBT people in Islamic communities.

Alam said one of his life's highlights was having a student come out to him after listening to him speak. "The student told me he felt like he had been the only one gay Muslim in the entire world until he saw my presentation."

Yusef says he had a similar experience: "Fortunately, I met an extremely knowledgeable Muslim who had given a few talks at my university. Given their open-minded nature, I knew that I could approach them to discuss my sexual orientation.

"The day we met up and I came out to this person, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt like I no longer had to struggle on my own but could talk to somebody if I needed to.

"I then told a couple of my closest university friends whom I also knew I could trust. One of them later gave me a hug, and that meant the world to me, knowing that this person wasn't going to treat me any differently."

Other students have not experienced such open-mindedness.

In 2009, Islamic scholar Yasir Qadhi appeared at a London university to teach a session. He was asked by one student how to deal with homosexual desires. Describing homosexuality as "unnatural and perverse desires", he said: "Having such urges does not justify acting on them.

"Conquering these is the test Allah has given them. If you have acted upon this urge.. know that this would constiutue a sin. A major sin."

Qadhi then advised the student to seek counselling, adding: "Try to repel these urges, do not act upon them, take immediate steps to get married."

Figures like Qadhi appear epitomise typical Muslim attitudes to LGBT issues which Yusef takes great pains to highlight.

"Muslims tend to be quite good at avoiding open discussions about deeply personal matters affecting our communities. The problem is that this attitude leads to the circulation of myths and thus unhelpful solutions and the subsequent worsening of the original matter.

"Given the homophobic rhetoric, attacks and social exclusion that LGBT people often have to put up with, do those who hold conservative attitudes toward homosexuality genuinely believe that someone like me would have actively chosen to be gay rather than straight?

"I can't count the number of times I've wished that I weren't gay. One simply cannot choose to be gay. How many of you actively chose to be straight."

Andy Wasley from Stonewall said a recent survey showed positive results but there were still issues which needed addressing: "People of faith worship alongside gay people, most have gay friends and family, and YouGov polling for Stonewall shows 79% of them say anti-gay prejudice should be tackled. Given those promising facts it's a terrible shame that some people use faith as a mask for prejudice."

Yusef adds: "Muslim communities need to stop sweeping the topic under the carpet and start providing the right kind of support and advice.

"Does your local mosque provide a confidential online or drop-in advice service - and not a service run by an old, traditional-minded scholar who can barely speak English, but one run by someone who is fully aware of the contemporary environment, a good communicator and someone young people can relate to?

"Does the Islamic Society at your university only ever discuss topics such as perfecting prayers and charity, or does it openly acknowledge students may be dealing with a range of personal issues and therefore advertise suitable services?

"Do our community leaders shun discussion of very personal problems, or do they lead the way in acknowledging that personal problems do exist, and subsequently create initiatives to tackle these problems in an effective and Islamically compatible way?

"When you ask yourself each of these questions, you will see that as a community, we Muslims need to be doing far more to support the LGBT individuals among us."