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ARAB|MUSLIM|MIDDLE EAST
 

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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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Candid Discussion 2: Extremely Queer Muslims

Guardian: Being a Gay Muslim

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Arab Weekly: For LGBTQ Arabs Change is Slow

Muslims for Progressive Values

Nadia: Interview With Lesbian Muslim

LGBTQ Comedian: Coming Out to Your Muslim Family

Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity

Group Discussion: Islam and Homosexuality

TED Talk: Brown, Queer, Trans, Muslim, Proud

Bisexual Sufi: Fighting Prejudice

 

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.

 

 

 

Arab Weekly: For LGBTQ Arabs Change is Slow

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Video: Queer Arabs Share Their Stories

Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity

PBS Video: Queer and Muslim in America

Candid Discussion 4: Extremely Queer Muslims

LGBTQ Comedian: Coming Out to Your Muslim Family

Sexual Diversity in Islam

Breaking Fast: Movie About Gay Muslim and Ramadan Romance

American Muslims More Accepting of LGBTQ Than White Evangelicals

Video: What it's Like Being LGBTQ and Muslim

 

 

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]

 

 

Queer Muslims Safely Celebrating Ramadan Under Lockdown

Video: Queer Arabs Share Their Stories

Gay and Middle Eastern in Post-Orlando America

Gay-Friendly Arab Countries

Huge LGBTQ Pride Celebration in the Muslim World

What it's Like to be LGBTQ and Iranian

Everything You Need to Know About Being Gay in the Middle East

Video: What it's Like Being LGBTQ and Muslim

Nadia: Interview With Lesbian Muslim

Group Discussion: Being Gay and Muslim

PBS Video: Queer and Muslim in America

Sexual Diversity in Islam

Social Stigma of Growing Up Queer and Arab

Candid Discussion 1: Extremely Queer Muslims

 

Gay-Friendly Arab Countries

My partner and I would like to pass along to you some positive examples of LGBTQ tolerance in the Middle East.

 

Being openly gay in the Arab world is certainly not an easy feat! If it doesn’t land you a jail sentence or the capital punishment, the huge stigma attached to it will likely compromise your job prospects, alienate your family, or worse, make you the target of some pretty nasty homophobic violent crimes. Despite being a very difficult place in the world for the LGBTQ community, there is a glimmer of hope for a better future. To be clear, being gay is illegal and difficult in the Arab countries! However, despite the negative press we hear about gay rights in the Arab world, there does exist a local LGBTQ community in each of these countries fighting for recognition, acceptance and the basic freedoms we take for granted.

We have traveled extensively around the Middle East as a gay couple and overall had a positive experience. For example, we climbed the world’s tallest building in Dubai, got lost in the rich culture of Jerusalem, wondered around the souks of Tunis, visited stunning mosques in Abu Dhabi and even found a few gay clubs in Beirut. Of course we were always cautious to avoid any public displays of affection and only booked a double bed in hotels we were certain are gay friendly. In short, for our safety, we had to go back in the closet.

We would like to highlight the 5 most gay friendly Arab countries based on our first hand experience and research. This only relates to the 22 Arab countries around the Middle East and North Africa, which are also member states of the Arab League, therefore this does not take into account Israel, Turkey and Iran.

 



Oman


While the Gulf States are notorious for having some of the worst anti-gay laws in the world, Oman is another (slightly) more tolerant haven in the region. Ask anyone from the Middle East about gay Oman and they'll be quick to tell you about the country's former gay Sultan! Yes, Oman, a proud Islamic country, with clear laws outlawing any forms of homosexuality, had a (supposed!) gay ruler: Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said. Sadly, as far as the public press in Oman is concerned, this is just a rumor. With regards to the gay scene of Oman, everything is underground, as is the case with most Arab countries. We advise using gay dating apps to connect with locals to discover more. Due to the strong censorship laws, you will need a decent VPN to do so.

On the face of it, homosexuality is very illegal in Oman, punishable with a jail sentence of up to 3 years. However, cases rarely get to court unless there is a risk of a public scandal. In 2013, an article in an Omani newspaper called, “The Week”, suggested Oman was more tolerant about LGBTQ people compared to the other Gulf states.

For the most part, Oman is a stunning country to visit. It’s extremely wealthy, neutral in foreign relations, which therefore makes it a very safe place to visit. The majority of Omanis are well-educated, civilized and down to earth, which makes being gay in Oman slightly easier as long as you're discreet. That being said, the country has very strict media censorship and a very influential religious sect, so any obvious/open acts of homosexuality will likely get you into trouble as was the case with The Week newspaper.

 



Bahrain

Bahrain is supposedly one of the most tolerant countries in the Arab world. Being gay was legalized in 1976, but if you're openly gay you may be prosecuted under laws relating to “public morality”. In 2014 a High Administrative Court ruled to allow 2 women to have a gender reassignment surgery and be recognized as men following their surgery. Bahrain is often considered to be one of the most tolerant of the Gulf States, in particular when compared to its giant neighbor, Saudi Arabia. So much so, that the Saudis nickname Bahrain as “the Bar” because it’s where they can easily drive to for a weekend trip to buy alcohol and meet people freely. In the media, homosexual issues were discussed as early as 2001 in the Arabic language newspaper, “Al-Meethaq” and subsequently in the English language paper, “Gulf Daily News”.

On the face of it, like Jordan, Bahrain appears to be another shining gay star in the Arab world, having legalized homosexuality as early as 1976. It also has an equal age of consent of 21 for both straight and gay couples. Sadly, other sections of the Bahrain Penal Code relating to “public immorality”, “public indecency” and “immoral behavior” are used to crack down on the LGBTQ community in much the same way as it has been used in Jordan.

 



Jordan


We found Jordan to be one of the most gay friendly Arab countries. Being gay was legalized in 1951, but if you're openly gay you may be prosecuted under “public morality” laws.  the right to change legal gender was allowed by the Cassation Court (Jordan's highest Court) in 2014. However, in April 2018, Parliament passed laws banning gender reassignment surgery. My.Kali: the Arab world's first LGBTQ online magazine was created in 2007 by handsome Jordanian model and activist, Khalid Abdel-Hadi:
Jordan's draw as a huge tourism attraction in the Middle East has helped bolster its gay credentials. So much so, that LGBTQ tour companies often offer Jordan as an add-on for holidays to Israel. In terms of public gay events in Jordan, there have been several over the years, mainly for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. While there is no obvious gay scene in Jordan, there is an underground scene, which you're likely to discover by befriending locals on Grindr. One well known gay friendly bar in Amman is Books @ Cafe, which becomes a club on weekends.

On the one hand, Jordan appears to be one of the most progressive LGBTQ countries in the world for the simple reason that it decriminalized homosexuality in 1951, nearly 2 decades before the UK! At the same time, it also reduced the age of consensual relationships to 16, which is the same for heterosexuals.  Sadly, the LGBTQ community is victimized and prosecuted under laws relating to the disruption of “public morality”. For example, in 2017 the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila was banned from performing in Jordan by the Ministry of Interior because their lead singer, Hamed Sino, is gay!

 



Tunisia

Tunisia has one of the highest rankings of LGBTQ tolerance in all the Arab countries. Gayday Magazine was launched in March 2011, became Tunisia's first online LGBTQ magazine. Mounir Baatour is the first openly gay man to run for president in a Muslim country. Tunisia is the first country in the Arab world to have an LGBTQ radio station (
Shams Rad). Tunisia has gained a positive reputation amongst the LGBTQ community of the Arab world, particularly due to the strong activism of organizations like “Association Shams” and “Mawjoudin”, who have been campaigning hard for LGBTQ minorities rights. On 18 May 2015, “Association Shams” even received government recognition as an official organization. In terms of gay events in Tunisia, small discreet Pride receptions have been taken place in private, mainly in the capital, Tunis. Most impressive is the Mawjoudin’s Queer Film Festival, which successfully took place in January 2018. This was a big deal because it was the first ever public film festival in Tunisia to celebrate the country's LGBTQ community.

While homosexuality is illegal in Tunisia with up to 3 years imprisonment (Article 230 of the 1913 Penal Code), activism is so strong that there are signs that this is likely to change very soon. For example, in June 2018, a government-sponsored committee called the Individual Freedoms and Equality Committee (COLIBE), advised President Essebsi to decriminalize homosexuality in Tunisia. In addition, in April 2020, one gay marriage was legally recognized in Tunisia for the first time. Whilst gay marriage and homosexuality both remain illegal in Tunisia, this is still a small win for the Tunisian LGBTQ community. Sadly, until the anti-gay law is overturned, the LGBTQ community will not only continue to be arrested but also subjected to the awful rectal probing “tests.”

 



Lebannon


Beirut has one of the best gay scenes from all the Arab countries. Homosexuality was declassified as an illness: in 2013.  the right to change legal gender was introduced in 2016.  When it comes to gay life in the Arab world, Lebanon is the runaway winner in our opinion. By Arab standards, you just can't beat the gay scene of Beirut, which even has the largest gay club in the Arab world, called POSH. Lebanon has many LGBTQ movements like Helem and Meem, as well as and annual gay events like the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. It even had a Beirut Pride scheduled to take place in 2017 and subsequently in 2018. Sadly, both were either forced to proceed in private, or cancelled due to pressure from radical Islamists. On a positive note, future Beirut Pride events are being planned.

Homosexuality is technically not illegal in Lebanon. Article 534 of the 1943 Lebanese Penal Code, introduced during the French Colonial years, outlaws all relations that “contradict the laws of nature”, punishable by up to one year in prison. Although there is no direct reference to homosexuality in the Penal Code, Lebanese judges since the 1940s have sadly interpreted these Colonial laws as applying to homosexuals. Fortunately for the LGBTQ community in Lebanon, Lebanese judges have very recently started to pass rulings determining that A.534 does not apply to homosexuality, thus paving the way for decriminalization. In addition, Lebanese politicians openly campaign for decriminalization of homosexuality, which is a positive sign of changing times. For more, check out our article about gay travel in Lebanon.

[Source: Stefan Arestis, Nomadic Boys, Dec 2020]

 

To Be Gay and Muslim
Al Arabiya News
Breaking Fast: Movie About Gay Muslim and Ramadan Romance

Shireen and Atafeh

Candid Discussion 2: Extremely Queer Muslims

Guardian: Being a Gay Muslim

HRW: LGBTQ Activism in the Middle East

LGBTQ in the Middle East

Arab Weekly: For LGBTQ Arabs Change is Slow

Muslims for Progressive Values

Nadia: Interview With Lesbian Muslim

LGBTQ Comedian: Coming Out to Your Muslim Family

Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity

Group Discussion: Islam and Homosexuality

TED Talk: Brown, Queer, Trans, Muslim, Proud

Bisexual Sufi: Fighting Prejudice

 

Saudi Arabia Calls Homosexuality Extreme and Perverse

Saudi Arabia just called homosexuality a form of “extremism.” Don’t expect Trump to respond. Donald Trump has a long history of looking the other way whenever Saudi Arabia commits human rights abuses. A video posted on the Twitter account of Saudi Arabia’s state security agency called feminism, homosexuality, and atheism “unacceptable forms of extremism and perversion.” Trump’s willingness to let the country get away with human rights abuses empowered the country’s admission, and he’s likely not to comment on it.

Homosexuality and atheism have long been illegal and punishable by death in the absolute monarchy, where public protests and political parties are banned and the media is tightly controlled. And Trump greed has repeatedly excused Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. Trump said of the country and its rulers, “I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

 

 

Trump’s first foreign trip as president was to Saudi Arabia, and during the trip he essentially said that the US would look the other way on the country’s human rights abuses. “We are not here to lecture,” Trump said. “We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.”

Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner has “a very strong bond” with the country’s crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman. So, even though the CIA concluded with “high confidence” that bin Salman ordered the brutal October 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump said, “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.”

Trump’s infamous “Muslim travel ban” omitted Saudi Arabia, even though it’s a Muslim-majority country where five of the 19 September 11 hijackers came from. His pledge to decriminalize homosexuality internationally also made no mention of Saudi Arabia’s grievous anti-LGBTQ recor
d.

Add to that the fact that the Trump administration conflates anti-LGBTQ policies with “religious freedom” and it’s easy to see how Trump has empowered Saudi Arabia to admit its animus against women and queer people despite the country’s claims to be “modernizing” towards Western values.

[Source: By Daniel Villarreal, LGBTQ Nation, Reuters, November 2019]

 

Saudi Arabia Calls Homosexuality Extreme and Perverse

Wikipedia: LGBTQ Rights in Saudi Arabia

Corporations Ignoring Saudi Arabia's Anti-LGBTQ Laws

Equaldex: LGBTQ Rights in Saudi Arabia

 

 

 

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]

 

Video: Queer Arabs Share Their Stories

HRW: LGBTQ Activism in the Middle East

Gay-Friendly Arab Countries

Social Stigma of Growing Up Queer and Arab

Queerty: LGBTQ Arab Activists Speaking Out

Global Citizen: Brave LGBTQ Arab Activists Challenging the Stigma

Arab Weekly: For LGBTQ Arabs Change is Slow

Video Report: Being LGBTQ in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

 

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

Dating Gay Arabs by Khalid Al-Suwaidi

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

 

Video: Queer Arabs Share Their Stories

Gay and Middle Eastern in Post-Orlando America

Nadia: Interview With Lesbian Muslim

What it's Like to be LGBTQ and Iranian

PBS Video: Queer and Muslim in America

Huge LGBTQ Pride Celebration in the Muslim World

Group Discussion: Being Gay and Muslim

Everything You Need to Know About Being Gay in the Middle East

Video: What it's Like Being LGBTQ and Muslim

Sexual Diversity in Islam

Social Stigma of Growing Up Queer and Arab

 

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