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Arab, Muslim, and Gay


Life can be particularly tough for an LGBTQ person living in a strict Muslim community. Islamic teachings forbid homosexuality. Many LGBTQ persons live in fear, hiding their sexual identity.


Can gays and lesbians be Muslim? Can Muslims be gay and lesbian? Of course. Sexuality is who you are, it's not something you can change and it doesn't have anything to do with religion. You can't chose sexuality like you can with religion. Even if one was raised to believe homosexuality was something wrong or even disgusting, it wouldn't change your orientation.



This causes a lot of people to suppress their feelings and hide their true sexuality which can cause a lot of self-hatred. Some people believe that it is okay to have homosexual feelings an long as you do not act on them but this just doesn't work because you can't spend your whole life pretending to be something you're not. Unfortunately, in some places, people are still uneducated and traditional and therefore it can cause a lot of problems for homosexuals, especially if they live in Muslim countries.


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But recently, people have become a lot more open and more Muslims are becoming more open minded about these things. But what would happen to a gay or lesbian Muslim completely depends on where they live and what their family is like. By the tenets of their faith, it's not possible for Muslim people to be gay or lesbian. Realistically, of course they can. They should probably look for a liberal, reformed sect of Islam, if there is one, that accepts homosexuality, just as many Christian sects do. But, depending on where they live they may be accepted or they may be put into prison and killed by their government and/or their family.


Typical blog comments from Muslim lesbians include the following:

I am a lesbian and a Muslim living in an Arabic country and I have a girlfriend. We cannot be public about our relationship because the law prohibits same sex relationships. If we are discovered, we can go to jail because of our relationship. My family does not know anything nor my friends because it is shameful to us. I must still follow the traditions because we are in a country where everything is forbidden.

I have lived all my life in an Arab Muslim country and I know firsthand how oppressive, judgmental and simply uptight Muslims can be when it comes to homosexuality.

There are a lot of Muslim lesbians like me and my girlfriend who are scared about their future but daydream about having a house and cat or dog but deep down inside we know this is will never come true. So sad. I pray 5 times a day. I read Quraan and I'm a good person and I love my god. I think being gay doesn't make me a bad Muslim.


I have been treated very badly because I stand up for gays or lesbians. The Muslim community doesn't realize that there are many Muslim gays and lesbians who feel very scared and lonely and don't know where to turn for help.


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LGBTQ in the Middle East


The rights and freedoms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in the Middle East are strongly influenced by the prevailing cultural traditions and religious mores of people living in the region.


Several Middle Eastern countries have received strong international criticism for persecuting homosexuality and transsexuals by fines, imprisonment and death. However, some of Middle Eastern countries have developed more tolerant social attitudes and taken some steps to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination and harassment.


Israel has, since the 1960s, gradually developed more social tolerance for LGBTQ people, and taken steps to recognize LGBTQ rights.



Jordan, Bahrain and Iraq are some of the few Arab countries where homosexuality is not illegal.


In some other Middle Eastern nations, including Turkey and Lebanon, changes in social attitudes and laws have slowly come about as part of a larger campaign for greater tolerance, pluralist democracy and respect for human rights.


Some Middle Eastern nations do not allow a LGBTQ community or human rights movement to exist. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates criminalize same-sex sexuality, cross-dressing and any expressed support for LGBTQ rights.


Some Middle Eastern nations have some tolerance and legal protections for transsexual and transgender people, but not for homosexual or bisexual persons. For example, the Iranian government has approved sex change operations under medical approval.


An LGBTQ rights movement has existed in other Middle Eastern nations, including Turkey and Lebanon.



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Israel and Arab Countries on LGBTQ Rights


Should society accept homosexuality? In America, where the US Supreme Court decided to recognize same-sex marriages , 60 percent of respondents to a Pew Research Center survey said “yes” and 33 percent said “no.” But in most of the Middle East, the issue of LGBTQ rights isn’t likely to spark the spirited debate that it does in the US.

Arab countries including Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, in addition to the Palestinian territories, all had more than 95 percent of respondents answer "no" to the same question in the Pew survey. But then there are Israelis, who, although divided in their attitudes, are undeniably more accepting of the LGBTQ community than their Arab neighbors. Forty-seven percent of Israelis responded "no" to whether society should accept homosexuality, and 40 percent responded "yes."

Israel is an oasis in an otherwise-barren Middle East for LGBTQ rights. A number of Palestinian LGBTQ individuals who experience persecution seek asylum in Tel Aviv, a city that hosts its annual Gay Pride parade attracting more than 100,000 people, and was voted “Best of Gay Cities 2011” in an American Airlines survey.

[Source: Outward Magazine / Alina Dain Sharon]



LGBTQ Activism in the Middle East


Despite state-sponsored repression and social stigma, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people in the Middle East and North Africa are finding ways to speak out. They are telling their stories, building alliances, networking across borders, developing national and regional movements, and finding creative ways to combat homophobia and transphobia.

Activists in the countries must contend with state hostility, to varying degrees. Many governments in the region reject the concepts of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” altogether. Faced with official intransigence, some activists choose to work outside state structures: their activism focuses on community-building and attitudinal change. Others have taken on their governments, successfully pushing for incremental change in various forms. For example, in Lebanon and Tunisia state institutions have accepted calls to end forced anal examinations, after pressure from local and international activists as well as treaty bodies. Iraq has committed to address violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI-based violence). In Lebanon courts have rejected an interpretation of “unnatural offenses” as including same-sex sexual acts (although the relevant court cases have not created binding legal precedent). In Morocco courts have convicted perpetrators of SOGI-based violence.


Progress can be painstakingly slow and marred by setbacks. In September 2017, Egyptian security forces went into overdrive, arresting dozens following the display of a rainbow flag (a sign of solidarity with LGBTQ people) at a concert. They relied on a “debauchery” law that had been used in the early 2000s against gay men and transgender women and was revived with a vengeance following the 2013 coup, when the government, led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, appeared to embrace persecution of gays and trans people as a political strategy. Even by recent standards in Egypt, the September crackdown (involving scores of arrests, forced anal examinations, and a formal media blackout on pro-LGBTQ speech) was severe. But activists demonstrate creativity and dynamism even in such challenging contexts, training LGBTQ people on how to digitally protect themselves from police surveillance and entrapment and galvanizing international pressure on their government, a tool which they employ cautiously, often reserving it for human rights emergencies.


[Source: Human Rights Watch / Audacity in Adversity]


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Irshad Manji


Irshad Manji is a Muslim Canadian author, educator, and advocate of a reformist interpretation of Islam. Manji is also a well-known critic of traditional mainstream Islam. Manji has written several books, two of which have been banned in Malaysia, both of which describe and develop her philosophies. The banned books are The Trouble with Islam Today and Allah, Liberty and Love.


Manji, who is a lesbian, is troubled by how Islam is practiced today and by the Arab influence on Islam that took away women's individuality and introduced the concept of group honour. In here books, Manji shows how to reconcile faith and freedom in a world seething with repressive dogmas. Manji’s key teaching is "moral courage," the willingness to speak up when everyone else wants to shut you up.

She married her partner, Laura Albano, in May 2016.



Helpful Books on the Subject


Allah, Liberty and Love by Irshad Manji

The Trouble with Islam Today by Irshad Manji

The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East by Brian Whitaker

L’Armée du Salut (Salvation Army) by Abdellah Taia

Homosexuality in Islam by Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle

Gay Travels in the Muslim World by Michael Luongo




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