Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Nothing Wrong with Being Queer, Somali, and Muslim!


The BBC ran a story last month on a young Somali named Mahad Olad. The article described a young Muslim who left Islam because:

a) He could not accept a faith that “promotes” terrorism: a terrorist threw a bomb into a Christian school, and the young Mahad heard a Somali cleric justify it and and Mahad says, "I was like, this is what my faith promotes. This is what Islam stands for. And if all these theories about Islam being inherently connected to violence are true, then I don't think I can consider myself a Muslim."


b) He believed Islam does not accept gays: "I guess one of the reasons I started questioning religion was because I felt I couldn't reconcile the two," he says. "I did not believe there was a space for me, as a gay person, to be Muslim."

I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard something similar. It is always a young person, who doesn’t understand the diversity of Islam, and who generally believes the type of Islam exposed to him or her is the only “real” Islam.

Think of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, for example. She was a young woman who jumped ship on her way to an arranged marriage. She suffered Female Genital Mutilation. She suffered the second-class treatments many Muslims are accustomed to in some parts of the Muslim World. And, just like Mahad, she left her faith because she didn’t think it was for her.

Had young Mahad knew there was a long tradition of Muslims who do not support terrorism, who support interfaith work, and who do not believe in a world where this type of religion or that type of religion is superior to another, what do you think he would do?

Had young Mahad knew there had always been LGBT Muslims who had a supportive interpretation of the faith than the homophobic ones he was accustomed to, what do you think he would do?

He would not leave his faith.

But Mahad, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is regrettably someone whose ignorance of the faith exposed him to a life dominated by internal struggle. He has probably never seen openly gay Somalis before he left his faith. He probably doesn’t know there is something as openly gay imams, one of them  being a Somali.

For one, Mahad was born “in between”: he was born, according to the article, in Kenya in 1997 and his family moved to Minnesota in 2001. It means, unfortunately, that he probably never even heard of the diverse queer Somali communities, including those in the Metro Area in which he grew up in Minnesota, or that some of us grew up in a time in Somalia where we never heard of homophobia.

Imagine if he knew about the world Hamdi Sultan describes so vividly in my book, “Being Queer and Somali”? Imagine if he knew the gay neighborhoods described in that book, the LGBT Somali history communicated, or the many LGBT stories that survived the hatred by informing the self? 

Who should we blame?

First, and foremost, the Muslim community.

If we didn’t allow the extremists like the Salafis or Wahhabis become the loudest members of our community, we could help young Muslims understand the diversity of our faith. Support diverse voices, and you won’t have to deal with your kids leaving your faith.

I personally support Sufism, Progressive Islam, and Moderate Islam.

Think of this:

“Progressive Islam is an inclusive Islamic interpretation that envisions a community for all followed by Progressive Muslims,” says Imam Daayiee Abdullah of MECCA Institute. “This type of Islam, for example, supports Women’s Rights, LGBT Rights, and Youth Rights.”

Do you think Mahad would leave Islam had he been exposed to an Islam like that?

To the irresponsible so-called journalists of today, I say: do a better job of investigating and telling a fuller story. If you talk about a queer Somali who is leaving his faith, why not talk about queer Somalis who do not? If someone says they left because they believed Islam was responsible for the homophobia they experienced, why not share the stories of others who say otherwise?

But, of course, adding fuel to Islamophobia sells more.

If you’re a British news agency, why not, for example, talk about the fact that you introduced us to homophobia? Why don’t you tell your audience that the difference between Somalia and Djibouti is that you colonized us in northern Somalia and the French in Djibouti, which is how one type of Somali community (the folks in Djibouti) doesn’t have sodomy laws to fuel societal homophobia.

Finally, to the young people like Mahad, I say: you’re responsible for your life. So, this is not an attack on you or your choices; it is just that I’m responsible for my life, too.

Friday, June 03, 2016

The Queer World Is Not White Dominated


When I hear or read someone say “only into black” or “only into white,” or any other “only into” anything, I just pity that person because I understand he or she is limiting their own experiences. There are a lot of interesting people I have met through the years and I would never have met those people had I been one of those “only this” or “only that” individuals.

Unfortunately, that is not how everyone feels.

Recently there was an article on Mic about this situation. The writer, Mathew Rodriguez, a queer Latino man, wrote that gay white men are living it up in the privilege of being white in mainstream America and that “the most casual and most common place minority gays experience racism is in interactions on apps like Grindr, which to some degree have replaced gay bars as a nexus for dating and hookups.”

Now, when I read that I see someone who bought and drank the Kool-Aid. That is, that the world dominated by gay white men is the only world that exists. For example, if you happen to have believed in the fake news, from places like BuzzFeed, that claim Grindr is “The World’s Most Popular Dating Apps For Gay Dudes” then you would feel that gay white men dominate the world.

For me, Grindr is a white man’s hook up app the same way that Blued is an Asian man’s hook up app. Similarly, I look at Disponivel as a Latino man’s hook up app. When I think of Radar, the app version of Adam4Adam, I think of an app in which men of color are disproportionately represented. That is, the percentage of men of color of this app’s membership is higher than the percentage of men of color in general. I have had a profile on BlackPlanet since the early 2000s—long before there were apps. Omar Wasow, a Kenyan born Internet genius, created this Black-centered social website, which now also has an app. Millions of gay black sex took place through that system.

For a book I’m working on, I looked at 1,000 profiles in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Miami metro areas in the Adam4Adam system. I found more people of color who pointed out their ethnic preferences (and many of them complaining about the others approaching them) than white men. I suspect it has to do with the fact that many white men know the higher percentage of men of color in that system and going after it. When I did the same with Grindr in India, Germany, and Brazil, it was a different thing I noticed. People were just not into tourists. “No foreigners” generally meant don’t talk to me if you’re not Indian, German, or Brazilian. Never once did I see white men say “only whites” in Brazil on Grindr, just like I had not seen that in India.

The truth of the matter is that Grindr is not that popular. Blued is ten times more popular than Grindr. While Grindr has 2 million daily users, most of them in the North America and Europe, Blued has 27million users, most of them in Asia. That is why Blued is valued double in the economy of the gay apps market with $300 million while Grindr is valued at $150 million.  

As someone who has used all of these apps, because I’m someone interested in everyone, I have seen it all. Yet, I keep in mind that there are actually less white men who point out their ethnic preferences than others because other ethnic groups do that by using their own ethnic-specific apps. If you’re a Chinese guy on Blued there is no reason to say you’re into Asian men, as most of the profiles are Asian.

What folks of color need to do is to stop believing in lies. If you want to live in non-white dominated world then go find that world instead of lurking in the white dominated world, believing in the lies you’re fed and feeling bad about it. 

Note about the image: Kevin Phillips's image is about  golf, as described by About, it is "(also known as "winter rules") a condition that exists by local rule only and under which golfers are, on certain parts of a golf course, allowed to improve their lies without penalty." But, God damn it, it fits so good here!

Afdhere Jama is the author ofQueer Jihad”. His other books includeIllegal CitizensandBeing Queer and Somali”. He was the editor of Huriyah, a queer Muslim magazine, from 2000 to 2010. He lives in the United States.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

remembering mahmoud asgari and ayaz marhoni

ten years ago today, two kids -- who were both under the age of 18 when they were arrested -- were executed in iran. their names were mahmoud asgari and ayaz marhoni. according to amnesty international, an "18-year-old, identified only as A. M. and a minor, Mahmoud A, were publicly hanged in the north-eastern city of Mashhad. According to reports, they were convicted of sexual assault on a 13-year-old boy and had been detained 14 months ago. Prior to their execution, the two were also given 228 lashes each for drinking, disturbing the peace and theft."

to go back to the age of the these kids, amnesty said that "Amnesty International believes that Mahmoud Asgari was 15 or 16 and Ayaz Marhoni was 16 or 17 at the time of the crime."

in other words, if you go by that understanding of the case, 15 and 16 year olds were later executed for sexually assaulting 13 year old. in iran, the age of consent for men at that time was 18. so, none of them could have consented to sexual activity, legally speaking, not that you can consent to homosexuality anyway. on top of that, sexual relationship between two men is illegal and per ja'fari (shia) madhab (school of thought) carries the death penalty.

however, ja'fari madhab prohibits the execution of minors, which according to ja'far madhab is age 15 (the age in which you're considered adult and which you can marry). so, unless a 13 year old does something so heinous (like murder), you can't kill him under shia sharia law. as such, when three teenage boys are caught having sex intoxicated in an alley... what do you do? you kill the ones you can, even if you have to let some fishes go in the process. but the ones you want to kill, now you can kill them without any issues because they committed a heinous (rape) crime... as a boy cannot consent under 15 to have sex with someone over the age 15.

so, there are no issues with that case if you're a shia muslim. unless, you're a shia muslim who want to live under the united nations convention on the rights of the child that you country had signed and which, in that case, your country would be in violation of.

basically, iran was screwed on all sides on this case. its 'clean' case was not so clean because neither the human rights defenders nor the gays were agreeing with their version (the gays saying the kids were gay, the human rights defenders focusing on child execution).

as a queer muslim, this case was a learning experience for me, and you could say that it had totally changed the trajectory of my life. when the story came out, i was put in a really bad situation: i knew enough about the case that i could help future victims; i also knew for a fact that there were people who would be highly in danger if i did so.

at the time, i was in the midst of negotiations with a big publisher. they were going to publish my book "illegal citizens" (which was published later in 2008). i had gotten a contract just a few weeks earlier that was dated for august 25th. but the publisher changed its mind. in order for that publisher to publish my book, i needed to take out one story.

the story in question told the life of one gay iranian in an upper class system, a story meant to showcase the diversity we live under as queer muslims as well as the hypocrisy of countries like iran and saudi arabia-- countries in which there are an elite group of people who are exempt from what the rest of people deal with. "the tehranian" in the book is about a young gay man who happens to be the son of a powerful ayatollah. his life, unlike the lives of many gays in that country who refuse to live other lives, is not in danger. he lives a privileged life, not very different of the many meth-addict gays you find on gay apps and clubs in new york city or paris. and even though his "lifestyle" is one i couldn't live, i knew his story was important in my book.

so, suddenly, my life as a queer muslim was in hot debate between publishers who wanted to cast iran as a bad country that only executes gays (iran executed many minors who were neither gay nor accused of gay rape), reckless journalists who only cared about their ideas of gay rights in the west, and naive human rights defenders who fetishize us as part of their liberal idea of inclusion.

but i wasn't having any of it.

in the end, however, those of us interested in this story in a real way got our way. all of the e.u. countries who used to send gays back to iran stopped, and officially took the position that iran was not a safe country to return gays who chose to go elsewhere. after nearly a decade of pressure, from both local and international people, iran officially changed its policies in 2012 by having a new law which says the execution of people under 18 is not allowed. and between 2005 and 2015, gay iranians enjoyed a much better experience, with the cases handled better... and law enforcement looking the other way in most cases in large cities. 

in other words, these two young men changed their country in ways they never imagined they would.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

a beautiful week to be queer and muslim

due to the popularity of the website queermuslims.com, i have been busy with responding to the mixed feedback in my mailbox. so, you could say i have been in my own bubble with that. of course, it's the negative feedback that always bothers us, right?

then came this week.

this has been a very interesting week, to say the least. i don't remember another week in which queer muslims have gotten good news after good news. it all started on monday when rahal eks publicly came out to say being queer and sufi was not mutually exclusive. rahal eks has been a writer on this very blog, as well as huriyah when the magazine was alive back in the day. he's also the author of "khalil & majnun" and "hussein & the nomad," both queer muslim love stories, so to speak.

then, on tuesday, reza aslan and hasan minhaj crafted a beautiful open letter to american muslims on lgbt rights. reza aslan is the popular scholar you probably know from tv and the author of the great book "no god but god". hasan minhaj is a popular comedian and correspondent on the daily show. their support has been incredible, and it got the community talking. on twitter, we at @queermuslims re-tweeted many of those tweets.

last but not least, on wednesday the crowdfunding campaign for mecca institute was released. mecca institute is the first muslim educational institution in the united states in which islam is taught from a progressive point of view. they are planning to have lgbt and gender courses, and to educate muslims to live progressive lives.

it's weeks like this that can elevate a group of people's spirit. for non-queers in the muslim community, and for queers in non-muslim communities, it might not seem like a whole lot. but to me, a queer muslim, i would love to see more weeks like this week. it would be nice waking up to beautiful discussions in the community, both within the larger muslim community and within the queer muslim community.

may we have more and more weeks like this week.


link to rahal eks article: bit.ly/1H7skTa

link to reza aslan and hasan minhaj article: bit.ly/1HKn3r6

link to mecca institute crowd funding: bit.ly/1HkJqwZ

Wednesday, February 04, 2015


Digital art by Rahal Eks - dancers pausing


Nowadays February 14 is worldwide known as Valentine's Day, or the day of the lovers. The historical roots of Valentine's Day are numerous, going back to various Christian martyrs who were called Valentine or Valentinus. Some claim also a link to the much earlier Lupercalia, a Roman fertility festival from Pagan times, or relate it to the ancient Athenian calendar where the period between mid-January until mid-February was the month called 'Gamelion', which was dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.

Unfortunately in some countries such a day related to love and lovers would have to be forbidden under puritanical-religious and fanatical sectarian ideas and rules – even though the Qur'an clearly says “...there shall not be compulsion in religion...” It makes one wonder in utter disbelief how some folks argue against this, insisting to spread their intolerant view as the only true reality – of course it isn't! While in other countries this day or a similar celebration takes place on a different date. Here too diversity is striking on a global scale. And as long as the celebration of love is not denied it doesn't really matter what's the date.

For example in Brazil the Dia dos Namorados is celebrated on June 12! While Feb. 14 sometimes falls right into the period when Carnival takes place.

Or in Israel there is the Jewish tradition of Tu B'Av, which has fused into the secular Jewish equivalent of Valentine's Day and is celebrated on the 15th of the month of Av = usually in late August.

In antiquity in India, a long time prior to colonization and thus prior to imported prudishness, there was the ancient tradition of adoring the lord of Love, Kamadeva, shown beautifully by the erotic carvings and sculptures in the Khajuraho complex of monuments and the famous KAMASUTRA lovemaking treaty.

In Greece the Eastern Orthodox Church has another Saint, Hyacinth of Caesarea. He protects people who are in love and the feast is on July 3.

In Persian culture there is the Sepandarmazgan, or Esfandegan festival, an earth celebration where love is expressed to mothers and wives. In contemporary Iran the holiday has been scheduled on Feb. 17, just to be different in regards to the Western holiday.

Universal souls have probably no problem whatsoever to celebrate all these dates and festivities, after all the spirit is love, isn't it? Perhaps some might delight in reading Rumi's DIVAN SHAMSUDDIN TABRIZI – others might get elevated by some of Ibn 'Arabi's condensed thoughts and reflections about love, wonderfully presented and commented by William C. Chittick in his DIVINE ROOTS OF HUMAN LOVE. Yet others would get carried away by the beautiful Classical Arabic poetry of pre-Islamic times of Antar Ibn Shadat's MUALAQAT, an epic love poem written in gold leaf and placed on the walls of Mecca in ancient time together with the other seven odes by different Arab poets of that period. Just for the time reference: Antar was an old man when the Prophet Muhammad – PBUH – was born.

There is a Sufi saying that “sensual love is the shadow of mystical love...” Meaning that love for a human being is a kind of lower form of love than for the Divine – however, sensual or human love is required on the path to advance in order to develop love for the Divine, in other words, human love can have an evolutionary impact, but not always and not automatically. It can be, or it may be so, under certain circumstances.

In this context it is of great interest to hear that Maulana Jami asked those who wanted to become his students if they had ever loved?

If we look at the myth of Eros who aims his arrow at those who when pierced in their hearts will fall in love, we get the idea that love might be a divine gift. And when reading Plato's Symposium, or Banquet, we find out that one of the men present explains the nature of love in the form of a tale being told to the guests. In my retold words, he said that prior to the existence of the human race there were round beings rolling around on the earth. They had two faces, four arms and four legs. Some of them were male and female – others were all female – and yet others were all male. These beings began to behave arrogantly and outrageous, so the Gods on Mount Olympus had a brain storming session to decide what to do with these beings. After long arguments in pro and contra (to kill them or let them live), a compromise was agreed upon. It was decided to cut each of these beings in half, thus keeping them busy to search for their other half...

This gives us a symbolic explanation why we have different types of sexualities (heterosexuals, and homosexuals – both in the female and male variation). Of course this tale doesn't explain what we call nowadays inter-sexed and transgender identities, not to forget asexuals, just to be fair and mention it all.

Now some people seem to fall in love blindly in a stupid or nutty way (regardless if they happen to be straight, gay, lesbian, inter-sexed or transgender folks). Others don't and progress from a crush on someone to falling in love and loving a person – whoever it may be to fulfill their natural heart's desire and attraction. Remember, no matter what, from a Sufi perspective a person's sexuality is God-given, created by Allah, and thus it ought to be accepted. The difference between falling in love blindly or somewhat more refined and aware is most likely a reflection of the development of the nafs, the commanding self – or the lack of its development.

No matter where people stand on their evolutionary ladder, relationships are a perfect tool to refine the commanding self, the nafs, and grow on multiple levels. In my view this includes romantic relationships, friendships, family relationships, as well as work relationships.

Sufism is indeed focused on the field of action regarding relationships and the transformation of the lower self: “From base metal into gold” - as the alchemical Sufi saying goes.

Coming back to love. I have never experienced that I decided to fall in love, nor have I met anyone who did. It happened or it didn't. Or is there anyone ready to come up with a different take on that?

And coming back to the Divine, there is of course the famous hadith qudsi of the Hidden Treasure, meaning a sacred hadith where God is the speaker: “I was a treasure that was not known, so I loved to be known. Hence I created the creatures and I made Myself known to them, and thus they came to know Me.”

In this very context Ibn 'Arabi's poem found in the FUTUHAT MAKKIYYA resonates with special overtones: From love we originate. For love we were created. That is what we aim for and it is to this we have given ourselves.

And he also wrote: To my own soul I was wed and I was my husband while I was my wife.

However, Ibn 'Arabi's most famous lines are the following from his TARJUMAN AL-ASHWAQ, the Interpreter of Desires, which are very suited in my view to be read on Valentine's Day:

Oh marvel! A garden amidth fires!
My heart has become capable of every form:
it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
and a table for idols and the pilgrim's Kaaba
and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Qur'an.
I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love's camels take,
that is my religion and my faith.

In 1382 Goeffrey Chaucer wrote his PARLEMENT OF FOULES, where we can find an early association of Valentine's Day with romantic love: For this was on seynt Volantynys day whan euery bryd cometh to cheese his make. (For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate).

And in 15th century France we find some surviving early French Valentine's poetry by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife:

Je suis desja d'amour tanné
ma tres doulce Valentinée...

Also William Shakespeare mentions Valentine's Day in Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5.

We also mustn't forget Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, longing for greater wholeness and the beautiful words of Antonio Machado, who wrote:

Last night, as I slept,
I dreamt – marvelous error! -
that it was God I had
inside my heart.

Have a blessed and loving Valentine's Day – how can love be forbidden?

Ishq bashad, may love be upon you, a Persian Sufi greeting – or in Arabic: Ishq aleikum!

Saludos, con Dios, Rahal Eks