Beyond Tolerance: A Look at Faisal Alam's Al-Fatiha
(Posted March 27, 2013)
This past Wednesday, Juniata's Office of Diversity and Inclusion welcomed Faisal Alam, a gay Pakistani activist, as a guest speaker. At the age of 19, Faisal became aware of the identity crisis and seclusion experienced by himself and other LGBT-identified Muslims. This realization motivated him to found Al-Fatiha, an organization devoted to the empowerment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and questioning (LGBTIQ) Muslims. Below Faisal shares some of his personal motivations, as well as the methods used by his organization in order to meet the desired goals.
Q: What were some of the defining moments in your life that motivated you to raise your voice and establish Al-Fatiha?
A: I think it was the realization that I could no longer continue living my life as an oxymoron, which is what I had been told my entire life. I could no longer continue denying that I was gay and I did not want to leave my faith as well. That really propelled me to try to find other people who were in the same predicament as I was, and to find a way to reconcile these two identities of being gay and being Muslim.
Q: How has the Islamic community received your organization?
A: I think in the beginning about 10 years ago there wasn't a lot of backlash. For the most part we've tried to stay away from a lot of the mainstream Islamic organizations, and to do our work within our own community. But sometimes when there have been articles written about Al-Fatiha in the mainstream newspapers, it's with a condemning attitude. This has really changed in the last five to 10 years because Muslim-Americans are under scrutiny and attack in the U.S. So the mainstream Islamic organizations have bigger concerns than to worry about what gay Muslims are doing.
Q: What methods does your organization use to counter the rhetoric against and the oppression of LGBT individuals in Islamic communities?
A: For the most part our organization has been more about education through online articles, and also to present personal stories to demonstrate that these are the issues that other people are facing, and that it's much harder to talk about people's lives than it is to talk about theology. Just in the last few years there are more academics and scholars now that are doing work on this issue, and it's just a matter of time before that disseminates and the arguments against Muslim homosexuals are turned around.
Q: There has been a mixed reception of LGBT individuals within Christianity. How would you compare this to the Islamic community's reception?
A: I think it's different in that the majority of the Muslim world right now condemns homosexuality through theological analysis. But again, that is shifting and the conversation that people are beginning to have now is how to address the presence of LGBT individuals within the Muslim community. In the Christian community, it's much easier to address the role of LGBT individuals from the top down because of the religious hierarchy that exists.
Q: Do Muslims living within the western world usually tend to be more accepting of LGBT individuals?
A: I think that for people of faith who are LGBT are much more accepting of LGBT Muslims, but within mainstream LGBT communities, there already is animosity towards religion. I think we sort of exemplify this is some ways, and we add on all of these fears that people already have about Muslims and Islam and these fears escalate.
-Melissa Famularo '13, Juniata Online Journalist
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