An Islamic Revolutionary
August 30, 2001
Adnan Ali is a Muslimand hes 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 peoples 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 theyre 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 Muslimscategories 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 scholars
opinion: "Just because the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa to kill
Rushdie doesnt 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
callersoften teenagers and almost always isolated, scared, even suicidal.
"Theres 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 dont 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, honestlyyou 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 creatornot 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-Fatihas 200-plus members hope to make Islam more inclusive. "Im
not saying the Koran says its OK to be homosexual, but its 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". "Thats
only because people are in the closet in the Islamic world and are out and
talking about it here. But people think its the corrupting effect of white
society in this country."
But Muslims often find it just as hard to find understanding in the gay
community. "Theres 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 speakersbut the
Muslim community has a very strong feminist movement, for instance,
particularly in the Middle East. "Its 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 wouldnt 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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