Last edited: March 06, 2005

An Islamic Revolutionary

The Guardian, August 30, 2001

Adnan Ali is a Muslim—and he’s gay. Although he is condemned for his sexuality, he continues to defy the fundamentalists by offering help to others like himself. Tania Branigan meets him

By Tania Branigan Guardian

"The first thing that comes into people’s minds when you mention Islam is terrorism," Adnan Ali says wearily. "The second is fundamentalism. Muslims are always presented just as these bearded old men. And they’re always really badly dressed."

Adnan (and clean-shaven to boot) is doing his best to dispel those stereotypes as the founder of the British branch of Al-Fatiha, an organisation for gay and lesbian Muslims—categories that many gay people, and indeed many Muslims, would have thought mutually exclusive.

His efforts are not helped by Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, head of the fundamentalist group Al-Muhajiroun, which has just issued a fatwa condemning Al-Fatiha members as apostates. "Never will such a group be tolerated in Islam," he told followers.

But despite the dramatic headlines in the Pink Paper ("Holy war declared on out gay Muslims"), Adnan, 29, is remarkably sanguine. For one thing, he points out, westerners forget that a fatwa is simply a scholar’s opinion: "Just because the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa to kill Rushdie doesn’t mean that all fatwas involve killing someone."

For another, Adnan has grown used to intimidation since he set up Al-Fatiha 18 months ago as an off-shoot of the US group which has spawned numerous international branches since its own birth in 1997.

Scotland Yard insisted on heavy police protection at its inaugural conference after fundamentalist threats but he has grown immune to the abusive emails and calls. They are the price he pays for being available to genuine callers—often teenagers and almost always isolated, scared, even suicidal.

"There’s so much depression and shame," Adnan says. "The fact we exist is the greatest support for most people. There are a lot of people who don’t come to meetings or even ring us up — but knowing there are gay Muslims is a support in itself.

"When I was growing up in Pakistan I thought I was the only one on earth. I feel very proud to be gay and Muslim, but it has taken me years. I thought at first I was Muslim so I could not be gay. Then I thought I was gay so I could not be a Muslim.

"All my first affairs of course were with people who were gay and Muslim, but no one ever reconciled the two things. Interestingly, I met most of them at the mosques in Lahore. No, honestly—you would go just to cruise and meet people because they were such social places."

These days his visits are purely religious.

"I go to the mosque as a human being who wants to thank my creator—not as a gay or a straight man," he says. "But Islam places a great stress on love and care and I think the love and care I give to my partner is very Islamic too."

Like the Christian gays and lesbians who lobby the church for more support, Al-Fatiha’s 200-plus members hope to make Islam more inclusive. "I’m not saying the Koran says it’s OK to be homosexual, but it’s all in the interpretation and reasoning of the text," says Adnan.

"Why is the mainstream community so unwilling to tackle it, to talk about it even if they disapprove?" Part of the problem, he believes, is that many Muslims see being gay as a "white disease". "That’s only because people are in the closet in the Islamic world and are out and talking about it here. But people think it’s the corrupting effect of white society in this country."

But Muslims often find it just as hard to find understanding in the gay community. "There’s a lot of Islamophobia; to them, everyone is like the Taliban," he says, unconsciously stroking that clean-shaven chin.

"Western people pick up on the fundamentalist speakers—but the Muslim community has a very strong feminist movement, for instance, particularly in the Middle East. "It’s easy for people to, say, leave your family, leave your community, just be gay. But we get so much strength from our families in the Islamic community; we ought to be able to share our sorrows and happiness with them."

For Adnan, who came here to study, that means returning to Pakistan and the parents who have grudgingly learned to tolerate his sexuality. He maintains that their first thought was: "What will the neighbours say?" when they caught him having an affair with a man.

"There was an expectation I would get married and have kids and look after my parents and if I was gay that was all right, as long as it was under the carpet. When I said I wouldn’t do it, it suddenly became a religious question," he says.

But when Adnan returns to Pakistan it will spell the end of his campaigning; sodomy is still illegal there and is punishable by flogging. Despite insisting that his love is "Islamic", even he dare not speak its name in a society still governed by the strict Sharia laws.

• You can contact Al-Fatiha at

[Home] [Pakistan] [World]