Sex before marriage, drugs and alcohol are all forbidden within Islam, but the greatest taboo of all is homosexuality.
“I think the way I can equate this [homosexuality being a bigger taboo] is that it’s like the difference between stealing something and murdering someone. They’re both against the law, but one carries a lesser punishment than the other,” explains Sara*, a 19-year-old Muslim who is a student at Lincoln.
In preparation for Islamic Awareness Week (IAW) last February, Sara began work on a presentation entitled “Taboos in Islam”, including sex, drugs, alcohol and homosexuality. “It was during the EastEnders’ storyline with Syed, and it was more in the media… and I felt that we needed to talk about it,” Sara says.
However, the Islamic Society(IS) committee voted that Sara should remove the section on homosexuality and re-submit a completed version to discuss again, as it was felt that IAW wasn’t the right time to address the topic. Amjad Altadmri, president of the University’s Islamic Society, said: “Islamic Awareness Week is usually a time for scholars and knowledgeable speakers to introduce Islam to others. Our contribution is usually a backup plan.
“When we managed to fill the evenings, the majority of the committee chose to go with this.”
Sara, who was the vice-president and general secretary of the society at the time, became aware of her sexuality during her school years, but fought a long battle with herself and her religion before accepting that it was a part of her.
“It is one of the things that I’ve found the hardest to come to terms with. I’m now completely comfortable with being Muslim and a lesbian, but for a long time I was trying to come to terms with the fact that I was gay,” she recalls.
Sara believed that her homosexuality meant that she couldn’t be Muslim, and tried to denounce her faith: “But then I thought, ‘hang on, this is a religion that I believe in, and this is the way of life I’ve chosen for myself. So why can’t I put the two together because they are both fundamental parts of me?’” she explains.
Islam acknowledges that people can be born gay, but it is believed that it is a test from God, and it is the individual’s choice as to whether they act upon it or not. Homosexuality is spoken of in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Qur’an.
“It’s the idea of ‘transgressing beyond all bounds’, through excessive drinking, having sex outside of marriage, gambling and homosexuality,” Sara explains.
Those for homosexuality argue that the Qur’an doesn’t specifically pinpoint homosexuality, so it can’t be more of a sin than the others. However, for most Muslims, it is strictly against Islam.
Sara admitted her sexuality to a Muslim friend who she had a crush on in sixth form: “I hadn’t told anyone but her before about these feelings I was having. The way that she acted put my faith back into Muslim, Asian people. I hadn’t wanted to be associated with the Asian community before because… at the time it was almost like I was going to reject them before they had a chance to reject me.”
Although Sara’s white, non-Muslim friends were “completely cool” when she came out to them, it was her Muslim friends that had the biggest problem with it. “It got to the point where I was having daily lectures on how you couldn’t be gay and Muslim and there were times when I was really down about it, because they were my friends but they still couldn’t see past it,” she remembers.
Even though some of her friends still don’t agree with it, they are more accepting of it now, and Sara says that it hasn’t changed how they act around her.
Sara hasn’t told her parents about her sexuality, and although her Mum knows of her views and her involvement with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender) society, Sara is still unsure about their reaction if she told them: “I have asked her [Mum] what would you do if someone came to you and said ‘what your daughter believes in is un-Islamic?’ and she said that she’d defend me because I’m her daughter. But I think, ‘you wouldn’t have to’. I realise that I’m her daughter, but what if what I was doing was that wrong?
“She has said that she worries about me because of the views I have, but she has never said that those are wrong views to have,” Sara says.
In response to those who condemn her lifestyle, Sara believes that only God has the right to judge her: “If you believe in a religion then you accept that God is your judge. And if I’m wrong in my belief then I’ll talk to him upstairs when I see him, and I’ll admit that I was wrong and I’ll put my hand up.”
After being told to exclude homosexuality from her presentation, Sara has reason to believe that speculation about her sexuality was a contributing factor in her not receiving a committee position within the IS at the last election. “I was quite upset because I put a lot into the society and I felt that it just wasn’t appreciated, but this doesn’t stop my belief in Islam and my input into the society,” she says.
Sara, who is still a member of the society, says that she can understand that having a lesbian president wouldn’t have looked great on the society, and she says that now she can devote more of her time to the LGBT society.
The aim of Sara’s presentation was to create a discussion about the topics covered and she still feels that discussion is needed. She says that people still refuse to speak about homosexuality: “It’s always been one of those things that isn’t spoken about. There’s still that idea that there is ‘no such thing as a gay Muslim’, but with the media and [soap opera] storylines, I think people are beginning to acknowledge that it does exist, even if they don’t believe that it’s right.
“Homosexuals aren’t any less Muslim – we all sin – but they’re still Muslim and they’re still welcome,” she says.
Sara believes that, in time, homosexuality will become as acceptable within in Islam as it is in most Western cultures: “People did it with black rights, and they did it with women’s rights, and slowly more and more people are beginning to feel more comfortable with themselves.”
Imaan, the UK arm of American organisation al-Fatiha, have taken part in the Gay Pride celebrations, and to see them holding their banners was “the biggest comfort” to Sara when she was coming out: “They made me realise that I wasn’t alone, and that there were others like me, and some were probably in worse situations too.”
“For all the ills this country has, I’m so thankful to be born here, where my rights as a woman, as an ethnic minority, and as a lesbian are respected. I can walk down the street and people may bat an eyelid but I have rights to protect me – it’s
unfortunate that not all people are that lucky,” she says.
Now Sara hopes that it is not long before her religion accepts her too.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.Tweet