The Mardi Gras festival provides the space to give the queer community a powerful voice. During the festival we can also hear diverse voices within the broader queer community.
Queer Muslims were one of these diverse groups that made their voices heard with a special event on 16 February. Sydney Queer Muslims, a non-profit independent organisation for mostly religious queer Muslims, presented a symposium at Sydney University Business School.
The speakers included South African gay imam Muhsin Hendricks, Melbourne gay imam Nur Warsame and Sydney psychologist Sekneh Beckett. Speakers talked about their community advocacy work and grassroots activism to promote acceptance of queer Muslims, the positive outcomes of their ongoing involvement in the community as leaders and activists and their aspirations to create a more inclusive Muslim community.
All the speakers have inspiring stories. Muhsin Hendricks is a trailblazer who is an openly gay revolutionary imam and Islamic scholar. He was raised in an orthodox religious family and conservative Muslim community with no role models to look to as a young gay man. He came out at 29 after some years of marriage, risking his life to be true to his authentic self and to be honest with Allah. He eventually became a role model, travelling the world and connecting with queer Muslims.
In 1996 he founded Inner Circle, a not-for-profit human rights organisation with the vision of empowering queer Muslims, and creating an all-embracing global Muslim community free from discrimination. Later he opened Cape Town’s first gay mosque, a safe space for queer Muslims where this marginalised group can freely express and reconcile their different sexual and Islamic religious identities.
Somali-born imam Nur Warsame is another trailblazer. He became an outcast among Muslim clergy when he came out as gay in 2010, although he had been the leader of one of Melbourne’s largest mosques. Since then he has been advocating the rights of queer Muslims in the face of ongoing death threats.
Now imam Nur wants to establish Australia’s first LGBTI-friendly mosque, which will also function as a safe house and counselling centre, to help queer Muslims who experience violence and other abuse in their homophobic communities and who have no special faith-based support services or safe spaces.
Sydney psychologist and scholar Sekneh Beckett of Muslim-Lebanese heritage gets her inspiration from her gay brother in her advocacy work for queer Muslims. She provides young people with counselling and guidance appropriate for their special circumstances.
Beckett believes Australian queer community and relevant organisations should not impose a strict one-size-fits-all strategy of “coming out” on all queer Muslims, but instead promotes “inviting in”. This is because queer Muslims of conservative religious backgrounds usually share their sexual identity only with people they trust and with whom they feel safe and comfortable. She also emphasises that Australian queer Muslims should have their own unique voices and speak for themselves rather than be spoken for or about.
Beckett concluded that all their work and efforts as community leaders and activists are like “sowing seeds” today so that in the future they can create a more inclusive and compassionate Muslim community where all queer Muslims are accepted and true to themselves.
This inspiring and hopeful vision beautifully summarised the spirit of all queer Muslim activism.