Guest Speaker: Faisal Alam

Queer and Muslim: Faisal Alam Speaks Out
By John Byrne (News Editor for the Review)

If you thought being queer was hard, try being queer and Muslim. Faisal Alam, an internationally renowned activist in Muslim and queer communities spoke last week to a crowd of 100 students, faculty and staff. Tracing his life from a marginalized high school senior in Connecticut, to a devout brother in his faith at Northwestern University in Boston, Alam spoke about living two lives: Muslim by day, and homosexual by night. By day, he was an avid participant in the Muslim students association and a vocal brother on campus. By night, he was gay, reveling in his identity at gay clubs. Alam said that he was engaged to a woman for several months while at college, but that she had broken it off, saying that she had a religious experience and felt that something was wrong with their relationship. "Those two lives really came crashing down," he said, "when I had a nervous breakdown." After this breakdown in 1996, Alam quietly started an online mailing list to broach the issue of being both queer and Muslim. Moments after he made his initial post, individuals began subscribing from around the world. "Literally, within minutes, people had started subscribing," he said. For the first year of the listserv, Alam was the only one posting messages, since people were so scared to come out, he said. Another year later, in 1998, he held the first international gathering of queer Muslims in Washington, D.C. There, the group decided that they could no longer keep their movement under the radar. "After three days of intense dialogue we decided we could no longer be silent," he said. The organization, Al-Fatiha, an international organization dedicated to Muslims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning, now has chapters in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. Alam spoke of the challenges that queer men and women face in countries across the world, and sought to counter assumptions many Americans may have about his faith. "In some Islamic countries, coming out of the closet may be a death sentence," he said. "What we are fighting against is 1,400 years of interpretation." "Straight, presumably homophobic men," he added, "have interpreted our faith." Alam traces this Islamic aversion to male homosexuality to a portion of the Koran which speaks of the Nation of Lot, which is referenced in Christian religions as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. He argued that the fall of Lot was not because of homosexuality, but because sex was being forced on its citizens. Equally important, citizens of Lot were stealing and were not being hospitable to their guests. But the life experiences for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning Muslims takes on a very different face across the world, Alam said. "We"re not as invisible as people would like to believe and we're not as oppressed," he said.
"Sexuality takes a very, very different shape abroad "sexuality is not politicized." He said that female sexuality is invisible, so lesbianism is often tolerated. His organization, Al-Fatiha, has received a death sentence from an extremist Muslim group based in Britain, and does not publicly disclose the location of their meetings in advance. Alam closed by arguing that the gay movement has become caught up on its own agenda, and could better fight within the context of other oppressed peoples, in the way the civil rights movement did. "Each of our struggles are all interconnected," he remarked. "Fighting our battles simultaneously is the only way we can escape." The talk was coordinated by Queers and Allies of Faith, and sponsored by the Multicultural Resource Center, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Union, Liberated Unitarian Universalist Voices, the Asian American Alliance and an anonymous donor.