Today is the International Day against Homophobia. In general, it is strange that this phenomenon still exists, because gay people are everywhere, and no matter how different medieval figures try to “cure” or kill them, it is impossible. Representatives of LGBT [and there are still a bunch of letters, as is now fashionable] are gradually winning recognition for themselves, and such events as the legalization of same-sex marriages in Taiwan, no longer cause anyone to tremble. Today, even the state media of fraternal China allow themselves to openly express support for homosexuals.
Sadly, religion remains the main stronghold of the fight against gays. But not all. Catholics in recent years have become more tolerant of the LGBT community, especially with the arrival of Pope Francis. Protestants (in any case, European) do not care who cares about sleeping with anyone. But in the Orthodox and especially Islamic environment, gay people are still being stigmatized. In Muslim countries, particularly in Iran and Saudi Arabia, Sharia still provides for the death penalty for same-sex contacts.
But what should a devout Muslim do if he is gay? It’s simple: you have to live in Canada!
For example, in Toronto there is the Unity Mosque (“Unity Mosque”), where LGBT Muslims come to the Friday prayer. To be precise, this is not exactly a mosque, but a chapel in one of the office buildings. Its location is kept secret for the safety of visitors.
But the worst thing (from the point of view of Islam) is not even that gays can come here. After all, gays also go to ordinary mosques, they simply do not reveal themselves. The worst thing is that in the “Mosque of Unity” many important rules for the faithful Muslim are ignored.
For example, women pray with men. Moreover, there is no dress code: you can come at least in shorts, and women do not need to cover their heads. Even worse, any of those present can call for prayer and hold it. Yes, even a woman. And the main nightmare: even a non-Muslim can come here to prayer. Just watch and chat with your Muslim friends.
How do you do that?
Yes, such a mosque could appear only in Canada. El-Faruk Khaki, a migrant of Indian origin from Tanzania, became one of the founders of the chapel. He and her husband, Troy Jackson:
Unity Mosque parishioners are confident that their version of Islam is true Islam, but they recognize that for most Muslims it is marginal.
Thanks to the activities of Khaki and the co-founder of the Unity Mosque, Samra Habib, chapels open to the LGBT community also appeared in other cities of Canada, particularly in Vancouver and in Calgary.
But, for example, in Calgary, the chapel wanders from one room to another for security purposes. Sometimes prayers are held in coffee houses or at someone’s home, and in summer – just outside. LGBT Muslims are forced into hiding because of the constant threats and attempts of “ordinary” Muslims to obtain lists of worshipers. One of the members of the community, parents even kicked out of the house and promised to kill if he returns.
But Khaki continues to work and believe that he is doing everything right.
They unfurled the flag alongside handing in a petition calling for the Russian government to intervene.
‘We’re here to hand in some post,’ Eleanor Kennedy said into the intercom outside the Russian Embassy, London.
Kennedy, alongside dozens of placard-holding supporters, were handing a petition calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin to respond to the second purge of LGBTI people in Chechnya.
Alongside the petition, she and her team laid out a giant Pride flag on the embassy steps today (17 May) in protest against the bloc’s silence. It was done to coincide with the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexsim and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT).
What was the protest?
At 10am today, dozens of LGBTI people and allies met outside the embassy and blanketed the sidewalk with a Pride flag and an array of multi-colored placards and signs. Contrasting to the cream-colored three-story building and dusky gray sky behind it.
One sign read: ‘Love is a Human Right.’ Another: ‘I am who I say I am.’
The protest was a collaboration between two of the largest human rights charities, Amnesty International and Stonewall. Rainbow RU, a London-based Russian community, also joined.
The trinity of activists were there to bring to light to arguably one of the biggest human rights atrocities in the 21st century so far.
In a notorious crackdown in April 2017, more than 100 men thought to be gay were abducted, tortured – and in some cases killed – in Chechnya in what appeared to be a coordinated purge.
‘They’re completely shirking all responsibility’.
This wasn’t the first time that the 33-year-old individuals at risk campaigner at Amnesty International UK tried to mail a petition to the embassy.
Kennedy told Gay Star News: ‘We’re here on IDHOBIT 2019 to hand in a petition that Amnesty International have been running calling on the Russian government to take responsibility for human rights abuses that have happened against the LGBTI community in Chechnya.
‘The Russian government, who are the de facto leaders of Chechnya, refuse to take any responsibility for this and have refused to cooperate with international calls for a legal investigation into these atrocities.
‘They’re completely shirking all responsibility.’
Kennedy and a co-worker went to hand-in the petition, but embassy guards communicated that this wasn’t possible. Kennedy would have to post the petition instead. ‘We’ll post by first class,’ she said.
Not the first petition, and not the last.
The 65,000-strong petition is the second Kennedy has tried to hand in. Her first coincided with the first recorded wave of attacks back in March 2017, she told me, as a can of Diet Coke was blown down the sidewalk.
‘Off the back of that, we ran an action similarly calling for the Russians to take responsibility. Tried to hand it into the embassy and they refused to engage.
‘The same thing has happened again. Just kicking the can further down the road.’
Why were they protesting? Senna, 25, said to me ‘Merry IDAHOBIT.’ The Kingston-upon-Thames local was up in Kensington for the day along with her Amnesty International colleagues.
‘I’m a bisexual myself and I find what’s happening horrible,’ she told me, standing by a residential street. ‘There are no words to describe what is happening.
‘We need to change what’s happening. What we’re doing today is raising awareness and we have more than 200,000 people behind us.’
‘Continue to say that we’re here’. This was a sentiment held by Leanne MacMillan, director of global programmes at Stonewall. ‘It’s incredibly important that we practise a politics of presence,’ she told me after the protest.
‘Over 65,000 people have signed this petition worldwide. We knew this was going to be for the long-haul.
‘This isn’t just an issue for the LGBTI people, this is about human rights in general. A crushing assault on human society in Russia and Eastern Europe spearheaded by Russia and other states.
‘I think the more that we can do to send a message that we’re calling for action. One of the tactics of the Russian state is to practise a politics of normalization, invisibility, and denial.
‘The best thing we can do is continue to say that we’re here, even when the actions aren’t hitting the headlines.’
Chechnya: A timeline of the atrocities. Chechnya, or the Chechen Republic, is a subject of the Russian Federation located in the North Caucasus region. It has a population of 1.4 million and the capital is Grozny.
Its president is Ramzan Kadyrov, who has been in power since 2007. He tends to rule the country in accordance with traditional Islamic social codes, even if these contravene Russian law.
Chechnya relies on Russia for federal assistance, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has often turned a blind eye to Kadyrov’s human rights abuses or failed to act.
Since last year, LGBTI folk have been detained in makeshift prisons, strapped to homemade electric chairs, sexually assaulted with police nightsticks as the torture methods intensify.
While Russia decrminalized homosexuality during the breakup of the Soviet Union, the police in Chechnya have periodically detained queer people in extrajudicial arrests without repercussions from federal authorities.
Russians feel the same degree of fear when they think that their neighbors will be from the Caucasus or Central Asia, as well as homosexual couples.
The results of the new survey leads “Levada Center”. It turned out that dysfunctional families, homosexual couples and members of religious sects are the most undesirable neighbors from the point of view of Russians. Concerning these groups of people negative attitudes prevail. And since 2006, the level of “fear” in relation to LGBT neighbors has increased threefold – from 7 to 22, while the degree of fear towards Caucasians or sectarians has almost not changed. For clarity, “Levada Center” provides the following table.
“The longest distance to cohabitation was recorded in relation to members of a religious sect, a homosexual couple, and a dysfunctional family, the potential neighborhood with which caused the respondents, rather,“ irritation, dislike ”or“ distrust, fear, ”sociologists summarize. Experts add that young people aged 18-24 are more tolerant of a possible neighborhood with a homosexual couple. Respondents with a higher education are one and a half times more likely to also show a neutral attitude towards entry ednyuyu apartment homosexual couples than respondents with less than secondary education.
Sociological surveys are not the first year indicate a significant increase in homophobia in Russia. So, in August 2017 it was reported: 55% of Russians treat LGBT citizens as migrants – “wary” or “very bad”. In August 2018, VTsIOM found out : 63% of Russians believe in the existence of a global “gay conspiracy” against their “spirituality”.
Earlier, foreign sociologists argued : homophobia of neighbors negatively affects the health of gays. The level of homophobia in different areas was determined by the number of adversaries or supporters of marriage equality. In areas where there was a high number of people who voted against gay marriage, researchers found that homosexuals were more likely to have psychological problems.
In Muslim cultures, homosexuality was once considered the most normal thing in the world – so what changed?
Islam once considered homosexuality to be one of the most normal things in the world.
The Ottoman Empire, the seat of power in the Muslim world, didn’t view lesbian or gay sex as taboo for centuries. They formally ruled gay sex wasn’t a crime in 1858.
But as Christians came over from the west to colonize, they infected Islam with homophobia.
The truth is many Muslims alive today believe the prophet Muhammad supported and protected sexual and gender minorities.
But go back to the beginning, and you’ll see there is far more homosexuality in Islam than you might have ever thought before.
1. Ancient Muslim borrowed culture from the boy-loving Ancient Greeks.
The Islamic empires, (Ottoman, Safavid/Qajar, Mughals), shared a common culture. And it shared a lot of similarities with the Ancient Greeks.
Persianate cultures, all of them Muslim, dominated modern day India and Arab world. And it was very common for older men to have sex with younger, beardless men. These younger men were called ‘amrad’.
Once these men had grown his beard (or ‘khatt’), he then became the pursuer of his own younger male desires.
And in this time, once you had fulfilled your reproductive responsibilities as a man you could do what you like with younger men, prostitutes and other women.
Society completely accepted this, at least in elite circles. Iranian historian Afsaneh Najmabadi writes how official Safavid chroniclers would describe the sexual lives of various Shahs, the ruling class, without judgment.
There was some judgment over ‘mukhannas’. These were men (some researchers consider them to be transgender or third gender people) who would shave their beards as adults to show they wished to continue being the object of desire for men. But even they had their place in society. They would often be used as servants for prophets.
‘It wasn’t exactly how we would define homosexuality as we would today, it was about patriarchy,’ Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, a gay imam who lives in Marseilles, France, told GSN.
‘It was saying, “I’m a man, I’m a patriarch, I earn money so I can rape anyone including boys, other slaves and women.” We shouldn’t idealize antique culture.’
2. Paradise included male virgins, not just female ones.
There is nowhere in the Qu’ran that states the ‘virgins’ in paradise are only female.
The ‘hur’, or ‘houris’, are female. They have a male counterpart, the ‘ghilman’, who are immortal young men who wait and serve people in paradise.
‘Immortal [male] youths shall surround them, waiting upon them,’ it is written in the Qu’ran. ‘When you see them, you would think they are scattered pearls.’
Zahed says you should look at Ancient Muslim culture with the same eyes as Ancient Greek culture.
‘These amrads are not having sex in a perfectly consenting way because of power relationships and pressures and so on.
‘However, it’s not as heteronormative as it might seem at first. There’s far more sexual diversity.’
3. Sodom and Gomorrah is not an excuse for homophobia in Islam.
Like the Bible, the Qu’ran tells the story of how Allah punished the ancient inhabitants of the city of Sodom.
Two angels arrive at Sodom, and they meet Lot who insists they stay the night in his house. Then other men learn about the strangers, and insist on raping them.
While many may use this as an excuse to hate gay people, it’s not. It’s about Allah punishing rape, violence and refusing hospitality.
Historians often rely on literary representations for evidence of history. And many of the poems from ancient Muslim culture celebrate reciprocal love between two men. There are also factual reports saying it was illegal to force your way onto a young man.
The punishment for a rape of a young man was caning the feet of the perpetrator, or cutting off an ear, Najmabadi writes. Authorities are documented as carrying these punishments out in Qajar Iran.
4. Lesbian sex used as a ‘cure’.
Fitting a patriarchal society, we know very little about the sex lives of women in ancient Muslim culture.
But ‘Sihaq’, translated literally as ‘rubbing’, is referenced as lesbian sex.
Sex between two women was decriminalized in the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, probably because it was deemed to have very little importance.
Physicians believed lesbianism developed from a hot itch on a woman’s vulva that could only be soothed by another woman’s sexual fluid. This derived from Greek medicine.
Much later, the 16th century Italian scientist Prosper Alpini claimed the hot climate caused ‘excessive sexual desire and overeating’ in women. This caused a humor imbalance that caused illnesses, like ‘lesbianism’. He recommended bathing to ‘remedy’ this. However, because men feared women were having sex with other women at private baths, many husbands tried to restrict women from going.
5. Lesbian ‘marriage’ and legendary couples.
In Arabic folklore, al-Zarqa al-Yamama (‘the blue-eyed woman of Yamama’) fell in love with Christian princess Hind of the Lakhmids. When al-Zarqa, who had the ability to see events in the future, was crucified, it was said the princess cut her hair and mourned until she died.
Many books, especially in the 10th century, celebrated lesbian couples. Sapphic love features in the Book of Salma and Suvad; the Book of Sawab and Surur (of Justice and Happiness); the Book of al-Dahma’ and Nisma (of the Dark One and the Gift from God).
‘In palaces, there is evidence hundreds of women established some kind of contract. Two women would sign a contract swearing to protect and care for one another. Almost like a civil partnership or a marriage,’ Zahed said.
‘Outside of these palaces, this was also very common. There was a lot of Sapphic poetry showing same-sex love.’
As Europeans colonized these countries, depictions of lesbian love changed.
Samar Habib, who studied Arabo-Islamic texts, says the Arab epic One Thousand and One Nights proves this. He claims some stories in this classic show non-Muslim women preferred other women as sexual partners. But the ‘hero’ of the tale converts these women to Islam, and to heterosexuality.
6. Muhammad protected trans people.
‘Muhammad housed and protected transgender or third gender people,’ Zahed said. ‘The leader of the Arab-Muslim world welcomed trans and queer people into his home.
‘If you look at the traditions some use to justify gay killings, you find much more evidence – clear evidence – that Muhammad was very inclusive.
‘He was protecting these people from those who wanted to beat them and kill them.’
7. How patriarchy transformed Islam.
Europeans forced their way into the Muslim world, either through full on colonialism, like in India or Egypt, or economically and socially, like in the Ottoman Empire.
They pushed their cultural practices and attitudes on to Muslims: modern Islamic fundamentalism flourished.
While the Ottoman Empire resisted European culture at first, hence gay sex being allowed in 1858, nationalization soon won out. Two years later, in 1870, India’s Penal Code declared gay sex a crime. LGBTI Indians finally won against this colonial law in 2018.
But what is it like to be colonized? And why did homophobia get so much more extreme?
‘With the west coming in and colonizing, they think [Muslims] are lazy and passive and weak,’ Zahed said.
‘As Arab men, we have to prove we are more powerful and virile and manly. Modern German history is like that, showing how German nationalization rose after [defeat in] the First World War.
‘It’s tribalism, it’s the same problem. It’s about killing everyone against my tribe. I’m going to kill the weak. I’m going to kill anyone who doesn’t fulfil this aggressive nationalistic stereotype.’
Considering the male-dominant society already existed, it was easy for the ‘modern’ patriarchy to end up suppressing women and criminalizing LGBTI lives.
‘In the early 20th century, Arabs were ashamed of their ancient history,’ Zahed added. ‘They tried to purify it, censor it, to make it more masculine. There had to be nothing about femininity, homosexuality or anything. That’s how we got to how are today.’
8. What would Muhammad think about LGBTI rights?
Muhammad protected sexual and gender minorities, supporting those at the fringes of society.
And if Muslims are to follow in the steps of early Islamic culture and the prophet’s life, there is no reason Islam should oppose LGBTI people.
For Zahed, an imam, this is what he considers a true Muslim.
‘What should we do if we call ourselves Muslims now? Defend human rights, diversity and respect identity. If we trust the tradition, he was proactively defending sexual and gender minorities, and human rights.’
Police allegedly forced her to strip and examined her genitals.
An intersex woman in Russia said her landlord evicted her after police allegedly harassed her.
Olga Moskvitina lives in Makhachkala a city on the western shore of the Caspian Sea.
She said a plain clothed police officer forced his way into her apartment. This happened after her identity documents which showed she had a male name were published on social media.
People on social media left hateful comments including, ‘people like that should be killed’.
According to a report on news site Lenta, the policeman allegedly made Moskvitina strip naked and examined her genitals. He also interrogated her about her genitals and threatened to out her to locals so the could kill her.
Moskvitina tried to explain that she is in fact intersex, but cannot update her identity documents to reflect her intersex status. As a result she is forced to identify as trans.
After the incident at her apartment, Moskvitina’s landlord then evicted citing ‘such affairs’ as a reason.
While it not illegal to be trans in Russia, the LGBTI community faces high levels of discrimination, intimidation and violence. In 2013, Russian president Vladimir Putin introduced the ‘gay propaganda’ law. It prevented the positive portrayal of the LGBTI community in mass media.