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.